The 130 foot Phantom Falls is an incredible find in the Northern Table Mountain Ecological Reserve. Phantom Falls is a beautiful plunge waterfall at the head of Coal Canyon just a few easy miles from the parking lot. The day we went visibility was a few hundred feet from low clouds that enveloped Table Mountain. Even though the weather was uncooperative in some ways, every waterfall came into view offering at least some okay photos.
The trailhead is easy to find, located close to Oroville and Chico off of Highway 70 at 2488 Cherokee Road. The North Table Mountain area is a waterfall paradise but must be visited right after a good rain or during the rainy season while water is still flowing in the spring. I have not seen them but have read the wildflowers are amazing in the springtime.
The parking area looks to be on the edge of pasture land with one lone giant Oak Tree near the beginning of the trail. The landscape is deceiving and makes one wonder if the effort to leave the parking lot is worth it. To further complicate the decision, there isn’t an established trail throughout the journey; you are kind of on your own. If all of that does not discourage you, the images of Phantom Falls could never do the adventure justice; it is that amazing. It reminds me of the paddle into Ajamauwi Springs, the path getting there is pretty dreary, but once there the beauty will captivate you.
There are various ways to get to Phantom Falls, but as I stated the trail would be faint if not non-existent. The map on this post will take you to Hollow Falls, Ravine Falls and of course Phantom Falls. Just remember the top of Table Mountain is your friend and avoid the urge to go down the gorges unless you are accessing the bottom of a falls.
Phantom Falls is seasonal and gets its name from the way it disappears like a phantom. The time to visit is from the time the rainy season starts to shortly after it ends. The hike there is through pasture land full of cows and very soggy ground. Good waterproof hiking boots are invaluable on this journey for the trek through the open fields, and the many streams crossed along the way.
Once the Basalt Coal Canyon breaks into view, exhilaration will quicken the pace to catch a view of Phantom Falls. Coal Canyon alone is worth the hike with its Columnar Basalt walls from the ancient lava flow that is now Table Mountain. The panoramic views from the rim of Coal Canyon, render a generous amount of vantage points to take pictures of Coal Canyon and Phantom Falls.
Phantom Falls is a plunge waterfall that leaves the rock at the top for 130-foot freefall to a small pool below where there is a mini adventure in the form of a large cave. Access to the base of the Falls is from the first ravine North. The path to the bottom offers a suitable access for adventurers with strength and the ability to scale some technically dangerous situations. I found it to be easy, but I would be very concerned taking some down its hazardous decline.
The cave is like a large gaping mouth below the plunging falls. The Columnar Basalt formation that is the composition of Table Mountain is undercut at this point revealing a sandstone-like material. The opening is easily 100 feet across and 30 feet tall at its apex. Somehow I can picture an entire tribe of Indians living there protected from the elements and marauding tribes. However, a mine shaft in the cave tells the tale of how the Indian paradise scenario would have played out.
I want to return on a clear day in the Spring and hike the entire North Table Mountain Reserve. From research, I have discovered a multitude of waterfalls within the area and understand the bloom of wildflowers to be worth the trip alone.