Yosemite Falls Hike | Expert Guide by Mountain IQ

Yosemite Falls Hike – The Ultimate Trail Guide

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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

Route Overview

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

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.

Please Note:

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.

Regional Map

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.

Recommended Guidebook

Half Dome Hike Guidebook

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 Lonely Planet Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks by The Lonely planet is an excellent read. It features maps, itineraries, insider tips, and reviews for what to eat and where to sleep within Yosemite.

Itinerary

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

Downhill Hike

To Yosemite Falls

Downhill Hike

To Yosemite Point or Eagle Peak

Yosemite Falls Hike 2

Video Overview

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

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

Difficulty

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?

Is altitude sickness a risk?

What are some options for nearby accommodation?

Is this trail dangerous?

Could I shorten or lengthen this hike?

What travel insurance do I need?

What wildlife could I potentially come across?

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