Sometimes we all need a little get away to Mother Nature that reminds us of the beauty of life. The simple pleasures in life are often the ones most forgotten, yet seem to bring us the most joy. From beautiful views to the raw sound of rushing water, going back to the basics helps remind us about the importance of each day without getting caught up in all the riff raff!
Tucked away deep into the hills of Georgetown, California, you’ll find natural wonders you thought you could only find in Hawaii or other tropical islands that costs your life savings to go see. But only an hour and half away from Sacramento, you’ll find the beauty of natural waterslides.
Heading up the 80 East Freeway and headed towards then past Auburn, you go deep into the windy roads and hills of El Dorado Hills to get to this little gem. You’ll run through a few small quaint towns where everyone knows everyone and unfamiliar faces are always greeted with warm welcomes into their small communities.
Just when you think you’re lost and you’ll never really get there, you see a few cars pulled off the side of the roads suddenly. There are no signs or large arrows that point you in the right direction, just a large dirt road gated by a large yellow bar. You’ve found the spot if you see no indication as to why there seems to be a random assortment of cars parked on the side of the road. You’ve finally made it.
But don’t get too anxious because you still have an hour hike ahead of you to make it to the falls themselves. Even though it is a long hike, you’re surrounded by large trees and the quiet gurgle of running water the whole way down. With spray-painted arrows drawn on random sticks and trees for guidance, you’ll begin your decent. It starts as a rocky dirt road and later turns into a narrow and rocky path. It’s a little steep but nothing the averagely out-of-shape person couldn’t handle. This is not the place for small children or the weak-hearted, though, as you’ll find a few skeletons of cars that have tumbled down the very hills you’re walking. The eerie skeletons only deepen your curiosity to find what people may have died trying to see.
As you get closer, you start to hear the rush of water slapping into rocks. You can’t help but anxiously peek around trees searching for a glimpse of the falls. In just a few minutes, you’re there and suddenly standing in the falls themselves. Water-worn rocks are the only place to find a dry spot to stand in, which there is plenty of.
It will take a few glances around and longing stares to take in the surroundings, you’ll see a few groups of young adults and teens sliding already and some families with their dogs. There is a small pool of crystal clear water to your right and to your left you’ll find the waterslides themselves look nothing like waterslides, just waterfalls plunging into pools below them. Luckily, you can see the bottom of most of these pools so it provides a little comfort.
If you’re a thrill-seeker like a couple of people in my group, you’ll be anxious to get started. The screams of the other sliders will confirm your love for danger and excitement wrapped into one. When you dip your first toe in, you’ll feel the icy waters and shiver immediately. It’s no cake-walk going down these falls!
There is four slides total; the first three are pretty safe. The fourth slide, though, is referred to as the “danger zone.” As you peer over the edge to see your drop, you are looking at about a hundred feet of death below you. But it turns out the slide drops right over a small pool that has a wall between you and the other eighty feet. Once down there, you can enjoy going behind the waterfall into a cave. The sketchiest part is once you’re ready to comeback up, you have to use a yellow rope tied around a large rock from above to pull yourself up. The trick is not slipping backwards and falling the eighty feet to the point of no return, hence being referred to as the “danger zone.”
After a few goes on the slide, you’ll be ready to rest, drink and eat before a few more slides. It’s a romantic place for two (if you get there early), a fun place for young adults and mellow enough for families to bring their children ten and older.
One of the best parts is the camaraderie that is formed between you and the rest of the strangers visiting the falls as you save each other from slips, pull each other up from the “danger zone” and encourage the scared to enjoy the thrills (ahem… like me).
University Falls is an easy and inexpensive escape with a little work out on your way back up (remember those steep hills down?). A short drive on your way back, stop in Georgetown to enjoy some excellent pizza from Terry’s Pizzeria. With an arcade, soft drinks and beer to take the edge off, you’ll find a little slice of heaven in your mouth is just what you need after a long hike. The staff is accommodating, enthusiastic, and have a lot of patience for silly twenty-somethings acting like 5-year-olds. We left with free otter-pops and a taste of paradise.
Want to visit University Falls? It can be found approximately at:
Wentworth Springs Rd & Loop Rd
El Dorado National Forest, Georgetown, CA 95634
images courtesy Mickey Martin
Words Marissa Nicole