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Bad Selfies: 4 Places Not to Pose in Yosemite

Yosemite is a fantastic place to explore, but don’t get so carried away with the magnificent views that you leave your common sense behind, especially when you are trying to get the ultimate selfie. Every year, people die in Yosemite, often without them fully comprehending the dangers associated with what they were doing.

Here are four places in Yosemite National Park not to take a selfie, followed by suggestions on how to get the safer shot.

1. Don’t pose on top of a huge granite drop-off

View from Taft Point in Yosemite
Here’s the view from the fenced overlook at Taft Point in Yosemite. (Grant Ordelheide)

Yosemite’s granite peaks and overlooks offer majestic views that make for incredible photos. However, the edges of the park’s domes and overlooks often sit between 2,000-5,000 feet above the valley, leaving little between you and the Yosemite Valley far below. It would only take a loose rock or bad footing to plummet.

Better Idea:

If you want dramatic shots, be sure to take photos from overlooks that are fenced like that of Glacier Point. Be sure to stay away from the edge of other overlooks that are not fenced.

2. Don’t go in rivers or near waterfalls to take a photo

Family-friendly trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls.
This is view of the trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. (Photo: iStock)

Every year, a considerable number of visitors slip on slick rocks, and a few are swept away, often suffering serious injuries or death. In 2011, six people died from water-related deaths, including three church group members who climbed over the metal barricade at the top of Vernal Fall to get into the Merced River. All three were swept away over the waterfall and died. While getting a shot of a waterfall from the river’s edge or in the river may help you get a better angle, Yosemite’s rivers, especially near waterfalls, are extremely treacherous.

Park officials released this statement in summer 2014 after more than six accidents, some serious, occurred near the pool at the base of Lower Yosemite Fall: “Although it is not illegal to scramble up to the pool, it is strongly discouraged due to the risk of injury and also for the risk to responders of these incidents. While you may see many people doing this during your visit, please remember how truly dangerous it can be and make smart choices.Even though it is tempting to leave the trail and scramble to the bases of Yosemite’s waterfalls, especially as water levels drop, the boulders at the base of waterfalls are always treacherous. Even when dry, the granite rocks remain surprisingly slick, having been polished smooth by the pounding, falling water most of the year.”

Better Idea:

Stay on the trail and enjoy the waterfalls and pools from afar. Keep your children away from all river pools and rivers near waterfalls. The perfect waterfall photo is not worth risking death, even if you think you will be OK dipping a toe on the river’s edge. Even the river’s edges contain slippery rocks. Accidents, even fatal ones, can happen in a matter of a second.

3. Don’t pose too close to wildlife

Black Bear in wooded area
As many as 500 black bears call Yosemite home. ( Photo: iStock)

The animals that live in Yosemite are wild. They are not pets nor are they domesticated. For instance, black bears, mountain lions and bighorn sheep live in the park, and you may catch sight of them. While mountain lions tend to be more elusive, a mountain lion was spotted on the extremely popular Mist Trail in fall 2016.

If you see a bear, mountain lion or other types of wildlife, step away slowly. Do not try to take to get close to it to take a selfie. Mountain lions and bears, especially mothers with cubs, can be defensive and will attack if they feel threatened.

The good news is human-bear incidents are on the decrease. Let’s keep it that way. While incidents with bears have decreased dramatically since the park instituted a bear management plan in 1975, visitors need to continue to be “bear aware.” In 2015, according to Yosemite officials, there were 76 incidents related to bears, which resulted in $4,909 in property damage. (A bear incident occurs when a bear causes property damage, obtains food, acts aggressively, or injures a person.) This is a 95 percent decrease in number of incidents from the record high in 1998, when there were approximately 1,600 incidents resulting in $660,000 in property damage.

Better Idea:

If you spot Yosemite’s wildlife, give the animal plenty of distance. There should be at least 100 yards between you and a bear or mountain lion. If you cannot get a good shot of the animals from where you are standing, put your phone down and just enjoy watching it from a safe distance. It’s a rare opportunity to be in the presence of a beautiful animal.

4. Don’t take your hands off the cables while climbing Half Dome

Cables assist hikers on the final 400 feet up Half Dome in Yosemite.
Cables assist hikers on the final 400 feet up Half Dome in Yosemite. (Photo by Grant Ordelheide)

A number of people have fallen to their deaths while climbing the cables to the top of Half Dome. In 2019, 29-year-old Danielle Burnett of Lake Havasu, Ariz., tumbled more than 500 feet to her death on Sept. 5 when she slipped beneath the rails and slid down the granite slab. In 2012, a 56-year-old man fell because a person above him dropped a handheld radio and the victim took his hand off the cable to protect himself. He lost his grip and slipped to his death. It’s a tragic reminder to keep both hands on the cables while climbing. Never attempt a selfie on them or try to go up the cables if it is raining, snowing, hailing or looks like it may storm. Both the cables and the rock get really slippery and treacherous.

Better Idea:

Wait until you are safely to the top of Half Dome and away from the edge before you snap a selfie. And avoid Half Dome altogether if it is storming or looks like it could during the time it would take for you to get up and down.