15 Bay Area Waterfall Hikes to Explore

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Do go chasing waterfalls! With the deluge of rainfall from recent winter storms, streams and creeks are flowing (some are RAGING) so take the kids to check out waterfall beauties. Breathe in the fresh air and scroll through to find the perfect spot for your next waterfall hiking adventure!

San Francisco

Huntington Falls and Rainbow Falls
Waterfalls in the city? Why, of course! Granted, these are man-made falls but the kids will still love it! Start at Huntington Falls which cascades down Strawberry Hill into Stow Lake then take the stairs behind the falls for a view from the top. Next, meander over to Rainbow Falls located on JFK Drive near Crossover Drive. While at Rainbow Falls, take the trail that leads to the Celtic-designed Prayerbook Cross.

Distance: Roughly 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy, has steps
Parking: Free street or nearby lots 

East Bay

Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol
Hiking to Little Yosemite Falls at Sunol Regional Wilderness will make you forget you are five miles away from a major highway!  Park by the visitor's center and cross a large bridge on to Camp Ohlone Road. Follow the signs to Little Yosemite or for a longer and more scenic route to the waterfall via Indian Joe Trail. Make sure to stop at the Old Green Barn Visitor's Center where kids can see Native American artifacts and check out the naturalist-led programs at the park.

Distance: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Mostly easy with mild elevation
Parking: $5

Codornices Park Waterfall
Codornices Park is already brimming with places to explore (40 foot slide and tunnel, anyone?!) but did you know that there is also a hidden and secret waterfall ?? Walk past the kids play area and up the left set of stairs. Continue left at the top before taking the winding concrete staircase up to the first lamppost where a small gate with the sign “Private Property” is. Enter (it’s ok to do so but please be quiet, clean and respectful) and make a left up to the falls. 

Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon
We love this spot after a rainfall as the creek fills with little waterfalls and pools. Keep an eye out for California newts and cows grazing nearby. Park in the staging area at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road and take the Bolinger Creek Loop trail that comes with amazing views. Picnic tables and facilities at the trailhead means you can pack a lunch! 

Distance: 1.9 miles
Difficulty: Mostly easy with some elevation
Parking: Lot parking 

Peninsula

Christine Lai

San Pedro Valley Park, Pacifica
A series of small waterfalls will greet you at the top of Brooks Creek trail along with sweeping ocean views—we recommend hiking this counter clock wise so that you are climbing on the narrow portion of the trail with the steep drop off to your left.  Benches along the way will help give little legs a rest before trekking onward.

Distance: 2.2 miles
Difficulty: Moderate, 600+ feet elevation gain
Parking: $6 cash only for lot parking, neighborhood parking possible 

Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, Redwood City
Conveniently located right off 280 in Redwood City, Edgewood is known for its picturesque picnic spots and spring wildflowers with a few small waterfalls that are worth discovering. Follow the Sylvan Trail and keep a look out for deer, lizards and other creatures that make this preserve their home.

Distance: 2.3 miles
Difficulty: Mostly easy with some elevation
Parking: Small lot near trailhead, exercise patience 

Portola Redwoods State Park, La Honda
Deep in redwood country, this park has hiking options for even the youngest hikers. Stop by the visitor's center to check out animal bones before taking the Iverson Trail that starts behind the visitor’s center while watching for signs to Tiptoe Falls. Return to the visitor's center via the Sequoia Nature Trail to hike past Shell Tree, the remains of a 17-foot diameter redwood that was destroyed by a camper’s fire in 1989.

Distance: 1.6 miles
Difficulty: Mostly easy with some elevation
Parking: $10 fee

South Bay

Christine Lai

Uvas Canyon County Park, Morgan Hill
One of our favorites, there are plenty of opportunities here to chase waterfalls! Start off on Waterfall Loop Trail and choose between a narrow, more challenging path that follows the south side of the creek or a wider and more suitable path for littles on the north side. Be sure you don't miss the impressive Black Rock Falls—follow the signs that head right from the Waterfall Loop Trail. For a slightly longer hike, we suggest starting out on the Contour Trail and ending via the Waterfall Loop Trail.

Distance: 1.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate 
Parking: Reservations required

Castle Rock Falls, Los Gatos
This short, out-and-back hike will give tiny trekkers a bird’s eye view of a waterfall and, if you’re lucky, the chance to watch rock climbers scale the waterfall! Be sure to stop at the top of the waterfall as the trail continues on for a rockier, more technically challenging portion. 

Distance: 1.2 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Parking: Street possible, $10 in lot

Sanborn County Park, Saratoga
Just a short drive from downtown Saratoga will get you to Sanborn County Park. Turn right after the ranger station and park near the visitor's center (look for salamanders after a rainy day in the nearby ponds). Start by exploring the Nature Trail where you will find many smaller waterfalls. More adventurous hikers can continue on the steep (but short) Peterson Trail to the Sanborn Trail for another great waterfall.

Distance: 1.4 miles
Difficulty: Moderate
Parking: $6

Marin

Cascade Falls, Mill Valley
The constant sound of the rushing creek and bridge crossings all await on this awesome family-friendly trail.  Perfect for beginner and tot-sized hikers, the entire family will enjoy this hike. Parking can be difficult on the weekends so go early or on a weekday and find out why this trail is worth all the hassle!

Distance: 1.5 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Parking: Streets, can be difficult 

Cataract Falls, Fairfax
Marin is well-known for its many beautiful waterfalls and Cataract Falls is at the top of the list! Opposite to the AllTrails suggestion, park at the Rock Springs parking lot to hike along Cataract Trail to Cataract Falls as Bolinas Ridge road is currently closed. This hike is best suited for older children as it is rocky and has some elevation. Reward efforts with a stop by the super popular Double Rainbow Cafe for ice cream and frozen yogurt after!

Distance: 2.8 miles
Difficulty: Moderate with 1000 feet elevation gain
Parking: Streets

Dawn Falls at Blithedale Summit Preserve, Larkspur
Winter is when  this forest comes alive! Dawn Falls Trail loop follows a creek before climbing up to a ridge line and is one of the more challenging ones on our list but we promise you it is worth the trek! The end of the trail is technical and steep so be sure the family has hiking shoes with traction; this hike is best for kids sure-footed kids 5+.

Distance: 2.7 miles
Difficulty: Moderate with technical portions of the trail
Parking: Neighborhood streets

 

Indian Valley Preserve, Novato
Kids will want to roll up sleeves to check out the Pacheco pond teeming with frogs, toads and newts near the beginning of the  trail. After getting your fill of amphibians, proceed along the main fire road to Waterfall Trail under a gorgeously canopied forest to make the relatively easy hike up to the cascade. 

Distance: 2.9 miles
Difficulty: Moderate with one short steep ascent
Parking: Available at nearby College of Marin on the weekdays, otherwise on streets

Sugarloaf Ridge State Park, Kenwood
Straddling both Napa and Sonoma Counties, the Canyon and Pony Gate loop entices hikers to a 25-foot waterfall. Park at the visitor's center trailhead and take the Canyon Trail to the waterfall while enjoying flora and wildlife.

Distance: 2.1 miles
Difficulty: Easy with some elevation gain
Parking: $10 

—Christine Lai & Donna Berry Glass

featured photo by Christine Lai

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