An extra wet winter and spring this year means waterfall season in Yosemite National Park is off to a thunderous, gushing start.
This is also a great time to see many of the park’s lesser-known falls that only last for a short time.
Waterfalls are fed by melting snowpack, which was at 153 percent of average in Yosemite’s Merced River basin and 176 percent of average in the Tuolumne River basin as of April 1.
The park’s best-known waterfalls – Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall – are all flowing well according to Yosemite officials. Yosemite waterfalls typically reach their peak flow in the late spring or early summer.
“The April snow survey confirmed what a big year it was in terms of snowpack,” said Scott Gediman, Yosemite National Park spokesman, “and with the recent warm weather, we’ve seen great waterfalls and they are going strong right now, and also, some of the ephemeral falls around the Valley as well, such as Staircase Falls above Half Dome Village, Sentinel Falls on the side of Sentinel Rock, and the Royal Arches.”
Best time to see it: Peak flow in May, roaring runoff April through June, with water usually visible November through July.
Best spots for viewing: You can see Yosemite Falls from numerous spots in Yosemite Valley, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge (formerly Yosemite Lodge). A one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall (the eastern side of the loop, from the shuttle stop to the base of the waterfall, is wheelchair accessible). It’s possible to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, but it’s a strenuous, all-day hike.
You can also see the falls on live webcam at yosemiteconservancy.org/webcams/yosemite-falls.
Best time to see it: Peak flow in May, with water visible throughout the year.
Best spots for viewing: Bridalveil is often the first waterfall visitors see when entering Yosemite Valley because it’s visible from the popular Tunnel View scenic overlook. Descending into Yosemite Valley from this vista, a parking lot to the waterfall’s trailhead is on the right, immediately after entering the valley if coming from Highway 41 (called Wawona Road in the park). A short but steep trail takes visitors to the base of Bridalveil Fall in just a few minutes. The waterfall is also visible along Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120).
Best time to see it: Peak flow in late May. The flow is visible year-round but it narrows and separates by mid to late summer.
Best spots for viewing: You can see Vernal Fall from a distance at Glacier Point at the end of Glacier Point Road, which is usually open from late May (once snow plowing finishes) through sometime in November. There is a wheelchair-accessible trail to the viewpoint.
There is a steep 2.4-mile round-trip hike to the top of Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail, starting near Happy Isles in eastern Yosemite Valley. Or, you can shorten that hike by just going to the Vernal Fall Footbridge at the waterfall’s base – a steep 1.6-mile round-trip.
Best time to see it: Peak flow in late May, with water visible throughout the year.
Best spots for viewing: Nevada Fall, located above Vernal Fall, is also visible at a distance from Glacier Point.
A strenuous 5.4-mile round-trip hike via the Mist Trail will take you to the top of Nevada Fall. You’ll first see Nevada Fall near its base, while hiking above Vernal Fall.
This interactive map shows where to find the falls
Lesser-known Yosemite area waterfalls
Alder Creek Fall, Avalanche Creek Falls, Cascade Falls, Chilnualna Falls, Horsetail Fall, Grouse Creek Falls, Illilouette Fall, Rancheria Falls, Ribbon Fall, Royal Arch Cascade, Sentinel Falls, Silver Strand Falls, Snow Creek Falls, Staircase Falls, Tueeulala Fall, Wapama Falls, Wildcat Falls. Some do not have trails and are only visible from the road.
Tickets and parking in Yosemite
Entrance fees for most vehicles are $35, valid for seven days. There are a number of passes available, ranging from free to $80 for a Lifetime Senior Pass or an Interagency Annual Pass, which works at all national parks and federal recreation sites.
Parking is free once you enter the park. Yosemite Valley’s largest parking lots are located near Yosemite Village, Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), and Yosemite Falls. Officials advise that parking is usually full in the valley by 9 a.m. The best way to get around Yosemite Valley is to leave your vehicle parked and use the free shuttle service. Or, leave your car at a town or city outside Yosemite and catch a YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) bus into the park.