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Yosemite Falls

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Along with Half Dome, Yosemite Falls is the iconic symbol of the grandeur and beauty of Yosemite National Park.

Falling a total of 2425ft, it is amongst the highest waterfalls in the world. Couple that with the fact that it is one of the easiest waterfalls to access and you have a world class tourist attraction!

The waterfall drops in three major stages. The first stage is the Upper Fall, which plunges 1430ft. The second stage is the Middle Cascades, which tumbles down a height of reportedly 625ft. The final stage is the Lower Fall, which drops 320ft. You can see some or all of the falls from various locations through the upper reaches of Yosemite Valley as well as the Valley itself.

We've been able to visit this waterfall from those various locations, and we'll highlight what we've done below.

Yosemite Falls viewed from near the Yosemite LodgeBase of Lower Yosemite Falls: This is the most straightforward way of getting close to the waterfall. The walk begins right across the Northside Drive from Yosemite Lodge. It's pretty much paved almost the entire way so there's even wheelchair access to see the lower waterfall. There's a footbridge providing great open views of the lower waterfall.

But even the paved walkway to the falls is pleasant because it's framed by tall trees and you can see both the upper and lower falls pretty much the entire way until you get so close that only the lower waterfall can be seen.

So given the fact that this super easy walk lets just about anyone get up close to the mighty Yosemite Falls and perhaps become a lover of waterfalls, you're most likely not going to have neither this trail nor the falls to yourself.

There used to be a car park on the north side of Northside Drive, but now it's pedestrians only. I recalled they did designate a day parking lot behind Yosemite Lodge with other car park locations by Curry Village. I'm not sure if that's still the case now. But nonetheless, I definitely remembered parking not being easy to find (and that was at least 5 or 6 years ago; I can only imagine it's worse now).

The Yosemite Road Guide says this path is by signpost V3 (or is it V4?), but I don't remember if it's still there.

Upper Yosemite Fall from just beyond Columbia PointThe Top of Yosemite Falls: You're gonna have to be in pretty good shape to get to the top of this waterfall. Just the fact that it's a pretty long and tiring hike with some serious elevation gain makes you appreciate just how tall this waterfall really is!

All told, you're signing up for about 7.2 miles round trip with about 2700ft of elevation gain. Most of the walk is exposed to the sun since it's on the south-facing cliffs of Yosemite Valley. So you're definitely gonna have to bring lots of water, stamina, and sunscreen. I'd also recommend an early start especially if you're doing this on a relatively warm day.

The trail begins behind Camp 4 (also known as the Sunnyside Campground). It's well known in the rock climbers circle (because it's where you'd base yourself for a climb up El Capitan's vertical face) as well as park veterans (because it's a walk-in campground). It's about a 1/4-mile west of the walkway to Lower Yosemite Falls. And since you can't park in Camp 4 unless you've securing a camping spot there, you mind as well count the extra distance as part of your hike or you could wait for a shuttle to drop you off at the campsite one stop beyond Yosemite Lodge. The Yosemite Road Guide has the trailhead near signpost V5.

The top of Yosemite FallsAlmost immediately, the trail climbs up in earnest. It will continue to do so (you might even have to cross the stream from "El Capitan Falls" during an unusually high snowpack/snowmelt year) until you get up to the Columbia Point Lookout at about the 1.2-mile point. From here, you can already look down at Yosemite Valley, across at Sentinel Rock and Sentinel Falls, and further east at Half Dome.

Next, the trail goes up a gruelling set of switchbacks on a sandy surface before leveling out. The trail then makes a turn and heads closer to the Upper Yosemite Falls. You might even get a closer look at the Middle Cascades from this stretch of the trail.

By the time you get right up to the rock wall over which Upper Yosemite Falls plunges, you'll be going up yet another series of long granite steps and switchbacks. Ultimately, this leads up to the top of the falls while connecting to other trails in the High Country as well.

Right near the top of the falls, the trail does have some mild cliff exposure, but there are some railings to help reassure you. But do be cognizant of the cliff edges in some of the more exposed parts, because it's definitely a long way down


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