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Rancheria Falls Trail

Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail

Hike Name: : Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail (Forest Service Trail Number 26E51)


Name of area/general location:
Sierra National Forest, Lakeshore, CA


Land Acknowledgement:
This trail is located on the ancestral homelands and traditional territories of the Nim (Western Mono). To learn more about the original residents and stewards of the lands, visit native-land.ca


AllTrails Hike Link (if applicable):
https://www.alltrails.com/trail/us/california/huntington-lake-waterfalls


Trail rating and why (easy, moderate, hard):
Easy to moderate; Short distance but at high elevation and mild elevation gain.


Trail mileage (different options if available):
2.1 mile one-way if you park at the dirt road turnoff (Forest Service Road 08S031); 0.85 mile, one-way if able to park at the upper trailhead/developed parking lot


For more information:
Sierra National Forest, High Sierra Ranger District (559) 855-5355

 

Rancheria Falls, Photo Credit: André Sanchez


Description of area, sights, wildlife and any key markers on the trail:

The Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail (NRT) is a high elevation Sierra Nevada hike with fairly easy access to views of a 150-foot waterfall created by the multiple steps of Rancheria Creek running down the canyon. The NRT was designated in 1980 and is considered part of the Huntington Lake Recreation Area which is a popular developed management recreation area within the Sierra National Forest (Sierra NF).


The mileage for the trail may vary depending on where you park and begin the hike, which is ultimately dependent on how busy the trail is the day you visit. If you drive all the way to the actual trailhead, there are a few parking spaces in the developed lot, as well as a set of vault toilets. From here, the waterfalls are about 0.85 mile from the trailhead. If you park at the turnoff (a likely event on the weekend) for the forest service access road (08S031), the waterfalls are about 2.1 miles, with over half of that walking being on the dirt road. In either case, once you being your journey, you will be surrounded overhead by red and white fir trees, and surrounded down below by several shrubs including whitethorn (which, despite its fearsome appearance, is like candy to deer), gooseberry (aka currant), chinquapin, and manzanita.


If you are lucky enough and hike the trail at the right time of year, you may spot the native and alien looking, bright-scarlet snow plant. Along the way, you may also notice several dead or dying trees from the bark beetle infestation that occurred during the previous drought-years.


Despite the previous tree mortality, the trail is still primarily shaded along the way but does have short sections of exposure, particularly when you reach the waterfalls. Given that the trailhead starts at an elevation of about 7,700 feet, it is recommended that you prepare for exposed conditions given the suns intensity at that altitude.


The trail can be hiked any time of year, but due to the fact that the trail is in a high-elevation portion of the Sierra NF where significant snowpack can accumulate during a non-drought condition year, hikers might not want to venture this trail during the winter months due to limited access and potentially dangerous snow-related conditions. That said, this hike is best enjoyed during the summer and fall months, the former of which may allow for better enjoyment of the waterfall running. Dogs are allowed on this trail but should be leashed at all times, particularly given how narrow the trail is at certain points and how popular the trail is.


The Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail is partially located in wild lands that were inventoried as a potential addition to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness. The Forest Service described the area as possessing impressive granite domes and rare plants and ecosystems (including fens and peatlands). The area also provides ample opportunities for solitude or primitive recreation. Unfortunately, the agency did not recommend adding the area to the Dinkey Lakes Wilderness in the 2019 draft Sierra National Forest Plan Revision.


Rancheria Creek was briefly considered eligible for National Wild and Scenic River protection in the 2016 draft Sierra Forest Plan Revision (Plan). But the 2019 revised draft plan claimed that the creek did not possess any outstandingly remarkable natural or cultural values that would make the creek eligible, even though the Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail attracts visitors from beyond the region and provides views of the spectacular Rancheria Falls.


Upon release of the final Plan, the public will have the opportunity to press the Forest Service for the permanent protection of this area and the creek.


How To Get There:
From Fresno: Take Highway 168 East for about 65 miles towards Huntington Lake. Continue past the lake for about 1.1 miles, also passing the turnoff for China Peak Mountain Resort. Turn right onto the unpaved Rancheria Falls Road (8S31). A sign along the highway for Rancheria Falls National Recreation Trail makes this turnoff easy to locate. The dirt road switchbacks uphill for just over 1 mile before reaching the developed trailhead parking lot. The road is rough, but should be passable for any vehicle if you drive cautiously.


*Featured background photo : View along trail, Photo Credit: Tim Rochte Via AllTrails

 

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Caution:
Weather and road conditions can change in an instant. Always check with the managing agency before embarking on a trip. Always hike with a friend and carry a cell phone for emergencies. Bring plenty of drinking water, food, and clothing for changing weather conditions. Let someone know where you are going and when you intend to be back. Remember, California’s wild places are beautiful but they can also be dangerous to the unprepared and unwary. The California Wilderness Coalition assumes no liability if you intend to visit any of the wild places featured in our materials.