Hiking the Feather Falls Trail – 410-Foot Drop!

by John Soares on April 2, 2009

The hike to Feather Falls has always been one of my spring favorites. It’s a moderate hike with a spectacular reward: the Fall River plunging 410 feet down a sheer cliff face.

Feather Falls on the Fall River in Plumas National Forest. (Photo by John Soares)

Feather Falls on the Fall River in Plumas National Forest. (Photo by John Soares)

Click to download the Feather Falls hike. It’s a PDF of Hike 25 from 100 Classic Hikes in Northern California, third edition, written by John Soares (me) and my brother Marc Soares. It’s also conveniently pasted for you below.

Feather Falls

Length: 8.8 miles loop

Hiking time: 5 hours

High point: 2,400 feet

Total elevation gain: 1,100 feet

Difficulty: moderate

Season: year-round

Water: available from Frey Creek and Fall River (purify first)

Maps: USGS 7.5′ Forbestown, USGS 7.5′ Brush Creek

Information: Feather River Ranger District, Plumas National Forest

This hike offers a smorgasbord of natural delights. You’ll walk through tall stands of incense cedar and ponderosa pine, along streams shaded by bigleaf maple and dogwood, and past a multitude of spring and early summer wildflowers to Feather Falls, where the clear waters of the Fall River drop 410 feet into a granitic gorge.

Take Highway 70 to Oroville, exit onto Oro Dam Boulevard, head northeast, and turn right after 1.5 miles onto Olive Highway. Go 6 miles and turn right onto Forbestown Road. Go another 6 miles and turn left onto Lumpkin Road. Follow Lumpkin Road 10 miles and turn left at a Feather Falls sign for the final 1.6 miles to the trailhead.

For the first 200 yards, the path travels past dozens of madrone trees, easily recognizable by their large, shiny green leaves and peeling red bark. Bear left at a trail fork, noting that you’ll return by the right fork. Near the 0.5-mile marker, look for the scarce California nutmeg tree, which has long, sharp needles.

Reach the cool canyon shade of Frey Creek at 1.1 miles. As you gradually descend near the gurgling water, look for a swimming hole at the bottom of a two-stage waterfall to the left at 1.4 miles.

Views through the trees of the middle fork of the Feather River and its steep canyon walls appear at 1.5 miles; look for the smooth granite head of Bald Rock Dome looming above the river’s west bank. From here, you descend for 1 shady mile and then begin a moderate climb to a trail fork at 3.2 miles. Stay left and follow the safety railings to another trail fork. Go left again to reach the overlook.

From the overlook you have a magnificent view of Feather Falls, where the aptly named Fall River drops 410 vertical feet past sheer granite cliffs to the canyon far below before joining the middle fork of the Feather River and Lake Oroville.

After imbibing this broad view of the sixth-highest waterfall in the United States, go back to the last trail fork, turn left, and walk 0.2 mile to where a small trail leads to granite boulders at the lip of the falls. Those not afraid of heights can lean against a chain-link fence and watch the water plummet all the way to the bottom of the canyon.

This side trail continues another mile upstream along the Fall River. Summer swimmers will find good swimming holes, and overnighters will find several campsites. Near the end of the trail, you’ll see some old fruit trees and an old water ditch, which are all that remain of an old homestead.

The return portion of the loop is 1.2 miles longer than the route to the falls, but it has very little elevation change. This upper portion leaves from near the overlook and offers excellent views of Frey Creek and Bald Rock Dome. It connects to the bottom portion of the loop near the trailhead.

{ 24 comments… read them below or add one }

Gambolin' Man April 2, 2009 at 5:20 pm

John, great write and photos! Thanks for sharing! This is one place Gambolin’ Man has not yet laid eyes upon!

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John Soares April 3, 2009 at 6:37 am

Hey Gambolin’ Man! Try to get there if you can. It’s also quite spectacular into summer, and there are places to swim upstream of the falls.

Just be careful of the current — if it sweeps you away and over the falls, you’ll have 640 feet to think about how careless you were. So go way upstream of the falls to swim.

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Gambolin' Man April 3, 2009 at 11:48 am

Great tips and advice, John!

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TheOutdoorsGuy April 16, 2009 at 10:48 am

My hiking has been confined to the Florida Everglades and other East Coast spots. I’m hoping to change all that this year! Thanks for the great information

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John Soares April 16, 2009 at 1:43 pm

Come west! We’ve got some great hiking out here, especially in northern California.

My sweetheart has family in Florida, so I may eventually get out there. I want to see the Everglades and do some snorkeling.

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Emily April 20, 2009 at 2:25 pm

great information about the hike. I did this hike last month and I wanted to give some friends information about this hike so they could do it as well and I stumbled upon your site!

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John Soares April 20, 2009 at 3:49 pm

Hi Emily. Glad I’m able to help.

That’s why I post the hikes!

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Misha Dmitriev May 21, 2009 at 3:18 pm

I’ve read about this hike in your book, John. Thank you very much for sharing this information! I am planning to take this hike this weekend, and was hoping to camp overnight along the Falls River upstream of the Falls. However, when I phoned the Feather River ranger district, they told me that the Falls and upstream is the Indian territory and I can’t travel beyond the falls. No trip reports mention this Indian thing. Do you know anything about that? Should I really be concerned?

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John Soares May 21, 2009 at 4:00 pm

Hello Misha. I haven’t heard about this, so it’s new to me. This hike description was reviewed by the Feather River Ranger District about two years ago or so when 100 Hikes came out in a new edition.

However, I would respect what the Forest Service says about this. These can be very sensitive issues. Call and ask if there are other places to lay out a sleeping bag along the trail.

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Misha Dmitriev May 21, 2009 at 4:24 pm

Thank you very much for such a quick response, John!

They insist that there is Indian territory there, though, again, no trip reports, including within the last 1-2 years, mention this. E.g. a year or so ago someone walked up the river behind the Falls looking for good views, noticed some camp sites and didn’t report on anything unusual.

The rangers say it’s ok to camp anywhere along the trail as long as it’s more than 200 feet from the water. Just in case you remember something from that trail, what’s your impression – is there a chance to find a more or less flat spot there reasonably close to some water source?

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John Soares May 21, 2009 at 4:50 pm

My memory is a bit fuzzy Misha. It’s fairly steep terrain, so it may difficult to find a campsite that meets the specifications.

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Misha Dmitriev May 26, 2009 at 12:25 pm

Ok, for a record: I’ve been there this weekend, and this trail is great! The waterfall looks cool. The Fall River itself, as well as Frey Creek with its small waterfalls, is also very nice. Kids enjoyed playing near water and a bit of swimming (the water is very cold so far) a lot.

The mystery with “Indian territory” is hopefully resolved. A piece of land consisting of several squares just upstream from the waterfall is actually marked as “private”, not “Indian”. The most likely explanation is that the old homestead that you mention in your book is still officially somebody’s private property. But in reality this is not enforced in any way, so who cares 🙂

There are actually just four or so good campsites behind the waterfall, and pretty much no good places to pitch a tent elsewhere. So if you want to camp overnight, you should either get there early or avoid weekends when many people are likely to go there.

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John Soares May 26, 2009 at 12:46 pm

Misha, thanks so much for giving us this important update.

Much appreciated!

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karey July 3, 2009 at 9:36 pm

Just wondering if dogs are allowed??? My boyfriend and I want to hike there tomorrow with our dog and want to be sure he’s allowed 🙂

Thanks!

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John Soares July 4, 2009 at 6:20 am

The official rule: Dogs must be on a leash. I say take your dog and then follow your heart on the leash thing!

I have a golden retriever. She’s great on the leash, but she enjoys life more off the leash.

One word of caution: definitely keep your dog on a leash near the falls. You don’t want it going off the edge of the canyon.

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Rick Stalker June 18, 2011 at 8:38 am

Great information on the falls. I have never done this hike and look forward to it in a week or so. Do you know if the trail is open now. I believe they were doing trail repair several weekends ago? Also, are dogs allowed? Thanks again

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Daniel Gluck July 6, 2011 at 5:06 pm

This is a great hike! Going this Friday. Just called the forest service about trail closures and they assured me that while the north loop is closed due to bridge damage, the south loop is still open! This is longer, but easier, as stated above. Will keep you posted.

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John Soares September 7, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Thanks for the update Daniel!

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Julian September 7, 2011 at 2:09 pm

I’m more than a little curious about the abandoned homestead…I’ve been to the lookout, at the falls, but never up and beyond…I’ve heard rumors that the old orchard is really cool. Does anyone know the history of the place??
How big is the homestead? Is there an foundation still there? In addition to being an avid adventurer, I’m fascinated by history. Any info, even hearsay, would be appreciated! Thanks!

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John Soares September 7, 2011 at 3:10 pm

The old homestead is very interesting, but I don’t know the history.

Can anyone help us out?

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Josh November 28, 2011 at 11:12 am

How is this for a running trail? I enjoy trail running with moderate to complex terrain and lifts and have been looking for some good trails in the Oroville area. I currently run closer to town and down around Folsom Lake area when I have the chance. Thanks!

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John Soares November 28, 2011 at 6:01 pm

I think it would be a really good run, especially if you catch it well after major rains so the trail isn’t to slick.

Have fun!

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Rhonda August 1, 2017 at 7:43 pm

I love N Calif! Use to live in Greenville, Ca. It is between Quincy & Susanville, Ca. I would like to ask a question about Feather River. Is this the same river, that has a gigantic rock above the river, that is called Dog Face or Dog Head. It has been over 30 years, since I lived there! I would move back there in a heart beat! Dry heat is, so much better than living in the South. As it gets very humid here in TN.

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John Soares August 1, 2017 at 8:29 pm

Yes, there’s a Dog Rock on the North Fork Feather River near Quincy. Plumas County is very beautiful!

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