Now is the best time of year to head out with the kids to check out some Bay Area waterfalls. Even though our winter rain has been minimal this year, you can still find some waterfall beauties near you before hot summer days arrive. Breathe in the fresh air and scroll through to find the perfect spot for your next waterfall hiking adventure!
Huntington Falls and Rainbow Falls
If a leisurely stroll in the city is your thing, there are some nice waterfalls in Golden Gate Park. Granted, these are man-made falls, so not quite as impressive as the real deal, but they will do when kids are concerned. First, hit Huntington Falls, which cascades down Strawberry Hill and into Stow Lake. Take the stairs just behind the falls for a view from the top. Then meander over to Rainbow Falls, located on JFK Drive near Crossover Drive. While at Rainbow Falls, take the trail that leads to the Celtic-design Prayerbook Cross, the largest monument in the park. It's always a bonus that parking is free in the park and blocked off to car traffic on Sundays.
Golden Gate Park
Sunol Regional Wilderness, Sunol
Little Yosemite is the waterfall to see when you visit Sunol Regional Wilderness. For the short 1.7-mile hike, park by the visitor's center and cross a large bridge on to Camp Ohlone Road. Follow the road and the signs to Little Yosemite, then return via the same route. A longer and more scenic route takes you to the waterfall via Indian Joe Trail. Make sure your visit includes a stop at the Old Green Barn Visitor's Center where you can see Native American artifacts and learn about the naturalist-led programs at the park.
1895 Geary Road
Las Trampas Regional Wilderness, San Ramon
We love this spot after a rain as the creek fills with little waterfalls and pools. It's a great spot for newt watching and you may see some cows grazing nearby. Park in the staging area at the end of Bollinger Canyon Road. There are bathrooms and picnic tables there. Take the Bolinger Creek Loop trail that comes with amazing views and water access.
Edgewood Park and Natural Preserve, Redwood City
This preserve is conveniently located right off 280 in Redwood City. Known for its picturesque picnic spots and spring wildflowers, there are a few small waterfalls that are worth discovering if you follow the Sylvan Trail. Along the way, look for deer, lizards and other creatures that make this preserve their home.
10 Old Stage Coach Road
San Pedro Valley Park, Pacifica
Brooks Falls is the spot you want to head for when you get to this Pacifica park. Follow the Brooks Creek Trail a little over a mile from the parking lot to get to the falls. This seasonal waterfall is best visited after a significant rain as it can be easy to hear but difficult to spot. Tired trekkers will enjoy the benches along the way.
600 Oddstad Blvd.
Portola Redwoods State Park, La Honda
Head to Portola Redwoods State Park and you will be deep in redwood country. This park has great spots for camping and tons of hiking options for even the youngest hikers. The visitor's center is worth a stop as it's full of animal bones and tons of information about the area. Hikers looking for a waterfall should take the Iverson Trail from the visitor's center and watch 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.
9000 Portola State Park Road
Uvas Canyon County Park, Morgan Hill
The aptly-named Waterfall Loop Trail is where all the action is. This 1.5-mile loop is conveniently located close to the parking lot (and bathrooms). You'll first encounter Granuja Falls, then continue upstream for more waterfall action. A narrow, more challenging path follows the south side of the creek while a wider and more suitable for little ones path is on the north side. Be sure you don't miss the Black Rock Falls—follow the signs that head right from the Waterfall Loop Trail. The Black Rock Falls are impressive and offer tons of selfie-taking opportunities. For a slightly longer hike, we suggest starting out on the Contour Trail and ending via the Waterfall Loop Trail.
8515 Croy Road
Sanborn County Park, Saratoga
Just a short drive up Highway 9 from downtown Saratoga will get you to Sanborn County Park. Turn right after the ranger station and park near the visitor's center. 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 to find a great waterfall that you can cross over to get to the campground. If you visit after a rainy day, you may spot some salamanders that love to swim in the small ponds by the visitor's center.
16055 Sanborn Road
Cascade Falls, Mill Valley
This is an awesome, family-friendly trail is just 1.5-mile out and back walk from the trailhead. Parking can be difficult on the weekends so go early or on a weekday. It's too rocky for a stroller but there are benches along the way if your little hikers need a break.
More info: alltrails.com
Cataract Falls, Fairfax
Marin is well-known for its many beautiful waterfalls and Cataract Falls is up there on the list. The most direct route starts at the Fairfax-Bolinas Road trailhead and hikes along Cataract Trail to the waterfall. This hike is best suited for older children as it is rocky and not suitable for strollers. Many small waterfalls along the way bring you to Cataract Falls.
Dawn Falls at Blithedale Summit Preserve, Larkspur
This 2.7-mile loop trail follows a creek and you can find some small waterfalls after a rainy day. The last mile takes you through the neighborhoods so turn around and follow the trail back if you prefer to stay in the woods. More info
Baltimore Canyon Open Space Preserve, Kentfield
The Dawn Falls trail is a kid favorite as it is short (less than 3 miles round trip), relatively flat (until you get the falls) and ends with the beautiful Dawn Falls. Street parking can be sparse on Madrone Ave, so instead access the park from Crown Road and walk along the Southern fire road before you reach the trailhead. Follow the path along Larkspur Creek through the cool madrone forest on your way to the falls. Keep an eye out for California Pacific giant salamanders lurking in the creek's pools.
Blithedale Ridge Road
Indian Valley Preserve, Novato
Adjacent to College of Marin's Indian Valley campus, this preserve is full of areas to explore, including a small pond teeming with frogs, toads and newts located near the beginning of the main fire road. After getting your fill of amphibians, proceed along the road to Waterfall Trail and make the relatively easy hike up to the cascade. Dogs are welcome at the preserve, leashed on trail and under voice command on the fire road. Parking is available in the campus lot during the weekdays, but not on weekends.
End of Ignacio Road
Sugarloaf Ridge State Park
This park straddles Napa and Sonoma Counties and welcomes visitors with a short hike to a pretty awesome 25-foot waterfall. Park at the visitor's center trailhead and take the Canyon Trail to the waterfall.
2605 Adobe Canyon Road
This popular swimming hole flows is located on the north side of Sir Francis Drake Boulevard, just east of Samuel P. Taylor State Park. Look for a long red bridge on the side of the road, the water is underneath. Parking is free at the Leo T. Cronin Fish Viewing Area.. A series of cascades leads down to the waterholes after a good rain.
—Donna Berry Glass & Kate Loweth