Wapama Falls

Yosemite Village, California 94513

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls Professional Review and Guide

"The area around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir has the best springtime wildflower display in the park, and it’s a good place for a hike when the higher country is still under snow. In springtime, snowmelt water pours over Wapama Falls with tremendous force.

By midsummer the falls are dry and the hike can be uncomfortably hot, but in October the leaves of the black oaks turn bright yellow and the temperature cools. The area is recovering from the 2013 Rim Fire, but the hike is still beautiful. There are patches of blackened foliage on the cliffs above the trail and some singed spots near the lakeside, but the spring wildflowers, always spectacular here, are especially abundant after fire has enriched the soil and cleared away some of the shrubbery."

More Wapama Falls Professional Reviews and Guides

"The Hetch Hetchy Valley sits near the western corner of Yosemite, submerged under the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Backed up by O’Shaughnessy Dam, the Tuolumne River now floods the Valley. The dam was built in 1914 to provide a water supply to San Francisco. It raised the water level 312 feet above the riverbed, which extends up the valley more than eight miles. The hike to Wapama Falls begins from O’Shaughnessy Dam at the west end of the reservoir. A well maintained trail follows the reservoir’s north shore. The trail passes the 1,000-foot wispy ribbon of seasonal Tueeulala Falls en route to the base of the wide and thick Wapama Falls on Falls Creek. The raging whitewater of Wapama Falls plummets 1,400 feet over a granite precipice and tumbles into the reservoir. Watch for rattlesnakes."

"The thrill of a hike to Wapama Falls is the stretch of trail that leads right through the fury. A boardwalk winds through the boulder field that catches the Wapama spill, while mist like spindrift swirls above. The destination is visible from the trailhead. Wapama Falls appears big, white, and relentless from a viewpoint on O’Shaughnessy Dam, but the distance minimizes its impact. And your focus will falter on the lovely walk that traces the shoreline of the deep, blue, quiet Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, with the falls mostly out of sight.

But there is sound and fury in Wapama. The roar strikes you first, rumbling around the rock face on the final approach. Climb onto the boardwalks at the base of the falls, and the mist and noise envelop you. Round the bend to near trail’s end and crane your neck; the genesis of the falls is more than 1,000 feet above."

"The nearly level walk to Wapama Falls is especially rewarding in spring, when the path is lined with wildflowers and Tueeulala and Wapama falls drench the trail. Year-round it is a scenic walk above the banks of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir."

"A stately grove of pines and incense-cedars harboring a spacious camping area near Rancheria Falls marks the terminus of this hike. Its cascades and pools are the goals for some, but also rewarding are inspirational vistas of the awesome cliffs and two waterfalls, Tueeulala and Wapama, seen along the undulating path on the north wall of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Since you are traversing above a reservoir, you might think that this is an easy hike. Well, it basically is easy to Wapama Falls, but then you face gains and losses of hundreds of feet. Also, the route, being quite open and at a relatively low elevation, can be quite sunny and hot, and so on a summer’s day it is best begun in early morning."

"This is an out-and-back day hike along the controversial Hetch Hetchy Reservoir through a riotous show of springtime wildflowers past the base of one gentle waterfall to the crash and spray of a mighty one--at least in springtime when high country snows are melting."

Wapama Falls Reviews

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This would be a 5-star trail if it were in almost any other place on earth. However, it sits within an hour of even more spectacular hiking. This is an out-and-back trail the follows the rim of Hetch Hetchy. You'll start by hiking over a really interesting dam and then through a long-ish tunnel. In warmer months, watch for poison oak along the trail. This trail gets direct sun and can get really hot in the summer; just start early or late and you'll be fine. Nice swimming holes along the trail. The two or more falls you encounter are spectacular. Good hike for kids as there is not too much elevation gain.
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This is a beautiful hike, with the reward of one spectacular waterfall along the way and another one at the end. It is harder than it looks on paper. Our GPS showed that it was 8.25 miles from the Rancheria Falls campsite to the trailhead parking, and it is another half mile or so to the bridge at the top of the falls. There are some long, steep, sunny patches after you pass Wapama Falls. In summer plan to start early and get off the trail during the heat of the day. There is water for pumping at Wapama Falls, Tiltill Creek, and Rancheria Falls. We filtered the water at Rancheria and it is the sweetest, coolest water that I have ever tasted anywhere. Our group included some 11-year old boys who are experienced backpackers, and they suffered a bit but completed the hike with full packs. I would not recommend trying to day-hike this unless you are quite fit. The trailhead backpackers campground is nice ($5 per person self-registration). The campground at the falls is nice and shady (unlike most of the trail in), and we slept well with the background music of the falls. There are fire rings, and the ranger said that they have not had bear reports there in a couple of years, but they are serious about making sure that people do not tempt the bears to come back. On Saturday afternoon the rangers stopped by to reinforce that message, so make sure that you have a bear canister. Do bring insect repellent as the mosquitoes are hungry. There were three other groups there, but it is a large area with lots of big trees and we didn’t feel crowded. Swimming is not allowed within 1 miles of the reservoir, so you are supposed to go above the bridge at the top of the falls. At the end of June the water was still too swift to swim, but wading was fun.
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Wapama Falls Photos

Trail Information

Yosemite Village
Nearby City
200 feet
Elevation Gain
Trail Type
Skill Level
3 to 4 hours
Mid-Apr to June
Yosemite National Park
Local Contacts
USGS Lake Eleanor
Local Maps