Mossbrae Falls

Dunsmuir / Mt Shasta, California, USA

About Mossbrae Falls


Hiking Distance: 2.8 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 75-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2016-06-19
Date last visited: 2016-06-19

Waterfall Latitude: 41.24182
Waterfall Longitude: -122.26651

Mossbrae Falls had to have been one of our more unique waterfalling experiences in almost every sense of the word.

Not only was the very wide waterfall itself different (said to be 175ft wide and 52ft tall), but even the hike to access this waterfall was unusual.

Mossbrae_Falls_026_06192016 - Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae Falls

As you can see from the photo above, the discerning feature about this waterfall was that it was pretty true to its name.

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.

However, it was the lush moss and the Sacramento River rushing before it that really made this particular waterfall stand out in our minds.

Mossbrae_Falls_065_06192016 - More seeping segments of the Mossbrae Falls that aren't part of the main drop
More seeping segments of the Mossbrae Falls that aren’t part of the main drop

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.

This 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.

Plans for a safer trail to Mossbrae Falls

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 having to trespass on railroad tracks.

Mossbrae_Falls_021_06192016 - A precarious part of the hike to Mossbrae Falls where one side is close to dropoffs into the Sacramento River while the other side hugs cliffs
A precarious part of the hike to Mossbrae Falls where one side is close to dropoffs into the Sacramento River while the other side hugs cliffs

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.

The trail would ultimately reach Mossbrae Falls 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 new trail was still not started as negotiations were stalled.

Apparently, a private entity owning a key section of land along the Sacramento River held all the leverage when it came to negotiating.

Mossbrae_Falls_124_06192016 - A train on the railroad near Mossbrae Falls, further demonstrating that this is indeed an active working track
A train on the railroad near Mossbrae Falls, further demonstrating that this is indeed an active working track

The rest of the parties involved (the Shasta Association, the town of Dunsmuir, and especially the Union Pacific Railroad) were all pushing for this new trail to be complete.

The Unusual Hike to Mossbrae Falls

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.

Mossbrae_Falls_006_06192016 - Looking upstream along the Sacramento River from the bridge spanning it within the Shasta Retreat community
Looking upstream along the Sacramento River from the bridge spanning it within the Shasta Retreat community

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 they skirted close to steep dropoffs towards the Sacramento River.

At the same time, the other side of the tracks 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.

Mossbrae_Falls_007_06192016 - Mom on the railroad ties in a precarious spot near the start where there isn't much room on the Sacramento River side to get out of the way from a train
Mom on the railroad ties in a precarious spot near the start where there isn’t much room on the Sacramento River side to get out of the way from a train

Of course, that’s not as reliable given the competing sounds of the rushing Sacramento River in addition to distant sounds of the I-5 traffic.

However, we’d also 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).

Mossbrae_Falls_023_06192016 - Approaching the tressel bridge with a lot of railroad artifacts strewn to the side, which was near the final descent to the Mossbrae Falls
Approaching the tressel bridge with a lot of railroad artifacts strewn to the side, which was near the final descent to the Mossbrae Falls

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.

It ultimately led us 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.

Experiencing the Mossbrae Falls

Mossbrae_Falls_046_06192016 - This was the sight of Mossbrae Falls that greeted us the moment we descended from the railroad tracks and reached the banks of the Sacramento River
This was the sight of Mossbrae Falls that greeted us the moment we descended from the railroad tracks and reached the banks of the Sacramento River

We were unable to capture the entire width of the Mossbrae 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.

Mossbrae_Falls_038_06192016 - Looking downstream towards the rightmost extreme of the Mossbrae Falls, which was where the proposed new trail would be coming from
Looking downstream towards the rightmost extreme of the Mossbrae Falls, which was where the proposed new trail would be coming from

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.

Mossbrae_Falls_123_06192016 - The morning sun breaching the depths of the canyon at Mossbrae Falls thereby making photography non-ideal
The morning sun breaching the depths of the canyon at Mossbrae Falls thereby making photography non-ideal

After all, 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.

Mossbrae_Falls_159_06192016 - Returning from the Mossbrae Falls along the railroad tracks back to the Shasta Retreat and the city of Dunsmuir
Returning from the Mossbrae Falls along the railroad tracks back to the Shasta Retreat and the city of Dunsmuir

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.

Authorities

Mossbrae Falls resides near Dunsmuir in Siskiyou County, California. Access is currently on private land owned by various stakeholders from the Union Pacific Railroad to the Saint Germain Foundation. For information or inquiries about the area as well as current conditions, you may want to visit the City of Dunsmuir website.

Mossbrae_Falls_004_06192016 - Mom walking along Cave Ave past some charming homes towards the Sacramento River and railroad tracks
Mossbrae_Falls_005_06192016 - On the bridge spanning the Sacramento River, where just on the other end of the bridge were the railroad tracks that we took to Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_009_06192016 - Hiking along the railroad ties en route to Mossbrae Falls 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
Mossbrae_Falls_014_06192016 - Whenever we rounded curves like this on the way to Mossbrae Falls, we always had this fear that a train might come around the corner suddenly and take us by surprise
Mossbrae_Falls_017_06192016 - If not for the anxiety of meeting a train while hiking the tracks to Mossbrae Falls, 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
Mossbrae_Falls_024_06192016 - Looking towards the tressel bridge that we didn't need to cross in order to access Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_025_06192016 - Mom about disappear into the trail-of-use as we left the railroad tracks and descend to Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_030_06192016 - This was the far left side of Mossbrae Falls, which was a bit more spaced out
Mossbrae_Falls_031_06192016 - Another look towards the far left side of Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_033_06192016 - Mom checking out the main segments of the Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_040_06192016 - Yet another look towards the sloping far left side of Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_042_06192016 - 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
Mossbrae_Falls_093_06192016 - I scrambled a little further downstream along the Sacramento River for this somewhat angled view back at the right side of Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_097_06192016 - Last look at the main segment of Mossbrae Falls before it was time to go
Mossbrae_Falls_127_06192016 - Here's a shot of a long freight train passing through the tressel bridge that we didn't have to cross. We immediately left Mossbrae Falls as soon as this happened since we didn't think it would be likely for another train to come immediately after this one
Mossbrae_Falls_141_06192016 - Looking back at the empty tresel bridge as we were leaving Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_144_06192016 - With a train having recently passed by, we thought we should seize the moment and hike back from Mossbrae Falls while that train was preventing a potential train from coming in the other direction at this instant
Mossbrae_Falls_148_06192016 - Once again, we had to walk back along the railroad ties after having had our fill of Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_151_06192016 - Mom navigating a particularly narrow section of the curving railroad tracks on the way back from Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_162_06192016 - Mom still quickly walking the railroad ties with a long sloping dropoff to her left as we were coming back from Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_168_06192016 - Imagine our relief when we finally made it back to Cave Ave and out of the railroad tracks as we came back from Mossbrae Falls
Mossbrae_Falls_176_06192016 - Hiking back up Scarlet Way towards Dunsmuir Ave

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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, 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).

Mossbrae_Falls_002_06192016 - This was the ramp descending to the Shasta Retreat, which was a private community so there's no public parking down there
This was the ramp descending to the Shasta Retreat, which was a private community so there’s no public parking down there

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 within 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.

Mossbrae_Falls_180_06192016 - After leaving the Shasta Retreat community, we had to walk along Dunsmuir Ave to our parked car
After leaving the Shasta Retreat community, we had to walk along Dunsmuir Ave to our parked car

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.

Sweeping left to right then back and forth as the video examines the springs a little more closely

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Tagged with: dunsmuir, mt shasta, mount shasta, siskiyou, northern california, california, waterfall, railroad, sacramento river, shasta retreat



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Trains in Dunsmuir February 25, 2018 4:26 pm by _Anonymous269 - 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 at Grass Lake north of the town of Weed on Hwy. 97 or at Klamath Falls Oregon. That is called a "doubleheader". They can be five minutes apart or… ...Read More

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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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