Location: Foresthill, Tahoe National Forest, Placer County Height: ~500 ft. Access: Distance: 11.0 miles (1 way) Elevation: 5300 ft. (-2600 ft.) Season: May-Jun Difficulty: Lat/Long:39.20207, -120.50879 Directions:From I-80 at Auburn, take Foresthill/Auburn Ravine exit, and drive 17 miles to Foresthill. Continue on Foresthill Divide Rd. 16 miles past Foresthill to the Mumford Bar trailhead.
Determination. That is what you need (and a lot of it) if you wish to visit New York Canyon Falls. We would not recommend this hike (and scramble) for most people. New York Canyon Falls is located in a very remote and (almost) completely inaccessible canyon of the North Fork of the American River. It involves a very long, difficult hike down to the river. Then a mad scramble up New York Creek to reach the waterfall. There are no trails to the waterfall. But for the determined, the rewards are unspeakable. In the spring, New York Canyon Falls is a glorious 500 ft. freefall and cascade, dropping along New York Creek, through a beautiful and rugged and very steep canyon. This waterfall is one of the most spectacular falls in Northern California. But please, only attempt to visit this waterfall if you know you are fully prepared. This is an extremely difficult hike and scramble.
Timing is everything in seeing this waterfall. If you go too late, the snow will be all melted and the waterfall will only be trickling. If you go too early, you will not be able to even reach the trailhead. That is because Foresthill Divide Rd. is closed in the winter, and you have to wait until the snow has melted before you can drive this road to get to the trailhead. In a normal year, the road isn't open until early May. But the waterfall is at its best in April (the falls are at a lower elevation). This is a dilemma. Your best bet is to go as soon as Foresthill Divide Rd. is open, and not much later.
There are three trails down to the North Fork of the American River: Mumford Bar, Beacroft, and Sailor Flat. The shortest route (but much steeper) is Sailor Flat, but you will not be able to get to this trailhead until much later in the year, and by then it will be too late to see the waterfall. Mumford Bar is probably the best choice. It is a much gentler hike down to the river (3.5 miles), but it is a longer hike to get to New York Creek. Once you reach the river, you will hike the American River Trail to New York Creek (6.5 miles). A word of warning: the trail marked on the topo map is very misleading. In particular, the section from Beacroft to New York Creek is supposedly only 4 miles and fairly flat. We found this not the case. It was a lot of steep up and down hiking, and was most certainly much more than 4 miles. Once you reach New York Creek, you will need to camp down along the river. We strongly recommend camping two nights. My brother-in-law and I did this trip only staying one night, but it was a very long and difficult hike back out of the canyon, and it was after dark when we finally got back to our vehicles. After the long scramble and hike back, we were totally dog tired and sore by the end, with lots of blisters on our feet.
The scramble up New York Creek is crazy, to put it mildly. For the first little while, it was quite flat and easy going, and we were starting to think it would be a cake-walk. But that soon changed, as the walls of the canyon became very steep, and we had to start climbing high above the creek, through dense brush, in sometimes treacherous cliff areas. It took us 2 hours to reach the waterfall viewpoint, and 2 hours back. Your best bet is to go up along the east side of New York Creek, staying very high (as high as possible). Once you cross the creek that comes down from Oak Flat, the waterfall viewpoint is very close, on top of an open cliff area, with an absolutely spectacular view of the waterfall (click the "map" icon for precise coordinates of this viewpoint). New York Canyon Falls is eerily similar in appearance to Lower Yosemite Falls. It is smaller, but no less spectacular. The upper part drops steeply off a cliff for about 300 ft., then cascades sharply for another 200 ft. or so. It didn't seem possible to get right to the base of the falls, and we're not sure we could have continued much further from here. If you try scrambling up the west side of New York Creek instead, we don't think you will even be able to make it anywhere near the waterfall. You may, however, be able to see another large waterfall, which is along the west fork of New York Creek, right at its confluence with New York Creek. We caught a glimpse of it through the trees, but we had no way to get any closer to it from where we were.
I want to express a big thank you to Russell Towle, who provided me with valuable information and help in locating this waterfall. He is the first person I know who has seen New York Canyon Falls, though he didn't scramble up New York Creek as we did. Click my links page below to go to Russell's own web page to find out interesting history and information on the North Fork of the American River.
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