Mill Creek Falls

Lassen Volcanic National Park / near Redding / near Red Bluff / Plumas County, California, USA

Rating: 2.5     Difficulty: 3
Mill Creek Falls, where East Sulphur Creek and Bumpass Creek join together to give this waterfall its force

TABLE OF CONTENTS



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INTRODUCTION

Mill Creek Falls was kind of our waterfalling excuse to visit Lassen Volcanic National Park. Although it wasn't the only waterfall in the reserve, it was at low enough elevation that we were able to do this hike even though much of the rest of the park was still under snow and ice during our mid- to late June visit in 2016. In fact, our early Summer hike was full of colorful mats of wildflowers backed by the technicolor volcanic peaks that kind of made us think of Lassen Volcanic as California's humble answer to Yellowstone National Park. And as for the waterfall itself, it featured a gushing 75ft drop just below the confluence of East Sulphur Creek along with Bumpass Creek (which originated from the Bumpass Hot Springs in the famed Bumpass Hell part of the park). Given the geothermal origin of the creeks, Mom and I definitely smelled traces of that rotten egg sulphur smell around the falls.

Our 3.2-mile round trip hike to Mill Creek Falls was accessed from the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center near the southwest entrance of the park (see directions below). At first we had trouble finding the trail, but after asking a park employee at the visitor center, we learned that the trail started adjacent to the amphitheater and campground just a few paces outside the visitor center building. From there, the trail descended towards West Sulphur Creek, where we crossed a bridge then swung around a little meadow-like area with colorful mats of wildflowers. This area was even more compelling from a photography standpoint because it was backed by colorful volcanic mountains further adding to the colorful and picturesque scene. Then, the trail briefly climbed a bump before sharply descending into a lightly forested area. After undulating up and down as well as in and out of forested sections, we'd eventually reach a short unbridged creek crossing before the trail really began to climb in earnest.

Fortunately, most of the climb was in the shade of tall trees flanking us, but it was in this stretch that we would gain most of the elevation. Even though we had read that the net gain was 300ft, it definitely felt a lot longer than that. In one section where the trees had parted, we were able to glimpse across a canyon to our right (cut by East Sulphur Creek) towards some minor cascades running due to the snow melt. After roughly over an hour on the trail, we finally arrived at an overlook peering right down at the entirety of Mill Creek Falls. It was from this vantage point that we managed to get the photo you see at the top of this page. The trail would continue towards the footbridges spanning both creeks above the falls, though that second footbridge was as far as we'd go. In order to celebrate our little accomplishment of making it to the falls, we spoiled ourselves with a picnic lunch near the brink of the falls. We were joined dozens of other people chilling out here, and given how we managed to see many hikers going in both directions throughout the trail, we knew that this hike was indeed a very popular one.

Anyways, the scene at the top of Mill Creek Falls was such that we didn't want to leave too quickly, but once we were done with our snack and water break while having our fill of the falls (along with the faint sulphur smell), we then returned the way we came, which was mostly downhill with a few minor uphill sections. Then, we got to experience the wildflowers (especially in that stretch close to the bridge over West Sulphur Creek) all over again before making that final ascent back up to the visitor center. Overall, we managed to do this out-and-back hike in roughly 2.5 hours though we really took our time, especially at the brink of the falls. So it's conceivable that it could take a bit less time to do this hike if you were in a more of a hurry.




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PHOTO JOURNAL

A few minutes drive north of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center was the Sulphur Works, which featured roadside geothermal oddities like a boiling mud pool as well as technicolor hillsA few minutes drive north of the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center was the Sulphur Works, which featured roadside geothermal oddities like a boiling mud pool as well as technicolor hills
Near the Koh Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, we noticed this interesting natural arch high up on the craggy cliffs in the distanceNear the Koh Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, we noticed this interesting natural arch high up on the craggy cliffs in the distance
Just up the mountain from Mill Creek Falls was the trail to Bumpass Hell thermal basin, which we believe must have been Lassen Volcanic National Park's signature attractionJust up the mountain from Mill Creek Falls was the trail to Bumpass Hell thermal basin, which we believe must have been Lassen Volcanic National Park's signature attraction
One of the most attractive parts of the Mill Creek Falls Trail was this open space where colorful mats of wildflowers were fronting some jagged and colorful volcanic peaksOne of the most attractive parts of the Mill Creek Falls Trail was this open space where colorful mats of wildflowers were fronting some jagged and colorful volcanic peaks
Looking back towards the Koh Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center as we were about to begin our hikeLooking back towards the Koh Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center as we were about to begin our hike

Mom getting onto the Mill Creek Falls Trail after passing behind the amphitheater where I'd imagine rangers might tell kids camping here night time storiesMom getting onto the Mill Creek Falls Trail after passing behind the amphitheater where I'd imagine rangers might tell kids camping here night time stories

Mom on the initial descent amongst some trees with hints of volcanic peaks in the distanceMom on the initial descent amongst some trees with hints of volcanic peaks in the distance

Crossing over a bridge spanning West Sulphur Creek at the bottom of the initial descentCrossing over a bridge spanning West Sulphur Creek at the bottom of the initial descent

After the bridge, Mom and I passed by lovely mats of blooming wildflowers really adding color to this section of the hikeAfter the bridge, Mom and I passed by lovely mats of blooming wildflowers really adding color to this section of the hike

Looking back towards the open meadow-like scene that we had just passedLooking back towards the open meadow-like scene that we had just passed

This descent was one of the many trail undulations we had to do before the trail really started to climb as it approached East Sulphur CreekThis descent was one of the many trail undulations we had to do before the trail really started to climb as it approached East Sulphur Creek

In addition to undulating, the trail also went in and out of groves of tall trees providing some degree of shade from the sunIn addition to undulating, the trail also went in and out of groves of tall trees providing some degree of shade from the sun

We noticed this fellow in one of the forested sections, which I think was a marmot or something that we hadn't seen in a whileWe noticed this fellow in one of the forested sections, which I think was a marmot or something that we hadn't seen in a while

This was another undulating part where we briefly descended after passing by another scenic stretch with lots of wildflowersThis was another undulating part where we briefly descended after passing by another scenic stretch with lots of wildflowers

Waiting our turn to cross this unbridged creek crossingWaiting our turn to cross this unbridged creek crossing

After the creek crossing, it seemed like the bulk of the elevation gain happened as we were weaving between more tall trees while generally going uphillAfter the creek crossing, it seemed like the bulk of the elevation gain happened as we were weaving between more tall trees while generally going uphill

Here was a stretch where the trees momentarily opened up and allowed us to assess our surroundingsHere was a stretch where the trees momentarily opened up and allowed us to assess our surroundings

One of the things we noticed was this thin cascade way on the other side of the canyon to our rightOne of the things we noticed was this thin cascade way on the other side of the canyon to our right

After over an hour of hiking, we finally arrived at the overlook of Mill Creek FallsAfter over an hour of hiking, we finally arrived at the overlook of Mill Creek Falls

Here's a more focused look at Mill Creek Falls in long exposure thanks to the railings that were here acting as a tripodHere's a more focused look at Mill Creek Falls in long exposure thanks to the railings that were here acting as a tripod

Context of the overlook area of Mill Creek FallsContext of the overlook of Mill Creek Falls

Mom continuing the hike to get closer to Mill Creek FallsMom continuing the hike to get closer to the falls

At the bridge over East Sulphur Creek looking towards Bumpass Creek and the brink of Mill Creek FallsAt the bridge over East Sulphur Creek looking towards Bumpass Creek and the brink of the falls

Looking downstream over the brink of Mill Creek FallsLooking downstream over the brink of the falls

Nearby Mill Creek Falls, we noticed more craggy volcanic peaks barely revealing themselvesNearby Mill Creek Falls, we noticed more craggy volcanic peaks barely revealing themselves

We noticed these wildflowers while having a picnic lunch at the top of Mill Creek FallsWe noticed these wildflowers while having a picnic lunch at the top of the falls

This was our picnic lunch spotThis was our picnic lunch spot

On the hike back to the trailhead, we got to experience the Mill Creek Falls overlook one last timeOn the hike back to the trailhead, we got to experience the Mill Creek Falls overlook one last time

And as we got closer to West Sulphur Creek, we got to walk amongst these extensive colorful mats of wildflowersAnd as we got closer to West Sulphur Creek, we got to walk amongst these extensive colorful mats of wildflowers

About to re-enter that real scenic open part where we were surrounded by peaks while walking amongst mats of gorgeous wildflowersAbout to re-enter that real scenic open part where we were surrounded by peaks while walking amongst mats of gorgeous wildflowers

Looking over mats of wildflowers towards one of the colorful peaks. It was real hard not to stop here for a whileLooking over mats of wildflowers towards one of the colorful peaks. It was real hard not to stop here for a while

Mom making the final ascent back up to the visitor centerMom making the final ascent back up to the visitor center

After 2.5 hours away, we finally made it back to the trailhead as we approached the familiar amphitheaterAfter 2.5 hours away, we finally made it back to the trailhead as we approached the familiar amphitheater


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VIDEOS OF THE FALLS


Checking out the falls from the overlook as well as some craggy peaks in the distance


Starting from some upper cascades seen at the upper bridge, then walked down to the lower bridge and did a 360 degree sweep over the brink of the falls


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DRIVING DIRECTIONS

From the town of Red Bluff (where we stayed), we briefly drove south on the I-5 before taking the exit 649 for Hwy 36. At the light, we turned left to go east on Hwy 36, which would then continue after turning left once we got beyond the east end of town (roughly two miles east of the I-5). From there, we followed the Hwy 36 for about 43 miles to the junction with Hwy 89. This long stretch started off passing through pretty dry rolling hills before it entered the mountains. The junction with the Hwy 89 was a few miles east of the small hamlet of Mineral.

Turning left to go north on Hwy 89, we then continued to go north for about five miles to the southwest entrance for Lassen Volcanic National Park. At the time of our visit, the entrance fee per vehicle was $20. Just on the other side of the kiosk was the large parking area for the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center, which was where the Mill Creek Falls Trail started. Overall, this drive took us a little over an hour.

From Redding, we would drive east on Hwy 44 for around 46 miles to its junction with Hwy 89. Then, we'd take Hwy 89 south (right) into the northern side of Lassen Volcanic National Park and drive for the next 30 miles or so to the Kohm Yah-mah-nee Visitor Center just before the park's southwest entrance. The caveat for this road was that due to high elevation, it can be closed due to snow and ice.

To give you an idea of the geographical context, Red Bluff was 186 miles (under 3 hours drive) north of San Francisco, 131 miles (about 2 hours drive) north of Sacramento, 178 miles (3 hours drive) south of Medford, Oregon, 192 miles (about 3.5 hours drive) northwest of Reno, Nevada, and 515 miles (about 7.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.




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ITINERARIES

For more information about our itineraries involving this waterfall, check out the following links.




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MAP OF THE FALLS



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TRIP REPORTS

For more information about our experiences with this waterfall, check out the following travel stories.




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TRIP PLANNING RESOURCES





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NEARBY WATERFALLS




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