About Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls
Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls were a couple of waterfalls on Lewis Creek, which sat between the southern boundary of Yosemite National Park and Oakhurst.
I looked upon these waterfalls as an opportunity to do a waterfall hike while camping in the Bass Lake area.
Situated on the Lewis Creek National Recreation Trail, it appeared that the hiking trail taking in these falls were pretty easy to follow though I did have to contend with a bridge washout, which I’ll get into later in this write-up.
Both of these modestly-sized waterfalls had pretty decent flow when I showed up in mid-August 2019 (albeit a wet year).
So that said something about the longevity of Lewis Creek considering the area didn’t get rain or snow since May.
Corlieu Falls was said to have an 80ft cumulative drop, which apparently made it the tallest waterfall in Madera County.
However, I was never able to see the entire series of drops in one go because it consisted of many tiers with trees in the way.
So in reality, it appeared shorter.
Red Rock Falls was a more conventional waterfall dropping 20ft over some reddish bedrock that would only reveal itself in low flow as well as in sufficient lighting conditions.
I happened to see bats flying around the falls as it was getting dark during my visit.
Hiking to Corlieu Falls
I started my hike from a somewhat large pullout or parking area for the Lewis Creek National Recreation Trail right off the Highway 41 (see directions below).
I then hiked about 0.1-mile to a trail junction.
Going right at this junction went downstream along Lewis Creek towards Corlieu Falls.
Meanwhile, going left at this junction went upstream along Lewis Creek towards Red Rock Falls.
I first went right at this junction, which followed a fairly well-used path flanked by the odd Summer wildflowers while always within earshot of Lewis Creek.
At about another 0.1-mile from the trail junction, I reached what appeared to be a large switchback or clearing.
This was near the brink of one of the cascades making up Corlieu Falls.
From the size of the clearing, I presume that this must have been where Clifford Corlieu had built his cabin overlooking the falls, where he lived from 1910-1929.
Not much remained of this cabin when I made my visit.
If anything, it made me look a little harder to find the continuation of the trail, which continued on a somewhat easy-to-miss switchback.
As I continued on the trail to descend into the depths of the ravine to get a more frontal look at the waterfall, the path narrowed considerably while losing elevation rather quickly.
I knew that I’d have to get all this elevation loss back after having my fill at the falls.
In another 0.1-mile or so, the trail eventually reached a viewing platform with a somewhat partial view of Corlieu Falls.
Apparently, getting down to this view of the falls used to require a bit of a steep scramble.
So I definitely appreciated the sanctioned and improved access.
The trail kept descending alongside Lewis Creek as it eventually went to Cedar Valley Road.
However, I only needed to descend a short distance before I found an old use-trail taking me right to the bottom of the cascades comprising Corlieu Falls.
Once I had my fill of this spot, I then had to return uphill for about a half-mile or less to return to the trail junction so I could resume the hike to Red Rock Falls.
This ascent took me about 15 minutes, and the whole out-and-back excursion to Corlieu Falls was about 0.5-0.6 miles round trip.
Hiking to Red Rock Falls
Continuing in the upstream direction at the trail junction, after about 0.1-mile, I reached the crossing of Lewis Creek.
Apparently in the past, there used to be a footbridge crossing the creek to resume the trail on the other side.
However, that bridge was taken down in 2015 due to decay, and the Forest Service has not put up a replacement bridge since.
The creek was deep enough for water to get into my boots from the top so I did notice some people remove their shoes and wade their way across.
Nevertheless, I did notice a makeshift fallen log that acted as a primitive bridge a little further downstream.
That was the path I took before returning to the main trail.
Beyond the creek crossing, the trail went through a forested area before reaching a minor crossing of Lewis Creek.
Then, the trail apparently followed an old logging trail in a more open part of the canyon where I could also see the Hwy 41 and the vehicules driving past.
After roughly a mile from the trail junction with Corlieu Falls, the trail went through another more forested area with the Hwy 41 once again concealed from sight.
This trail continued its meander along Lewis Creek as it made a gentle ascent.
Eventually after about 1.5 miles from the junction, I reached another signposted fork where that sign pointed left to get to Red Rock Falls.
After a very short descent, the trail ultimately reached the brink of the Red Rock Falls.
It was tempting to try to find a shortcut down to the base of the falls from here.
However, I noticed that there was a trail of use that went downstream a short distance before descending to the bottom.
That was the path I took that ultimately yielded the frontal view of Red Rock Falls that you see in the photo immediately above.
Because I had a late start to my hike, I actually saw bats zig-zagging their way around the falls in the low light.
When I had my fill of this waterfall, I then returned to the trailhead, which took me about 35 minutes.
Overall, I spent around 2 hours away from the car to cover the roughly 4 miles round trip (the Forest Service said it was 3.7 miles round trip).
This included time spent taking pictures and enjoying the relative tranquility along Lewis Creek.
Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls reside in Sierra National Forest near Fish Camp in Madera County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about this area as well as current conditions, visit their website.
Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls were on the Lewis Creek Recreation Trail.
The most convenient trailhead access was on a large pullout or parking area on the east side of Hwy 41 about 3.8 miles north of the Road 222 / Hwy 41 junction.
It was also about 8.6 miles south of the southern entrance to Yosemite National Park.
It took me about 20 minutes to drive from the Forks Campground at Bass Lake.
To give you some geographical context, Oakhurst was 46 miles (about an hour drive) north of Fresno, 64 miles (under 90 minutes drive) east of Merced, 103 miles (under 2 hours drive) east of Modesto, 194 miles (over 3 hours drive) east of San Francisco, and 266 miles (over 4 hours drive) north of Los Angeles.
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