Yosemite

These are Yosemite’s lesser-known waterfalls. Here’s where to go to see them

Look and listen to the massive water flow of these lesser-known Yosemite waterfalls

Yosemite has some world-renowned waterfalls like Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall and Vernal Fall, but do you know about the lesser-known falls?
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Yosemite has some world-renowned waterfalls like Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall and Vernal Fall, but do you know about the lesser-known falls?

If you’re a human in the United States of America or most places in the world, you’re probably familiar with at least one iconic image of a waterfall flowing down a steep granite cliff surrounding Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

But there are many more lesser-known Yosemite waterfalls within this massive park that encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles — and spring 2019 is a great time to see them.

As of May 1, High Sierra snowpack in Yosemite was at 160% of average in the Merced River basin and 149% of average in the Tuolumne River basin. That means lots of melting snow to feed falls. Some are ephemeral and only visible in these extra wet years.

Here’s some information about a few more secret, hidden spots, followed by a longer list and map:

Wawona: Chilnualna Falls

An easy half-mile walk will get you up-close and personal with a large, gorgeous series of cascades in a shady wooded glen. But watch your step, as rock steps snake up the side of a steep, unguarded hillside in this section. If you’re feeling more adventurous, continue up the trail for a strenuous 8.2-mile round-tip hike to the top of Chilnualna Falls.

The parking area is two miles up the residential Chilnualna Falls Road in Wawona, the first Yosemite community within the park if entering from Highway 41.

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Chilnualna Falls can be seen outside of Yosemite Valley after a short hike near Wawona off of Highway 41. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Hetch Hetchy wonders

Hetch Hetchy Valley, once described by conservationist John Muir as looking much like Yosemite Valley, is perhaps best known for its dam, completed in 1938 to provide water for the Bay Area. Still visible above the man-made reservoir are Hetch Hetchy’s impressive waterfalls. One is Wapama Falls, reached via a moderate, five-mile round-trip hike. The more slender Tueeulala Fall is visible along the way. Continue past Wapama to see Rancheria Falls (a 13.4-mile round-trip hike).

Hetch Hetchy, at a lower elevation than most Yosemite places, is also a great place to see spring wildflowers. Expect temperatures to heat up considerably by the summer in this foothill setting.

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People gather on the O’Shaughnessy Dam prior to hiking to Tueeulala falls, left, and Wapama Falls, to the right. The Modesto Bee file photo

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Near Glacier Point: Illilouette Fall

Illilouette Fall is not visible from any road, but many visitors see it from a distance while hiking to Vernal Fall from Yosemite Valley.

See it up close by hiking two miles (four miles round trip) from Glacier Point along the Panorama Trail. Yosemite Valley landmarks are visible below along the way, including the back of Half Dome. Hikers can also end the trip in Yosemite Valley, passing Nevada and Vernal Falls, instead of hiking back up to Glacier Point.

Glacier Point Road will reopen to all vehicle traffic at 9 a.m. Friday, May 10.

Love Yosemite? Follow our Yosemite magazine on Flipboard. You’ll get the best spots for waterfalls and hiking — and the latest environment and weather news.

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Half Dome and Nevada Fall visible along the Panorama Trail, which connects to Glacier Point and leads to Illilouette Fall and other high country treasures, on June 3, 2013. MAREK WARSZAWSKI marekw@fresnobee.com

More lesser-known Yosemite 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, Tuolumne Fall, Wapama Falls, Waterwheel Falls, White Cascade, Wildcat Falls. Some don’t have trails and are only visible from a road.

Yosemite's famous waterfalls are running extra strong this year after a wetter-than-normal winter and spring. Most will hit their peak in late spring or early summer.

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.

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