Mossbrae Falls had to have been one of our more unique waterfalling experiences in almost every sense of the word. Not only was the waterfall itself different (as you can see from the photo at the top of this page), but even the hike to access this waterfall was unusual as well. The discerning feature about this waterfall was that it was pretty true to its name in that it was basically a section of cliff draped in moss where springs percolated and fell amongst the greenery. We've seen long spring-fed waterfalls before (such as Iceland's Hraunfossar), but it was the lush moss and the Sacramento River rushing before it that really made this particular waterfall stand out in our minds. As for the unusual experience, there's a bit of a story to tell regarding that (which we'll get to shortly), but it really pertained to us having to hike on an active railroad track that was becoming more of a safety issue ever since a woman was seriously injured after being struck by a freight train back in 2011. I believe it was the only waterfall hike we've ever done where we had to walk on and along railroad tracks like the movie Stand By Me.
Ever since that incident in 2011, there had been serious talks and plans to create a much safer trail that would access Mossbrae Falls without involving trespassing on railroad tracks. The proposed plan was to start the hike from Hedge Creek Falls, then follow along the Sacramento River (with a couple of bridged crossings providing views of Mt Shasta), and ultimately reach this waterfall in what would turn out to be a roughly 1.5-mile hike (or three miles round trip). However, five years later when we made our visit, the trail was still not started as negotiations were stalled due to a private entity owning a key section of land along the Sacramento River holding all the leverage when it came to negotiating with the Shasta Association, the town of Dunsmuir, and Union Pacific Railroad (who were all pushing for this trail to be complete).
So given the hold up, we had to find informal parking near the Shasta Retreat (see directions below), we then had to walk around 0.4 miles along the residential roads within the Shasta Retreat community towards the bridge spanning the Sacramento River by the railroad tracks. Once on the other side of the bridge, we then pretty much followed the railroad tracks in the upstream direction for about a mile. The hike along the tracks was a bit tense because we always had this fear that if a train would approach us in an area where there wasn't much clearance to get out of the way, what would we do? Indeed, there were a handful of sections along the tracks where there were steep dropoffs towards the Sacramento River, and we definitely avoided being on the opposite side of the tracks because it hugged the mountainside for almost the entire way. My mother and I hiked this railroad section as fast as we could, and we would always listen out for sounds of the train (not as reliable given the competing sounds of the rushing Sacramento River in addition to distant sounds of the I-5 traffic) as well as periodically check for vibrations on the tracks themselves.
In order to speed up our hiking, we tended to walk on the concrete railroad ties, which were awkwardly spaced about a half-step apart. If we didn't walk on the ties, then we'd be hiking on piles of blasted rock, which was much slower and would definitely require sturdy footwear (we each had hiking boots on so it was less of an issue). Eventually, we'd reach a part where the tracks approached a railroad tressel bridge just beyond a somewhat open area with some piles of railroad artifacts placed away from the tracks. We didn't need to cross the tressel bridge as there was a fairly obvious trail-of-use descending to the right leading right down to the banks of the Sacramento River right across from the wall of moss and water in Mossbrae Falls.
Even on the approach, the first sight of the waterfall was something to behold. The falls was very wide (said to be 175ft) and around 52ft tall. We were unable to capture the entire width of the falls in one go as that would require stitching photos or using the Pano mode on an iPhone 6 or later. Perhaps the most attractive part of the falls was towards the right side (as you see pictured above), but there were a few more segments of the waterfall spaced out to the far left. There were also harder-to-see cascades to the far right further downstream along the Sacramento River. We showed up in the early morning where the viewing area was pretty much in consistent shadow until around 9:15am in late June. So that was ideal for bringing a tripod for those long exposure photos that this waterfall was definitely well-suited for given its graceful characteristic. Once the sun breached the cliffs above us, the morning sun was pretty much against us.
My mother and I did this hike together, and we easily spent around an hour enjoying this waterfall (finding different ways to compose photographs while savoring the moment of being here). During this time (around 9:30am according to my notes), we heard a train pass by above us, and when it totally went past, that was when we thought we should leave given that the next train going in the other direction would most likely have to wait given the singular but bi-directional track. So we weren't as stressed out in our minds on the way back. Along the way, we saw one couple heading the other way towards Mossbrae Falls (as we had been the only ones on this hike on the morning of our hike) so we knew a lot of people still do this hike despite its rather forbidden circumstance. Indeed, by the time we made it back to the car to complete the 2.8-mile round trip affair, we had spent roughly 70 minutes of walking and 60 minutes at the waterfall itself.
Maybe one of these days when the Hedge Creek Falls Park extension is finally complete, we may revisit this waterfall with a totally different writeup as I'm sure the experience would be much different.
During the drive north along the I-5 towards Dunsmuir from Redding, we stopped by a vista point affording us this teasing view of the over 14,000ft Mt Shasta
If the proposed Mossbrae Falls access from Hedge Creek Falls Trail is complete, then the hike would pass by the beautiful Hedge Creek Falls before reaching the now-verboten falls
Roughly another 30 minutes drive north of Dunsmuir was the town of Mt Shasta, where we then drove towards Crystal Lake and got this beautiful view of Mt Shasta itself at sunset
This was the archway to the Shasta Retreat, which was essentially the starting point of the forbidden hike to Mossbrae Falls
Mom walking along Cave Ave past some charming homes towards the Sacramento River and railroad tracks
On the bridge spanning the Sacramento River, where just on the other end of the bridge were the railroad tracks
Looking upstream along the Sacramento River from the bridge on Cave Ave
Mom hiking on the concrete railroad ties along one of the more narrower parts of the railroad tracks
Hiking along the railroad ties was awkward because it seemed like they were spaced at a little over a half-step apart so skipping every other tie was like a skip but stepping on each tie was like an awkward fast walk
Whenever we rounded curves like this, we always had this fear that a train might come around the corner suddenly and take us by surprise
If not for the anxiety of meeting a train while hiking the tracks, it was easy to forget just how beautiful the area can be as we even noticed the peak of snowy Mt Shasta along the tracks
This was another fairly narrow section of the railroad tracks where the dropoffs on the right steeply banked right into the Sacramento River
This clearing with some railroad artifacts preceded the tressel bridge. We didn't need to cross the tressel as there was a trail of use to our right that led right down to Mossbrae Falls
Mom about to disappear into the trail-of-use as we left the railroad tracks
This section of Mossbrae Falls was towards the right, and it was probably the most attractive part
This was the far left side of Mossbrae Falls, which was a bit more spaced out
Looking downstream along the Sacramento River, where there were still yet more smaller segments of Mossbrae Falls
Here's a fairly unusual portrait shot of the far left side of Mossbrae Falls showing some of the context of the mountainside above the waterfall
I scrambled a little further downstream along the Sacramento River for this somewhat angled view back at the right side of Mossbrae Falls
We were fortunate that when a train did pass by, it was while we were enjoying Mossbrae Falls
Here's a shot of a long freight train passing through the tressel bridge that we didn't have to cross
With the morning sun penetrating the canyon and the light being against us, we figured it was now time to make our way back
With a train having recently passed by, we thought we should seize the moment and hike back while that train was preventing a potential train from coming in the other direction at this instant
As long as we were hiking on the tracks, the drama was still there
Imagine our relief when we finally made it back to Cave Ave
Hiking back up Scarlet Way towards Dunsmuir Ave
Now walking along Dunsmuir Ave as we hoped that our parked car was not broken into
We'll pick up the driving directions from the city of Redding (even though we were actually staying in the town of Red Bluff some 30 miles further to the south along the I-5). Redding seemed to be a pretty central location for not only the Whiskeytown National Recreation Area (including several waterfalls like Whiskeytown Falls, Boulder Creek Falls, Brandy Creek Falls, and Crystal Creek Falls, among others), but it was also reasonably close to other attractions like Lassen Volcanic National Park as well as Mt Shasta.
From the Hwy 44/I-5 interchange, we continued north along the interstate for roughly 52 miles (about an hour's drive) to the Central Dunsmuir off-ramp (exit 730). This off-ramp was roughly 4.5 miles north of the vista point turnoff with a view of Mt Shasta. We then turned left onto Dunsmuir Ave going under the I-5 then continued along this street for the next 1/2- to 3/4 miles. The archway leading to the Shasta Retreat was on the left, but there was no public parking with the Shasta Retreat complex so we had to U-turn and find available parking along Dunsmuir Ave.
It didn't seem like there was any sanctioned parking space (maybe there was one in the past until the 2011 incident) so we happened to find some informal pullout between an abandoned store and the Shasta Retreat archway. There was plenty of parking space at an abandoned store though I had to admit that it seemed dodgy to park there.
Anyways, once we figured out where to park, we then walked along Dunsmuir Ave before walking down the ramp through the Shasta Retreat walkway (Scarlet Way), then we turned right at its junction with Cave Ave and followed that street to the bridge leading across the Sacramento River as well as the railroad tracks. This initial walk figured to be around 0.3- to 0.4 miles.
To give you an idea of the geographical context, Redding was 217 miles (over 3 hours drive) north of San Francisco, 162 miles (about 2.5 hours drive) north of Sacramento, 150 miles (2.5 hours drive) south of Medford, Oregon, and 546 miles (over 7.5 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.
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Trains in Dunsmuir The hike to Mosbrae Falls - understand scheduling of trains. The trains heading north, if too heavy, will split into two parts and reattached into one …