Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Enjoy great views – and one great workout – on national park's Upper Yosemite Fall Trail

Segment leading to Columbia Rock perfect for day hike in California

Day hikers can get a great view of Yosemite Valley – and a good work workout – by walking a segment of the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail at the national park.

Rather than hike the entire trail – which is 7.2 miles and extremely steep (Just hiking to the top of the trail would be the equivalent of taking the stairs to the top of the Empire State Building – twice), consider only going as far as a mile to Columbia Rock. The first portion of the shortened hike still is strenuous with a lot of short switchbacks over rocky ground but is doable.

If hiking the trail during summer, leave early in the morning to avoid the heat. Take mosquito repellent, too, especially in spring, as part of the trail parallels a creek. Be sure to use the trailhead bathrooms, too, for there are none along the way.

To reach the trail’s beginning, from shuttle stop #7 cross the road, and walk about 5 minutes to the Yosemite Falls Trailhead in the Sunnyside campground (Camp 4) near Yosemite Lodge. The trailhead is at 4000 feet elevation.

While the switchbacks through the pine forest are steep and plentiful, the trail is well-shaded. Eagle Peak looms at the 11 o'clock position most of the way up. Be sure to take rests when you encounter breaks in the trees for great views of Half Dome and Awahnee Meadow.

After about a 700 feet gain in elevation – all on switchbacks – the trail veers northeast and upon crossing the creek levels out some. Take solace not just in the views and the Stairmaster workout but that you’re also experiencing history: This is one of the Yosemite National Park’s oldest trails, with construction on it beginning in 1873.

Columbia Rock
Switchbacks take over the trail as nearing Columbia Rock, which sits at 5,036 feet. Look east for a fantastic view of Half Dome. Cook’s Meadow lays below Half Dome with the Royal Arches to its front left.

The trail continues another 2.6 miles up to the top of Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall.

After enjoying the view at Columbia Rock, instead head on back down. Be careful when walking, however; the heavy foot traffic over the years actually has polished stones sticking out of the trail and so can be slippery.

Also, whenever hiking the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail, always stay on the trail as steep drops sometimes can be found nearby.

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