Saturday, September 7, 2013

Day hike to North America’s tallest waterfall

Base of Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.
Photo courtesy of Yosemite NPS.
Topo map for Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.

Two Empire State Buildings stacked atop one another would fit inside falls

Day hikers can walk to the base of North America’s tallest waterfall on a must-do trail for anyone visiting Yosemite. The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail offers a number of spectacular views of Yosemite Falls in a 1.2-mile loop.

Actually consisting of seven waterfalls, Yosemite Falls sends water rushing 2,425 feet downward into the valley. Depending on snow melt, the falls typically flows from November through early July with peak flow in May.

Given this, expect crowds in spring and early summer. Winters are far less populous, but the trail often is icy.

Water blown sideways
To reach the falls, from the South Entrance head up Wawona Road into Yosemite Valley. Park at Yosemite Village; from there, you either can walk a half-mile to the trailhead or catch a free shuttle bus to shuttle stop #6. Parking is available at the trailhead along Northside Drive, but it’s limited.

From Yosemite Village, look for the signed bike path leading to Lower Yosemite Falls. If taking the shuttle, from the stop you’ll cross Yosemite Creek and then the restrooms.

At the trailhead, majestic conifers frame the entire falls in one of the park’s most impressive views.

Yosemite Falls’ height is absolutely majestic. It’s 10 times taller than Niagara Falls, or the height of a 200-story building. Two Empire State Buildings would almost stretch from the falls’ top to its base. The falls is so high that wind often blows falling water sideways.

At the trailhead, you’ll see two of the seven waterfalls making up Yosemite Falls: Upper Yosemite Fall at 1,430 feet in height (making it one of the top 20 tallest waterfalls in the world all on its own) and Lower Yosemite Fall, at 320 feet. The Middle Cascades consists of five smaller falls that send water 675 feet downward and is not visible from the valley floor.

From the trailhead, take the trail clockwise. The western half of the loop parallels one of the three branches of Yosemite Creek that form below the falls. Most of the rest of the way is woodlands. The trail paved is rated as easy with only a 100 feet elevation gain.

In about a 0.4 miles, you’ll cross Yosemite creek on a wooden footbridge and can walk up to right beneath the falls. At its peak, up to 2,400 gallons of water flow down Yosemite Falls every second. You can experience its spray throughout spring and early summer.

Despite the temptation and that you may be seeing others doing it, don’t climb on the boulders near the falls’ base, especially if children are with you. The sharp rocks can cut and being wet are quite slippery. The water is ice cold, and being struck by the force of that much falling water beneath the falls will do more than injure you.

During spring, you may want to take the trail on a clear night when the moon is full, especially if on a romantic trip. Moonlit rainbows – called moonbows – span the waterfalls.

Crossing the bridge at the falls’ base, head back on the eastern half of the loop. Also wooded, you’ll twice cross one of the Yellowstone Creek branches via footbridges.

The eastern half is handicap accessible, so if in a wheelchair skip the western half and take the trail backward to the falls’ base for an out-and-back walk.

Queenie or Fido also can enjoy the trail, as leashed dogs are allowed. Be sure that your dog is comfortable with crowds and other people, however.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.