Looking to hike to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall at Yosemite National Park? This guide will provide you with everything you need to know before beginning your journey to Yosemite Falls.
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Yosemite Falls Hike
This is one of the oldest trails at Yosemite National Park that leads to the country’s tallest waterfall. The hike to Yosemite Falls is rated as difficult, is 7.2 miles long, and takes about 6-8 hours to complete. This hike consists mostly of climbing and several switchbacks.
The elevation gain is reasonable enough to where you should not experience any altitude sickness. Yosemite Falls reaches 2,700ft, while Columbia Rock is only 1,000ft. Although, it’s important you drink plenty of water and take frequent breaks in the shade. If you are looking for a shorter alternative, there is a 2-mile hike option along this route to Columbia Rock.
This hike is fantastic year round but the best time to experience the roaring falls of Yosemite is in spring and summer time. Springtime causes hikers to get wet by the spray while summer conditions are typically hot and dry making the granite trail more slippery than usual.
Your hike will begin near Camp 4, in Yosemite Valley. You will be following the Valley Loop Trail. Right off the bat, this hike will begin with testing your legs. You will climb most of this hike and there will be multiple switchbacks. You will travel through forests of oak trees until you reach a plateau.
Here you will see fantastic views of Yosemite Valley. After this one-mile climb, you will reach Columbia Rock. Stopping at Columbia Rock is a shorter alternative to going the full route to Yosemite Falls. There are spectacular views of the Half Dome and Sentinel rock at this point, so stop here a moment and take it all in.
If you wish to continue to the top of Yosemite Falls, continue your journey along the path. The trail continues as a climb and is steep and rocky. Proceed around Yosemite Creek with caution, as this small creek feeds the powerful Yosemite Falls.
Once at the top of Yosemite Falls, you could either continue your hike or head back down. There are a couple alternative routes. Continue to Yosemite Point adding 1.6 miles to this hike or follow the trail to Eagle Peak, adding 5.8 miles.
Whichever route you choose, Yosemite Falls will leave you in awe. Its drop is 2,425ft, where the infamous Niagara Falls only drops 165ft. You can picture the sheer size of this waterfall and how outstanding it is in person. If you are visiting in spring, you will need a rain jacket, as the falls will be roaring.
Yosemite Falls Hike Quick Facts
- Elevation: 2,425 feet (739 m)
- Difficulty: Strenuous (requires physical fitness)
- 6-8 hours long
- Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in the park
- According to the local legend the falls are populated by witch spirits (Poloti)
- Best to see in late spring
- Upper Yosemite Fall is seen from the trail leading to the top
- Middle Fall Cascades cannot be seen from the Valley
- Lower Fall is seen from the trail
- Get an overnight permit on the day before the hike or in advance
Yosemite Falls is found in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Yosemite National Park. The Valley Loop Trailhead is near Camp 4 and Yosemite Valley Lodge.
You will begin your journey in Yosemite Valley, following the Valley Loop Trailhead until you reach the top of Yosemite Falls.
For a detailed guide to Yosemite National Park that includes maps and information about Yosemite Falls Trail check out Yosemite: The Complete Guide: Yosemite National Park by James Kaiser.
For an overview of Yosemite National Park, The Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks by Lonely planet is an excellent read. It features maps, itineraries, insider tips, and reviews for what to eat and where to sleep within Yosemite.
This is a strenuous hike that requires proper physical fitness. It is recommended that you begin this hike early in the day. In summer, the trail can get very hot, as there is little to no tree cover, especially the upper portion of the hike.
You must hydrate, eat snacks, and take breaks frequently in the shade. The falls will cause the trail to be slippery. You will need proper hiking boots to avoid slipping.
There are parts of the trail that have steep drop-offs, watch your step and stay on the trail at all times. Do not swim or wade in the creek along the trail.
This is a strenuous hike, so it is not as commonly filled with tourists. Make sure to bring plenty of mosquito repellent, drink plenty of water, and bring snacks. This will be a workout you will want to be prepared for.
To Columbia Rock
Begin your hike along the Valley Loop Trail to Columbia Rock (1 mile)
Hike downhill for a view of Upper Yosemite Falls (0.5 miles)
To Yosemite Falls
Continue along the upper half of the trail until you reach the top of Yosemite Falls
Hike downhill for a view of Upper Yosemite Falls (0.5 miles)
To Yosemite Point or Eagle Peak
Follow with your descend along the same route or continue to Yosemite Point (adds 1.6 miles) or Eagle Peak (adds 5.8 miles)
This is a 9-minute video by Kim Pedersen showing uncut GoPro footage of what to expect when on the trail. Truly showcasing how spectacular the views and how you should be cautious are when walking along the impressive height of Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite Falls Overview
Best Time To Go
Spring and summer time are best when it comes to hiking Yosemite Falls. One should always take caution and wear high traction hiking boots when traveling beside a waterfall. If you are visiting in the colder months, the lower portion of the trail gets ample sunlight. However, the upper portion stays icy and snowy. This can be quite dangerous and should be avoided. If interested in seeing the weather in real time beforehand, check out the Yosemite Falls webcam on the National Parks website.
Permits are not required, if you don't intend to stay in the park. However, anyone who hikes the Yosemite Falls and stays overnight needs to obtain a Wilderness Permit beforehand. These are free. To increase your chances of obtaining a permit, apply for less popular days such as Sundays-Thursdays in September and October. Or come to get a permit after 11am on the day before your hike. 40% of permits could be available then. See more information on the National Park Service website.
The Yosemite Falls trail is a difficult upwards climb with several switchbacks. It requires basic physical fitness, strong legs, and endurance. If you are not comfortable with the full 7.2-mile hike, you could shorten it to the 2-mile Columbia Rock hike.
Frequently Asked Questions
What gear do I need?
Hiking the Yosemite Falls requires a few pieces of essential gear. The trails near the waterfalls can be slippery. This calls for hiking boots with excellent traction. Trekking poles are also a great idea. In case your journey back goes past dusk, a headlamp is a must.
When hiking in hot temperatures, you must wear sunscreen and a hat. Bring plenty of food and snacks as well as drinking water to stay hydrated.
Is altitude sickness a risk?
It is unlikely. Yosemite Falls Trail has an elevation gain of 2,700ft. Anything over 5,000ft puts you at risk for altitude sickness. However, it is important to have a solid understanding of the risks associated with high altitude hiking and how the body acclimatizes to high altitude.
We recommend you read our detailed article on Altitude Sickness and Acclimatisation. It is crucial to drink plenty of water, eat along the way, and take frequent breaks in the shade.
What are some options for nearby accommodation?
The closest options for accommodation are Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, Yosemite Valley Lodge, and The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. If you are looking for a nearby campsite, Pines Campground is your best bet.
Is this trail dangerous?
Any hiking trail can be dangerous when you aren’t careful. As long as you follow the path, you shouldn’t have any issues. There are points of the trail where you are exposed and face steep drop-offs. Those who have fear of heights can grab onto rocks beside the trail. Do not enter the creek above the waterfall under any circumstance. This hike is a strenuous workout and you will find it difficult if you are out of shape.
Could I shorten or lengthen this hike?
Yes. This hike can be easily shortened to end at Columbia Rock. This is 2 miles rather than 7.2 miles. It offers stunning views of Yosemite Valley, Sentinel Rock, and Half Dome. If you are looking for a view of Yosemite Falls, hike an additional 0.5 miles and get a magnificent view of the falls.
To lengthen this hike, you can extend it to Yosemite Point, adding 1.5 miles, offering direct views of Half Dome, Lost Arrow Spire, and other famous peaks. Or hike to Eagle Peak, the highest point of the north rim adding 6.8 miles round trip.
What travel insurance do I need?
Hiking insurance is crucial for the Yosemite Falls Hike. If an accident or incident should occur that requires immediate medical assistance and evacuation you will most definitely want adequate hiking insurance that can cover the costs of air ambulance and treatment.
The nearest location for help is the Little Yosemite Valley Ranger Station. It is staffed during the summer and located on the North side of the valley.
Check out World Nomads for a quick calculation of the cost of travel insurance for your trip.
What wildlife could I potentially come across?
Black bears are known to roam around Yosemite both day and night. Always keep food secured and put away. If you do see a bear, make sure to make as much noise as possible to scare it away. Other small critters include squirrels, chipmunks, and stellar jays. It is important to never feed wild animals.