Guide to Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park in the Spring

Viewing Yosemite Fall through a break in the trees

The waterfall grand enough to be called Yosemite Fall surprises many with its ephemeral nature. The roaring spring waters subside in late summer and fall to a bare trickle before being replenished by snow and rainfall during the winter.

The awe-inspiring panorama of Yosemite National Park features sky-scraping granite walls and domes with heart stopping 3,000-foot plunging cliffs making some of the world’s largest and most majestic waterfalls. The dynamic interplay of these elements makes this one of America’s most celebrated National Parks. Waterfalls in Yosemite animate and enliven the park’s massive stage. Dramatic hydrology at its finest!

Hiking to Yosemite waterfalls is a favorite park activity, and many can be reached quite easily. For that matter, two Yosemite classics, Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall, are even visible through the dashboard as one drives around Yosemite Valley but trekking to the top of waterfalls in Yosemite National Park adds a sense of accomplishment. Here’s a quick tour of world-class waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Falls

The waterfall grand enough to be called Yosemite Fall surprises many with its ephemeral nature. The roaring spring waters subside in late summer and fall to a bare trickle before being replenished by snow and rainfall during the winter.

Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth tallest in the world. The twin cascades – upper and lower – are together nearly twice the height of the Empire State Building and visible from many points around Yosemite Valley. There is a one-mile loop trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall (year-round and wheelchair accessible). The full Yosemite Falls Trail is strenuous, but for strong hikers well worth the trek.

In spring as the rains continue and high-country snow begins to melt, the most iconic fall in Yosemite Valley bursts with water into a torrent that plunges to the Valley Floor. As the year creeps on, the falls slow into a trickle and eventually into nothing when Yosemite Falls turns into “Yosemite Walls”. Then the cycle resets each fall with the first rains of the new wet season.

Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall greets visitors as they enter the west end of Yosemite Valley with its year-round flow.

The first waterfall most Yosemite National Park visitors see is stunning Bridalveil Fall which greets visitors as they enter Yosemite Valley from Highway 140 or Highway 41. Truly a head-turner, Bridalveil is that waterfall – the one that graces the right foreground of Yosemite’s iconic Tunnel View panorama. It varies from a thunderous spring flow to a gently swaying wisp by season’s end. Bridalveil’s beauty is surpassed only by its ease of access. Thanks to the Yosemite Conservancy’s multi-year Bridalveil Fall Restoration project, the newly-renovated, paved trail to the base of the fall is wider, wheelchair accessible, and pet-friendly. New restrooms and expanded viewing areas are just the frosting on the cake that is a multi-year project set to be completed in the spring of 2023.

Vernal Fall

With all the mist hanging in the air along the Mist Trail below Vernal Fall, be sure to keep your eyes open for magical rainbows along the way.

Vernal Fall – and Nevada Fall directly above – are the stars of perhaps Yosemite’s most famous hike: The Mist Trail. Looking like something straight out of Lord of the Rings, The Mist Trail climbs up hundreds of steps carved directly into the side of a mountain past Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall (more on Nevada Fall in a second) which flow year-round. Wear grippy shoes or boots and a waterproof shell for the Mist Trail’s snowmelt spritz!

Originating near Happy Isles in eastern Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail offers spectacular, close-up views of both powerful waterfalls. Vernal Fall is seen from a variety of perspectives on the Mist Trail: below, alongside, and ultimately from the top, a vertigo-inducing look straight down the football-field-length cascade.

Nevada Fall

If you keep going above Vernal Fall, you'll find the second magnificent water fall in the grand staircase formation - Nevada Fall.

The operatic Mist Trail continues steeply for 1.5 additional miles with 2,000 ft. elevation gain to the top of its second aquatic act, Nevada Fall. Between Vernal and Nevada falls, hikers pass a pair of beautiful pools (no swimming permitted) – Emerald and Silver Apron – before making the final ascent. Nevada Fall thunders in late spring and summer as the roaring Merced River tumbles down toward Yosemite Valley. The view from the top is spectacular, especially where a footbridge crosses above the Merced. Consider taking the John Muir Trail back down to the Valley floor for a different perspective and slightly less strenuous descent.

Sentinel Fall

Sentinel Fall is one of the most graceful waterfalls in Yosemite Valley. However, it's less well known than others because it is an ephemeral waterfall, meaning that you'll only see it during peak waterfall season in the spring.

Snaking its way downhill next to Sentinel Rock on Yosemite Valley’s southside, Sentinel Fall is a confluence of cascades that range from 50 to 500 feet. Sentinel Beach Picnic Area is a wonderful place to linger for an extended view, and the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail renders great cross-valley views of this, the second-tallest Yosemite waterfall. Pack a picnic for a beach side moment of relaxation next to the Merced River with Sentinel Falls overhead. Yosemite Valley’s Leidig Meadow is another sweet Sentinel Fall lookout – easily accessed from the Valley Floor Loop Trail.

Wapama Fall

Hetch Hetchy's most popular hiking trail leads you to the base of Wapama Fall.

Tucked into Yosemite National Park’s super-chill northwest nook, Hetch Hetchy Valley has soaring peaks, steep canyons – and a big waterfall. Spectacular Wapama Fall tumbles into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and is visible from the parking lot at O’Shaughnessy Dam, at the west end of the valley. For an up-close (and in the spring, potentially drenching) experience, take the 5.5-mile round-trip hike to the footbridge that crosses the surging cataract at the base of the fall. Wapama’s one of the most under-the-radar waterfalls in Yosemite. Spring visitors get a bonus waterfall, Tueeulala Falls, on the way to Wapama.

Chilnualna Falls

This stunning waterfall is only a short hike from the community of Wawona near the south entrance of the park. Keep going for more gorgeous cascades and vista points.

Chilnualna Falls, located in Wawona, is one of the least-visited big waterfalls in Yosemite. Part of the reason: it can’t be seen from the road. The strenuous, switchbacked 8-mile trail to the top begins at an elevation of 4,200 feet and plays peek-a-boo with a series of falls, cascades, and cataracts. Discover the trailhead just off the Chilnualna Falls parking area, two miles up from Chilnualna Falls Road. For the hearty that forge ahead up the falls, enjoy the views looking back down towards the small village of Wawona and Wawona Meadow in a picturesque valley.

Flow Tips: Waterfall Safety

How Many Waterfalls Are in Yosemite National Park?

The answer depends on seasonal rainfall and snowfall and when you visit. Yosemite’s largest waterfalls flow from October or November through July, but tend to peak in April and May and into June, with some falls (including the park’s signature Yosemite Falls) running dry by late summer. Storms in late autumn can recharge waterfalls, giving visitors a surprise water show as the days shorten and leaves are turning. The Mist Trail, one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite, Nevada and Vernal Falls run through summer, giving hikers a shower or mist, hence the trail’s name!

When Is the Best Time To See Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park?

The best time to see waterfalls in Yosemite National Park depends on several factors, such as weather, season, and time of day. Generally, the waterfalls in Yosemite are most spectacular in the spring when the snow melts and the water flow is at its peak.

The peak flow of waterfalls typically occurs in May and June, but this can vary depending on the year's snowpack and weather conditions. During this time, many of the park's waterfalls are in full force and are a stunning sight.

However, some waterfalls, such as Yosemite Falls, can still be impressive when the water flow is lower in the summer and fall months, but they may not be as powerful as during the spring.

In terms of the best time of day to see waterfalls, early morning or late afternoon can provide the best lighting for photography and may also be less crowded than midday. Additionally, visiting waterfalls during weekdays can also help avoid crowds.

Waterfalls may dry up completely during periods of drought or low fall flows, so it's a good idea to check the park's website or visitor center for the latest information on water conditions before planning your visit.

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