Yosemite National Park: Upper Yosemite Falls Hike


I thought vacations were for sleeping in. When you’re in a crowded National Park with a couple other adventurers, they’re not. Sunrise has become my favorite part of the day in parks. It’s beautiful. Quiet. Deserted. Calm. Chilly. It’s when you’ll see more animals than people. It’s when you’ll find solitude.

In Yosemite National Park we started the climb to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall shortly after sunrise at 6:30 am. It was so early and chilly that the April sun hadn’t yet melted the frost off of the falls.

This hike seemed much harder than the hike we did on the opposite side of Yosemite Valley via Four Mile Trail the day before. Maybe our legs were shot from that climb or maybe it was the endless switchbacks we faced today.

Switchbacks on the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail are seen in the middle of the image.

I joked that my trip was sponsored by Advil and Diet Coke. But even with the work and the pain, every step was worth these views:

Here’s a very abbreviated version of our trip:

As you could see, the view of the falls from the top isn’t really the best. But the view of the valley is magical!

The photo above was taken at Yosemite Point where I had to hike through snow to get there.

By the time we hiked down, the frost had melted from the falls and the spraybows had emerged. A spraybow is like a rainbow but it is created with spray from a waterfall instead of rain.

If you decide to hike the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, here are some tips:

  1. Start early. We had the trail to ourselves on the way up, but passed hundreds of people headed up as we climbed down. I even had the Yosemite Falls overlook all to myself for a few minutes.
  2. Bring food and water. If you plan on going to the top, plan for a 6-8 hour round trip. Ours lasted 9 hours since I went on to Yosemite Point. You’ll need lots of water and a snack at the top will make it a much more enjoyable day – the last thing you need is to put in the work just to get hangry at the top.
  3. Wear the proper footwear. We passed several people in flip flops. The trail has lots of loose rock and slippery surfaces. Dress accordingly. We even saw a family pushing a stroller up the trail – I feel like that deserves a post all on its own…
  4. Plan a celebration for the end. Have a reward waiting for you at the bottom of the mountain that you can think of when you feel like giving up. Maybe it’s ice cream in Yosemite Village. Or pizza and beer in Half Dome Village. For us it was a steak at the base of El Capitan. I have never tasted a meal so delicious as that steak after our hard hike. We had the added bonus of dinner AND a show as we watched climbers in the form of tiny dots make their way up El Cap and the Three Brothers.

As we were packing up for the night, 2 French guys emerged from the forest. They had been on El Cap for four days! Today they summited and hiked down. They were beat! I gave them a ride back to Camp 4 where they were staying. Along the way I offered them apples and they were so excited for fresh food!

That’s another thing I love about parks – the way it brings people together. I think we’re our best when we’re outside. At least I am.

Here’s to more hard hikes, beautiful views, and becoming the best versions of ourselves.

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