Popular Upper Yosemite Falls is worth the effort

North America's tallest waterfall can't properly be appreciated from its base.

No, to get a true sense of what a water droplet feels like while plunging 2,425 feet, you must climb to the brink of Upper Yosemite Falls and look down.

Of course, that's easier said than done. Despite the difficulty of climbing 2,700 feet in 3.6 miles, hundreds of people hike the Yosemite Falls Trail each year. It is one of the oldest and most heavily used trails in the park.

Mile 1 ascends 60 switchbacks through a grove of black oaks before reaching Columbia Rock, where hikers can look across Yosemite Valley for incredible views of Half Dome and Glacier Point. Continue another mile for your first view of the falls.

From here to the rim of the valley, the trail zig-zags up a narrow gully that is completely shaded by early afternoon. When the falls are gushing, as they were last week, expect to get a little wet.

Once at the top, follow the signs 0.2 miles to the overlook. A stone staircase leads to a narrow ledge (with a handrail for the not-so-sure-footed) and then to a fence-protected wider ledge right at the brink of the falls.

From here, vertigo-free hikers can track water from Yosemite Creek plunging over the dramatic upper falls (1,430 feet) and into the middle cascades (675 feet); only the 320-foot lower fall is out of view.

Because of the trail's extreme steepness, allow 6 to 8 hours to complete the hike. You'll never think of Yosemite Falls the same way again.

Originally published in The Fresno Bee and on fresnobee.com on May 10, 2006.