Yosemite Valley Waterfalls

In no other place in the Sierra Nevada mountains can you see so many impressive waterfalls gathered together in one spot. When snow melt from mountain peaks brings icy waters rushing downstream into Yosemite Valley, great waterfalls spring to life. During the peak seasonal flow, which usually happens in May, the thundering of waterfalls can be heard clear across the valley.

Clouds of mist often obscure the very bottom of the falls in late spring, when visitors who venture right up to the falls can expect to get fully soaked in spray. Some of the valley’s waterfalls run year-round, while others flow only during certain months. No matter when you choose to take your Yosemite vacation, you’re guaranteed to see at least some of the valley’s famous waterfalls, all easily accessible from paved roads and footpaths.

Yosemite Falls

Record-breaking Yosemite Falls (2,425 feet high), North America’s highest waterfall, is actually made up of three distinct cascades that all rush down the north wall of Yosemite Valley. The falls’ massive flow of water builds throughout the winter, when an ice cone appears at the base of the upper falls. The falls peak along with many of the valley’s most memorable waterfalls in May. Staring up at this monumental tower of water, it’s easy to fathom that an estimated 135,000 gallons of water drop over the top of the falls every minute during peak season. You can see Yosemite Falls from various viewpoints around the valley, but none more thrilling than walking the one-mile paved loop trail right up to the bottom of the 320-foot-high Lower Yosemite Fall, from where you can see the Middle Cascades and Upper Yosemite Fall stretching skyward.

Bridalveil Fall

With almost ethereal beauty, Bridalveil Fall (620 feet high) is the first waterfall that most Yosemite visitors catch sight of on their way into the valley. Pull off the road at Tunnel View for the classic postcard shot of the falls dropping off the cliffside, with monumental El Capitan to the left and Half Dome in the background. Named for the delicate appearance of its year-round cascade, Bridalveil Fall can be a mighty beast in spring, especially during the peak flow in May. The paved half-mile trail to the base of falls is an easy walk, but can be slippery in spring and icy during winter.

Nevada and Vernal Falls

Deep inside the eastern Yosemite Valley, these two famous falls drop elegantly down from beneath Glacier Point. The lower fall, Vernal Fall (317 feet high), drops from a ledge bordered by pine trees down into a tumbling cascade of granite boulders and rocks. The upper fall, Nevada Fall (594 feet high), also shoots over a water slide of granite as it slips down the steep side of the valley. Both falls flow year-round, but look different depending on when you visit the park. After the peak flow in May, for instance, Vernal Fall starts to thin out, and by midsummer it may have actually separated into two or three separate falls.

Horsetail Fall

On the north side of Yosemite Valley, this smaller, often unsung waterfalls is a rare beauty. Cascading off the east side of monumental El Capitan, Horsetail Fall (1000 feet high) usually flows from December through April. The best time to visit is during late February, though, when the orange glow from the setting sun often makes the waterfall look as if it has caught on fire. Don’t forget to bring your camera!

Comment Feed

7 Responses

  1. I find this information to be helpful as well. My fiance and I will be here in the middle of April for our honeymoon! I am getting very excited, especially after reading this information!

    Courtney SFebruary 22, 2012 @ 6:15 pmReply
  2. my parents have always wanted to go out west. we live in alabama and would apprieciate any tips especially on the exspenses and things they would have to watch there money do . they want to rent a rv and take there time , this is a once in a life time trip. he is a underground coal miner ay infnd has been a pastor for 34 years, he would use up his days before the end of jan. cause of people in hospital of having test.
    info you could give me would be greatly appreciated.
    karen harper
    My parents are
    Richard N. Harbin Betty harbin

    karen harper daughterMarch 3, 2012 @ 3:04 amReply
  3. If you only have one place to visit in California, visit Yosemite. In April the crowds are small, the waterfalls are flowing and the river is flowing. In May, more people come, but by then the dogwoods are blooming, deer are eating in the meadows, and you may see a coyote. June, July and August the park sees many more people, but it still remains spectacular. In the fall the crowds again thin and the leaves begin to turn setting the valley on fire with color, the waterfalls may not have water, but majestic just the same. Winter brings the silence of snow and very few people, and the trees bend with white. Magical. I have been every year for over 25 years and have never been disappointed. Let the park come into you and you will forever be changed.

  4. Absolutely right, I do agree with your post. By the way I am 27 years old guy & I work for Software Company. Since my childhood I wanted to spend vacation at riverside & I love fishing. My co worker suggested me Kenai river fishing is the best place. Can anyone give feedback about them? I will appreciate.

    JEANETTE ALKASSEMApril 19, 2012 @ 2:01 pmReply
  5. We came in from Carson City on May 3, 2012 on Route 395 into California. That was the first sign telling us that the three summit passes were closed yet from the winter. With the gas prices as high as they are in California we could not justify another day’s driving in California to get to the West entrance. There needs to be a posting on this page when the park is open. We drove 1965 miles to see the park, got five miles from it and did not get to see it.

    Art and Joan SchuetzMay 10, 2012 @ 9:19 pmReply
    • If you go to the “Getting Around Yosemite National Park” page, they have the approximate seasonal closures on that page with a phone number to call for the status of the roads. Personally, I rely on the NPS.gov websites for the latest information whenever planning a visit to any of the National Parks. As with any of the National parks, a little planning prior to departure will make for a more successful trip!

      • Karen, your June 19 2012 reply comment was right on and so appropriately phased. Hmm, the couple driving 1900 + miles w such little planning always leads to some fiascos n disappointment…

        AnonymousMay 30, 2014 @ 2:59 pmReply

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