I had no idea this place existed the first few times we made the Annual Wildflower Trek to Table Mountain. Yep, I capitalized all that. It’s that good, and now it’s official. If you’re already at Table Mountain in Northern California for the wildflowers (a seriously mind boggling array of orange poppies, golden buttercups and purple lupines), check out Phantom Falls. It requires about a three mile hike from the parking area, so six miles round trip, unless you decide to frolic and wave to the cows.
This 160-foot waterfall is only visible in the spring months. Depending on what kind of water Northern California gets over the winter, this could mean a torrent over the side of the craggy cliffs for months, or sadly it could mean a little trickle if it’s been a dry year. If you come in September, the flowers will be done for the year and Phantom Falls will once again be hibernating, biding its time until spring. So come around April or early May, even June really, for a really fantastic waterfall hike.
Directions: To reach Table Mountain, you can head over to the Table Mountain wildflower adventure in the “get dirty” tab. Or, if you have GPS, you can try North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve in Oroville, California, on Cherokee Rd. Once you find a parking spot, take a look at that giant oak tree front and center. That’s your landmark as you meander across the wildflower pastures.
We took a compass our first time. I had no idea how to use it. Ry, the 10-year old, was quick to catch on and had to explain it to me. I have a college degree, and I still navigate by “that gorgeous twisty oak with all the squirrels on the right” or “the stump that looks like an owl”. Sorry. Or, if you also navigate by quirky landmarks, you’re welcome!
So, if you’re a compass-wielding gypsy, once you get to that giant oak in the parking lot, you’re going to bear WNW or 300 degrees. Basically, if your back is to the parking lot and the giant oak is on your left, head for the tall trees straight/right, in the distance. You’re going to cross some little creeks, see some very passive, happy cows, smell some wildflowers, and then about a mile and a half from your car, you’ll find yourself at a barbed wire fence. Follow the fence to your left until you reach the ravine with two lacy waterfalls. You’ll see other hikers picking their way along the fence or heading for that ravine.
Here’s the tricksy part (Part one of two. Bear with me). The fence ends, and the ravine/first waterfall are directly on your left. You need to swing over to get yourself on the opposite side of that barbed wire fence. Tricksy, but perfectly doable, I promise you. You’ll see people with gray hair and big walking sticks here, and people with toddlers strapped to their backs.
OK, now you’re back on a cool, easily follow-able trail. Whew! The path is pretty easy to see from this point. Up the hill, wiggling a little left at times, and you’ll see another stand of twisty trees. Once at this stand, you should be able to see a massive carpet of yellow/gold flowers. You’ll think you’re in the middle of something Photoshopped. Maybe Oz. But it’s real! The flowers really are that crazy yellow, and so plentiful they make a carpet. Phantom Falls will be pouring down the basalt towards your right.
You made it! Now you’re faced with a decision, and possibly Part Two of The Tricksy Parts, if you so choose. You can have a picnic and watch Phantom Falls. Take some pictures (and send them to me pretty please, telling me of your fun adventure and what you think the twisty trees look like!)
Or you can keep going, and get UNDERNEATH the waterfall. See those people in the upper middle of the picture above? They look crazy, don’t they? It looks like they’re walking close to the edge and gravity is going to sneak up any minute. But there’s a trail there, and it’s actually not close to the edge. You do have to cross the creek that makes up the falls. Be careful, and cross back away from the edge a bit. You’ll see teenagers leaping over it near the edge. Don’t do that! If this Gypsy Mama is there, you’ll hear a gasp and a concerned wild-eye in your direction. There’s a perfectly safe spot to cross just to the right – use that one, people!
See? Safe. Way away from the edge.
Once you’ve crossed, now you want to take that path up and over the hill and to the left. It’s well trafficked, and you’ll see it. Follow it around until you see the creek dipping into the ravine. Most likely, you’ll see fellow hikers here, turning left into the canyon. The first part of the path is a little slanted.
You’ll follow this path and the creek until you come to the tree with the rope tied to it. Yep, the rope. If you want to get to the bottom of the falls, you need to go down some pretty steep terrain, and the rope is nice. You can slide down on your butt, but I like the rope. You’ll be especially fond of that rope on the way back up.
Down the rope you go, and when you reach the bottom, the falls are across a little basalt field on your left. You can now stand under the waterfall, or explore the little cave behind it, and wave to the people on the top across the way!