Finding Mossbrae Falls – Northern California’s Forbidden Waterfall

Photo by Josh Hild 

Northern California is full of incredible waterfalls, many of which sit in the Shasta-Cascade region. The most unique of the waterfalls is Mossbrae Falls. The difference between Mossbrae and other NorCal waterfalls is that it seems the rock and moss are continually bleeding fresh, mountain water. It’s a sight to behold.

Mossbrae Falls is actually a series of springs that burst from the cliffs above the Sacramento River and then rain down into the water. It’s composed of two primary clusters of spring-fed waterfalls, which reach about 50 feet high and 150 feet wide. The presence of the river beneath the falls enhances the scene and makes for one of the prettiest sights in the Shasta area. There are numerous springs feeding the falls so they are great year-round.

RELATED: 13 Waterfalls in One Weekend: Northern California’s World-Famous Waterfall Loop

The problem with the waterfall is it’s very hard to access for hikers. The only way to access the falls is by trespassing along an active railway, and visitors must walk within a few feet of passing trains. Several years ago, a sightseer was struck by a train and severely injured.

There is currently a plan for a new trailhead to allow hikers safe and legal access to the falls. The plan for the trail, which has made significant progress over the past 18 months, would place a trailhead at the end of the Hedge Creek Falls trail and continue to a newly-constructed pedestrian suspension bridge across the Sacramento River. The trail would continue north through a forested area below the train tracks and along the river, ending at Mossbrae Falls.

Until then, getting to the falls remains dangerous, and technically illegal. Let’s clear the air about Mossbrae Falls once and for all.

It’s no secret that Dunsmuir’s premiere waterfall is being marketed by the town. In fact, last time I visited Dunsmuir a prominent city council member urged me to visit the falls. As I spoke to him, and other locals, they made it very clear about the legality of the waterfall. People have criticized us in the past for “promoting” illegal hikes, but the bode of confidence from locals inspired me to write the exact hike to the falls.

In order to access the waterfall, you have to trespass…twice. First, you will do a quick walk through the Shasta Retreat, which is private property. From all accounts from locals and city officials, Shasta Retreat is okay with people walking through their property, as long as you park outside the area and be respectful as you walk through.

Then you will approach and hike down the railroad track for about 1.2 miles, which is technically trespassing on Union Pacific’s property. I spoke with a Union Pacific official last time I was there, and he told me that they openly allow Mossbrae Falls hikers as long as you stay safe and keep the area clean. Yes, history has shown us the hike along the railroad tracks is dangerous, but there are ways to mitigate the risk.

Photo by Elijah Hiett 

Here’s the full description of the tricky hike to Mossbrae Falls:

In Dunsmuir, drive down to the north end of Dunsmuir Avenue where you’ll see the sign for Shasta Retreat on Scarlet Avenue. Find parking in a legal area on the far side of the road to avoid any issues. You will walk down the hill of Scarlet Avenue which will eventually veer right and turn into Cave Avenue. Follow the road right until it turns left onto a small bridge across the Sacramento River, which will lead you to the railroad tracks.

Take a right on the tracks and you will hike on the loose rocks for a little over a mile. Be sure to stay on the right side of the tracks which provides more than enough room to hike the “trail.” Some parts are a little tighter than others, so just always be aware if a train might be coming. I like to watch a train pass by and go right afterwards, minimizing the chances of encountering a train. In my experience, trains move very slow through this area.

A little past the 3/4 marker, you’ll approach a bridge with a rock that reads “Mossbrae” – that’s where you look to the right and will find trails down to the falls.

You’ve probably seen photos of the waterfall online, but nothing can prepare you for the experience you’ll find in person. It’s absolutely gorgeous and much bigger than you’ll expect. There are plenty of areas to lounge near the falls and bring your fishing rod to catch some of those beautiful rainbow trout in the Sacramento River.

Are we going to get criticized for posting this article? Of course we will. But if people are going to visit the waterfalls, I want to make sure they do it right. Be respectful of the Shasta Retreat. Be safe on the railroad tracks. And know the dangers before you go.

The future trailhead from Hedge Creek Falls to Mossbrae Falls is going to be an incredible hike with two awesome waterfalls. But until the trail is finished, visitors will have to deal with the tricky trek to the falls.

Active NorCal

Telling the Stories of Northern California
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