Skip to Content

How to hike Yosemite Falls

How to hike Yosemite Falls

Sharing is caring!

how to hike yosemite falls
how to hike yosemite falls

One of my favourite hikes in 2017 (of which there were many) was the hike all the way to the top of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.

Getting to Yosemite had been a bit of a nightmare. We’d tried to cut across the Sierras from East to West but discovered all the roads were closed due to heavy snow (even in mid-May!). Instead, we had a six hour detour on our hands where we discovered the beautiful hot springs and geothermal areas just outside Mammoth Lakes. When we did finally arrive at Yosemite, we got a puncture which we spent most of the next day trying to get repaired.

So perhaps the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls was one of the most enjoyable because, after several days of driving and car fixing, I was just desperate to get outside? Maybe, but it’s also a great hike with an incredible view at the top.

If you’re planning a trip to San Francisco or LA you should definitely make time for a few days in Yosemite National Park. It’s a busy park but the hiking trails aren’t too overcrowded. And, if hiking isn’t your thing then make sure to check out this list of other things to do in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls are North America’s tallest waterfall. At 2,425ft (739m) high you’re in for a pretty steep and long hike to Upper Yosemite Falls but that sweat is worth it!

Yosemite Falls is made up of three sections: the upper falls, middle cascade and (yep, you’ve guessed it!) lower falls. Most visitors to Yosemite National Park tend to stick to the lower falls and sure the view looking up towards the top of the falls is good, but the view looking out over the falls from the top is even better!

Yosemite Falls Trail

Lower Yosemite Falls

The Yosemite Falls Trail is one of the oldest trails and was built between 1873-1877. It’s about 3 miles each way and will probably take 6-8 hours for you to complete the roundtrip hike. To start your hike you’ll need to head towards the Sunnyside Campground (Camp 4) near Yosemite Lodge. From there you just follow signs – and people – uphill until you reach the top of the falls!

hike upper yosemite falls

The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls begins with a climb and plenty of switchbacks as you ascend through oak woodland. Eventually you’ll begin to climb above the trees and get to glimpse out at the stunning Yosemite Valley below. It’s surprising how fast you gain elevation!

The Middle Cascade

At about one mile in (and 1,000ft of elevation) you’ll reach Columbia Rock. If you don’t have the time for the full hike you can stop here as there are still some very impressive views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock.

But, if you do have time then it’s worth hiking another half a mile (some of which is actually downhill) to get a stunning view of Upper Yosemite Fall. If you visit in spring you may even feel the mist from the fall.

We definitely got a fair bit of mist as when we visited all the waterfalls in Yosemite Park were in full flow. Locals were telling us that the waterfalls were bigger than they had been in years!

Upper Yosemite Falls

The next half of the trail is steep and fairly rocky but the trail is still well maintained. There’s still a lot of climbing to do but keep going!

As you near the top you’ll come across Yosemite Creek. This creek seems tiny given the massive waterfall it turns in to!

hike upper yosemite fallshike upper yosemite falls

Once you reach the top head out to where the water crashes over the cliff (Yosemite Falls Overlook) and you’ll notice a few steps that take you down for a real closeup of the waterfall. This spot is fantastic to rest for a bit, eat some snacks and take some photos of Yosemite Valley.

hike upper yosemite falls

Extending your hike

If you want to extend your trail you can head east to Yosemite Point (follow signs for North Dome; an additional 1.6 miles roundtrip) or west to Eagle Peak (follow signs to El Capitan, additional 5.8 miles roundtrip).


hike upper yosemite falls

Yosemite Falls Stats

Difficulty: Moderate/Hard – it’s just long!
Distance: 6 mile round trip
Elevation Gain: 2,425ft/739m
Time needed: 6-8 hours
Seasonality: Best in Spring for bigger falls, less  mosquitoes and fewer crowds. Can be hiked all year round but may be snow from Columbia Rock onwards

terra @

Wednesday 31st of January 2018

Looks absolutely breathtaking and those views are amazing!

Hannah Kacary

Thursday 1st of February 2018

It's such a beautiful place!