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Waterfalls and wildflowers

Mother Lode region home to abundant natural beauty for locals, visitors alike to enjoy

  • 3 min to read
Waterfalls and wildflowers

Waterfalls and other natural splendor abound throughout Calaveras County like Mill Creek near Hathaway Pines.

April and May are typically known as wildflower and waterfall season in California, but thanks to late rains and high elevations in Calaveras County, summer, and even early fall, isn’t too late to find wildflowers and waterfalls hidden – or not so hidden – throughout the region. In fact, the weather is sometimes better this time of year for taking the hike that leads to these natural wonders.

Thanks to the rain, those waterfalls are still flowing faster than ever, and the blooms in the high Sierra may be peaking up until the end of August. Read on to learn where you can catch the best glimpses of waterfalls and wildflowers throughout Calaveras County – and beyond.

Waterfall hikes

You might not have known that Calaveras is home to its very own waterfall, but it’s true. There is no reason to leave this stunning county to find flowing falls. Deep in the Stanislaus National Forest, hikers stumble upon San Antonio Falls Overlook along the Arnold Rim Trail, right outside of the town of Arnold. Among the trail’s 17.5 miles lays a stream with falls up above. Hikers will dip into a canyon before coming to the banks of the stream. Look up and you’ll see a waterfall cascading over the granite mountains where the towering trees of the Stanislaus Forest surround.

Because we don’t take advice from 1990s hip-hop artists, we’re going to be chasing waterfalls until summer ends. Head just outside of Calaveras County and into Yosemite National Park to find a few more beauties.

Yosemite, just 80 miles outside of county limits, boasts the beautiful Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, where the upper falls drop nearly 2,500 feet into the lower fall. This one will likely be tapering off soon, down to only a trickle by September, but in November the falls are rejuvenated by late season storms.

Also in Yosemite, Bridalveil Fall is beloved for its year-round flow. While many falls are slowing down this time of year, Bridalveil is still going strong. The falls reach 620-feet up, and are easier to find than many of the other gems in Yosemite because it’s one of the first visible falls upon entering the park. It takes only a few minutes to hit the base of the falls along a steep (up to 24% grade) trail.

Slightly smaller Nevada Fall (594 feet) flows all year as well, and is accessible by road until November. For a hike, take the trail from Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall, but be warned, it’s steep.

Illilouette (370 feet), Wapama (a 1,400-foot beauty that not many dare to visit) and Chilnualna (accessible only by a hiking trail) round out our list of Yosemite falls worth a late summer-early fall visit.

Wildflowers

Many think blooms come and go with spring, but August and even September still find hillsides covered in Mother Nature’s bounty, partly because Calaveras County’s varying landscapes allow for up to seven months of wildflower viewing – more than most other California counties.

The high Sierra is the best area for viewing wildflowers this time of year when the high elevations (6,000-8,000 feet) reach peak growing temperatures. Into August, mariposa lilies, lupines, tiger lilies and more cover the highest elevations, and with a late rainy season, hikers can expect these floral arrangements to hang on later in the year as snow is just now melting off in the lower mountain ranges.

Within county limits, Calaveras Big Trees State Park off of Highway 4 proffers late-season wildflowers beyond the invasive sweet peas dotting the hillsides, with mainly lupine still growing this late. Head farther up Highway 4 toward Lake Alpine and Bear Valley in the Sierra Nevada range to catch varied glimpses of vibrant, wild growth.

Can’t get enough? After trekking up, loop back down on Highway 88 for more. Carson Pass is just beginning its blooming season after coming out from under snowmelt in late July. In August and September, the area expects vibrant bunches of Indian paintbrush, irises and mariposa lilies. On the north side of the highway in Meiss Meadows, the blooms are already abundant.

Day trips are one more way to hunt down those vibrant California blooms. On the other side of Yosemite National Park north of the Inyo National Forest is Mono County, a region ripe with late-blooming wildflowers. Here, irises and lupines create colorful landscapes throughout Bridgeport Valley. Bodie Hills, however, is a better bet for florals aplenty. Reaching 9,500 feet altitude, visitors are likely to find white and blue lupine, larkspur, yellow hawksbeard and Coville’s phlox near the ghost town. McGee Creek offers many of these varietals and more, including milk-vetches, desert peach, scarlet gilia and bright yellow mule ears painting the hillside in bright hues of yellow, red and orange. Bring your camera to Rock Creek (reaching an elevation of 10,200 feet) to see a wider variety of flowers to include fireweed, orchids and tiger lilies.

Want to stay in town? The Ironstone Vineyards fields will also not disappoint this time of year. In August the property is still drenched in blooms of flowers. Grab your friends and take a stroll through the public garden for wildflower fields within Murphys.

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