The McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Northern California is home to the most beautiful waterfall in the state. However, it is also a destination for incredible hiking, idyllic camping, and some of the most impressive landscape photography opportunities you will find in the country.
In this guide, you will learn everything you need to know about hiking, photographing, and camping at Burney Falls.
This was my favorite destination and one that’s included in the perfect Northern California road trip. 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.
About Burney Falls – FAQs
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!
Where is Burney Falls located?
Burney Falls 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?
From the parking area, it will only take physically capable walkers about 5 minutes to hike down to the waterfall. You can easily see the falls from the parking area if you prefer or are unable to walk to the base of the falls.
There are, however, other hikes available, each of which are covered in the Hiking Burney Falls section of this guide.
The trail to Burney Falls can be done as a 1 mile loop, but is shorter as an out-and-back.
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!
When is the best time to visit Burney Falls?
Each season brings unique opportunities for visiting Burney Falls. The summer is certainly going to be the best weather for swimming, though it can get hot and will be crowded. Spring is when you would expect the highest volume of water, fall offers some stunning colors and winter is when you can have the place to yourself!
What is the entry fee for Burney Falls?
It is currently $10 per vehicle to enter the park, and as it is a state park your National Park annual passes will not apply. If you have seen $8, you should know this was the old price and has recently increased.
Burney Falls Camping
At the time of this publication (Nov 2020), camping at Burney Falls is not available due to Covid-19 restrictions.
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 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.
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.
If your vehicle does not provide a comfortable nights sleep, tent sites are available with 24-hour toilet and shower facilities available.
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.
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
- 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.
Burney Falls Hiking
The trail to Burney Falls is a short 5-minute walk from the parking area and is wheelchair-accessible!
If you are looking to discover more of the area, there are usually 5 total “hikes” available within Mcarthur-Burney Falls SP. However, the popular Lake Trail has been closed for some time due to storm damage.
Burney Falls Loop Trail
Distance: 1 mile
Time: 30 minutes
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
Distance: 2.6 miles
Time: 1.5 hours
This beautiful stroll follows Burney Creek, plenty of opportunity for photographing the nature. It will be crowded in the beginning, but most visitors will stop at the waterfall or deviate at the loop trail.
Closed due to storm damage.
Distance: 1.8 miles
Time: 40 minutes
With the lake trail closed, you will need to access Lake Britton via the Rim trail instead. The walk is not particularly scenic, but Lake Britton is a great place to photograph and a destination unto itself. Of course, you can also drive there if you prefer.
Pioneer Cemetery Trail
Distance: 1.8 miles
Time: 40 minutes
Another easy walk that begins in the Burney Falls campground and meanders through some woodland before arriving at the Pioneer Cemetery. This seems to be a popular trail for night walks.
In addition to the cemetery, this short walk leads to some nice views of Lake Britton as well.
Burney Falls Photography
As you may have guessed, what drew me to Burney Falls was the opportunity for landscape photography.
I always love shooting some long-exposure waterfall photography, but I discovered a wealth of opportunity for capturing creative, inspired images at all times of the day.
Wide Angle Photography
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.
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.
A 70-200 lens would be an excellent choice, as would anything in the 100-300 range.
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 from downstream.
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. And 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.
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
Astrophotography at Burney Falls was the main reason for my visit! 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.
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!
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.
- Things to do on a Northern California Road Trip
- Complete Guide to Photographing Shasta-Trinity National Forest
- Southern Oregon Coast Photography Locations
- Southern Oregon Photography Guide
- Southern Oregon Waterfalls Itinerary
- Best Places to Visit in Oregon
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
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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