Yosemite Falls, California

Yosemite Falls in mid-May 2011

I love waterfalls, but I have this pet peeve that has arisen. You may notice that I don’t officially rank any waterfall on a scale. I may not exactly love every waterfall equally, but I find that it’s all so subjective. What I find as interesting, you may find as uninteresting. There’s a tendency to believe that just because a waterfall is one of the tallest or widest, that it’s automatically one of the best. And that’s not always the case.

And yet for Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, I can say it is undoubtedly an awesome waterfall. At 2425′ tall, it is not THE tallest, but it is up there. It’s height is part of why it is so awesome, but it is also its surroundings. The almost vertical rock walls mean that Yosemite Falls actually has two major portions that are plunge down. Because it’s so tall, it can be viewed from a significant portion of the valley. That means you will be provided with a multitude of different options for shooting the falls.

The most obvious choice is via one of the main trails that lead directly to viewing points for the falls. One of them is handicapped accessible and leads directly to the base of the lower drop. If you’re there at the right time, you’re guaranteed to be sprayed with water. But expand your options. Try different places. You’ll be surprised how you can frame the falls in between the towering pine trees. But even when you’re not thinking about Yosemite Falls, still look for it. Along the way back from Vernal Falls, you will be able to see Yosemite Falls off in the distance. And yet because it’s so tall, it’s presence is still powerful.  There is also a much more difficult trail that leads further up to the falls, but it is strenuous, and caution is advised.

Now for the tricky part…You’ve got to show up at the correct time of the year to see Yosemite Falls. In the winter, you may see water flowing, but you’re guaranteed some snow. Even in May, which is one of the best months to see the falls, it snowed! By the time July and August roll around, the falls may be reduced to a trickle or be non-existent. This is true for many of the other falls in the park, though not all.

It’s definitely worth a visit to Yosemite National Park even if you’re not into waterfalls, though I can’t imagine who wouldn’t be amazed by the sheer number of them in the park. Even with fog shrouding the falls at times, it was still a mystical experience.

Directions:

  1. In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
  2. Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
  3. At the entrance, you will need to pay the $20 entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
  4. Yosemite Falls can be viewed from many different places in the valley. It’s pretty difficult to miss it when it’s flowing.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 2425′
Distance of Hike: This varies depending on the view you want…Anywhere from 0 to 5 miles one-way

Where in the World is Yosemite Falls?

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Bridalveil Falls, California

One of the most stunning waterfalls in Yosemite National Park is Bridalveil Falls. While it’s only about 1/4 the height of Yosemite Falls (Bridalveil Falls clocks in at 620′ tall), that’s still pretty darn tall. You may notice a few other waterfalls before this one, but this is likely to be the first prominent waterfall you see as you enter the park.

The attribute Bridalveil Falls shares with Yosemite Falls is that there are so many different places to view the falls. With so many options, you may get the feeling that you’re seeing a completely different waterfall (though you’re not). As you follow the loop drive, there is a parking area very close to the falls. It’s a short walk along a paved trail to the base. In mid-May, the waterfall was thundering, and the spray made it almost impossible to photograph at the base, though it did guarantee you would get soaked in a very short amount of time. I was able to get some great shots at the start and along the trail where there wasn’t so much spray.

As you’re looping around the main road in the valley, you’ll notice Bridalveil Falls again, and you get that totally different view of the falls. The clouds may be low enough to shroud the cliff tops. The height of the falls might become a little bit lost (which, after a certain height, is tricky to gauge), but you will get a fantastic view of the much bigger picture that is Yosemite National Park.

Directions:

  1. Head toward Yosemite National Park. CA-140 into the park is usually the best bet for being open, though you can also enter via CA-120 or CA-41 at certain times of the year.
  2. If you want to park at the Bridalveil parking lot, you will turn onto CA-41 (Wawona Road) for a VERY SHORT distance to the parking area, which will be on the left. It’s a short hike to the falls.
  3. If you want to view the falls without stopping at the parking lot, follow the loop road to the Northside Drive (the northern portion of the road).

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy, don’t remember if it was uphill on the trail?)
Height: 620′
Length of Hike: 0.5 miles round-trip (though can be viewed from other spots)

Bridal Veil Falls in mid-May 2011

Where in the World is Bridalveil Falls?

The Cascades, California

The Cascades in May 2011

Yosemite National Park has so many amazing waterfalls, that not all of them are strongly advertised. You might be able to find a few of them on a map, and The Cascades might be on one of them, but I can’t find it on a map now! With Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and many others, it’s easy to forget the other amazing waterfalls!

I think you’ve officially entered the park by the time you see The Cascades, but I don’t believe you’ve entered the main loop. And that may be why it can be easy to miss. You may not see The Cascades depending on the direction you’ve come. I had tried to enter via CA-120 (headed south), but discovered that there was still snow falling in May. So I turned around, and connected onto CA-140, which heads into the park, and is open more. From 140, it’s almost impossible to miss The Cascades, unless you’re overwhelmed by some other breathtaking view. Still, it’s pretty hard to miss.

The total waterfall is 500′ tall (approximately), though I’m not sure about the height of the portion that is most visible. I have seen other pictures of the whole falls, but to me, it actually seems less impressive in the whole. Focusing just on the last drop, it seems to be very similar to the lower portion of Yosemite Falls. In May 2011, the flow over the falls was intense, which made stopping worthwhile.  Another waterfall, Wildcat Falls, is very close by.

Directions:

  1. Head east along CA-140, entering into Yosemite National Park. You will have passed the pay station already.
  2. A little less than 2 miles from the CA-140/CA-120 junction, you’ll find the parking pull-off for the falls. I didn’t have any difficulty finding a spot. (Use the junction as a guide. If you’ve passed the junction and you’re headed further into the park, you can turn around to find the falls. You could just try and see the falls on the way out, unless you’re taking a different route.)

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 500′ (that can be viewed)
Length of Hike: roadside

Where in the World is The Cascades?

Ribbon Falls, California

Ribbon Falls in May 2011

All right, let’s play a game…Ribbon Falls is: __________.  ethereal…fleeting…stunning. You choose your own words to describe what may be one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Yosemite National Park that you may never notice.

Ribbon Falls is almost guaranteed to disappear early on in the year, only undergo rebirth every year. The wispy falls aren’t gargantuan, even after the snow melt in early May. They’re wispy, blown away by the wind. I guess I must have been lucky when I saw the falls. Though it was mid-May, it had just snowed that night. The leaves were emerging from their winter sleep, and instead of deciduous greens, there were intense oranges and yellows juxtaposed with the green conifers still draped with snow. Clouds had descended on the valley, hiding the amazing Yosemite viewpoints, but this had the unintentional effect of deceiving the viewer. The falls appeared to emerge from the clouds themselves. It was a truly stunning and spectacular view.

Directions:

  1. In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
  2. Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
  3. At the entrance, you will need to pay the entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
  4. The best viewpoint for the falls seems to be from a pullout on the Southside Drive as you’re entering the loop. Look to your left to view the falls.

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 1612′
Length of Hike: Roadside

Where in the World is Ribbon Falls?

Royal Arch Cascades, California

Royal Arch Cascades in May 2011

Royal Arch Cascades is one of those waterfalls in Yosemite National Park that you could miss VERY easily. If you show up from July to March, you might not see the falls at all. By July, I understand that the cascades have usually disappeared. Your best time to visit is May and June. I visited in mid-May, and the falls were definitely flowing.

Even when there in May or June, you may again miss the falls if you’re not looking. The major attraction is obviously Yosemite Falls, and even though you only have to look some distance to the right, it’s not as popular. I guess that could be because, while it is very tall, it is not as tall nor as powerful as Yosemite Falls. Still, you can add it to the checklist simply by turning your head.

Directions:

  1. In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
  2. Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
  3. At the entrance, you will need to pay the entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
  4. The Royal Arch Cascades can be seen in the distance from the same meadow where you can also view Yosemite Falls. You may also be able to get closer by heading down Ahwahnee Road…

Accessibility: 10/10 (easy)
Height: 1250′
Length of Hike: Roadside

Where in the World is Royal Arch Cascades?

Vernal Falls, California

Vernal Falls in May 2011

You can find all of the information you need about Vernal Falls on the internet, but one place I read about it was in the book “Easy Hikes Through Yosemite.” I feel there are some things I should say about the hike to the falls.

First off, it’s not as easy as it seems. There are much easier hikes in the park. If you are handicapped or have difficulties walking, this is not the hike for you. It’s 1.5 miles, and it’s consistently UPHILL the way there. Bring water, as you’ll be panting. And there’s another conundrum here…When I first started out, it was chilly. As I started hiking uphill, I became much warmer. Wear layers that can easily be removed. If it suddenly gets colder, you won’t be completely shocked.

Second, the book I had only suggested hiking to the bridge, which is a beautiful point to stop, but you really can’t get an up-close view of the falls from here. If you’re up for it, continue along the trail to the base of the falls. You’ve already come this far, and the extra distance isn’t any different in terms of terrain. I think it might have been easier as there were steps along that portion. Near the end, there are a lot of steps, but caution is required. There are pretty large drops as you start climbing upwards. In mid-May, it was VERY wet…It had just snowed a few hours before, and the trail was slippery. Wear good shoes. I should mention that people have died while going to the falls, one case in July 2011.

Nevada Falls can be accessed by a longer hike continuing along the Mist Trail. I was already hot and sweaty just from the first hike, and hadn’t really eaten much and so I decided against the longer hike. I’m under the impression that the second portion of trail between Vernal and Nevada Falls is more difficult, just considering the elevation changes listed between the two falls.

Directions:

  1. In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
  2. Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
  3. At the entrance, you will need to pay the entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
  4. Continue through the park. When I visited in mid-May, it was possible to drive to a parking area nearby the Happy Isles area. Head toward Camp Curry, and you’ll find a parking area on your right. Otherwise, when the park gets busier, park in one of the designated parking lots and take the shuttle bus to stop 16 (Happy Isles), and start from there.
  5. Head toward the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Then follow the signs.

Accessibility: 5/10 (moderate)
Height: 317′
Length of Hike: 3 miles round-trip

Where in the World is Vernal Falls?

Unnamed Waterfalls, Yosemite NP, California

Waterfall to the far right of Yosemite Falls in May 2011

There are a number of “unnamed” waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. In this case, their location is not particularly important. Some of them are located before the pay station on CA-140, while others are located inside the park itself. Some are not easily photographed, as there is no parking available at certain points.

What is important is to understand that these falls are seasonal in nature, as are the larger falls in the park. These falls show up in April and May when the snow starts melting. I guess it helped that it had actually snowed the night that I stayed near the park, which was in mid-May. You can actually see the snow right above the falls in some of the pictures. Some of these falls, while ephemeral, are very tall.

Directions:
1) In late April and early May, the best choice of roads is likely CA-140. (I was on CA-120, and discovered after some distance that the road was closed near the park entrance, and had to take an alternative route). Call (209)-372-0200 for current road conditions.
2) Head east along CA-140 from Merced/Mariposa to the entrance for the park.
3) At the entrance, you will need to pay the $20 entrance fee, which is good for 7 days.
4) After that, the best choice to is just explore.

Accessibility: 10/10 (usually)

Where in the World are the Unnamed Waterfalls?: map

Another falls in Yosemite National Park

 

An ephemeral waterfall in Yosemite