California: Books and Maps

A trip to
California can be optimized in both time and money with some planning before your trip. This means that chances are you'll need to buy a book and/or map as many waterfall attractions are unknown to tourists and are literally in the nooks and crannies of the state. Probably waterfalling the lesser-known waterfalls in the state will be limited to curious residents or discerning travelers, but I've found such excursions make me appreciate just how special of a place we live in and how fragile and threatened the environment is.

Below are books and maps that we've used. We've also included other books in the literature that may help you find what you need. The list is by no means complete, but hopefully it is enough to get you going on your quest to inform yourself on your travels.


California Waterfalls (Foghorn Outdoors): For Julie and I, this is the book that started it all. It was the source we used to hunt down local waterfalls locally in Southern California before expanding to other parts of the state. Needless to say, we have to credit Ann Marie Brown with jump starting our obsession for waterfalls around the world.

This thick nearly 500-page book (we have the second edition) covers most of the accessible waterfalls throughout California. Although it's in lackluster black and white and not all chapters have waterfall photos, Brown's descriptions have spunk and her maps are adequate to get oriented (though you'll still want to supplement them with Topo! maps).

Day Hiking California's National Parks (Foghorn Outdoors): This is another book that got usage from us when we were looking for hikes and attractions besides waterfalls in National Parks in the state. We've used it for Death Valley, Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, and even Joshua Tree. Written by the same author as California Waterfalls, the format is similar with ratings, text, maps, and photos in this black and white book.

Hiking Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks (Falcon Guide): The Falcon Guide is a reliable series of books providing maps, info (even GPS coordinates in some instances as well as elevation profiles), and some limited photos. I was surprised as the lack of dedicated hiking and attractions guides for Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, which is how I got to purchasing this book. While most of the hikes contain therein are serious multi-day backcountry excursions, it does have the detail to give me some degree of confidence if I was to undertake one of these backpacks. For more common day hikes, it's got all that covered too.

The Definitive Guide to the Waterfalls of Southern and Central California (Shaffer): This book covers many waterfalls in the central and southern parts of the state with lots of photos and color. However, there are many problems with this book such as the lack of useful maps, bad directions, and bad quality. Some of the better falls require dangerous off-trail scrambles so you'll have to be cognizant of that when making an attempt at such falls. Moreover, a large percentage of waterfalls in the book aren't really waterfalls (i.e. too small, more like rapids, too ephemeral to count, etc.). After trying to use the book for some of the promising falls not covered in Brown's book, I finally just gave up and just let it collect dust on the bookshelf. But to his credit, the author did manage to find some spectacular waterfalls that are good for armchair waterfallers. Nonetheless, it's hard to recommend this as a useful guidebook.

Challenge of the Big Trees (Sequoia Natural History Association): This no-nonsense book provides a retrospective look at the history of how Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks came to be. It begins with the natural history of the area before delving into Native American habitation. The rest of the book chronicles the ups and many downs of Caucasian exploitation up until the present day.

If you truly want to learn about these parks while getting a better understanding of the nuances in the conflict between nature/conservation and politics/business, this is about as thorough as it gets. Once I got into the book, I thoroughly enjoyed the book and felt tremendously enlightened, and thus I highly recommend it. I bought this book directly from the Sequoia Natural History Association (SNHA), but you might have to work a little to get your hands on this book through other channels.

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Topo! California (National Geographic): The National Geographic Topo! series are no-nonsense raster-based topographic maps at an incredible 1:24k scale (i.e. you can see walking trails, campsites, bathrooms, and other specific buildings) for the entire state. The one we got for California has gotten extensive use as we've planned and trip logged our weekend outings to Yosemite, Sequoia/Kings Canyon, Death Valley, Pt Reyes, Southern California, etc. Not to be too picky, but there are a few mistakes on the map such as those in Yosemite (e.g. Tueeulala Falls), but at the same time, it also helped me clear up wrong information (e.g. Waterwheel Falls).

Unfortunately, the map info is really all the Topo! series has going for it as their interface sucks. You actually need to purchase supplemental patches to get added functionality including the ever-so-important live GPS navigation. In all honesty, I think Topo! maps are excellent for hiking and backpacking, but they're terrible for road navigation or even trip logging.

Topo! Sequoia & Kings Canyon; Death Valley; Joshua Tree; etc. (National Geographic): If you don't want to lug a PDA or laptop around, you can always carry around these durable waterproof fold-out maps, which are useful when you're out hiking. At a 1:24k scale, you'll see all the pertinent trails and important landmarks to help you get oriented and where you want to go out in the wilderness. Very powerful if you combine this with a compass.

Sequoia National Forest including Giant Sequoia National Monument (USDA): This useful waterproof fold-out map covers both main districts of the Sequoia National Forest (i.e. the Tule River District and the Hume Lake District). Quite detailed and especially helpful in determining which roads to take as you navigate through the rugged landscape in this off-the-beaten-path location. Campsites, attractions, picnic areas, etc. are identified on this map. This isn't quite a topographic map, but it sure comes close in terms of the level of detail provided. I picked up this map at the map rack in an our local REI store, but I'm sure you can contact the US Department of Agriculture for information on how to pick this up from other channels or retailers.

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