Wapama Falls

Yosemite National Park

Uncrowded waterfall trail along the cliff-lined lakeshore in Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Hiking Moderate

Distance
7.8 km
Ascent
332 m
Descent
333 m
Duration
2-3 hrs
Low Point
1.1 km
High Point
1.2 km
Gradient
12˚
VIEW ON MAP
Wapama Falls Map

Description

Much like the famed Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy Valley also has huge granite walls that stream with waterfalls, but they drop into a reservoir rather than into a free-flowing river. The lake in Hetch Hetchy Valley is not what nature intended, but it makes an interesting aesthetic that is altogether different than what’s found elsewhere in Yosemite National Park.

Because Hetch Hetchy does not receive as much traffic as Yosemite Valley, you can avoid the brunt of waterfall-watching crowds by hiking to Wapama Falls. It flows year-round, and not one part of the journey to reach it is uninteresting. The trail crosses the dam, then makes a panoramic traverse above the reservoir, along rock slabs that are sparsely treed, dotted with miniature meadows of mosses and grass, and flecked with wildflowers. The vista is of blue water and towering cliffs the whole way. In spring, two more waterfalls along the way are usually flowing as well. Though the trail crosses some steep terrain, the tougher parts are aided by rock stairs, and the route is well marked, so it’s never too difficult.

Wapama is a tiered waterfall that measures more than 1000 feet. It plummets over two huge vertical drops in succession, then tumbles through a boulder garden into the lake. Beneath the falls, three bridges form the trail over its outflow. At times of high snowmelt in early spring, these bridges can be inundated in spray, but they usually make comfortable viewing platforms. It’s possible to scramble on the rocks for an elevated view, but they are are very slick and steep.

Wapama Falls is the turnaround point for most hikers, but if you want to see more, continue another 4.2 miles to Rancheria Falls. This extension along the same trail makes a much longer day hike, or a rewarding overnight backpacking trip (Wilderness permit required).

Sources: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/upload/hetchhetchy-sitebull.pdf https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/waterfalls.htm

Difficulty

Moderate

Hiking along trails with some uneven terrain and small hills. Small rocks and roots may be present.

Medium Exposure

2 out of 4

The trail contains some obstacles such as outcroppings and rock which could cause injury.

Remoteness

2 out of 4

Away from help but easily accessed.

Best time to visit

March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, November

Features

  • Wildlife
  • Picturesque
  • Wild flowers
  • Water features
  • Family friendly

Similar routes nearby

Guidebooks in this area