For outdoor adventurers who want to chase waterfalls, there are few destinations that deliver like Yosemite National Park.
The park in Northern California is home to dozens of falls both large and small. While some require backcountry hiking skills to reach, a number of waterfalls are visible from accessible viewpoints or along easy trails.
In order to see waterfalls at their peak, timing is everything. Most flow fastest as the Sierra snow begins to melt. That means spring and early summer are the best times to visit the park if waterfalls are a priority. Thankfully for visitors in other times of year, a number of Yosemite’s waterfalls flow continuously, offering year-round displays.
How many waterfalls are there in Yosemite?
There are more than two dozen waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. For completists attempting to see them all, however, counting them is more complicated than one might expect. Some waterfalls in Yosemite are well-established and officially named, but there are a number of spots where snowmelt can create temporary or ephemeral falls. Additionally, there are some named waterfalls that are technically several falls in one. So Yosemite visitors may forever have to quibble over whether seeing 24, 25, 26 or more waterfalls gets the job done.
These are the best waterfalls in Yosemite National Park:
1. Bridalveil Fall: best for the iconic Yosemite backdrop
Height: 620 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Pullover at Tunnel View to view from afar or take the easy hike from the parking area.
The first waterfall most Yosemite visitors spot is Bridalveil Fall, visible from the popular car turnout at Tunnel View along with El Capitan and Half Dome. It flows fastest in spring but is sometimes just as impressive in lower flow times when the wind catches the water and sets it aloft.
Hikers can get up close to the fall’s base from the Valley floor via a short paved trail from the nearby parking area (note that the trail to Bridalveil Fall is closed through Fall 2022 for renovations). This lot often fills quickly during peak times, so consider parking along the side of the road on Southside Drive for more space.
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2. Vernal Fall: best for families
Height: 317 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Hike from Happy Isles up the very first part of the Panorama Trail (also known as the Mist Trail).
Vernal Fall is located on one of the most trafficked hikes in the park, where it helps give the route (the Mist Trail) its name. When hikers reach the fall, they ascend a rock staircase adjacent to it and are often sprayed with mist while climbing.
The first part of the hike to the footbridge that crosses the Merced River beneath the fall is less than a mile. While it is a bit of a steep climb, most kids of elementary school age and above can tackle this path, making the trail one families often enjoy doing together.
3. Nevada Fall: best for day hikers
Height: 594 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Hike 3 uphill miles from Happy Isles beyond Vernal Fall.
Just upriver from Vernal Fall is Nevada Fall, the second and more strenuous half of one of the most popular day hikes in Yosemite. Here, the roaring Merced River crashes onto the rocks into a pool below. Consider taking the parallel route on the John Muir Trail back down to the Valley for alternate views and a downhill hike that is a little easier on the knees.
If climbing the switchbacks to get to this fall is too strenuous, both Vernal and Nevada Falls are visible from afar from the top of Glacier Point. Note, however, that the road to Glacier Point is closed for construction in 2022 and will open only partially with delays in 2023.
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4. Yosemite Falls: best for accessibility
Height: 2425 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Take the park’s shuttle system to stop 7, and stroll on a flat paved one-mile path to the base.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in America and is technically three waterfalls in one, so you get triple the payoff. Located in the heart of the Valley and flowing nearly year-round, it’s also one of the easiest falls to access for visitors of all ages and abilities.
Part of the loop trail to Lower Yosemite Falls is paved and mostly flat, making it accessible for strollers and wheelchairs alike. For a more strenuous all-day hike, the trail to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls is a 7.6-mile roundtrip climb.
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5. Horsetail Fall: best for photographers
Height: 1570 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Park at the El Capitan Picnic Area or nearby turnouts along Northside Drive.
Horsetail Fall only flows during a few months in winter, but its brief existence is well-documented by photographers each year. Horsetail Fall is where the famed Yosemite Firefall happens in February when the setting sun illuminates the fall at just the right angle on clear evenings making the water glow like fire.
During the few weeks when the Firefall is most likely to occur, the park operates under strict restrictions in the afternoons and evenings to control crowds. To access the best viewing area, be prepared to walk 1.5 miles each way from the Yosemite Falls parking area (shuttle stop 7).
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6. Sentinel Falls: best for spring viewing
Height: 1920 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Stop either at Sentinel Beach or near the Four Mile Trailhead for the best vantage points.
One of the taller falls in Yosemite, Sentinel Falls flows in spring and early summer from Sentinel Rock on the south side of the park to the Yosemite Valley below. The falls are made up of six separate drop sections. When flowing, the falls are visible from several points along Southside Drive in the Valley.
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7. Ribbon Fall: best for big drops
Height: 1612 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Park along Southside Drive just beyond Bridalveil Fall.
Like Sentinel Falls, Ribbon Fall’s life each year is short, flowing only from approximately March through June. It has the distinction of being the tallest single-drop waterfall in America. It also has an exceptionally majestic setting, flowing just to the west of El Capitan. In the winter months, look for the ice cone that often forms at its base.
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8. Illilouette Fall: best for serious hikers
Height: 370 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Hike down the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point.
Illilouette Fall is one of the lesser-known falls in Yosemite, likely because it is not visible from any easily accessible vantage points within the Valley. Instead, it’s a reward for hikers who venture out on one of the more strenuous trails. It’s visible from a side angle in higher flow months from the hiking path en route to Vernal Fall but is best viewed closer to Glacier Point along the Panorama Trail.
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9. Chilnualna Falls: best near the park’s south entrance
Height: 690 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: Take the strenuous hike from the Chilnualna Falls Road parking area.
While most Yosemite travelers spend all their time in the Yosemite Valley, quite a few also visit the Wawona area near the park’s south entrance. This region of the park is more known for its giant trees, but Chilnualna Falls gives waterfall chasers one worthy option, particularly in the late spring and early summer when the water levels are highest. The hike to view the falls is fairly strenuous at 8.4 miles with significant switchback climbs, so it’s not for everyone.
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10. Wapama Falls: best for spontaneous visitors
Height: 1400 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: View from the parking lot at the O’Shaughnessy Dam.
Few Yosemite travelers venture into the Hetch Hetchy Valley, but those that do will be rewarded by several more impressive waterfall views. Wapama Falls is the best known in the area. Reach it via a moderate 5-mile hike on the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Trail from O'Shaughnessy Dam. Hikers on the trail will also pass Tueeulala Falls en route, making this hike a two-for-one reward.
Hetch Hetchy is the only part of Yosemite that doesn’t require a park reservation to enter during peak months, making it a smart option for travelers planning a spontaneous visit to the park unable to get reservations.
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11. Lehamite Falls: best-overlooked fall
Height: 1180 feet
The fastest way to see the falls: View from Cook Meadow
Often overshadowed by its nearby waterfall neighbor, Yosemite Falls, Lehamite Falls is a series of narrow cascades that tumble down Indian Canyon to the Yosemite Valley. The falls are also some of the most unpredictable and variable, often only flowing for a short few weeks in spring. The best vantage point is from Cook Meadow in the early afternoon before shadows obscure the views.
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