Yosemite Insider Tips: Waterfalls

Waterfalls are Yosemite’s most spectacular trademark. Nowhere else in the world is there such a spectacular collection concentrated in such a small area as Yosemite Valley. A mild winter can cause many of these falls to dry up as early as July. Any trip to Yosemite would not be complete without seeing the Big 3.

Yosemite Falls:
 Located in the northeast side of the valley, the combined drop of the upper, middle and lower falls is 2,425 feet–making it the tallest waterfall in North America and the 5th tallest in the world. U.S. Geological Survey records, spanning 4 decades, reveal that, at peak flow, some 144,000 gallons of water spill over these falls in one minute …300 cubic feet per second! As its watershed dries out in late summer or fall, Yosemite Creek diminishes to a trickle and may completely disappear. Then the fall’s location is marked only by dark stains of algae and lichen on the surrounding rock. During winter a great white ice cone develops at the base of the Upper Fall, composed of fallen ice slabs and frozen spray.

Bridalveil Fall: Located on the southern rim of the valley, this 620 foot fall is part of Yosemite’s world famous “tunnel view.” It’s an easy hike to its base from the nearby road. A word of caution though, Bridalveil sends out lots of mist that makes for slippery rocks and, for those not protected, wet visitors. Bridalveil Creek’s green upper valley has more vegetation and deeper soil that absorb rain and snowmelt, slowing runoff to a relatively steady flow that can be enjoyed year round.

Sentinel Fall: Located at the southern rim of the valley and just west of Sentinel Rock, Sentinel drops via many stairsteps, some 2,000 feet–making it the 8th highest free-falling waterfall in the world.

After summer solstice though, this fall is barely a mist. Multistage Sentinel Fall is best witnessed in the warming, waning days of May when runoff is at its peak.

Bonus Experience: A relatively short hike from Happy Isles offers yet another great Yosemite Experience. This Happy Isles to Vernal Fall 1.6 mile roundtrip offers great vistas of Illilouette Fall before descending to a bridge where you’ll join others enjoying a world class view of Vernal Fall.

This may be the finest hike in Yosemite Valley. These falls, including Nevada Fall, may also be seen from high above via Glacier Point (best accessed, if time is short, via automobile).

Each of these waterfall experiences, including the drive to Glacier Point (closed to cars in the winter and early spring) to see the not-to-be-missed Nevada & Vernal Falls overview, may be captured in one day.

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