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Upper Yosemite Falls Hike

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Directions to Hike Upper Yosemite Falls
  • How to Get to Upper Yosemite Falls
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
Total Distance7.2 miles (11.6 km)
Hike Time5-7 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)3,900 feet (1189m)
Highest Elevation6,710 feet (2045m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dogs AllowedNo
Alerts & Closures (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200

The Upper Yosemite Falls hike is one of the must-do hikes at Yosemite National Park. The trail is an iconic engineering marvel. It’s tough, climbing about 3000 feet in 3 miles, but the incredible scenery makes your heart light even when your legs feel heavy. You’re treated to panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the high peaks, and of course, Upper Yosemite Falls. The falls are the tallest waterfall in North America at 2425 feet, and you’ll be able to see it from many angles as you hike to the top. And at the top, you can simply take in the views, or even hike onto a viewing platform carved into the granite wall. Give the hike a go; the memories will stick with you for a lifetime.

Tip: Go at sunrise to beat the crowds, which can be extreme on this popular trail.

Getting to the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

The trail to Upper Yosemite Falls starts right in the middle of Yosemite Valley, which is a good and bad thing. It’s good because it’s easy to get to, but because it’s easy to get to, it’s generally crowded. If you are leaving early, you can generally snag a parking spot about 10 minute’s walk away from the trailhead. Otherwise you can take the free shuttle bus there. The trailhead for Upper Yosemite Falls starts at Camp 4.

Camp 4, close to the boulders and cliffs of Yosemite, played an important role in the development of rock climbing. In the mid 1950s and 60s many climbers would stay here for months honing their craft. Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, made and sold climbing gear in the parking lot of Camp 4.

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike Parking
Here are your options to get to the trailhead in Camp 4.

Here’s the trailhead address for Camp 4 if you’re driving there:
Yosemite Falls Trail, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 1
Look for the road conditions sign that marks the entrance to the Camp 4 parking lot. The trailhead is on the other side of the lot.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 2
Once you’re in the Camp 4 area, find the camping check in area where you can get water and use the bathrooms, which are the only ones on the hike. A sign points the way from the Camp 4 registration area to the trailhead close by.

Gear For the Hike

This is a tough hike and I highly recommend using proper hiking gear, although you can get away with fitness clothing in a pinch. The hike is steep, and trekking poles help pull yourself up the trail and stabilize yourself on the way down. You’ll need water, I recommend 2-3L depending on the heat. You can refill your water at the Yosemite Creek Bridge (see the directions), but use a water filter. And you’ll want to bring some snacks. You’ll likely burn a lot of energy getting up to the top.

And like most of Yosemite, in the winter this trail will be covered with snow and ice, and in the hot summer months, the exposed sections of trail will be very hot. Prepare for the conditions and give the hike a pass if there’s snow and ice.

Wildcat Small

My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move.  It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
Latest Price on Women’s ShoeREI | Amazon
Latest Price on Men’s ShoeREI | Amazon

Osprey=talon

Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33  (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles.  I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
Latest Women’s Prices: REI | Amazon
Latest Men’s Prices: REI | Amazon

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2020.

My October 2020 Top Gear Picks

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail Maps

The trail is one of the busiest in the park and is actively maintained by the parks service. Overall the trail is easy to follow, but steep.

The trail to Upper Yosemite Falls is one of the park’s oldest, having been built between 1873 and 1877. It was built by the man John Muir dubbed “Yosemite’s master trail builder,” John Conway. Conway is also responsible for building Glacier Point Road and for putting the holes into the granite of Half Dome used in the cables section.

Click Here To View Map

Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable  Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.

Yosemite Falls Hike Landmarks

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Camp 40.3990
Valley Loop Trail0.14020
Columbia Rock 1.04980
Top of Climb36640
Falls Overlook 3.66670

Elevation Profile

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike Elevation
Aside from a small dip in the middle of the hike, you’re pretty much going uphill all the way.

3d Map

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 3d
This 3d map gives you an idea of how steep the Upper Yosemite Trail is. The very beginning and very end are the toughest sections.

Lower Yosemite Falls

Want to hike to Lower Yosemite Falls? It’s a short walk on a paved path across the street from Yosemite Lodge. I wouldn’t call it a hike, but it’s nice enough if the crowds don’t drive you crazy. Otherwise let’s continue to the big guy, Upper Yosemite Falls, with the directions below.

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

Watch This Video In 360/VR Why 360/VR Is Great

Turn by Turn Directions

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 3
The start of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail is well marked at the Camp 4 registration area.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 4
The trail starts climbing right away, but it’s nothing like the slopes to come.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 5
When you get to the Valley Loop Trail, make a quick left.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 6
And then a quick right onto the Yosemite Falls Trail.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 7
There’s a cool trail sign at the start of the trail.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 8
And now you hike up through the oak forest. And up. And then up some more.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 9
It’s not all steep, there are some switchbacks and meandering sections.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 10
And then some really steep switchbacks too.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 11
Soon you’ll come out of the trees and the viewpoints into Yosemite Valley will open up. Avoid the small side trails to unofficial viewpoints.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 12
At about 1 mile in you’ll reach Columbia Rock, which is marked by the railing on the right. Check out the viewpoint, then continue on the trail.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 13
From Columbia Rock you’ll get a pretty sweet view into the Yosemite Valley and of Half Dome. You’ve climbed about 1100 feet up from Yosemite Valley at this point.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 14
Now you start climbing again. The gradient is a little less tough than before.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 15
Some sections of the trail are “paved.”
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 16
There are some small use trails as you hike here. Always stay on the main (bigger, well-trodden) path.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 17
And soon you emerge from the trees for some awesome views of Upper Yosemite Falls. This is the longest section of the waterfall. The water is falling for about 1430 feet here.

Late spring is the best time to see the falls. In later summer the falls can be dry and non-existent. Check out the webcam to see what the flow is like. It’s still a nice hike even if the falls are dry!

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 18
There is a downhill section where you can enjoy lots of views of the falls.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 19
As the trail starts to slope up again you’ll be able to see the notch through which you’ll be hiking on the way to the top.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 20
The views from this open stretch of trail are expansive and you’ll be able to see into the Yosemite high country. Liberty Cap is the dome at Nevada Falls, which seems huge when you’re there, rising 1700 feet, but from up here, it is just a little bump.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 21
The trail makes its way steeply up the side of the granite wall. It’s an engineering marvel with lots of switchbacks. You’ll do about a mile of this and climb about 1500 feet.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 22
After the dozens of switchbacks you’ll reach the top. Continue straight over the stream, avoiding the trail off to the left.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 23
You’ll see the classic Yosemite trail sign just over the stream confirming that you only have 0.2 miles to the falls.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 24
Follow the trail over the granite towards the falls.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 25
When you get to this trail junction, make the right. On the way back, I highly recommend doing a short detour to the left here on the trail to Yosemite Point. After a few minutes you’ll reach a picturesque bridge over Yosemite Creek.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 26
Here you are, top of the falls!
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 34
If you just want to hang out among the granite boulders at the top of the falls, this is the place to do it. the views are expansive and the vibe is peaceful.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 27
To continue to the “official” yet somewhat scary end of the trail at the overlook, look for this steps heading down.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 28
Follow the fence down the granite.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 29
You’ll come out at the top of Yosemite Falls.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 30
The trail twists around and goes down a fenced-in ledge.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 31
The ledge becomes stairs carved into the side of the cliff.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 32
And then you reach the viewing platform. You made it!
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 33
Enjoy the views from the platform. You’ll also be able to look down from here and see the area Middle Falls, also known as “Middle Earth,” which is rarely seen by tourists at Yosemite since it can’t be seen from the valley floor.

From here you just head back the way you came. I highly recommend a quick stop at the Yosemite Creek bridge on your way back. I have the junction noted in the previous steps.

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 35
Make your way down to the scenic bridge.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike 36
From the bridge you’ll be able to see Yosemite Creek plunge over the upper falls. And (obviously) don’t swim or go in the water here. The granite is slippery and even a fall into the shallow water could mean going over the falls.

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.

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