Hikers this spring are learning why some footbridges exist, says Mike Theune, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks acting public affairs officer and park ranger. Long-dry creeks are now filling with water, feeding roaring waterfalls and vibrant wildflowers.
“The hills are alive,” Theune said. “They are coming back with life. The flowers, the green up in the leaves – it’s this rebirth.”
The hills are alive with this color.
Mike Theune, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks public affairs officer
Among the recent arrivals are blooming redbuds and lupines, adding new vivid splotches of color across the Sierra Nevada.
“You have the purples of the lupine, the popcorn flowers – the yellows and the whites – the poppies and oranges against the green grass,” Theune said. “It’s a rainbow.”
That rainbow – and the waters feeding it – are expected to intensify as spring unfolds. Sierra snowpack is at 179 percent of normal compared to 30 percent of normal three years ago. Abundant rain and melting snow has brought many dormant or barely visible waterfalls back to thunderous life.
“Many don’t even have names,” Jamie Richards, a public affairs officer and park ranger for Yosemite National Park, said of these now-flowing falls.
A number of them can be seen streaming down the vertical granite walls towering above Yosemite Valley and the Merced River canyon that Highway 140 skirts leading into the park’s west entrance.
It’s a unique time to visit Yosemite.
Jamie Richards, Yosemite National Park public affairs officer
It’s an exciting time for Tony Krizan, a hiking columnist for the Sierra Star newspaper in Oakhurst who recently published his third book, “Mountain Secrets Revealed.”
“I’m going to repeat a lot of my hikes now,” he said. “This is like the 500-year rain, not the 100-year rain.”
Krizan anticipates mudslides and rock slides have altered some of his favorite trails, and that he’ll need to find new ways to cross swelling creeks and rivers.
“It will be interesting, all these trails,” he said. “I’m looking forward to seeing how their personalities will change.”
People don’t have to venture far to see some big changes. The Sierra foothills are already bursting with new colors and creeks. Nancy Fluharty, development coordinator for the Sierra Foothill Conservancy, recommends a guided hike through one of the conservancy’s eight preserves covering more than 6,400 acres to check out the changes.
There’s streams and creeks flowing in places where we didn’t even know we had streams and creeks.
Nancy Fluharty, Sierra Foothill Conservancy development coordinator
“We’re definitely going to see another super bloom in the preserves,” Fluharty said. “Last spring was one of the best we’ve had in a really long time. We’ve had so much rain I’m thinking it (this spring) will be even more beautiful.”
Wildflowers are just starting to emerge at higher elevations, including Yosemite Valley, which sits at around 4,000 feet.
“Green leaves are coming out on our trees and the oaks,” Richards said late last month, describing the scene outside her Yosemite Valley office. “I’m seeing a lot of different green shrubs and flowers popping out of the ground, and you can tell spring is in the air.”
For those interested in traveling further for flowers, there’s already bursts of color in the desert, including Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and Death Valley National Park, and a bloom of California poppies along the Interstate 5 Grapevine.
While enjoying the beauty, remember to be safe – especially in this extra-wet, slippery year.
“Just don’t get overexcited,” warns Krizan. “Use a little common sense when you do something, especially if you cross a log.”
Downed trees are often covered in slimy moss, and another danger – hibernating rattlesnakes – should re-emerge from their dens within a few weeks, Krizan added.
Theune said more water this season means more wildlife and swift-moving river currents. A word of caution to swimmers, he said: “It may look very inviting, but these rivers move very fast and are very cold.”
Richards shared a similar warning for Yosemite: “We ask everyone to be safe when recreating. Wear personal flotation devices and watch children on waterways.”
Severe rains caused flooding this winter in Yosemite Valley, which has reopened to the public. Richards doesn’t have an estimate for when Yosemite waterfalls might reach their peak flow, which normally happens in late spring or early summer, but she did share one prediction with confidence:
“It’s going to be a lovely spring, and we anticipate a lovely summer here in Yosemite National Park.”
Places to explore
Less-known Yosemite area waterfalls now flowing: Alder Creek Fall, Avalanche Creek Falls, Chilnualna Falls, Horsetail Fall, Grouse Creek Falls, Illilouette Fall, Ribbon Fall, Royal Arch Cascade, Sentinel Falls, Silver Strand Falls, Wapama Falls, Wildcat Falls. Many do not have trails and are only visible from the road.
Classic wildflower hikes in the foothills: Hite Cove, San Joaquin River Gorge, and Sierra Foothill Conservancy preserves. (To enter one of the preserves, you must join a guided hike, listed online at sierrafoothill.org/events-listing, or visit during an open preserve day.)