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Trip Planner:   USA  /  California  /  Mammoth Lakes  /  Rainbow Falls

Rainbow Falls, Mammoth Lakes

4.7
#4 of 13 in Nature in Mammoth Lakes
Waterfall · Nature / Park
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Rainbow Falls is the highest waterfall on the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin River, in the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California, in the United States. Plunging 101 feet (31 m) to the turbulent water below, the falls are named for the rainbows that appear in their mist on sunny summer days. Rainbow Falls is located within the boundaries of Devils Postpile National Monument.

About 75,000 years ago, lava erupted from a vent just east of the present-day falls. The eruption occurred in two stages. The first pulse of lava flowed about 1 kilometre (0.62 mi) westward and pooled in the Middle Fork of the San Joaquin drainage. The second pulse of lava insulated the first, allowing it to cool slowly and to fracture vertically. The layer above cooled under different conditions and fractured horizontally. Geologists describe these rocks as platy rhyodacite; they are visible in the cliffs that surround Rainbow Falls.
As water rushes over the cliff, it erodes the vertically fractured rhyodacite more easily. A small cavern begins to form at the base of the falls, and the overlying rock loses its support and collapses. This process, known as undercutting, causes the waterfall to recede slowly upstream. To date Rainbow Falls has retreated about 500 feet (150 m) due to undercutting.
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Rainbow Falls reviews

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TripAdvisor traveler rating 4.5
326 reviews
Google
4.8
TripAdvisor
  • Took the shuttle ($15/person) to stop 6 where we got off and did this 4+ mile hike via Devils Postpile. It was hot with little shade, but the falls were well worth it. 
    Took the shuttle ($15/person) to stop 6 where we got off and did this 4+ mile hike via Devils Postpile. It was hot with little shade, but the falls were well worth it.  more »
  • Rainbow falls is worth the walk/hike. It lives up to its name of reflecting rainbows. Wear bug spray because there are mosquitos. 
    Rainbow falls is worth the walk/hike. It lives up to its name of reflecting rainbows. Wear bug spray because there are mosquitos.  more »
Google
  • As a local I have grown up going to Rainbow falls, but this year it was special because my 4 yr old went too and he walked the whole way round trip! This is the best legacy and memories to leave my kids, beautiful views, clean air, loving our most amazing mother 🌎 earth.
  • A more challenging hike than devil's postpile and three times as long (about 1.3m) this was definitely worth the time. It took us an hour and 20 minutes total with the time we spent there. My 5 year old went with us but got quite tired on the return trip and I did carry him on my back a bit. The falls are very beautiful. We came in at 6:30 so parking wasn't a problem and it was actually a bit chilly. Much better than fighting crowds and sweating!

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