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Exploring Our Backyard: Road trip to Burney Falls, the 'Eighth Wonder of the World'

Burney Falls in Northern California. President Theodore Roosevelt called it the "Eighth Wonder of the World"

Don’t go chasing waterfalls. It’s a line from a TLC song from the mid-90s. I’m not sure what the context is in that song, but it feels like bad advice. I absolutely love chasing waterfalls. And you should, too. There’s nothing like the majesty of a gushing waterfall. The sight, the roaring sound, the misting spray, and, potentially, the ability to stick your head underneath it. It's one of my favorite natural features.

Last weekend, I knew I wanted to go camping somewhere, but I couldn’t decide where. With the weather leaning toward a cold snap and windy, my first thought was to drive to a hot springs. But after an NSN Daily interview with McQueen football coach Jim Snelling, I was reminded of a place on my regional bucket list: Burney Falls. After seeing the weather forecast wasn’t quite as cold or windy in that area of California, I pulled the trigger on that as the destination.

And let me tell you, I couldn’t be happier with my decision.

My wife and I bought an old 1995 motorhome last summer, and while we’ve taken it on a couple of short trips, this was going to be the longest drive yet. We were a little nervous about how it would do but figured we had to give it a shot eventually. The trip from Reno to Burney Falls is about three hours, so we figured it wouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Our plan was to take off early Saturday morning to take advantage of the day. Of course, that turned into leaving noon instead. Undeterred by the late start, our group of me, my wife and our two friends departed to check out this waterfall landmark.

Burney Falls is about 170 miles northwest of Reno just past beyond the Lassen National Forest. The stretch of the drive from Susanville into the mountains was super peaceful and beautiful, with hardly any other cars on the road. Fortunately the RV (“Berta,” as my wife likes to call it) made the drive with flying colors.

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We arrived at McArthur-Burney Falls Memorial State Park in Shasta County around 3 p.m., giving us plenty of time to explore during these long, sunny, summer days.

As soon as you get out of your car at the parking lot, you can hear the roar of the nearby falls. Within just a couple of minutes, you get the first glimpse of this incredible sight. Burney Falls was called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” by President Theodore Roosevelt, and was later declared a National Natural Landmark in 1954. It’s easy to see why.

Standing tall at 129 feet and averaging 100 million gallons of water flow per day, the falls is a sight to be seen. After a five-minute walk down the side of a hill, you arrive at the base of the falls. There are tons of places to spread out and take in the beauty, snap some pictures and feel the cold refreshing water as it pools into the start of the Pit River.

We decided to walk to the left edge of the waterfall where we could get up close and personal to the falls and dunk our head under and feel the cool refreshment.

After 30 minutes of waterfall euphoria, we walked the loop trail that goes down river, crosses a bridge, and then climbs back above the falls on the opposite side. It was an easy walk that took only a half hour. While you don’t get a better view from the top on that side, it was beautiful to walk along the river's edge and take in some of the scenery from the rest of the area.

We wished we could stay there for the rest of the day, but unfortunately the park was not yet open to overnight camping. We will definitely make a return trip.

I spent a few days trying to decide where to camp that night with many options closed during the COVID-19 shutdown, but I discovered a large campground that had just opened inside the Lassen Volcanic National Park: Manzanita Lake. We jumped back in the RV and made about an hour drive back to the south and west to settle in for the night.

When we arrived, we were met with something unexpected in the month of June: hail. Fortunately, the chunks were about the size of dip-n-dots and only lasted for 20 minutes. We were doubly fortunate we had the RV and knew we would be sleeping inside as opposed to sleeping in a tent like many others at the campground. The Manzanita Lake campground has more than 100 sites and is well positioned to the beautiful alpine lake as well as exploring the vast national park.

We set up camp before sunset, fired up the grill, made dinner and s’mores and enjoyed a nice crisp cold night under the stars.

After enjoying a late morning at camp, we packed up the RV and made our trek back toward Reno. On the way, we decided to make the drive through the entire Lassen Volcanic National Park, which took about an hour. It was absolutely gorgeous. The second half was filled with snow from the previous winter, so there really weren’t many opportunities for hiking or walking around but the drive was awesome.

From there, we decided to make our way through Lake Almanor. We pulled over at the lake on the southwest shore by the Lake Almanor Campground, and to our surprise we were able to drive right up on the beach with the RV. We decided to hang out for lunch until another storm rolled through and it was time to continue driving home.

We headed south through Quincy and down into the Plumas National Forest, where to our surprise it was warm and sunny. Part of the drive back was along the beautiful Feather River, which looked like a perfect place to bask in some sun and take a dip. With no plans on where to stop, we just pulled over at a random spot off of Highway 89, and were stoked at how beautiful the spot was. There wasn't another soul in sight and there was barely any road noise as we just hung out and soaked up the sun.

The clouds came back about an hour later, and it was time to make the final push back home. What started as a spur-of-the-moment decision to explore Burney Falls turned into a full weekend adventure through some beautiful parts of Northern California. I say this all the time, but it’s just another reminder of how lucky we are to live in a place that has some many gems within a few hours' drive.

We arrived back home Sunday evening with our souls and hearts full of joy, still riding the euphoric high of experiencing a new amazing place in nature. One thing is for sure: I’m going to continue chasing waterfalls all summer long. Hope you can do the same.

Nevada Sports Net's executive producer Alex Margulies will feature a local recreation activity every Thursday in his Exploring Our Backyard feature. Exploring Our Backyard will return with new TV episodes this summer. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter at @marguliespxp.

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