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Your Grand Vista Above the Crowd

Distant rugged and wild vistas stretch far beyond the sheer stone cliff edge where you stand. The air you breath flows by, clear, clean, and crisp; only the smell of pine and other flora drift with it. From your soaring rocky perch, you observe and take in the landscape far below as it becomes clear through the mist and the dizzying height. You scan the outlying valley floor as it spans, carpeted by trees and vegetation appearing as one giant green mass. This throng of foliage is dotted by the occasional meadow and cut by streams and rivers that flow freely through. This valley, however, does not go on out of sight; vast granite massifs that encompass the whole of the basin abruptly interrupt it. These cliffs and prominences reach high above the floor far into the sky. Some are at eye level others below, allowing your view to continue on, while others still, are immeasurably higher. The whole scene dwarfs you but also conjures a deeper feeling of life, more so than you have ever felt before.

This is the panorama from above Yosemite Falls.

Yosemite Falls is one of the most alluring landmarks in the entire park, and that’s saying a lot considering the company of natural monuments it keeps. Spectators from across the globe flock to this thundering surge to watch and stand in awe as it pours from 2,245 feet above. But, if you enjoy a little adventure much like I do, you’ll take the opportunity to beat the crowds far below and stand with the falls as it’s waters leave the meandering Yosemite Creek and makes the plunge to the valley floor. But best of all, you will be able to relish in the accomplishment and grand towering vista that this trail provides as its climax. That is, if you’re up for the challenge…

Yosemite Falls Trail is located between Yosemite Village and Camp 4. The trail begins its abrupt ascent right from the initial trail marker, and other than the captivating views, it allows limited leisure. While it’s only 3.4 miles to the top, at times, it seems much farther. The trailhead is easy to spot due to its popularly warn path along with obvious trail markers. It begins near a few large boulders where it’s not uncommon to find climbers prepping for steeper conquests, boulders testing their skills, slack liners balancing across taunt strands, and backpackers conducting final gear checks.

Soon though, even after a short trek up the route, the sounds of chatter and traffic in the valley fade below, and the only sounds are those of the wilderness. But crossing paths with the occasional fellow hiker can be regular depending on the weather. I’ve made this hike through tolerably inclement weather and saw virtually no one the entire climb. The trail is sandy in spots, soil in others, rocky, and at times a mixture of the three. It winds through deep tree groves in the initial section before opening into the elevated craggy cliff side. All the while switchbacks are a very familiar terrain feature.

As the thick tree line is left and replaced by rock and displaced woods scenes of the valley and surrounding ridgeline come into focus. It’s at this point that the task is fully recognized; the high cliffs above are where this trail leads. The trek is mostly upward with and few dips and breaks of tranquil plateaus that traverse next to granite walls on one side and vertical drops on the other. These peaceful flat sections allow for rest and magnificent views of your surroundings. After enduring the ruggedness of the climb, scrambling over small rock formations, and climbing stone stair pathways the thunder of the falls becomes clearer. And finally through your efforts you begin to be rewarded with perspectives of Half Dome, the backside of El Capitan, and of course varying levels of Yosemite Falls.

These views are a sure sign that the crest of your climb is within reach. There is, however, a final ascent that must be overcome. But at this point you have already conquered a majority of the slope, and what’s one more? This final incline is not a sheer climb but rather a gradual and constant final uphill battle. The trail turns inward toward the falls through a glen created by two high cliffs with the falls in the middle. It is here that many see the trail climbing yet higher and stop to enjoy the sights for a while and decide to turn back. But this section is only a taste of what is to be had at the top.

The trail continues its traverse higher between rock wall, large boulders, and scattered trees and brush with the end constantly in sight. But with a little exertion you will quickly be at the top.

The scattered trees become full again as you will find yourself surrounded by forest, boulders, and rock formations. There is a small wooden bridge that crosses Yosemite Creek just before it spills over the edge of the falls where you can stand and enjoy the falls in a way those below may never achieve. The terrain becomes level and you are awarded for your undertaking with a grand view of Yosemite Valley, the distant wilderness, and peaks that constructs the park. I have hiked this trail twice in different seasons and enjoyed it immensely.

From here you can continue on to nearby Arrowhead Spire or Basket Dome. You can also travel farther through Eagle Peak Meadow to Eagle Peak, in the other direction to North Dome or Indian Ridge and to the top of Indian Rock. Trails also lead along Yosemite Creek and Lehamite Creek into the northern portion of the park toward Mount Hoffman, May Lake, and Tuolume Peak if you wish to make a multi day trek. Or if you choose, you can just sit and enjoy the vast scenery from the towering cliffs above Yosemite Falls. The world is your oyster.

It is possible to stay overnight above Yosemite Falls with the possession of a wilderness permit acquired at one of the many backcountry ranger stations. At the time of this writing backcountry permits are free and only a park entrance fee is required.

Yosemite Falls Trail Details:

  • Fee: Free for day hikes and a free backcountry permit is required for overnights.

  • Location: Between Yosemite Village and Camp 4 near shuttle stop 7.

  • Distance: 3.5 miles from trailhead to top of falls. 7.2 miles round trip.

  • Difficulty: Moderate/ Strenuous

  • Elevation Gain: 2,700 Feet

  • Map Used: National Geographic Trails Illustrated- Yosemite 206


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