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Hiking to Stevenson Fall through Recent Road Washouts

I guess we could have checked to see if the road was open but that would have just been too easy. When we came across the washout, it just meant bonus miles to get us up to the roaring 500 foot cascading waterfall that is called Stevenson Fall.

Where: Sierra National Forest
Distance: 16.23 Miles (About 6 miles rt to the falls from the gate)
Difficulty: Moderate
Elevation Range: 1,406′ to 2,281′
Date: February 13, 2017
Maps: Auberry Topographic Quad, Sierra National Forest
Dog Hike? Maybe

We left from North Fork, drove down Road 225 and as we got closer to Redinger Lake, we saw signs that the road was closed ahead. Normally, we would have continued down the road, crossing the bridge that goes over Redinger Lake, then wind our way a couple of miles past the old Chawanakee School to where the gate crosses the road. We would have parked in a small turnout nearby, making sure we weren’t blocking any traffic. But not today. We parked at a good wide spot uphill from the road closure and started walking. As we walked down the road, we saw where small creeks had been roaring during the recent storms, running down the road and causing damage. Could this be why the road was closed? Many waterfalls were still flowing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

We hadn’t walked too far before we saw what had caused this closure. Road 225 was definitely washed out and that dropoff was impressive. It is going to take a lot of work to repair this section.

We continued down the road, seeing many smaller partial washouts on the road, with chunks missing on the outer edge of the road. We couldn’t believe how many small waterfalls were flowing in places that we hadn’t seen flow in recent years.

The road started dipping down along Redinger Lake and I started to get curious about what the reflections would look like when we got to the bridge.

Redinger Lake was constructed by Southern California Edison in 1951 on the South Fork of the San Joaquin River above Kerckhoff Reservoir. It is part of the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project which includes a system of lakes, tunnels, steel penstocks and power houses that uses water to generate electricity. It has a normal water surface of 456 acres and a maximum capacity of 35,000 acre feet. The reservoir is named after David H. Redinger who helped plan and execute the Big Creek Hydroelectric project.

We continued walking on the road, reaching the gate where we often park but there was an additional sign hanging on the gate, saying the road was closed 2.5 miles ahead where Stevenson Fall is located. That could mean that they were releasing lots of water and we may just see a huge fall!

After walking around the gate, we followed the road known as “The Million Dollar Road” that was built for the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project. Crossing the steel grid bridge over Mill Creek, we could see and hear the water was flowing strong. As we walked along the road, we could see the beginning of spring flowers that included popcorn and fiddleneck blooming. These succulents called Dudleya were also putting on a show for us.

 

As we came around a corner, we caught our first glimpse of Stevenson Falls, also called Stevenson Creek Falls. Stevenson Creek drains out of Shaver Lake, about 5 miles upstream, and is the water source. The Falls are about 300 feet above the road and another 200 feet below the road. The flow today was so strong that that it was flowing on and over the bridge, resulting in this bridge being impassable. We got as close as we could safely get to take our pictures but were getting soaked form the spray as we did it. The roaring sound of Stevenson Fall was incredibly loud.

Stevenson Creek is incorporated into a hydroelectric project at Shaver Lake. Its flow is regulated, so it is not a waterfall that you can count on heavy flows after a rain. The falls hurtle around 1,200 feet in four primary leaps of approximately 380, 260, 250 and 180 feet respectively, with multiple smaller slides and cascades in between each drop.

When the Big Creek Hydroelectric Project was built, its primary purpose was to provide electrical power for the city of Los Angeles. California engineer John S. Eastwood was the principal designer of the system, which was initially funded and built by Henry E. Huntington’s Pacific Light and Power Company (PL&P).

Construction of the system’s facilities started in 1911, and the first power was transmitted to Los Angeles in 1913. After Southern California Edison (SCE) acquired PL&P in 1917, the system was gradually expanded to its present size, with the last powerhouse coming on line in 1987. Today, these facilities include 27 dams, miles of underground tunnels, and 24 generating units in nine powerhouses with a total installed capacity of more than 1,000 megawatts. Its six major reservoirs have a combined storage capacity of more than 560,000 acre feet.

Today, the Big Creek project generates nearly 4 billion kilowatt hours per year, which is about 90 percent of SCE’s total hydroelectric power, or about 20 percent of SCE’s total generating capacity. Big Creek accounts for 12 percent of all the hydroelectric power produced in California. The Big Creek reservoirs also provide irrigation and flood control benefits for the Central Valley, and are popular recreation areas. There are negatives though. Fish and animal migration have been disrupted and historical sites and traditional Native American lands have been flooded.

We didn’t stay long at Stevenson Fall, returning the same way we came in. We found a sunny spot along the road to eat our lunch then headed back.

The little waterfalls along the road caught my eye.

As we crossed the bridge over Redinger Lake, the afternoon light created beautiful reflections.

The road washout made our planned 12 mile hike into a 16 miler, but you don’t need to walk that far. If you start from the gated access road to Stevenson Fall, it is about 6 miles roundtrip. There is also an alternate way that you can reach the gated access road to Stevenson Fall and that is from Jose Basin.

Dog Hike?

This hike could potentially be a good hike to take with your dog, if they are the type of dog that stays with you on the road. In addition to needing to carry your dog over the steel grid bridges, there are some steep drop-offs on this road. My Sally dog would want to chase squirrels and I am afraid that Sally would dive off there while chasing some critter and hurt herself. This is also rattlesnake haven. There is only one fairly good watering spot at Mill Creek, so you would need to pack water for your dog. The hike is entirely paved and this can be tough on a dog’s paw pads if they aren’t toughened up to this type of use. That pavement can also be very hot in the summer.

Map and Profile:

Stevenson Fall Doarama

Stevenson Fall Topographic Map

Stevenson Fall Topographic Profile

Sources:

Big Creek Hydroelectric Project Wikipedia

Stevenson Creek Falls

Prior Blogs in the Area:

Hiking to Stevenson Falls February 3, 2016

Hiking up the San Joaquin River to Stevenson Falls and Dam Six February 25, 2014

Stevenson Falls Hike February 27, 2013

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