Exploring Burney Falls: Best Tips for Camping, Hiking, & Photos

Ultimate Guide to Burney Falls Camping, Hiking, & Photography blog post cover:  Text overlaying image of Burney Falls during autumn

McArthur – Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Northern California is located along the Pacific Crest Trail and home to the most beautiful waterfall in the entire state. It is also a destination for incredible nature hikes, camping, and idyllic scenery.

In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know for planning your visit to Burney Falls State Park. This includes the best time to visit, what to see, hiking trails, camping and lodging options, and all other pertinent information.

Burney Falls can be explored as a quick day trip or as a weekend getaway alike. If your visit is just one stop on a larger road trip, be sure to queue up our guide to the perfect Northern California road trip so you don’t miss any of the must-see destinations nearby.

If time permits, I highly recommend you consider at least a weekend or more to discover all the beauty that awaits you in this stunning region.

Burney Falls Overview & General Information

Milky Way over Burney Falls waterfall night photography.
A beautiful Milky Way sky full of stars at Burney Falls.

If this is the first stop on your research of the park, you may want to familiarize yourself with some information and frequently asked questions. Otherwise, skip this section and move straight down to the headlines that interest you most!

McArthur Burney Falls Map

Before we get started with other details it may be helpful to take a look at a map of McArthur Burney Falls. The map below is the official park map and can be downloaded as a PDF version for the State Park website.

McArthur Burney Falls Map
McArthur Burney Falls Memorial State Park Map

Where is Burney Falls located?

The incredible Burney Falls on a beautiful summer morning.
The incredible Burney Falls on a beautiful summer morning.

Burney Falls Memorial State Park is located off of Hwy 89 in Shasta County in Northern California.

How do you get to Burney Falls?

If you are visiting Burney Falls from the south, you will detour 1 hour and 15 minutes via Hwy 299, just north of Redding. If traveling from the north, you will detour from the city of Mount Shasta 55 minutes via Hwy 89.

How long is the hike to Burney Falls?

View of Burney Falls from the parking area.
View of Burney Falls from the parking area.

Burney Falls is visible from the parking area with no hike required. You can hike to the base of the falls via the Burney Falls Trail, which is less than a quarter mile downhill and takes only 5 minutes.

The trail to Burney Falls can be done as a 1 mile loop, but is shorter as an out-and-back walk.

There are many other hikes available. Learn more about the numerous walking trails in McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in the Hiking Burney Falls section of this guide.

Can you swim at Burney Falls?

Yes! Though the water can be absolutely freezing, swimming at Burney Falls is allowed and popular during the summer months. Some daredevils even jump from the top of the falls, however, this is extremely dangerous and not recommended!

When is the best time to visit Burney Falls?

October is the best time to visit Burney Falls. Smaller crowds mean more availability for campsites and the fall leaves are spectacular.

With that said, each season brings unique opportunities for visiting Burney Falls! Summer is the best time for visiting in terms of weather and swimming, but it can be difficult to get camping reservations and will be very crowded. In addition, wildfires and smoke can be a problem in the summer.

Moody, overcast day at Macarthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park.
Even moody days are good days to visit Burney Falls.

What is the entry fee for Burney Falls?

It is $10 per vehicle to enter Burney Falls State Park.

Camping in Burney Falls

As the park is in something of a remote area, camping at Burney Falls is something you should definitely consider!

While it can be a bit pricey, staying overnight will also allow you to enjoy the magnificent starry skies that Northern California has to offer. In addition, it will give you a chance to photograph both sunset and sunrise nearby.

Camping at Burney Falls

Burney Falls Campsite Reservations

Typically, camping is available year-round with reservations required during peak season. Peak season spans from mid-May until mid-September.

Reservations can be taken from 2 days up to 6 months in advance, and are necessary during summer weekends and cost $7.99 for processing. If sites are full of you want to consider another option, there may be space at the Burney Falls Resort RV park nearby. This also offers electric hookup and is less expensive.

Campsite Options & Fees

There are 3 options for camping at Mcarthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park totaling 102 campsites. Each option is explained in detail below.

Tent Camping at Burney Falls

Fee: $35
If your vehicle does not provide a comfortable nights sleep, tent sites are available with 24-hour toilet and shower facilities available.

RV Camping near Burney Falls

Fee: $35
RV and vehicle camping is also permitted, though there are no hookups for electricity. For a similar price, the Burney Falls RV Resort nearby offers hookups.

The maximum RV trailer length is 32 feet.

Basic Cabins in Burney Falls State Park

Fee: $65 & $85
There are cabins available to stay overnight in, though they are very basic. There is no running water, electricity, nor even bedding. You are required to bring your own lanterns and supplies, though there are 24-hour toilet and shower facilities within walking distance.

The single-room cabins sleep 1-2 people and are available for $65 per night, while the double-room cabins sleep 4-6 (technically) and cost $85 per night.

General Things to Know for Camping at Burney Falls

  • Check-in time is 2pm, and check-out time is noon.
  • Showers and toilets are available 24 hours.
  • There is a general store on-site with food and equipment.
  • Kayak, fishing equipment, paddle boards, and other equipment is available on-site or nearby.
  • Reservations must be made online on the Reserve California website

Hiking in Burney Falls

The most popular trail in the park is the Burney Falls Trail. This .25-mile walk goes from the parking area to the base of the falls and is wheelchair-accessible. However, there are a handful of other options for those staying for the weekend.

If you are looking to discover more of the area, there are 5 total hikes available within Mcarthur-Burney Falls SP. However, the popular Lake Trail remains closed due to flood damage.

In addition, the famous Pacific Crest Trail cuts through the park for those of you who want to say that have hiked part of the PCT!

Burney Falls Loop Trail

Hiking Distance: 1 mile
Time Required: 30 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

Rainbow bridge on the Burney Falls Loop Trail hike.
Rainbow bridge on the Burney Falls Loop Trail hike.

While you can see the waterfall from the parking area, it is worth venturing to the bottom.

If you would like to make a longer journey to the waterfall, a 1-mile loop trail is available that crosses over two small bridges and explores some of the beautiful scenery following Burney Creek.

The Rainbow Bridge that connects the loop trail was closed for some time due to storm damage, but has since reopened. Expect crowds during peak season, though mornings tend to be quiet.

Burney Creek Headwaters Trail

Hiking Distance: 2.6 miles
Time Required: 1.5 hours
Difficulty: Easy

Photographing autumn colors on the Burney Creek Headqaters trail while hiking Burney Falls.
Hike the Burney Creek headwaters trail for more stunning views.

This beautiful stroll follows Burney Creek and provides plenty of opportunity for photographing the nature.

Expect the trail to be crowded in the beginning, but most visitors will stop at the waterfall or deviate at the loop trail.

Rim Trail to Lake Britton

Hiking Distance: 1.8 miles
Time Required: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

With the lake trail closed, you will need to access Lake Britton via the Rim trail instead.

While the walk itself is not particularly scenic, Lake Britton is a beautiful place to visit and a favorite destination for photographers.

If you would prefer not to walk, you can also drive to Lake Britton.

Pioneer Cemetery Trail 

Hiking Distance: 1.8 miles
Time Required: 40 minutes
Difficulty: Easy

The Pioneer Cemetery Trail is an easy walk that begins in the Burney Falls campground and meanders through some woodland before arriving at the cemetery.

Spooky as it sounds, this is a popular trail for night walks and stargazing.

Tthis short walk leads to some nice views of Lake Britton as well.

Lake Trail

Closed due to storm damage.

Burney Falls Photography Tips

Hiking to Burney Falls provides beautiful views of the waterfall
Look for the scenes within the scene.

Burney Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in all of California. It attracts landscape photographers from all over the country.

On a personal note, I always love capturing long-exposure waterfall photography. At Burney Falls, I discovered a wealth of opportunity for capturing creative, inspired images at all times of the day beyond the typical shot from the viewpoint.

Wide Angle Photography

Wide angle photography while camping at Burney Falls
Use a wide angle to capture the scene in its entirety.

What I loved about shooting this location so much was the ability to shoot wide angle, showing the massive falls in their entirety, or throw on a zoom lens and focus in tight on some of the intricate detail.

For shooting wide, you will need a 24mm or wider on a full frame to include the waterfall in its entirety. In terms of composition, you will likely be wanting to face it head on to center the main channel of water.

Zoom Photography

Zooming in to focus on the intricate details of the waterfall.
Zooming in to focus on the intricate details of the waterfall.

Because of the way the water seems to stream down the rock wall, I loved composing a variety of secondary photos that focused in on individual channels and details of the falls.

You can get a good side-view as you come down the main trail, or set up facing straight on and simply punch-in tight on the sections you find intriguing.

Side view of Burney Falls
A side view of Burney Falls coming down the main trail.

A 70-200mm lens would be an excellent choice, as would anything in the 100-300 range.

Sunrise Photography

Admittedly, sunrise is probably the worst time of day to photograph Burney Falls as you look onto the falls in the direction of Southwest.

If you are lucky, you may get some reverse sunset colors in any clouds you have, but the morning light tends to be hard on the waterfall itself.

Instead, consider walking to Lake Britton or shooting sunrise from downstream if you decide to wake up for it.

Daytime Photography

Water pours into a turquoise pool during a weekend of hiking and camping at Burney Falls in Northern California.

While daytime is not usually the best time for waterfall photography, the good thing about photographing Burney Falls during daylight is that the deep blue color of the water is brought out by overhead light.

Of course, you will need a strong ND Filter if you are hoping to capture long exposures, as I like to do. I also recommend a polarizing filter to cut the glare and enhance the color in the water. Or better yet, find a good ND/CP filter.

If all of this is Greek to you, I have created this very thorough guide to Long Exposure Waterfall Photography designed for beginners.

Surprisingly, I took some of my favorite photos in the morning a couple hours after sunrise.

Sunset Photography

Burney Falls Sunset photography
Photographing sunset at Burney Falls is difficult, but makes for a beautiful shot!

As you will be facing the waterfall facing Southwest, you have a good chance of getting some nice color in the sky above the falls.

The challenge in shooting Burney Falls at sunset is that the waterfall itself will be in shadow as the sun sinks behind it. For this reason, you will have difficult getting detail in both the sky and the foreground.

If you are using your phone, consider using the HDR mode. If you are using a professional camera, I suggest exposure blending if you are capable, or taking multiple exposures and blending using the HDR mode in Lightroom if that is easier.

Either way, sunset can be gorgeous here and is absolutely worth enjoying, with or without a camera!

Night Photography / Astrophotography

Night photography of Burney Falls with the Milky Way setting into the waterfall.
Photographing the Milky Way over Burney Falls prompted my late night visit.

*UPDATE: As of 2022 Burney Falls is no longer open for night photography. It is unclear to what extent this is enforceable and whether or not it applies to people camping within the state park.*

Astrophotography at Burney Falls was the main reason for my visit in 2019! I had scouted the scene well ahead of time, knowing the Milky Way would be setting directly in line with the waterfall.

Fortunately, the night skies are dark enough here in NorCal to capture some great detail in the Milky Way core. The only unfortunate thing is that you are too far below the horizon looking up at the falls. As a result, the galactic center is not visible from below any time of year.

Still, I was extremely pleased with the resulting image and highly recommend the attempt if you are visiting during summer months.

If you would like to learn more about Milky Way and astrophotography, I have created a thorough guide and video showing and my entire workflow for producing clean, noise-free night photography.

Seasonal Photography

Burney Falls Autumn photography
Burney Falls in the Autumn season feels like the Garden of Eden.

I have had the fortune of visiting in the summer and autumn so far, and enjoyed both visits for different reasons.

Fall photography at Burney Falls is incredible, as the leaves and moss take on some gorgeous colors. This creates a rare opportunity to capture the scene in a way few are able to see it. I found one view that I particularly loved and have never seen photographed, which required wading into the bitter-cold water to shoot back upstream.

The summer is nice because you are able to get clearer days and photograph at night. However, the massive crowds make it a far more frustrating time to visit. If you are planning a summer visit, be sure to set that alarm early so you can sneak in some shots before there are people in the water!

Camera Gear for Photographing Burney Falls

While it is possible to capture long exposure photographs of waterfalls on your iPhone using the Live Mode option, for the best possible photos you may want to consider a few key pieces of photography gear:

  • Camera: I use the Sony a7riii and have been in love with it ever since the first photo I took with it. However, for beginners you may wish to consider an entry level DSLR. This will allow you to start getting to grips with manual settings and decide whether photography is something you enjoy enough to invest in.
  • Lens: The lens I use most frequently is the Sony FE 24-105mm F4 G OSS as the zoom lens allows for the most diversity. I also often use the Laowa 15mm F2 for shots that require a wider angle.
  • Tripod: A tripod is essential if you want to create a long exposure waterfall image. When traveling, I use the Manfrotto Be Free as it’s lightweight and easy to carry on longer hikes. For times when I require something more stable, I use the Artcise Carbon Fiber Tripod.
  • Filters: A Circular Polarizing (CPL) filter (CPL) or Neutral Density (ND) filter are very useful for allowing slower shutter speeds and for cutting glare on the water. The best CPL and ND filters I have found are the Quartzline from Polar Pro.

Additional California & Regional Guides

If you are visiting Burney Falls as part of a longer road trip, we have some other resources that you may find useful. These include a local road trip guide and photography locations for those crossing the border into Southern Oregon.

Northern California Guides

Yosemite Guides

Mammoth Lakes Region

Southern Oregon Guides

In addition, there are some photography improvement guides that are valuable for those looking to improve in the craft.

Finally, feel free to browse our Northern California professional photography gallery for prints and inspiration 🙂

Final Thoughts on Burney Falls

Final thoughts on Burney Falls camping, hiking, and photography guide.
Whether you’re camping at Burney Falls or just around for the day, this incredible place is sure to leave its mark.

As you have undoubtedly seen, this state park is truly picturesque and well worth the visit! It is no wonder that Theodore Roosevelt considered it the 8th wonder of the world!

If you have found any information that needs correcting or have any questions, please let us know in the comments below; we respond to EVERY comment we receive!

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10 thoughts on “Exploring Burney Falls: Best Tips for Camping, Hiking, & Photos”

    • Hi, I’m Adam – I wrote this blog and help run this page. I am always open to discussion and feedback that can improve our posts. I respond favorably to respect and consider counterpoints with an open mind.

      I DON’T respond well to condescending comments. I also don’t see anything in this blog about Covid, except for an update notifying readers that camping is currently closed as a result of the pandemic.

      I approved this comment to give you an opportunity to respectfully present your perspective, and to show other readers that I am open-minded to feedback… however, I will not be bullied into accepting your opinion. You may reply, but if there is not more substance than the initial comment then I will simply reject it and block your access.

      Have a better day Brent.

  1. I don’t usually comment on sites as this, but I want to tell you how appreciative I am of your Burney Falls travels. My family “discovered” Burney Falls & camped/fished there several times before we realized there was a lake around the corner! This was back in the mid-1960’s. My mother & I hiked above the falls & up the river until we came to a marsh area of springs, creating the river to the falls. Did you make it there? Your photo’s are outstanding! Best wishes.

    • Well the fact that you took the time to comment on ours makes us feel even more special 🙂 Thank you for the kind words regarding our photos as well Donna!

      The trails were shut due to flood damage on our visit so we havent been able to explore as much as we would like to, but the next time we get down there we will try to look around more 🙂

  2. Thank you for sharing your experience and expertise with us. I will be making my 3rd trip to McArthur-Burney Falls in a few days. I’ll be camping there and taking numerous photos. I found your article to be extremely informative and useful. Keep up the good work.

  3. Last time we were at Burney Falls (mid-July, 2019), I asked a ranger about photographing the falls at night, hoping to do a Milky Way photo and was told the falls were closed – you were not allowed to be there after dark at the falls. Do you know anything about this restriction? Is it still in place?

    • Hi Cheryl. That is an excellent questions! I was there in 2019 and didn’t see any signs or have any problems going down there… it seems strange that there would be night hours at a place where you’re allowed to camp! My guess is this is a newly implemented rule and could even be in response to that photo going viral on social media. Thank you for letting us know- we will have to follow up!


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