Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls

Sierra National Forest / Bass Lake / Oakhurst, California, USA

About Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls


Hiking Distance: 3/4-mile round trip (Corlieu Falls); 4 miles round trip (both falls)
Suggested Time: 45-60 minutes (Corlieu Falls); 2-2.5 hours (both falls)

Date first visited: 2019-08-16
Date last visited: 2019-08-16

Waterfall Latitude: 37.41611
Waterfall Longitude: -119.62473

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.

Lewis_Creek_060_08162019 - Corlieu Falls
Corlieu Falls

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.

Lewis_Creek_162_08162019 - Red Rock Falls
Red Rock Falls

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

Lewis_Creek_001_08162019 - Starting the hike on Lewis Creek towards both Corlieu Falls and Red Rock Falls
Starting the hike on Lewis Creek towards both Corlieu Falls and Red Rock 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.

Lewis_Creek_005_08162019 - Approaching the trail junction where going left went to Red Rock Falls and going right went to Corlieu Falls
Approaching the trail junction where going left went to Red Rock Falls and going right went to Corlieu 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.

Lewis_Creek_016_08162019 - Looking back at the hidden switchback which continued beneath a clearing where I suspected Clifford Corlieu's cabin was once located near the Corlieu Falls
Looking back at the hidden switchback which continued beneath a clearing where I suspected Clifford Corlieu’s cabin was once located near the Corlieu Falls

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.

Lewis_Creek_042_08162019 - Context of the viewing platform before Corlieu Falls
Context of the viewing platform before Corlieu 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.

Lewis_Creek_078_08162019 - Making it down to the very bottom of Corlieu Falls
Making it down to the very bottom of Corlieu Falls

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.

Lewis_Creek_097_08162019 - The unbridged crossing of Lewis Creek on the way to Red Rock Falls
The unbridged crossing of Lewis Creek on the way to Red Rock Falls

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.

Lewis_Creek_099_08162019 - A makeshift fallen log acting as a bridge to get across Lewis Creek
A makeshift fallen log acting as a bridge to get across Lewis Creek

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.

Lewis_Creek_115_08162019 - An open section of the Lewis Creek Trail with the Hwy 41 on the opposite side of the canyon
An open section of the Lewis Creek Trail with the Hwy 41 on the opposite side of the canyon

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.

Lewis_Creek_143_08162019 - Encountering the trail junction where going left deviated from the Lewis Creek Trail and went down to the brink of Red Rock Falls
Encountering the trail junction where going left deviated from the Lewis Creek Trail and went down to the brink of Red Rock Falls

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.

Lewis_Creek_145_08162019 - Looking over the brink of Red Rock Falls. I had to find a trail-of-use to the left in order to reach its bottom
Looking over the brink of Red Rock Falls. I had to find a trail-of-use to the left in order to reach its bottom

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.

Authorities

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.

Lewis_Creek_003_08162019 - Walking past an overgrown road gate to get onto the Lewis Creek Recreation Trail
Lewis_Creek_004_08162019 - Some wildflowers blooming alongside the Lewis Creek Recreation Trail
Lewis_Creek_008_08162019 - On the spur trail leading downstream from the trail junction towards Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_011_08162019 - Descending towards the sounds of Lewis Creek crashing around Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_015_08162019 - This big clearing at a switchback with this easy-to-miss continuation of the descending trail on the left was where I imagined that the the Clifford Corlieu cabin might have been situated
Lewis_Creek_019_08162019 - Partial view towards part of Corlieu Falls on the descent towards its base
Lewis_Creek_022_08162019 - Another switchback on the descent towards the base of Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_031_08162019 - The trail narrowing considerably the further down towards the bottom of Corlieu Falls that I went
Lewis_Creek_034_08162019 - Context of the narrow descending trail and the slope it was descending on its way down to the base of Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_036_08162019 - Looking back at some of the false trails leading to other parts of Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_040_08162019 - Finally making it down to the sanctioned viewing platform near the bottom of Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_044_08162019 - The Lewis Creek Trail continued beyond the viewing platform for Corlieu Falls
Lewis_Creek_049_08162019 - View of Corlieu Falls from the viewing platform near its base
Lewis_Creek_083_08162019 - Looking right at the base of Corlieu Falls beneath the viewing platform
Lewis_Creek_089_08162019 - After all the descending I had to do to get to the base of Corlieu Falls, I now had to get back all that elevation loss
Lewis_Creek_101_08162019 - Beyond the unbridged crossing of Lewis Creek, the trail was still fairly straightforward to follow
Lewis_Creek_103_08162019 - The typical forested terrain that the Lewis Creek Trail meandered through on the way to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_104_08162019 - Approaching a minor creek crossing on the way to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_106_08162019 - Passing through what appeared to be a burn area on the Lewis Creek Trail en route to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_108_08162019 - Looking down towards some intermediate rapids or cascades on Lewis Creek
Lewis_Creek_110_08162019 - Some different wildflowers blooming along the Lewis Creek Trail en route to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_114_08162019 - Passing through more burn areas along Lewis Creek Trail en route to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_119_08162019 - More of the tall brush and grass along the Lewis Creek Trail near the end of the open part of the ravine
Lewis_Creek_123_08162019 - Some other kind of wildflower blooming alongside the Lewis Creek Trail en route to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_124_08162019 - Passing by still more burn areas alongside Lewis Creek Trail en route to Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_137_08162019 - I noticed this deer trying to check out what I was doing hiking the Lewis Creek Trail, especially as it was just about sunset
Lewis_Creek_151_08162019 - An interesting little formation just upstream of Red Rock Falls
Lewis_Creek_153_08162019 - My first look at the front of Red Rock Falls after finding a scrambling path getting me relatively safely to this spot
Lewis_Creek_159_08162019 - More frontal look at the Red Rock Falls after scrambling a more to the center of Lewis Creek
Lewis_Creek_168_08162019 - When I finally got back to the Lewis Creek Trailhead, it was dark, which gives you an idea of how late I had started and ended my hike in mid-August 2019

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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.

Lewis_Creek_002_08162019 - The trailhead parking along Hwy 41 nearest to Corlieu Falls and the Lewis Creek Recreation Trail
The trailhead parking along Hwy 41 nearest to Corlieu Falls and the Lewis Creek Recreation Trail

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.

Examining the main drops of Corlieu Falls from the lookout platform


Checking out the most accessible of the Corlieu Falls from beneath the overlook platform


checking out the falls with the onset of darkness along with bats flying around

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Tagged with: sierra national forest, bass lake, madera, sierra, california, waterfall, oakhurst, lewis creek, lewis creek national scenic trail, red rock falls



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
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