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Hiking: Yosemite National Park

Seeing the Falls From the Top Down

April 26, 1998|JOHN McKINNEY

Truly it's a wonder--a three-tiered cascade combining 1,430-foot upper Yosemite Falls, 675 feet of middle falls and 320-foot lower Yosemite Falls. That adds up to a total height of 2,425 feet--highest in North America.

Most Yosemite Valley visitors pay homage to Yosemite Falls, third highest waterfall in the world, by walking a quarter-mile to the base of the lower falls. Another trail--a much more difficult one--leads to the top of the upper falls. Looking up at Yosemite Falls from its base is one perspective; watching it spill over the brink from the top is another memorable experience.

The path to upper Yosemite Falls, one of the park's oldest, was originally a private sector endeavor in the 1870s and operated as a toll trail. Hikers paid fees at the trail head before making the ascent.

Yosemite Falls Trail climbs the airy heights to the precipice of Upper Yosemite Falls, rewarding the hard-working hiker with magnificent views of Yosemite Valley. The trail's steepness scares off some hikers, but many more remain undaunted and make the climb. Expect company (sometimes a lot) en route.

The best time to visit is in spring, when snowmelt swells the falls to their most spectacular. In summer, or in drought years, the falls flow with far less vigor.

Directions to trail head: Park across the road from Yosemite Lodge. Locate the trail by the gas station near the east edge of Sunnyside Campground.

The hike: Wasting no time, the path climbs steeply in the company of oaks, zigzagging upward via more than 40 tight switchbacks. A mile later, gain a viewpoint at Columbia Rock. Savor the view of Yosemite Valley 1,000 feet below.

After another half a mile, the path nears Lower Yosemite Falls. Soon after, it's more switchbacks, and before long you leave behind the trees for a rockier world.

At the three-mile mark, you'll reach a junction with Eagle Peak Trail, but bear right (east) and descend toward Yosemite Creek. You'll spot a short connector trail that you may follow (very carefully) to a precipitous overlook. The main path crosses the creek on a footbridge and ascends three-quarters of a mile to Yosemite Point and terrific views.

McKinney's book "Day Hiker's Guide to Southern California" is available through The Times for $16.45; call (800) 246-4042.


Yosemite Falls Trail

Where: Yosemite National Park

Distance: 6.6 miles round trip with 3.200-foot elevation gain.

Terrain: Talus slopes dotted with gold-cup oaks.

Highlights: North America's highest water fall.

Degree of difficulty: Strenuous

Precautions: Stay back from the brink and watch your footing near Yosemite Creek.

For more information: Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; tel. (209) 372-1000.

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