The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is our favorite hike in Yosemite National Park... so much so we considered doing it twice during our most recent trip. If you've ever done this hike you might be thinking that's a little insane. Especially in the middle of summer. But even though this is a strenuous and steep hike, the effort is well worth it. You get some great views of the Yosemite Valley floor even if you only make it up to Columbia Rock and if you persist a little further you will be able to view the bottom of the Upper Falls too. But the effort really pays off if you make it to the top!
Did you know this is one of Yosemite’s oldest trails’ built between 1873-1874 and leads to the top of America’s tallest waterfall?!
STARTING POINT: Camp 4
DISTANCE/TIME: 7.2 miles
ELEVATION GAIN: 2,700 feet
DIFFICULTY LEVEL: Very strenuous
BEST TIME TO HIKE: Spring, Summer, Fall
WATCH VIDEO: Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls
HIKING TIPS FOR UPPER YOSEMITE FALLS:
Don’t underestimate this hike. This is a steep trail almost entirely uphill with numerous switchbacks.
There is no drinking water along the trail so bring plenty of water with you. You can fill your water bottle back up at the top from the river. Bring some water purification tablets with you or get yourself a water purifier bottle.
Bring enough snacks to boost your energy levels. For idea’s on what snacks to pack for the trail see this article on Best Snacks for Day Hiking.
Do not swim in the river above the waterfall.
If you plan on covering more trails within the park you may want to pick up a guide to Day Hike’s in Yosemite.
YOSEMITE GUIDE BOOKS
Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls
For this hike you want to get off the shuttle bus at the Camp 4 stop which is where the trail begins just behind the Camp 4 campground. The hike starts out as switchbacks and continues like this for about a mile until you reach Columbia Rock. This stretch of the hike can be very crowded although nowhere near as crowded as the Mist Trail. The majority of hikers will stop at Columbia Rock so the trail from now on thins out a little. The Columbia Rock viewpoint has magnificent views of the valley floor so be sure to stop and take a few pictures. If you are limited with time inside the park this is a good place to turn around and head back.
Not far from Columbia Rock you will reach the bottom of Upper Yosemite Falls. The trail here flattens out and is sandy. From the bottom of the falls you will begin to ascend again going up a number of steps but fortunately this stretch of the trail is in the shade.
You will eventually reach a point on the trail which is almost right beside the falls where a lot of hikers like to take a break. It's also a good spot to cool off in the summer as you do get wet from the spray coming off the falls.
From here the hike gets really tough. It is steep, there are quite a few switchbacks and the trail is rocky. This is where you may want to give up but don't... you're halfway there.
Once you've made it to the top you will be glad you persisted. There are crazy AMAZING views of the valley floor although it can be a little nerve racking looking down if you don’t like heights. You can sit right on the edge of the cliff if you are feeling particularly daring but make sure you are very careful.
To actually get up close to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls you need to keep going but not much further down some rocky steps until you reach the overlook. This part is also a little freaky.
Here is the view from the end of the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. You can see where the Lower Falls drops off the side of the mountain. This is the official end of the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail but if you still have some energy left in you and you want to gain some more elevation, you can actually hike up to Yosemite Point which we highly recommend! It will add another 1.6 miles round-trip to your hike and its almost 1000 feet higher in elevation but there are stunning direct views of Half Dome from up there. You can see if you think it’s worth it by watching our video of the hike up to Yosemite Point.
If you decide to turn around and head back to the valley floor be sure you go and relax by the river for a few minutes and soak your feet in the refreshing water because it's a long hike back down. Your feet will thank you! ~Happy Trails~
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