Hiking Like a Local at Table Mountain
As part of the #HikeButteCA Pass, my wife and I set out in late February to hike our way to Hollow Falls. It was a beautiful sunny day shortly after a decent rain—the perfect time to take to the trails around the Many Waterfalls Loop up at Table Mountain. Hollow Falls was a relatively close and moderate hike, making it an easy choice.
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On the drive, we passed a handful of rural homes, many grassy foothills, and an abundance of trees, before eventually arriving at the small gravel parking lot. There wasn’t much to indicate the natural majesty we were going to see; only a few signs and a handful of cows.
We got an early start, so while the sun had been up for a while, there were only one or two other cars in the lot. We started our hike by following a stream down through grassy lanes made muddy from the rain, saying hello to the cows from a respectful distance as we went. We did our best to sidestep the worst of the mud until we came to a rocky slope that led down to Hollow Falls itself. It was on the treacherous side, primarily because the path, such as it was, consisted primarily of loose rocks sitting on top of the trail. It made for a tricky descent, particularly for my wife, who is a bit less sure-footed than I am. There may have been a gentler slope than the one we took, had we gone a short ways ahead, but we made it down without too much difficulty to a crossing, a small pool, and the spectacle of Hollow Falls.
For such a short trip, it was more than worth it. There was a nice space to sit and have a quick drink of water, and we took a couple of photos to commemorate the occasion before moving on to discussing where we should go next. At only 1.5 miles out-and-back, according to the #HikeButteCA Pass (which meant we’d only gone about three quarters of a mile), we knew we wanted to press on and see what other ground we could cover, but we weren’t sure which way to go. There was a sign for Beatson Falls, and my wife said, in what would become a turn of phrase that haunted us as we went, “It’s only a little bit ahead; and we’re here, so we might as well do it!”
So began our own five-waterfall version of the Many Waterfalls Loop, one that wouldn’t get us a check-in for that particularly difficult cross-country trek on the pass itself, but which would make us feel like we’d gotten it by the time all was said and done.
Beatson Falls, it turned out, was not the easy walk we anticipated it was going to be. Roughly halfway there, we hit a sign that suggested we could turn and travel through the countryside—seemingly without a trail—to get to Crevice Falls, but without a detailed map, that didn’t seem like the best choice. I asked my wife if she wanted to turn back, given that it was still a fair stretch to Beatson, but the sign indicated it wasn’t that much further, so once again we thought: “Why not; it’s only a little bit further ahead!”
What had begun as a delightful stroll through some rolling lowland hills, over which zig-zagged a few scenic water features, eventually turned into a long, slow uphill climb that took us further and further up. The last leg before Beatson Falls itself required sure footing on a rocky mountainside slope next to a precipice that would eventually show us a glorious view of the falls themselves as they dropped about 80 feet into the hollow below. It was a more strenuous hike than we’d intended to take, but the view was unlike anything I’ve yet seen in Butte County, and made every exertion worth the effort.
Lower Ravine Falls
From there, we weren’t sure what to do. Going back the way we came seemed like a long haul, and from the limited map we had, it appeared we might be able to get back more easily if we climbed the steep pass to the plateau above us. Little did we know that an even better overlook of Beatson Falls would have awaited us if we’d simply headed to the left a short ways once we’d gotten up top, but instead we set with gusto across the grazelands, through several herds of curious cows, a few of which stared at us with unsettling intensity, and many more that mooed us on our way out of their territory. While the path here wasn’t so well-worn, it wasn’t long before we had gotten our bearings and confirmed with our map that we were headed in the right direction, and we set off through more grassland hills until hitting a sign for Lower Ravine Falls and Phantom Falls.
It was the direction we wanted to go, and once again we thought: it’s not much farther, let’s go take a look!
To get down to the gentle glade where Lower Ravine Falls actually rests, one has to go down quite a long, sloping trail. Thankfully it wasn’t especially steep, and we were greeted with another gorgeous view of this small, unassuming waterfall and the rocky hollow it spills into. Worth the extra legwork for sure!
Phantom Falls & Ravine Falls
But what goes down must again come up, and this is when we realized that we had failed to plan our movements as well as we should have. Though we’d set out early in the morning, the sun was beating down on us after 3 hours or so on the trails, and what had been a largely private journey with almost no co-hikers turned into a much more social journey as we passed people coming from Phantom Falls. The paths going forward were quite narrow, and as we would soon discover, mostly located on the sides of ravines that required us to climb or descend a considerable distance. Thankfully people were generally courteous and allowed us to pass, and we did the same if we found a good place to stand to the side.
We finally reached Phantom Falls after a fierce climb on a rock-laden path. The views were wonderful, though by this point we had passed the 5-hour mark of our hike, one that had grown far longer and more difficult than what we’d initially planned on. We continued past Phantom Falls back toward the parking area, and conferred with some other hikers to find, much to our dismay, that there would be one more down-and-up crossing to get through. We set our exhaustion aside for one final push, and made our way down to Ravine Falls. By this time the trails had grown quite crowded, especially considering our close proximity to the parking area, so we opted not to try to wait our turn to get up close to the waterfall, instead pushing up the last ascent to more level ground. We walked the last stretch with a family and several very happy dogs (at a respectful social distance) back to the parking area.
All told, we walked about 9 miles over the course of 6 hours or so, a lot of which had been steeper than we’d imagined. We were exhausted but thrilled to have seen 5 fantastic waterfalls, a couple of beautiful gorges, and a seemingly endless number of green hills. The only thing we might have changed in retrospect was our level of preparedness for all there was to see. Hopefully, our experience can help you be more prepared on your own journey, be it just to Hollow or Phantom Falls, or through the whole cross-country Many Waterfalls Loop.
Choose the right time for your hike on Table Mountain. Spring is ideal, as it will showcase the natural beauty of the area with green grass, flower blossoms, and fuller trees. It’s also best to hike a day or two after a good downpour. It will make the goings significantly muddier, but the payoff of the healthy waterfalls will be worth it.
Wear good shoes and be prepared for less stable ground. This is really Hiking 101 stuff, but especially when it comes to the Table Mountain trails, good hiking shoes or boots are a must. There will be a lot of muddy terrain if you’re trekking to see the falls after the rain, and the paths are often covered over in large quantities of smaller stones. They provide traction on muddy paths but aren’t especially stable, so in addition to good shoes, you may want to make use of trekking poles or walking sticks to help keep your footing on the ascents and descents necessary to get to many of the falls.
Plan in advance what you’d like to see, go in with that plan in mind, and bring water and food accordingly, especially for longer hikes. You can really build your own adventure with the many sights at Table Mountain, so knowing how far you’d like to go will make your life a lot easier. Also try to build in some flexibility to your plans if you can. After all, you might be like we were and simply say, “Well, that one is pretty close—let’s do it!” when you see the next sign.
In Explore Butte County's "Live Like a Local" series, Butte County locals are invited to share their experiences about the best places to go, see, and experience. “Hike Like a Local” is a specific LLL series focused on hiking trails in Butte County. This is the first piece in the series.