Hike Upper Yosemite Falls: America's tallest waterfall

Upper Yosemite Falls is considered one of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park. Especially in spring, when some popular hikes (Half Dome, Glacier Point, Taft Point) aren’t yet open for the summer season, the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is a great, challenging but very rewarding alternative.

Why you should hike to Upper Yosemite Falls

Upper Yosemite Falls is one of the National Park’s oldest, historic trails (built between 1873 and 1877). The trail doesn’t only lead to the top of the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Upper Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall of entire continental North America, dropping a total of 2,425 feet (739 m) from the top of the Upper Fall to the base of the Lower Fall. (America’s tallest waterfalls are located in Hawaii.)

Hike to Upper Yosemite Falls
Yes, you read it correctly: The hike to Upper Yosemite Falls leads up to the top and the mouth of America’s tallest waterfall

The views of Yosemite Falls from the trail are magnificent. While hiking up Yosemite Falls you get pretty close to the falls’ bottom and top. Upper Yosemite Falls trail is a challenging, but absolutely rewarding hike from an exercise and perspective point of view.

Top of Upper Yosemite Falls
View from Top of Upper Yosemite Falls
View from the top of Yosemite Falls into Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley view from the mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls

Caution: Don’t mix up Lower Yosemite Falls and Upper Yosemite Falls. Lower Yosemite Falls in contrast can be reached within a 1-mile loop trail (1,6 km). This makes this short and easy trail extremely popular and crowded. Upper Yosemite Falls instead isn’t for the faint of heart nor the untrained, which makes this hike less crowded, more enjoyable, and much more spectacular.

Upper Yosemite Falls hiking stats

  • Distance: 7,2 miles (11.6 km) round trip
  • Elevation gain: 2,700 ft (823 m)
  • Difficulty: strenuous & steep
  • Length: 6 – 8 hours, consider it as a day hike
  • Trailhead: behind Camp 4, opposite Yosemite Valley Lodge
  • Best time: spring, when the waterfall is in its peak flow and temperatures are still mild

Yosemite Falls stages & viewpoints

#1 Columbia Rock

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail starts out pretty steep right after entering the trailhead. The first part of the trail leads through the shady forest on sandy and rocky floor. After 1 mile (1,6km) and 1.000 feet (305m) elevation gain you’ll be rewarded with the 1st viewpoint: Columbia Rock.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail: 1st viewpoint Columbia Rock
1st stage of Upper Yosemite Falls Trail: Columbia Rock

This first stage of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail offers spectacular views of Yosemite Valley with Half Dome in the distance. Quite a few people will turn around at Columbia Rock after soaking in these views. I would recommend walking a little further, even if you don’t plan to hike up all the way up to the top of Yosemite Falls.

View of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from Columbia Rock
View of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from Columbia Rock
Tioga Pass Road covered in snow
Eastern Sierra Nevada mountains still covered in snow

#2 View of Upper Yosemite Falls

After Columbia Rock, the trail gets more sandy. Follow the trail for another mile (1.6 km) and enjoy the leveled-out, partly downhill path. You’ll get to impressive views of Upper Yosemite Falls as you stand eye level at the bottom of the cascading falls. At this stage, you get close enough to feel the spray of North America’s tallest waterfall.

From this point, the trail gets steeper, countless switchbacks on the rocky ground follow. The further up you hike the more open the terrain gets, which means less shade as you arrive at the hardest part of the trail. Take it easy and walk slowly!

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Valley views from Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

#3 Top of Upper Yosemite Falls

As you reach the top of the trail: Follow the signs to Yosemite Falls Overlook and you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views. Yosemite Valley opens up in front of you giving you a much better sense of how far you’ve hiked up. After this strenuous hike, you’ll probably need a few minutes to soak in the view and make yourself aware of this natural wonder formed millions of years ago.

Wanderung zu den Upper Yosemite Falls
Panorama view from top of Upper Yosemite Falls into Yosemite Valley

#4 Mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls

This view is so impressive that you might assume this is the final destination of this hike. But there is one more viewpoint that I’d recommend you to check out after having hiked up all the way to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. You’ll be able to look into the Mouth of the falls.

Mouth of Yosemite Falls
Mouth of Yosemite Falls

From the top of Upper Yosemite Falls turn left and follow the stone steps guarded by a handrail to the mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls. If not scared of heights you can follow the narrow staircase down to the actual viewpoint, look over the railing and watch the water literally fall over the edge of the cliff.

You might be lucky to see a rainbow in the thundering falls or spot a climber abseiling or coming up the steep wall.

Viewpoint at the mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls
Not for the fainted heart: Viewpoint at the mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls

rainbow in spray Upper Yosemite Falls
Rainbow in the spray of thundering Upper Yosemite Falls

#5 Optional: Yosemite Point

If you still have enough time and energy left (remember that the way down is almost as strenuous as coming up) you can add another 0.8 miles and 700ft elevation gain (213 m / 700 ft) to reach Yosemite Point, where another great view of Half Dome opens up.

view of Half Dome from Columbia Rock, Yosemite National Park
View of Half Dome from Columbia Rock

We didn’t do this part of the trail as the view from Top of Upper Yosemite Falls was (literally) breathtaking enough and we had to head back while the trail was already getting shady in the late afternoon.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Last stage before reaching Yosemite Falls Overlook

Insider-Tipp: We did this hike in April, with sunset at Yosemite Valley at around 7:30 pm. If you hike this trail in summer you can benefit from longer days but will have to sacrifice that Yosemite Falls aren’t filled with water as much as in spring.

How to get to Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead?

The trailhead for Upper Yosemite Falls is located behind Camp 4.
Be aware: Don’t take the trailhead to Lower Yosemite Falls as this is a different trail that doesn’t join with Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead!

Upper Yosemite Falls Trailhead
For nature’s and your health’s sake: Stay on trails!

You can park along the road or at Yosemite Valley Lodge (in designated hiker parking slots).
The parking at Camp 4 is for Campers only! When taking the shuttle bus get off at stop #7.

How long does it take to hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls?

Hiking to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls will take you around 4 hours, depending on your fitness level. I would recommend planning on 6 – 8 hours for the entire loop, depending on how often you want to stop on the way and if you end your hike at Top of Upper Yosemite Falls, check out the mouth of Yosemite Falls or even continue to Yosemite Point. The way down is almost as strenuous as the way due to its steepness and rocky floor. Definitely consider it as a day hike.

Trail options:

  • Lower Yosemite Falls – 1 mile (1.6 km) loop trail – easy, flat & short
  • Upper Yosemite Falls – 7,2 miles (11.6 km) / 2,700 ft (823 m) elevation gain – in & out, strenuous & steep
  • Upper Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock – 2 miles (3,2 km) /1.000 ft (305 m) elevation gain – in & out, steep, but short
  • Upper Yosemite Falls Trail to falls viewpoint – 4 miles (6,4 km) / 1.000 ft (305 m) elevation gain – in & out, 1st mile steep, 2nd-mile leveled-out – great compromise

What is the best time to hike Yosemite Falls?

Spring is the best time of the year for hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls. Then Yosemite Falls are filled with water due to thawing snow. It’s really impressive to see the cascading waterfall up close from different parts of the trail and from the top.

Upper und Lower Yosemite Falls
View of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Valley
reflections in Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park
Only in spring Yosemite’s rivers, lakes and streams are filled with that much water

Another reason for hiking Upper Yosemite Falls in spring is the mild temperatures. Only shady at the start of the trail makes this hike even more strenuous in the hot summer sun.

Is it dangerous to hike Upper Yosemite Falls?

The hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls is a steady, uphill climb with countless switchbacks. It doesn’t require technical skills, but it is steep and strenuous.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Not dangerous, but challenging: Hike to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls

If you are fit, wear proper hiking boots and take your time the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls is not dangerous. But watch your step and don’t underestimate this hike. Bring enough water, snacks, and sun protection. The further you get up the trail the rockier it gets. Roots and loose gravel make this hike a hard one – talking about both directions: up and downhill. I would not recommend this hike for beginner hikers or small kids.

Discover more about Yosemite National Park:

Guide to Yosemite National Park in spring



Have you ever traveled through the USA and explored Yosemite National Park on your California road trip? Do you like the article, have suggestions, feedback, or recommendations? Leave me a comment and feel free to share this article with your friends!



Hike Upper Yosemite Falls

Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls



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