The amazing landscape of Table Mountain should be on everyone's list to see this next year. From the magnificent waterfalls that emerge in fall and winter to the unbelievable spring wildflower blooms, there is always something worth seeing.
Located in Oroville, California, it has gotten more and more popular over the past few years. I've been going for years and it's just recently blown up in popularity. During the annual wildflower blooms, the place becomes a zoo of people. It was one of the best kept secrets locally, but now it seems everyone and their mom knows about it.
In this post, I'll cover the preparations required to visit Table Mountain, what to see, and how to access everything it has to offer.
Before You Go
Pre-Purchase a Lands Pass
The North Table Mountain Ecological Reserve is well known for its wildflower bloom every spring. The continuing drought in California and the drier than normal conditions have made the blooms become better every year. It's truly a sight to behold. That's the main reason it's become so popular.
It's become popular enough that the Department of Fish and Wildlife has recently been requiring a Lands Pass to enter the reserve the past few years. If you plan to visit at any point in the year, please follow the law and purchase the pass. It helps preserve the natural environment by maintaining and encouraging people to keep on the trails. 35% of the funds used to purchase the Lands Pass must be spent on the properties that the pass provides access to as well. Make sure you keep the pass with you, in case you're asked to present it when visiting. The cell phone reception isn't the best, so you should print it ahead of time and bring it with you.
Be Prepared for Your Hike
Now that you have the Lands Pass and are able to visit legally, there are still preparations you must make, regardless of the time you are visiting. You'll need to ensure to bring adequate amounts of food and water, wear appropriate clothing and shoes (Sturdy hiking boots), and bring a camera (or smartphone).
Wear adequate footwear. There have been far too many rescues each year that are 100% avoidable. Proper footwear (No open toe shoes) is essential. I can't tell you how many articles I read over the past few years of people hurting their ankles (Both sprained and broken) and needing to be airlifted out.
Watch your step. While it may seem simple enough, there have been people that have died hiking the mountain simply due to losing their footing and falling down a hill or cliff. Also, there have been rattlesnakes on the trails, so make sure you are actively looking where you step.
Obey all rules of parking and hiking. Stay on the marked trails and stay off the roads. This last April, every available tow truck was called out to tow illegally parked vehicles. I'd hate for you to be one of those returning to your car to find out its no longer there. It's also extremely difficult for emergency personnel, such as search and rescue, to do their job if cars are parked on the road.
Plan to hike several miles. While Hollow Falls and some wildflowers are close, you will most likely find yourself spending many hours walking/hiking around getting lost in the beauty. Make sure you have adequate food and water. A blanket for a picnic is a great addition for the afternoon as well!
What To See
Table Mountain's waterfalls generally only flow during or shortly after the rain. They aren't fed by springs, so their flow is seasonal. There's rarely snow on Table Mountain, so the falls are fed by water collecting in the fissures of the ancient lava rock (basalt). Once the water is depleted, the falls will disappear.
Hollow Falls is one of the easiest and most accessible waterfalls. Follow the signs that will lead you on the 1.5 mile trail there and back. Please be careful once you reach the falls, however, as the drop off is very steep and there have been those that got hurt or even died from losing their footing here.
Ravine Falls is a pretty cool little falls that empties into a ravine. You can hike to the falls, down into the Ravine and even walk underneath it if you'd like. Follow the trail markers to the falls. You'll see a sign a couple tenths of a mile from where you can walk down into the ravine as well.
Phantom Falls is the most epic and probably the most photographed falls. It requires a 4.2 mile journey there and back, but is well worth it. You can follow the trail marker signs for this as well. At about 1 mile, you'll see a sign for Ravine Falls, you'll take the trail to Lower Ravine Falls in the canyon (There's a sign right outside the ravine), then back up the other side following the trail to Phantom Falls. Even if the falls is dry, the canyon is a must see. It's possible you could get lost trying to get to the falls, so I'd recommend getting Google Maps and
pre-downloading a map of the area. It has Phantom Falls marked on the map, so you could just drop a pin where you park your car and that way you can find your way there and back.
Beatson Falls is one that is often mistaken for Phantom Falls, largely due to the basalt rocks that form around both falls. It's another falls that drops into a canyon, but, in the case of Beatson Falls, it's a much smaller canyon with a lot more tree growth. To get to it, you hike to the bottom of Hollow Falls and follow that stream until you reach Beatson Falls. Tracking the distance on my own hikes, it is roughly 2 miles from Hollow Falls, which makes the full trip from the parking lot about 6-7 miles round trip.
These are just a few of the waterfalls on seasonally available for you to take in. I've hiked hundreds of miles on Table Mountain over the years and I'm always discovering something new each year. I've counted over a dozen different waterfalls and I'm sure there's more I haven't seen.
Starting in March, Table Mountain will start to come to life. Thousands, if not millions, of wildflowers start to pop up all over the rocky hills. The lupines are the most dominant, followed by poppies and meadowfoam. There are some gems to be found in the hills, still, however, such as bitter root, purple owl's clover, bird’s eye gilia, and dozens more.
The wildflower season generally lasts from late March until early/mid May. Once the summer heat kicks in, the wildflowers fade away quickly. The strength and timing of the wildflower bloom depends on the rainfall in February and March. If it's a fairly dry February, you can expect a good bloom around late March. The peak is usually in early to mid April.
You're going to see a lot of cows, dependent on how far you venture out and their location on the rock and pastures. They aren't wildlife, but they are one of the biggest reasons for the spectacular blooms on Table Mountain every spring. The cows eat the thatch and grass that would normally not allow the wildflowers to grow.
Outside of cows, there are many other types of wildlife on Table Mountain. You'll want to be careful where you step, as you might squash a California newt or horned lizard. In addition to these little guys, you could see hawks, meadow larks, turkey vultures, or a burrowing owl, if you're lucky.
When to Go
A big oak stands alone under the night sky’s Milky Way on Table Mountain in Oroville, California.
Fall and winter bring color to the trees through the death of the leaves and life to the mountain through the waterfalls. You'll be able to see some of the more rare falls, such as Schirmer or Ranch Falls, during this period. If you're extremely lucky, you'll get to see a snow-covered Table Mountain. A photograph with snow and the big oak is still something I've yet to cross off my bucket list.
I hope this article helps you in planning your visit to my "backyard", Table Mountain. If you would like to explore Table Mountain and improve your photography, sign up for my workshop here. If you have further questions, please reach out and connect with me directly through my website.