The San Joaquin River starts high in the Sierras and travels hundreds of miles to the Pacific Ocean. The middle fork of this famed California river is the contributing factor of the thunderous Rainbow Falls.
How To Get There
Rainbow Falls is located within the Devil’s Postpile National Monument. Private vehicles are not allowed into the monument during daytime hours. Therefore, it is required that you park your vehicle at Mammoth Mountain and ride the public transport bus to the main trailhead. Bus tickets are $7.00 / person for round trip fare. Aside from the bus fare, there is no cost to enter the Monument.
If you are staying in Mammoth Lakes, the Ranger Guard Station at the Minaret Overlook is the only entry point for Rainbow Falls. If you plan to enter before 7:00 am or after 7:00 pm, the ranger will allow private vehicles into the Monument. However, during the peak visitation hours of 7:00 am – 7:00 pm daily, regulations do not allow private vehicles onto the road leading to the Monument trailheads. Please note that if you do plan to enter with your own vehicle beyond peak hours, entry fees may be applicable.
The bus will drop you off at the Devils Postpile Ranger Station. There you will receive a quick lecture from the ranger as to safety, trail conditions, maps and general information. Most people visiting the Monument plan to hike to Devils Postpile and then continue on another 2 miles out and back to Rainbow Falls.
Rainbow Falls trailhead is located adjacent to the Devils Postpile trailhead. You will hike 2.5 miles through the forest until you arrive at the brink of the Falls. The trail is well defined with only small elevation gain. Be sure to gear good hiking shoes because parts of the trail are slippery limestone and other parts turn into gravel and sand.
The 101 foot plunge off the nickpoint of Rainbow Falls creates a powerful current in the pool below. The upper layer of rock is called volcanic andesite. This rock is very dense and erodes much slower than the underlying stone. The strength of the upper layer of andesite helps the Falls maintain its height.
The Rainbow Fire
The disastrous Rainbow Fire that swept this region in 1992 claimed 8,000 acres of wilderness. This fire was a natural occurrence, created by a lightning strike that caused an ember fire in a tree. These fires are also referred to as “sleeper fires” because the embers fester for several days until the fire finally erupts. As pictured above, the forest in this region has an abundance of new growth.
The cliffs surrounding the Falls is made of a volcanic stone called Rhyodacite. This stone erodes rather quickly, which leaves the nickpoint above unsupported. Over time, undercutting causes the nickpoint (andesite) to crumble into the pool at the bottom of the falls. This causes recession of the waterfall. Rainbow Falls has receded upstream 500 feet over the past 100 years.
The trail leading to the lower portion of Rainbow Falls is found at the near the horse corral. You can continue another 0.5 miles down to the lesser known and less frequented Lower Falls.
Options for horseback riding are offered right next to the upper and lower observation decks of the Falls.
Red’s Meadow Pack Station offers extensive options for horseback riding in the Devil’s Postpile National Monument area, Ansel Adams Wilderness and Inyo National Forest.
Micah Lyn is a Holistic Healthcare Practitioner HHP, Intuitive Healer and E-RYT 500 Certified Yoga Teacher registered with Yoga Alliance and KRI. She offers a variety of private yoga classes in Sedona AZ, yoga therapy and intuitive healing services at Pachamama Yoga ✨ Sedona Healing Center. Visit the YTT Programs & Workshops page to see upcoming Online & Hands-on Intensive Yoga Teacher Training, Virtual Online Yoga Workshops & Transformational Yoga Retreats featured worldwide.
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