The Yosemite Valley has the greatest concentration of waterfalls in the park. But you probably won’t have those waterfall views all to yourself, especially not during the peak water flow in May. If you’re looking for solitude, there are many more hidden waterfalls throughout the park, which are nearly as beautiful as their valley sisters. Nearby national parks and forest lands also boast waterfalls during late spring and early summer, especially in the backcountry of Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks and over in the eastern Sierra Nevada.
Here are a few favorite waterfalls outside the Yosemite Valley around the national park:
A short drive from Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point provides a spectacular overview of the valley’s Nevada and Vernal Falls. What most first-time visitors don’t know is that another whooshing cascade, Illilouette Fall (370 feet high), tumbles over granite rocks nearby as it slides down toward the valley floor. This fall flows year-round, but peaks in May. Unlike the valley’s more famous waterfalls, this one can only be seen by hiking two miles down the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point, a beautiful, often uncrowded walk through bear country.
Wapama and Rancheria Falls
In the northwestern corner of the park, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is the place to catch sight of Wapama Falls (1,400 feet high), a triple cascade like more famous Yosemite Falls. You can observe Wapama Falls rushing down the cliffs while standing atop O’Shaughnessy Dam, which controversially flooded the valley in 1923 to form a reservoir that supplies water and electricity to the San Francisco Bay Area. Wapama Falls typically peak in May, but flow year-round. You can hike to the base of the falls (it’s a five-mile round trip), and keep going even further into the backcountry to visit Rancheria Falls, a petite series of river cascades, which are a fairly strenuous 13.5-mile round trip from the same trailhead.
Outside of Wawona, in the southern section of the park, Chilnualna Falls (2,200 feet high) is like a Zen rock garden: no matter where you stand, you can’t see the entire waterfall from any single vantage point. It twists and turns behind rocks and tall conifer trees, always keeping part of itself hidden. But that doesn’t make it any less beautiful to see. The only way to get to the falls is via an 8.2-mile round-trip hike beside Chilnualna Creek that ends at the very top of the falls. Saddle trips on horses and mules are available, starting from Wawona Stable (behind the Pioneer History Center), run by the park’s concessionaire.
Around Tuolumne Meadows
More waterfalls await in the Sierra Nevada high country of Yosemite National Park off Tioga Road, many of them near Tuolumne Meadows. If you’ve got the stamina, several delightful waterfalls flow along the Tuolumne River, including the gracefully pooling Tuolumne Falls and the White Cascade, an eight-mile round trip.
The same trail leads further on to Glen Aulin, a backcountry High Sierra Camp, and beyond to dramatic Waterwheel Falls, where gusts of water are blasted off the face of the falls far out into the air. Waterwheel Falls is a 17-mile round-trip hike from the trailhead. Saddle trips on horses and mules are available, starting from Tuolumne Meadow stable, run by the park’s concessionaire.