McArthur-Burney Falls State Park may be a ways off the beaten trail, but that should not sway anyone from visiting. The 129-foot waterfall around which the state park is built is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in California. President Theodore Roosevelt visited here and was so impressed that he declared them the eighth wonder of the world. These falls are fed from an underground spring a quarter mile upstream, so there is never any worry that the falls will run dry.
On a hot summer day visitors can find escape in the cool waters of Lake Britton, or the more daring will jump in the frigid waters below the falls. A well planned trip may include a picnic under the shade at the park's picnic areas, a stroll under the pine forests along Burney Creek’s edge, and a gander through the new visitor center that details much of the park’s history, geology, and biology.
This area was first inhabited by First Nations people who called themselves the Ilmawi. This band lived here until the mid-19th century, when fur trappers and settlers began forcibly moving natives or killing them by introducing foreign diseases. Today Native Americans of the Pit River Tribe have held onto the ways of their ancestors and honor their heritage through spiritual and economic ties to the land. The park itself was named for a homesteader who died in 1859 and went by the name Samuel Burney. He died long before the park came into the state’s hands. Frank and Scott McArthur, sons of a popular mercantile couple, purchased 160 acres surrounding the falls in order to protect them from Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E). The brothers were fearful the large company would buy the land and thus destroy the falls in an effort to harness hydroelectric power. Protection of the falls was solidified when the McArthurs donated the land to the state in 1920. Six years later it would become state park under the care of the State of California. Years later a damn was constructed along the Pit River, which created Lake Britton reservoir.
Predatory birds can often be observed in the park, most notably bald eagles, osprey, peregrine falcons, and herons. A lucky visitor may catch a glimpse of the bald eagle that nests in a snag standing defiantly above the falls. The nest is easily seen perched on top of this tree year round, but the eagles are more common during winter months. Many other animals can be found in and around the park such as mule deer, porcupines, coyotes, gray foxes, and various species of snakes. McArthur-Burney Falls has been named a “best viewing site” by California’s Watchable Wildlife program.
As far as accommodations go, McArthur Burney Falls State Park has plenty for anyone wishing to spend a few days in the park. Cabins, various sizes of campsites, and RV spurs are all available. A small general store sits within the park for any last minute items that may have been forgotten.
Day use visitors can also find a peaceful day of escape in this remote state park. The park has two large picnic areas with plenty of tables and stand up grills. One of these areas is next to the falls view point, and the other is along Lake Britton. A group picnic area fitting 110 people can also be reserved for any large gatherings.
Anyone driving through Northern California and visiting Burney Falls may want to extend their trip and visit McCloud Falls and drive through Lassen Volcanic National Park. These three areas connect through Highways 44 and 89, which make an amazing detour if you are headed north or south through Northern California.