Rancheria Falls

Sierra National Forest / Huntington Lake, California, USA

About Rancheria Falls


Hiking Distance: 2 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 60-90 minutes

Date first visited: 2002-06-02
Date last visited: 2016-07-10

Waterfall Latitude: 37.25248
Waterfall Longitude: -119.13668

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Rancheria Falls was a surprisingly popular waterfall in the heart of the Sierra National Forest near Huntington Lake.

The waterfall itself featured a 150ft cumulative drop over a couple of main tiers before a series of cascades comprising the rest of its height.

Rancheria_Falls_033_07102016 - Full view of Rancheria Falls from further downstream
Full view of Rancheria Falls from further downstream

Actually, as you can see from the photo above, it’s conceivable that it could be even taller if you count all the cascades further downstream!

Given how out-of-the-way it was from the typical Yosemite route via Fresno, it blew our minds just how busy the hike to get here was.

We imagined that most visitors to this area were Central Valley weekenders looking for recreational opportunities at both Shaver Lake and Huntington Lake.

Perhaps this impressive waterfall was the perfect excuse to do something more Naturesque with the family that involved water and didn’t cost anything extra

Hiking to Rancheria Falls

Rancheria_Falls_008_07102016 - Dad on the gentle mile-long trail to the Rancheria Falls though the brown trees were a very worrying sign about the health of the forest
Dad on the gentle mile-long trail to the Rancheria Falls though the brown trees were a very worrying sign about the health of the forest

Our hike was a pretty straightforward 2 miles round trip from the trailhead (see directions below) to the base of the main drop of Rancheria Falls.

It was a pleasant and easy hike, which certainly helped its popularity.

In any case, the trail gently ascended among a lot of impressive pine trees as well as some blooming wildflowers adding a bit of color to the scene.

Where the tree growth had opened up, we noticed some granite peaks (the kind we’d associate more with Yosemite National Park) in the distance.

Rancheria_Falls_019_07102016 - Looking towards some granite formations protruding from the mountaintops from the Rancheria Falls Trail
Looking towards some granite formations protruding from the mountaintops from the Rancheria Falls Trail

Our most recent visit here in July 2016 followed a very severe drought throughout California so we could see evidence of where dead pine trees were eaten from the inside out by bark beetles.

Apparently, Global Warming managed to either create or exacerbate these conditions as the longer and hotter Summers resulted in the kind of conditions ripe for massive tree die off.

Normally, the bark beetles would have a natural population control from cold temperatues when the temperatures dip outside the Summer.

Meanwhile, trees would naturally create the sap to keep the bark beetles at bay, but only if there’s sufficient moisture to yield the sap.

Rancheria_Falls_021_07102016 - The Rancheria Falls Trail flanked some granite rocks and boulders as we got closer to the waterfall
The Rancheria Falls Trail flanked some granite rocks and boulders as we got closer to the waterfall

Anyways, aside from the brown trees resulting from this condition, the scenery here was otherwise mostly green.

The hike was mostly quiet as we wouldn’t be hearing Rancheria Creek until almost the very end.

That was when the trail made a bend and meandered right up to the base of the main 50ft drop of Rancheria Falls.

From this spot, it was hard to get an all encompassing view, and the steep and rocky terrain downstream ensured that we’d have to be content with the limited view of the falls from the official trail’s end.

Rancheria_Falls_046_07102016 - Mom and Dad at the base of the main drop of Rancheria Falls
Mom and Dad at the base of the main drop of Rancheria Falls

However, we did notice quite a few younger individuals who continued scrambling steeply alongside the waterfall to get to its top.

That said, I also noticed further back on the main trail an informal that descended to a rock outcrop that produced the photo opportunity you see at the top of this page.

This contextual view of the falls made it clear that there was way more to Rancheria Falls than the limited view you get from the official trail.

It made me wonder whether the 150ft height figure might be underestimating it a bit.

Rancheria_Falls_071_07102016 - Looking back at other people approaching the main drop of Rancheria Falls while I was looking for a way to better experience the entirety of the waterfall
Looking back at other people approaching the main drop of Rancheria Falls while I was looking for a way to better experience the entirety of the waterfall

As far as lighting was concerned, both times we visited this waterfall were at the height of the day from late morning to high noon.

Under these lighting conditions, the sun was pretty much right on top of the falls, which made viewing and photographing it a bit challenging.

I’d imagine that if we were to time our visit for better lighting conditions, then mid- to late afternoon would probably produce better backlighting.

We’ve never had the opportunity to stick around late enough to test this theory, but maybe one of these days when we’d stick around to enjoy the lakes here better, we’ll give it a try.

Surprising Popularity

Rancheria_Falls_087_07102016 - Mom and Dad returning to the now-busy trailhead for Rancheria Falls
Mom and Dad returning to the now-busy trailhead for Rancheria Falls

When we returned to the trailhead in the late morning of our July 2016 visit, this was when we realized just how popular Rancheria Falls was.

We had encountered large groups of people of all ages heading to the falls.

Indeed, we noticed plenty of families with kids as well as seniors doing this otherwise quite easy hike.

Even when we made it back to the trailhead parking, we were amazed at how full it was, especially when we were only one of about a half-dozen or so cars here when we first showed up.

Rancheria_Falls_002_scanned_06022002 - This was how Rancheria Falls (the main drop) looked like when we first visited back in June 2002
This was how Rancheria Falls (the main drop) looked like when we first visited back in June 2002

I recalled that the first time we visited this place in 2002, it wasn’t nearly as popular as it was on our latest visit.

Anyways, when all was said and done, we had spent under 90 minutes away from the car, but easily less than an hour of this time spent was hiking the trail itself.

We simply took our time and enjoyed both the scenery as well as the impressive waterfall display.

Everything about our experience here literally coerced us into slowing down and just enjoying ourselves.

Rancheria_Falls_002_07102016 - Looking back at the dirt road leading to the Rancheria Falls Trailhead
Looking back at the dirt road leading to the Rancheria Falls Trailhead

Perhaps the hardest thing about reaching this waterfall was the somewhat rough dirt road lasting for about a mile away from the Hwy 168.

I didn’t recall the road being this rough when we first made our visit back in 2002, but then again, things can change over time and perhaps my memory wasn’t very good from 14 years back.

In any case, you read a little more the drive down below in the directions.

Authorities

Rancheria Falls resides in Sierra National Forest near Huntington Lake in Fresno County, California. It is administered by the USDA Forest Service. For information or inquiries about the reserve as well as current conditions, visit the USDA website or their Facebook page.

Rancheria_Falls_013_07102016 - Closer look at some of the wildflowers in bloom along the Rancheria Falls Trail
Rancheria_Falls_014_07102016 - Continuing along the well-forested (surrounded by pine trees) and fairly busy Rancheria Falls Trail
Rancheria_Falls_016_07102016 - The Rancheria Falls Trail meandered amongst some impressively tall pine trees, but as you can see here, quite a few of them were brown from the bark beetles taking over given the drought conditions that persisted for years before our 2016 visit
Rancheria_Falls_020_07102016 - Further along the hike to Rancheria Falls, we noticed these rocks next to the trail, which perhaps hinted at the geology necessary for Rancheria Falls to happen
Rancheria_Falls_024_07102016 - Dad rounding a bend on the trail where it was now veering towards Rancheria Falls
Rancheria_Falls_027_07102016 - Before getting all the way to the end of the Rancheria falls Trail, I noticed a trail of use leading down to a rock outcrop yielding this attractive view of the Rancheria Falls
Rancheria_Falls_034_07102016 - Zoomed in look against the sun at the main drop of Rancheria Falls with some people at the end of the trail providing some scale
Rancheria_Falls_042_07102016 - If not for some trees in the way, this would probably be by far the best view of Rancheria Falls
Rancheria_Falls_043_07102016 - Proceeding to get to the end of the Rancheria Falls Trail
Rancheria_Falls_053_07102016 - Looking right at the main drop of Rancheria Falls, which appeared much tinier here than it did further back along the trail
Rancheria_Falls_057_07102016 - Looking downstream from the base of Rancheria Falls
Rancheria_Falls_067_07102016 - Mom and Dad waiting for me to start hiking back to the Rancheria Falls Trailhead
Rancheria_Falls_074_07102016 - Last look back at the Rancheria Falls Trail with some people near the bottom of the main part of its drop for scale
Rancheria_Falls_075_07102016 - Dad and Mom hiking alongside some interesting rocks and cliffs flanking the Rancheria Falls Trail as we were returning to the trailhead
Rancheria_Falls_079_07102016 - The scenery as we were now hiking in the opposite direction towards the Rancheria Falls Trailhead, where we could see more of the sickly trees succumbing to bark beetles
Rancheria_Falls_082_07102016 - Context of Dad being dwarfed by the tall pine trees around him on the way back from Rancheria Falls
Rancheria_Falls_083_07102016 - More attractive wildflowers blooming alongside the Rancheria Falls Trail
Rancheria_Falls_Huntington_Lakes_001_06022002 - For a trip down memory lane, here was Rancheria Falls in high flow back in early June 2002
Rancheria_Falls_001_scanned_06022002 - Another look at how Rancheria Falls looked when we first saw it in June 2002

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Rancheria Falls was near Huntington Lake, which was roughly 72 miles northeast of downtown Fresno or 62 miles northeast of the suburb of Clovis.

We’ll pick up the driving directions from downtown Fresno since that would be the obvious hub of activities in this part of the Central Valley (including access to the south entrance to Yosemite National Park).

From the junction of the Hwy 99 and Hwy 41 near downtown Fresno, we took the Hwy 41 north for about 2.5 miles to its junction with Hwy 180 east (towards Kings Canyon National Park).

Once we were on the Hwy 180 eastbound, we then took it for a little over a mile before taking the Hwy 168.

We then followed Hwy 168 all the way into the Sierra National Forest (it stopped becoming a freeway shortly after leaving Clovis at around 11 miles after leaving Hwy 180).

The road became narrower and more curvaceous (though people were still going pretty high speed) the further into the forest we went.

Rancheria_Falls_004_07102016 - The parking area by the Rancheria Falls Trailhead
The parking area by the Rancheria Falls Trailhead

At around 50 miles, Hwy 168 skirted by the attractive Shaver Lake.

At around 18 miles further north of Shaver Lake, Hwy 168 skirted around the east shore of Huntington Lake.

It was around here that we had to keep an eye out to our right for a forest service access road (8S31) that was very easy to miss.

In fact, both times we went looking for Rancheria Falls, we had missed this turnoff.

Anyways, I recalled that there was a brown forest service sign when heading north, but when heading south (after overshooting the turnoff), there was an obvious sign to our left for Rancheria Falls.

Rancheria_Falls_005_07102016 - The trailhead for Rancheria Falls was right at the end of the bend in the road beyond the parking spaces
The trailhead for Rancheria Falls was right at the end of the bend in the road beyond the parking spaces

Why they didn’t have this sign in the northbound direction is beyond me.

Anyways, once we got off Hwy 168 and onto this forest service road, it immediately became unpaved.

The road had a few rough spots, which might be a bit of a problem for low-clearance passenger vehicles, but it’s totally doable with care.

After around a mile off the highway, the road became paved again when we finally made it to the signposted trailhead for Rancheria Falls.

There were a handful of marked parking spots, but we did notice some folks parking along the shoulder further up the hairpin bend in the road when all the marked spots were filled.

Overall, this drive took us about 75 minutes from downtown Fresno though I’m sure it could easily go up to 90 minutes depending on the pace of traffic along the Hwy 168.

Passing lanes and the courtesy of slower drivers to pull over and let people pass were quite limited.

Sweep upstream to downstream then back towards Rancheria Falls from an informal lower vantage point


Upstream to downstream sweep then back of Rancheria Falls from the end of its official trail

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Tagged with: fresno, huntington lake, shaver lake, sierra national forest, sierra, california, waterfall, lakeshore, big creek



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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Since 1962 (Rancheria Falls) July 22, 2009 1:09 pm by Nina - I have been coming to Huntington Lake since 1962 (bragging rights, which long time visitors are apt to tell anyone who will listen). We usually stay a week at Lakeview Cottages on the other side of the lake. At least once during that week, we would trek to the falls. It is an easy hike,… ...Read More

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