Horsetail Falls Loop Trail, Oregon — Excellent Family Hike

While the hike at Multnomah Falls was disappointing, the hike at Horse Tail Falls was everything I was hoping for and more. The month was April and on the trip were my husband, myself, and our two teens ages 15 and 17. On this hike we saw:

On this hike we saw:

— two beautiful waterfalls, Horsetail Falls and Ponytail Falls (pictured below)
— a bridge over the creek that becomes Oneonta Falls
— an abundance of moss, lichen, ferns, and mushrooms
— fantastic views of the Columbia River Gorge

Ponytail Falls, Columbia River Gorge

All this remarkable scenery is packed into a mere 2.3 miles. Begin the hike next to 176-ft Horsetail Falls. At .2 miles, turn right onto the Gorge Trail which takes you to the 80-ft Ponytail Falls. Here you get to walk behind the falls!

About .4 miles later, you’ll come to several trails to the right. These lookouts have outstanding views of the Columbia River Valley from far above the river. Be careful not to stand at the edge and watch any kids with you. There is a plaque about a teen that died falling from the cliffs here.

Moss Plants, Columbia River Gorge

Continue on the main trail another .4 miles, crossing over a metal footbridge above 60-ft Oneonta Falls. Quickly you’ll arrive at a junction with the Oneonta Trail. Here you have a choice, you can lengthen your hike by turning and walking .9 miles up the trail to the beautiful Triple Falls. Or turn right and head downhill on the Oneonta Trail back to the Highway.



Small Rodent Skull in the Columbia River Gorge


Follow the highway back to your car. Most of the walk has a path, but near Horsetail Falls you’ll need to walk on the highway to get back to your car.

Difficulty: This is a short hike, but given the climbing, I’d say this is a moderate hike.

Crowds and Parking: Available along the highway. We visited in early April when crowds were light. I believe it’s extremely busy in this region in the summer months and packed to crush on summer weekends.

Dogs: Allowed.

Maps: I got a paper map at Multnomah Falls Visitors Center, but don’t go there on a weekend as the crowds are insane.
Digital Map:
Signage: Trail is clearly marked.

Oneonta Gorge, Columbia River Gorge

We found Oneonta Gorge by accident on our way to Horsetail Falls. We were walking along the pedestrian bridge when we spotted a stairway off to the side and a super mossy wall. It seemed like a secret passage, so we went.


We followed the wall away from the bridge; the wall was, in fact, the side of the gorge and completely covered in moss and small plants. There was no one else on the little path, and we had to climb boulders to proceed. We bouldered over a 15-foot pile of rock and found ourselves in an enormous, green gorge — surprisingly full of people. Honestly, Oneonta Gorge was one of the most beautiful sights any of us had seen. I felt I was in a movie or the garden of paradise.

The people were another thing. What were they doing here? There was no sign to mark the entry, but there’s a group of 10 kids under 8 years old over there. We were puzzled and amazed.

Later we learned Oneonta Gorge is well documented online, I mean what wonderful place isn’t. We looked around that Sunday and then came back a couple of days later. The only other person there was a woman with a wetsuit and a professional camera who was making her way up the Gorge. My online sources explain that it’s a freezing but awe-inspiring trek up the gorge to Lower Oneonta Falls. We didn’t do it as there was so much water and it was so cold. It was Spring, after the rainiest year in many, many years. But I’ll be back to hike the Gorge!

I Heart Moss

I Heart Moss is a project about moss, trees, waterfalls and the forest. I, Karen Nierlich, am a nature photographer, living in the San Francisco Bay Area. You can also visit our for gifts and jewelry for nature lovers. Handcrafted gifts made by artists, craftspeople, and makers just for you!

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge, Oregon

I’ve visited mossy places all around the San Francisco Bay Area and Northern California. This Spring I got a chance to venture further from home to see the breathtaking Columbia River Gorge outside of Portland Oregon.

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge,Oregon

A visit to the Columbia River Gorge would not be complete without a visit to the awe-inspiring Multnomah Falls. It’s intensely popular — I’ll say more about that later — and for good reason. You have an unobstructed view of the Falls from something like a half mile away. The 640 feet tall Falls actually consists of a tall upper fall of 542 feet and a lower fall of 69 feet. It’s the tallest waterfall in Oregon. Unlike some falls that dry up in late summer, Multnomah Falls runs year around because its feed by both an underground spring and the snow runoff.

In 1914, lumber baron and philanthropist Simon Benson hired Italian stonemasons to build a viewing bridge so visitors could get a closer look at the falls. Benson’s aesthetic instincts were right on, as it’s a romantic arc of a bridge.  I highly recommend walking the 1/4 mile to Benson’s footbridge as its a grand view. I don’t recommend going much further the footbridge as I explain below.

Multnomah Falls, Columbia River Gorge

Visiting Notes for Multnomah Falls:  I’d avoid the trail to the top of the Falls, for two reasons. One it’s extremely crowded and two it’s super steep. I was worried I’d see a tourist have a heart attack!

Honestly, the trail was filled with many who don’t ordinarily hike. The steep 1.1-mile trek looked like it’d put one of them in an early grave. There are beautiful trees, mosses, and views from the paved trail, but it’s no nature experience. We had only three days in the Columbia River Gorge and I was frustrated that we’d spend half a day on the busiest trail in all of Oregon.

Multnomah Falls receives two million visitors a year. It reminded me a great deal of Yosemite for that reason. Go on a weekday if possible. Avoid going in the summer months. We visited in early April and found it was all well organized for the visitor; there is a giant parking lot, bathrooms, National Park Rangers to provide info on the Columbia River Gorge overall, and a beautiful historic restaurant at the lodge people. However, official sources say the parking lot fills up 100% in the summer months and they often close the gate and raise a “closed” sign to keep people from exiting from the Columbia River Highway.

point reyes
I Heart Moss features the moss, forest and waterfall photos of photographer Karen Nierlich. For nature lovers, we have a 
gift and jewelry shop which helps support the art project.  There you’ll find nature charm necklaces such as twigs, acorns, squirrels, antlers, foxes, and other gifts for birthdays, holidays, bridesmaids and other special occasions.


McCloud Falls near Shasta, CA

We were having a blast bouldering at McCloud Falls when we witnessed what could have been a tragic death. Seems jumping off Middle McCloud Falls is a popular thing to do, judging by the number of videos you’ll find at #mccloudfalls on Instagram.

A girl and two guys were up at the top left of the Falls. The first guy jumped off successfully. The girl, however, kept hesitating.


Finally, she jumped off but immediately hesitated again, which caused her to start sliding down the dirt and rock face. It was horrifying, as it looked like she was going to continue sliding down the rocks! Fortunately, she did clear the rocks, but she landed on her side and her body slapped the water extremely hard. Thankfully, she lived to limp to the shore.

Her hesitation made the jump so much worse. With risks, sometimes it’s good to jump in and sometimes it’s important to proceed cautiously and test the waters. With cliff diving, do not hesitate.

We came across McCloud Falls by accident on a list of “10 Things to Do” in Shasta. We all wanted to explore and boulder around the Falls and I was hoping to get some moss photos. We parked in the parking lot above the Falls, changed into swimsuits and hiked down some switch backs to the Falls.


It looks like a gorgeous waterfall and swimming hole like you’d find in Hawaii, but the water is frigid. This was early July and of the two dozen people around, only one or two were swimming.

I do like other kinds of challenges, though. There was a long tree trunk spanning the river and I walked across while willing myself to put one foot in front of the other and pay attention. On the right side, there are tons of boulders big and small, and I had a great time bouldering myself to the rocks right up close the Falls.

McCloud Falls


Using the rocks and boulders you can get yourself face-to-face with the waterfall. For some people, this would be a spiritual experience with the mist enveloping you and the  rushing water so close you can touch it. For me, my adrenaline was surging from the bouldering and I was worried I’d slip and fall. So, not as spiritual or calming as I thought.

Also, I left my camera over on the sand beach as I didn’t want to break it on the rocks or drop it into the water. So I took no close up photos of the moss.

Mount Shasta


Nature Lover

Afterward, we learned there is a 4-mile hike called McCloud River Falls Trail starting in the picnic area at the lower falls and connecting the three Falls…lower, middle and upper McCloud Falls. The trail sounds great and I hope to do it  another time.


Karen is a nature photographer who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s written a book called Moss and Lichen. She has a gift and jewelry shop especially for nature lovers you’ll find at

Please check the shop if you are looking for a birthday, graduation, wedding or other kinds of gifts.  Many Thanks, Karen




Berry Creek Falls Trail, Big Basin Redwoods SP, CA (Santa Cruz) — Every Step is Beautiful

Many, many years ago before we had kids, my husband and I decided spontaneously to go away for the weekend. We looked at the map and selected a big green square and headed there. That green square turned out to be Big Basin Redwoods State Park near Santa Cruz, CA.

When we got to the park, we asked the ranger for their best hike! (Continued below.)

Walking below the Redwoods

The ranger on duty sent us on an 8-10 mile hike to Berry Creek Falls. We set out late morning and barely made it back before dark. I remember running up the switchbacks to the headquarters at dusk. I normally find these switchbacks strenuous to walk, so I’m sure it was grueling.

However, the spontaneously trip to a new place, followed by a long hike through beautiful scenery became a lasting memory for us. We’ve returned nearly every year to camp and hike at the park, bringing our kids with us.

Waterfalls | Berry Creek Falls

How to Get to Berry Creek Falls

There are three different trails one can take to get there. Like a lot of people, I like loop trails. The second two options are loops.

Maps: You don’t want to set out without a paper map as you may need more info then the trail markers provide. You will be taking interconnected trails so a map in necessary.

You’ll find free maps at the ranger station at park headquarters at Big Basin Redwoods State Park. The headquarters can be found on GPS and the park rangers are friendly and helpful; I think most rangers like helping people choose hikes.

Strenuous Hike: All three trails to Berry Creek Falls are pretty strenuous and all have different sights and scenery to recommend them.

1) There and back trail: From park headquarters take Skyline to the Sea Trail to Berry Creek Falls and back. This hike is eight miles roundtrip and includes several switchbacks 🙂

Every inch of Skyline to the Sea Trail is beautiful. It’s lined throughout with redwoods and ferns and follows Kelly Creek for most of the distance to the falls. Check out my previous post for some photos of a spot I found on this very creek. Note: there are two-three waterfalls above Berry Creek Falls which are beautiful as well and can be accessed by continuing on the Berry Creek Falls Trail.

2) Loop Option 1: This trip starts the same as the hike above. Head out on Skyline to the Sea Trail.  Just past Middle Ridge Road, you’ll find the juncture for the Howard King Trail.  I love this trail because one, it has a fantastic view of the ocean from Mt. McAbee Outlook at 1739ft and two, the trail takes you through a couple of contrasting micro-climates. First, you’ll walk through the redwoods, then chaparral and then back into the redwoods again. Total distance is about 10 miles.

3) Loop Option 2: Again, head out on the Skyline to the Sea Trail. Ignore the Howard King Trail, and look for the Sunset Connector Trail to your right. Follow Sunset Trail several miles to the three upper falls: Golden Falls, Cascade Falls, and Silver Falls. In my opinion, Sunset Trail isn’t as interesting as the other two and it’s probably 11 miles…a little longer. What is cool is that it makes a loop that takes you past all three-four waterfalls. Follow the Berry Creek Falls Trail down past Berry Creek Falls and return on the Skyline to the Sea Trail.

Bathrooms: The last bathroom is near the amphitheater and the bridge before you start on the Skyline by the Sea Trail.

Dogs: Not allowed on the trails at Big Basin Redwoods SP. They are allowed in the campground and the paved roads and trails.

Crowds and Parking: Weekends, especially summer weekends, are busy. Go as early in the day as you can; before 9 am is really great. If you arrive after 11 am, you’ll spend more time finding parking but we’ve always found a spot in our 2 decades of visiting.

Silver Falls, Big Basin Redwoods SP

Golden Falls

I’m Karen Nierlich. I take forest pictures with a focus on moss plants and ferns. Please follow me on or We also have a nature-inspired jewelry shop especially for nature lovers.

Mossy rock



John Muir was a Lover and a Fighter

This last week I read John Muir: The story of my boyhood and youth.

John Muir Many photos of Muir show him with a long beard reclining on a rock looking contemplative. Because of this, I’ve pictured his life as akin to the ideals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and it turns out that Muir did spent several years living in a tiny cabin in Yosemite, communing with nature, doing science and reading Emerson. Perhaps my one-dimensional view of Muir had a basis in fact.

You may be wondering exactly what the great John Muir is known for, so here’s the ultra-short version before I share some stories from his boyhood and youth: He was a writer, naturalist and preservationist of our American wilderness. Muir was an ardent promoter for the idea of National Parks and is credited with the creation of Yosemite and Sequoia NP.  He also co-founded the Sierra Club and led it until his death.


Moss Plants Marin California

John Muir was born in Scotland in 1838. He went to school, lived in a large house with servants and enjoyed the attention of his loving grandparents. In his book John Muir: The story of my boyhood and youth, he describes flowers, a robin’s nest and many other early nature experiences.

What ran against my image of Muir as a peaceful philosopher was that Muir fought everyday of his boyhood. He says, “After attaining the manly, belligerent age of five or six years, very few of my school days passed without a fist fight, and half a dozen was no uncommon number” (p. 24-25, John Muir.)

Perhaps such a fighting spirit helped Muir to accomplish all he did. He certainly had exceptional grit; fearlessness in the face of dangers and challenges would have helped him to live alone in the woods for years.


When John was 11, he, his father and two younger brothers set out for America, while his mother and sisters stayed in Scotland. His father had decided to migrate for religious reasons because he didn’t find the Church of Scotland strict enough.

John and his brothers were excited about migrating. Once in Wisconsin, the four of them — one man, 11 year old John and two younger brothers — set about clearing the wilderness homestead in Wisconsin, planting the first crops and building a house for the family of ten. It was grueling work for the three young boys no doubt.


There are chapters of Muir’s writing describing in rich detail the flora and fauna of Wisconsin as well as his labour on the farm. In between the poetic observations of nature, he slips in a paragraph here and there about the strictness of his father or how he worked 16-17 hours a day from the age 11 until he left home at age 19.

Once his father’s demands almost killed John when he had John dig a water well with some mason’s chisels. The well took weeks and months to dig, as the bottom was sandstone and he had to dig it out painstakingly with the tiny tools. It seemed like nature was John’s solace, his escape and entertainment for his bright and curious mind while his muscles and body were compelled to complete endless labor.

Moss Plants Marin California

The third and last surprising fact from Muir’s youth was that, as much as he loved nature, his first or other area of interest was engineering. As an older teen, Muir started rising at 1 AM in the morning to work on engineering projects of his own design, such as a clock, a barometer, a thermometer, and more. His father wasn’t happy that he was giving up sleep to build things, but he didn’t stop him either. His father seems to have been secretly pleased with John’s creations.

When John did leave home at 19, it was these inventions carved from hickory wood that opened doors for him. On a neighbor’s suggestion, he took them to the Wisconsin State Fair. At the fair, people were incredibly impressed with John’s creations, and he made connections that led to his first jobs.


For someone who found writing difficult, Muir wrote a surprising number of books. He wrote 12 books and 300 articles. The book jacket says that “this portion of his autobiography is one of the classic accounts of pioneering, and of the heartbreaking toil demanded of those who would make cultivated fields out of wild land.”

I found the book John Muir: The story of my boyhood and youth fascinating on multiple levels from its accounts of pioneer life to the events and places and people that shaped John Muir. The close-observed and romantic descriptions of nature moved me and I think other readers will find them distinctive as well.


Photos in this article are from the Steep Ravine Trail, Marin, CA and the nearby Matt Davis Trail. Taking photos of mosses and forests is my greatest joy and has been for several years. While you are here, check out the shop with jewelry for nature-lovers associated with this blog.

Ladder Steep Ravine Trail Marin

Steep Ravine Trail, Marin CA — My Mossy Rockstar

I declare Steep Ravine the rockstar of mossy trails. I reveled in the abundance of mossy trees, mossy rocks, lichens and ferns. You get the idea. The science fiction fans in my household dubbed it Middle Earth for any Tolkien fans reading this.

These first three moss plant photos were taken on Mother’s Day in early May. It was a super foggy day which enhanced the green color of the mosses.






This trail is more strenuous than others I’ve reviewed in Marin, such as Cascade Falls and Cataract Falls, though not as strenuous as the name Steep Ravine Trail might make you think.



In addition to the plentiful mosses and ferns, the other highlight of the trail is the wooden ladder about 1.5 miles downhill! I’m so geeky — gushing about a ladder on a trail! It adds adventure and magic to the trail and made me feel like a kid.

I also appreciate how the trail builders took the trail via ladder right up along the waterfall. Some less imaginative trail builder might have placed the trail so it went around rocky outcropping and bypassed the waterfall.


Maps: It’ll make your trail days so much happier if you pick up a paper map at Pantoll Station in Marin CA.  Pantoll Station can be found on GPS.

Moderate Hike: If you haven’t hiked in while, I suggest going the 1.5 miles down the trail to the ladder. Climb down the ladder, look around, and then hike the 1.5 miles back. There are places you can sit, if you wish to take breaks on the way back. Lots of people jog or move fast on trails, but this is a trail that bears slowing down and pondering.

Challenging Hike: If a seven mile hike with some uphill climbing suits you, I recommend three options:

1) Down Steep Ravine Trail from Pantoll Station to where the trail meets the Dipsea Trail, and return back up Steep Ravine. (Approximately five miles and strenuous, as the trip is 50% uphill.)

2) Down Steep Ravine Trail and follow the Dipsea Trail to Stinson Beach. At Stinson Beach, locate the Matt Davis Trail behind the fire station at the end of the short block. Follow Matt Davis back uphill to Pantoll Station. Matt Davis will take you back to where you started. (Approximately seven-eight miles and strenuous.)

3) Reverse the hike above. Start at Stinson Beach and go up the Matt Davis Trail located at the end of the side street past the Fire Station. Come down Steep Ravine. (Approximately seven miles and strenuous, but on this route the second half of the trip is downhill.)

Dogs: Not allowed in the Mount Tamalpais State Park, but dogs are allowed in the Mount Tamalpais Water District. Hikes at Cataract Falls and Cascade Falls both allow dogs.

Crowds and Parking: Weekends, especially summer weekends, are busy. Go as early in the day as you possibly can; before 9am is really great. If you arrive after 11 am you may have a very hard time parking. There is some parking along the side of the roads, which is okay if you don’t mind walking with cars passing by.

I’m Karen Nierlich. I take forest pictures with a focus on moss plants and ferns. Please follow me on or We also have a nature-inspired jewelry shop especially for nature lovers. For example, a gorgeous twig necklace is a great conversation starter.

Cascade Falls, Fairfax, CA – Easy Family Walk



Cascade Falls is a moderate two miles roundtrip with little change in elevation. There’s no parking lot at the trail head but there are a few pull out parking spots. I went several times this Spring and each time there were three to ten cars parked on the street. If you hike here in Summer the waterfall will be dry or mostly dry.

To get there, drive west from Hwy. 101 on Sir Francis Drake Boulevard about 5 miles to the town of Fairfax. Turn left on a street called Pastori where there is a traffic light, and then make an immediate left and go one block down to Broadway and turn right. Drive up Broadway and as you are leaving the center of Fairfax turn left onto Bolinas Road. From Bolinas Road make a soft right on Cascade Drive and follow it until you get to the end. Trail starts at the gate at the end of the road.

Few more notes about Cascade Trail at this link and below.




Distance: This is a great hike for young kids because it’s only 2 miles roundtrip and it’s quite level. As far as I can see the trail doesn’t continue after you get to the Falls. However, there are other trails that crisscross the main trail so you can take one of those to make this a longer hike.

Parking: No parking lot. A few pullout spots. Be careful not to block a driveway. I went 3 times in Spring and had no difficulty parking.

Dogs Allowed: This is the Marin Municipal Water District which allows dogs.

Bathrooms: None

Coffee, icecream, beer, lunch, dinner: Fairfax is a scenic small town and you have to go through it to get to the trail. I stopped each time for a coffee or ice-cream and that made it an especially relaxed and wonderful day.


I’m an artsy, California photographer. Please follow me on or where I post moss, waterfall and forest pictures daily. You can also visit our nature gift shop named I Heart Moss just for nature lovers.