Hike Guide: Upper Yosemite Falls
Reward yourself with some of the most incredible views of Yosemite Valley by climbing Upper Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America. Strenuous without a doubt, however, the views are worth the effort. The views are not accessible by car. So strap on those hiking shoes, climb Upper Yosemite Falls and have your mind blown by the vastness of Yosemite Valley.
The hike follows the Yosemite Falls Trail from the valley floor to the Upper Yosemite Falls overlook. A popular optional side excursion is to hike out to Yosemite Point after reaching the Upper Yosemite Falls overlook. This side trip will add an extra 2 miles total to the hike. While the hike is not long, it is steep. To wholly experience the force of the falls, the best time to hike Upper Yosemite Falls in our opinion is early summer. During the winter months, the trail will be icy.
70% of the trail is on sandy stone steps, hence wear a decent pair of trail shoes. Hiking down is harder than hiking up due to the sandy steps. Trekking poles definitely will come in handy. We suggest bringing 3 liters of water during the summer months. If you need additional water, filtering stream water is an option.
We suggest an early morning (7 a.m.) start during summers to reduce the sun exposure during the ascent. If you begin in the afternoon, make sure to bring a headlamp as the sun sets earlier in the Valley.
The Yosemite Falls Trail starts at Camp 4. If you are driving, park your car at the parking lot across the street from Camp 4. To get to the trailhead by shuttle bus, take either the El Capitan shuttle to Camp 4 shuttle stop E2 or take the Village shuttle to stop 7.
Hiking the Trail
The hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls can be broken down into three distinct stages.
First Stage: 1.2 miles of uphill comprised of mostly stone switchbacks.
Approximately a mile into the hike, the Columbia Rock viewpoint provides vistas of Yosemite Valley.
Second Stage: .5 mile descent towards the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.
Once the trail starts descending, you are about ⅓ done with the hike up. As you continue to on the trail, the view of Upper Yosemite Falls emerges. The trail will lead you towards the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls.
Third Stage: 1.2 miles of uphill comprised of mostly stone switchbacks.
During early summer, especially if Yosemite experienced high snowfall during the winter, the stone steps can be wet and slippery. Tree shade can be few and far between for the latter portion of this stage. Therefore, consider starting the hike earlier in the morning.
Upper Yosemite Falls Overlook
Once you’ve reached the top of the last switchbacks, follow the trail for 0.2 miles towards the overlook. Proceed down the steps to the overlook.
Interested in another impressive view? Follow the signs to Yosemite Point. Yosemite point is about a mile from the Upper Yosemite Falls overlook. After crossing the footbridge, you will ascend switchbacks for about 0.6 miles. The trail flattens out as you arrive at this stunning vista.
After soaking in the grand views of Yosemite Valley comes the hard part, hiking back down. Take precautions while descending. We’ve seen our fair share of hikers slip on the sandy stone steps.