I kept looking back and kept my ears open as I made small steps on the tracks. I was ready to get out of the way in case a train came through. The reward for a little wild walk on the active tracks was a beautiful waterfall, Mossbrae Falls. Water drips on the mossy canyon wall into the Sacramento River.
Mossbrae Falls is arguably one of the most beautiful and scenic waterfalls in California or anywhere. It flows into the Sacramento River in the Shasta Cascade area in Dunsmuir, California. Springs feed the falls that course down the canyon wall into the river. The visible, lower part of the waterfall is about 50 feet (15 meters). The flora that covers the mountainside hides upper cascades. The waterfall is wide at around 175 feet (53 meters). The moss and other vegetation make the waterfall appear as it is several streams as it cascades down.
My friends and I parked just outside the Shasta Retreat neighborhood in Dunsmuir. It was not a paved and marked parking lot, but only a makeshift dirt lot near a bus stop. We hiked a short distance along Scarlet Way and Cave Avenue to the trailhead just across the river. It was not a trailhead either; instead, it was a railroad!
The railroad is active with regular trains passing through. It is about a mile-long hike to the falls from the trailhead on the Union Pacific Railroad. It is dangerous and also illegal as it is trespassing on Union Pacific’s private property. There is little space to avoid a train in some spots. However, trains caused injury to two hikers in recent memory. The danger deterred many visitors from visiting the waterfall, so seeing it is some sort of rite of passage.
We turned to the right along the tracks, which follows the river. The distance between sleepers or ties in the track was relatively short, which forced me to take smaller steps. I also tried walking on the ballast, the gravel foundation, but it was uneven. Every so often, I looked back, making sure there were no incoming trains. I was always ready to get out of the way.
Right before the railroad trestle, which crosses the Sacramento River, we veered right into a slightly steep slope shaded with trees. We reached a rocky shoreline with a beautiful view of the waterfall, a curtain of moss on the canyon wall mixed with the cascades. There weren’t many people at the site. We were alone for the most part. We had our picnic under a canopy of trees as we enjoyed the view.
The waterfall is beautiful and popular among those who brave the dangerous and illegal trek. The City of Dunsmuir closed any parking inside the Shasta Retreat neighborhood to further deter visitors. Parking exists but is very limited on an unpaved lot outside the neighborhood. The city, however, wants to build a safer hiking trail to this California gem.
Parking, Safety, and the Future
When finished, the trail is an extension to the nearby Hedge Creek Falls trail. The safer trail will include a pedestrian bridge over the river about 1,800 feet (550 meters) to the waterfall. It is awaiting Union Pacific’s permission to complete the trail. Hedge Creek Falls trail has a paved parking lot for visitors to park. The waterfall itself is worth a visit. It allows visitors to go around the waterfall, which is a pretty cool experience.
Alternately, visitors can reach Mossbrae Falls through the Mineral Spring Trail and Angel Trail in Shasta Springs, a private property owned by Saint Germain Foundation. Visitors can opt for white water rafting from Box Canyon Dam.