5 Hikes for Waterfall Viewing in the Eastern Sierra

Jul 14, 2021

There’s something about waterfalls that relaxes the mind and renews the spirit. Moving water is not only beautiful to see but also energizing. The Eastern Sierra has many cascading falls tucked in canyons around each bend in the trail.

Here are a few of our favorite hikes to waterfalls in the Eastern Sierra.

Waterfall Hikes in Reds Meadow

Rainbow Falls and Lower Falls

Arguably the most dramatic waterfall in the Eastern Sierra, the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River plunges more than 100 feet at Rainbow Falls in Reds Meadow. When the sun is shining at the perfect angle, the mist from the falls creates a stunning rainbow. One of the most popular hiking trails in the area, Rainbow Falls Trail is a great waterfall hike for the entire family.

From the Rainbow Falls Trailhead, follow the trail south, which descends gently for 1.5 miles to the waterfall viewing platform. A number of other trails will cross the Rainbow Falls Trail, but the route is well marked. To get to the base of the falls take the staircase to the pool at the bottom of the falls. Swimming is discouraged and is considered very dangerous. Continue on down the trail another 1.5 miles to the cascading Lower Falls where there is a large pool great for fishing. Return the same route, or take the long way back toward Devils Postpile National Monument.

Minaret Falls – The River Trail

Minaret Creek plunges over a granite rock buttress just before it enters the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River. The cascading waterfall can be seen from a few vantage points in the valley, but the best and least obstructed view is from the River Trail/Pacific Crest Trail.

From Upper Soda Springs Campground take the bridge across the river and head south on the River Trail/Pacific Crest Trail. In less than two miles the trail crosses Minaret Creek at the base of the waterfall. This is your best view of the cascading Minaret Falls. Continue on this trail to another bridge heading to Devils Postpile National Monument. Take the short detour south to see the monument or go north to get to the Devils Postpile parking area and trailhead. Hop on the shuttle to return to the Upper Soda Springs Campground.

Crater Creek Falls – Fish Creek Trail

Crater Creek Falls is one of the more dramatic cascading waterfalls in the area and also the least visited. The spring-fed creek begins high up on the western slope of Mammoth Crest and falls over a steep valley at the junction of the Fish Creek Trail, where it meanders through dense pine forests, before plunging over a rocky bench into the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River.

Take the Rainbow Falls Trail south for 1.2 miles. Stay left at the Rainbow Falls turn off and continue along the Fish Creek Trail. The cascading falls will come into view to the east in 3 miles. Continue on another mile to a large polished granite bench where the creek plunges again into the river below. This is a fantastic viewpoint and good turn-around spot for an 8-mile round trip hike. Return the same way and take the short detour to Rainbow Falls on the way back.

READ MORE: Hiking in Reds Meadow

Waterfall Hikes Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes

Rush Creek Falls

Located in the June Lake Loop, Rush Creek Falls is a seasonal waterfall that flows when the damn at Agnew Lake is released. The only way to know if the waterfall is flowing is to go and see for yourself. Although the waterfall can be seen from the road, a hiking trail climbs to Agnew Lake at the top of the falls and offers a great perspective.

The Rush Creek Trail climbs quickly from the Silver Lake Trailhead. Take a few stops as the trail climbs and look around for views of the waterfall and Silver Lake below. In 2.2 miles, you will reach Agnew Lake where a small footbridge crosses the dam and outlet. Return the same route.

Lundy Canyon Waterfalls

Just north of Lee Vining in northern Mono County, Lundy Canyon is known for its wildflowers and lush green foliage in the spring. The canyon is a spectacular microclimate and has a very different appeal than other regions in the Eastern Sierra. Aspen trees and wild grasses line the Lundy Canyon hiking trail as it climbs up past beaver ponds and a few cascading waterfalls.

From the Lundy Canyon Trailhead, the trail climbs gently up the canyon. At 2.2 miles, you will reach two cascading waterfalls on the north side of the canyon. These falls are a popular destination and most hikers turn around here. Return the same route.

READ MORE: Hiking Just Outside of Mammoth Lakes

Monica Prelle

Monica Prelle is an outdoors, wine, and travel writer who would rather be running, climbing, or mountain biking. See more of Monica's posts here, read more of her work at monicaprelle.com and connect on twitter @monicaprelle

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