Spot Check: Fall River – The Gem of California’s Natural Springs


By Michael Wier
CalTrout Field Reporter and Videographer

Fall River - The Gem of California's Natural Springs

When you think of California and all it has to offer, what are some of your favorite natural places? Is it the forest, mountains or maybe the beach?

For me, I get the most enjoyment from our cold-water resources.

Naturally when I say, “cold water,” what comes to mind are lakes, rivers, wetlands, delta, estuaries and even reservoirs. These are the areas that I spend the most time fishing, boating, swimming, rafting etc.

However, our natural cold-water resources include a few lesser-known components that are just as important to the entire operating system.


Cover Photo: Ahjumawi Lava Springs by Brian Miller


Photo: Fall River Valley by Brian Miller



One of the lesser known – but just as important components of the water system – is California’s network of underground aquifers and springs.

Underground aquifers are created when rain and snow melt seeps down into the ground through fissures in the rocks or lava. From there it pools up in ponds, lakes and underground rivers where it hits solid bedrock.

If you are like me and grew up using a well on your property, then you will already know the importance of these underground aquifers. They are truly one of nature’s best tools for storing cold clean water.

With new emerging technologies we can gain a greater understanding of where these aquifers are located and how they work. This opens implications for recharging groundwater aquifers and  using natural underground storage options which would alleviate the need for more environmentally impactful and less effective surface storage options such as reservoirs.


Photo: Ahjumawi Lava Springs by Glenn Kubaki



Photo: Mossbrae Falls by Megan Nguyen

Natural springs are places where underground water wells spring up to the surface.

There has always been something very mysterious and romantic about springs for me. It is fascinating to see cold clean water bubbling up out of the earth.

Makes you wonder where it came from, how long it’s been down there and what types of geology it has it flowed through.

Turns out, California Trout funded a study of springs in the Mount Shasta area. By studying specific isotopes, researchers concluded that some of the water had been underground for as long as 25 years before resurfacing.

The average time underground was 8 to 14 years for springs in the Shasta area that is primarily volcanic geology. It also comes up super filtered, clean and cold.

These findings helped California Trout stop a proposed Nestlé water bottling factory from coming into the small community of McCloud which would have impacted the local blue ribbon fisheries.



The Fall River is part of a vast complex of springs that well up around the Fall River Valley mostly due to volcanic geological formations surrounding the valley.

The Fall River complex includes Spring Creek, Crystal Springs, Ahjumawi Lava Springs State Park, Big lake, Eastman lake and the Tule River all of which are primarily spring fed. The only tributary that is primarily fed by precipitation is Bear Creek which flows into upper fall river.

The Fall River flows a little over 23 miles through the valley and is the largest Spring Creek in California and one of the biggest in the western United States.

Due to the consistent bountiful flows of natural spring water, the Fall River boasts one of the highest populations of wild trout of any of California’s waterways making it a paradise for trout fisherman.

The cold consistent flows support a vast network of aquatic vegetation which in turn supports a huge quantity of aquatic insects. The legendary hatches of Fall River are famous among fly-fisherman.

The most famous of which is the early summer Hex hatch. These giant yellow mayflies can be nearly 2 inches in length and make for quite an experience for lucky anglers who time the hatch right.


Photo: Ahjumawi Lava Springs by Brian Miller


Photo: Fall River by Mike Wier


For better or worse, depending on how you look at it, much of the upper Fall River is private. Most people access the water by hiring guides out of Fall River Mills or through Clearwater Lodge, which is located nearby on the Pit River.

All the guides that work Fall River have access to private boat launches and can take you up or down the river from there depending on where the best fishing is that day.

There is however one public access point along upper Fall River off Island Rd. that is owned by California Trout and open to the public. You can launch your own craft if you can unload it from your truck and put it in the water by hand. There is no boat ramp. Also, no gas powered motors are allowed at this put-in.



In addition to fishing, the spring waters from Fall River supports an abundance of other wildlife including thousands of migratory birds. There is also a robust agricultural economy thriving within the fall river valley bases around that cold clean water.

When the river leaves the valley a portion of it is immediately piped to the Pit one powerhouse for Hydropower generation. From there that same water flows through a network of five different power houses along the Pit River before reaching Shasta reservoir. The power generated from that water supports thousands of homes and hundreds of communities throughout California. Shasta is the largest reservoir in California by volume.

The Pit River being the biggest tributary with a large amount of its volume contributed by the Fall River springs. From Shasta reservoir the lower Sacramento River carries water to hundreds more communities and fuels Millions of dollars worth of agricultural enterprises throughout the Central Valley. Some of that water even find its way all the way down to Southern California making its way over the grapevine and into the greater Los Angeles basin.


Photo: Fall River Osprey by Brian Miller

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