5 Waterfalls Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Mar 2017

Yosemite waterfalls are some of the largest in the country, they are magnificent and awe-inspiring. The sight of these immense cascades makes you realize how incredibly beautiful and powerful nature really is. There are thousands of waterfalls in Yosemite, but we asked our local Yosemite backpacking and Yosemite day-hiking guides to narrow it down to just five so that if you’re visiting the area, you can plan to see one or all of these waterfalls listed here.

Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls, Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Falls), Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Falls, 5 best waterfalls you can hike to in Yosemite.
Yosemite Falls, Yosemite; Photo by Matt Cairns

Shhh… we’re cheating and putting three waterfalls into one so we could include them all on this list. Yosemite Falls is North America’s highest waterfall at 2,425 feet high, and can be seen from many viewpoints throughout Yosemite National Park, but the best views are up close. Lower Yosemite Falls is easy to get to, just a leisurely walk on a one-mile paved loop trail to the bottom of the 320-foot falls, where you can also see the Middle Cascades and Upper Falls above.

If you’re up for making an effort, then hiking up to Upper Yosemite Falls is worth it. The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is strenuous with a 2,700 foot elevation gain. It is about 8 miles roundtrip. At the top, you’ll catch panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and will have the chance to soak your feet in a natural swimming pool before the hike down.

Whether you’re on a hiking/backpacking trip or just passing through the park, you can’t miss a visit to Yosemite Falls.

Illilouette Falls

Yosemite Valley

View of Illiluoette Falls at Yosemite National Park.
Illilouette Falls in Yosemite National Park. Photo by Tyler Gates

Many of Yosemite’s waterfalls can be viewed from the road or a short walking path, but not Illilouette Falls. Some of the most beautiful places require effort to get to, and so it is with a visit to the lesser-known Illilouette Falls. The waterfall is within Illilouette Creek Canyon below Glacier Point and the best way to see this waterfall is on the Panorama Trailwhich begins at either Glacier Point (faster route to get to the falls) or Yosemite Valley (more difficult, up-hill route).


Vernal Falls & Nevada Falls

Yosemite Valley

Nevada Falls, 5 best waterfalls you can hike to in Yosemite.
Nevada Falls, Yosemite; Photo by Matt Cairns

Vernal and Nevada Falls are two of the most picturesque waterfalls in Yosemite. At Nevada Falls the water slides down a steep, swooping granite face into the valley below before rushing over the top of Vernal Falls lower down. The far-away, yet still breathtaking view of the waterfall can be seen from Glacier Point by car, but the most common approach is to hike one of the steep trails to the top of Nevada Falls, choose either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail. Along the way up the Mist Trail you will pass the equally impressive Vernal Falls.

Yosemite Valley

It’s likely that you have seen this waterfall take over social media. And if you haven’t, you’ll be interested to learn why Horsetail Falls is such a special, rare beauty to see in Yosemite. Each year, from mid- to late- February, the sunset’s orange glow reflects off the water’s mist, which makes the water look like fire or lava cascading down Yosemite’s most famous granite monolith, El Capitan. You can see this waterfall while hiking, from the El Capitan picnic area, or from the road.


Wapama Falls

Hetch Hetchy Valley

Wapama Falls, Yosemite.
Wapama Falls, Yosemite; Photo by Tyler Gates

Last, but certainly not least, Wapama Falls. Yosemite National Park is a very popular summer destination with visitors from all over the world. With all the crowds, it’s nice to get away to a lesser-known gem of the valley. Only a few people visit Hetch Hetchy Valley to see this roaring, 1,400 feet waterfall. From the O’Shaughnessy Dam you can get a good view, but (as noted before), the jaw-dropping experience  is really when you hike the 4.8 mile roundtrip trail that will take you to the bridge below the falls.

Now you know, a trip to Yosemite National Park is incomplete without walking or hiking to one (or a few) of the waterfalls. If you’re looking for more waterfalls to visit in Yosemite National Park, the National Park Service website is a great resource, as well as Travel Yosemite, which has an interactive map of waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. 


If you’re interested in guided backpacking trips in Yosemite National Park, learn more here!