Upper Yosemite Falls

Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls

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Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America, which of course means I must climb it!

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail is over 7.5 miles round-trip, has lots of switchbacks and has an elevation gain of about 2600-2700 (depending on which website you read).

It took us 3 hours and 45 minutes to get to the top of Yosemite Falls, but the views were 100% worth it and I’d hike it again in a heartbeat.

If you are interested in learning more about this stairmaster-on-steroids of a trail, keep reading!

I will tell you my experience hiking to the top of the falls and give you essential information if you want to hike this strenuous trail!

(Need a place to stay? Check out my blog post on where to stay near Yosemite Valley!)

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Upper Yosemite Falls Hike

My friend and I visited Yosemite National Park in early June of 2017 and it was the PERFECT time to go. The snow had melted and the waterfalls were in full force!

We dedicated the second day of our Yosemite trip to this hike.

We woke up early and arrived at the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead around 6 or 7 am.

I was surprised at the number of bugs there were! Fortunately, we brought bug spray. We didn’t make it 2 minutes into our Yosemite Falls hike before we had to stop and aerosol our entire bodies with bug spray!

yosemite falls trailhead sign stating how far to each trail

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

It’s hard to really grasp the intensity of the trail with pictures but here goes.

The trail starts out with several switchbacks, levels out for a bit, then comes back with even more switchbacks.

The switchbacks have lots of rocks, so you constantly have to look down and watch your footing. Some of the switchbacks are sand, which was rough, but still 100% worth it! It’s a must if you want to be rewarded with amazing views from the top!

woman in pink shirt & hat hiking among rocks along a hiking trail
green trees shade part of a dirt & rock hiking trail

Halfway There!

Once you are about halfway up, there are wonderful views of the Upper Falls. It looks so close yet it was still so far away!

You can also look down onto the valleys of the park. Everything looks so small from even halfway up!

looking down onto a field of trees below mountains
tall waterfall flowing over a rock ledge
View of the falls from about halfway up the trail.

Related: How to Visit Yosemite National Park in TWO Days

(In the picture above, if you look at the first tree to the left of the falls, that is where you can go down and look straight down the falls!!)

The pictures above are from about halfway up the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. From this midway point, after another 1.5 to 2 hours (and more grueling switchbacks), we finally reached the top of the falls!

Upper Yosemite Falls

It was so wonderful to see flat ground!!

While I was enjoying this flat ground, I noticed that I did not see any water. I did NOT hike all the way up there to not see this waterfall.

I noticed that people were walking in a certain direction at the top so I just followed the crowd. The crowd led me to stairs that went down to a flat, railed area where you can look over the edge of the falls.

looking down a waterfall onto a valley floor
Looking down the falls onto the Middle Cascades!
looking down over a waterfall onto trees on the valley floor

Want to learn about more hikes in Yosemite? Check out my post on 20+ Best Hiking Trails in Yosemite!

As you can see, there’s still a few feet of rock beyond the railing. Enough to make some guys want to climb over it.

However, I value my life more than a better view, so I stayed inside the railing and just extended my arm out & snapped a pic.

Those Middle Cascades are over 1400 feet down so be careful!

woman hiking up stone stairs granite rock on the right side
The stairs to get down to look over the falls.

Once back up the stairs, if you head back towards the trail, there’s a bridge over to the right. Near this bridge, you can go down near the water if you want.

When we went, there were people laying out on the rocks right by the water. I chose to go down and sit by the water for a little bit. I didn’t hike all the way up there to not touch the water of the famous Yosemite Falls!

Warning: If you do this be VERY careful!! The rocks were VERY slick!

creek flowing through rock and trees on both sides

Like waterfall hikes? Check out my post on hiking to Laurel Falls in the Smokies!

woman standing on rock right beside a creek

After sitting near the water for about 30 minutes and taking it all in, we ate a snack then started our descent.

It took us about 2.5 hours to get back down, including a couple of stops.

Once at the bottom, we were completely WORN OUT! But we had finally completed our hike of Upper Yosemite Falls trail!!

Tips and Recommendations for Hiking Upper Yosemite Falls:

Things you MUST have for this hike:

  • Good, worn-in hiking boots with good tread. My current favorite hiking shoes: Salomon Women’s X Ultra Prime CS Waterproof Hiking-Shoes. The trail has a lot of switchbacks, mostly rocks. Several of the switchbacks are sand too (the worst!!). Also, if you plan to get down near the water at the top of the falls, it is very slick and you will need a good grip!
  • Backpack with a large hydration bladder (>2L). Fortunately, I had done my research before hiking. Many recommended a hydration pack of >3L. This recommendation was definitely true. I ran out of water about halfway down, which was fine because I had water in the car waiting at the bottom. However, we did see people who had run out of water. Next time, I will be bringing a 3L hydration bladder or a bag with a filter that I can use to filter water from the streams/falls. If you get a filter, make sure you get the 0.1-micron filter to filter out viruses such as Giardia! (Update: After this trip, I bought the Osprey Sirrus 24L backpack and LOVE it! It is super comfortable on my back while hiking!)
  • Snacks (this is a no-brainer)
  • Bug spray!! I was very surprised at how many mosquitoes were on this trail, especially in the early morning. They were so bad we had to stop 10 minutes into the trail and spray our entire bodies with bug spray.

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Other tips:

  • Start early in the morning, preferably at sunrise! Once the sun is out in the full force, not much of the trail is shaded. Therefore, you will be hiking uphill for 3-4 hours in the direct sun.
  • Take breaks in the shade. The sun can drain your energy and make you sweat even more than you are already. So if you need a rest break, definitely stop in the shade.
  • Prevent blisters anyway you can. I definitely should have invested in moleskin or something similar before hiking this trail. I ended with 4 blisters and was hobbling around the rest of the day. Which is less than optimal considering my legs felt like jello after basically hiking a stairmaster for 4 hours straight.
  • Trekking poles may be a good idea. Coming down from the falls, my friend’s knees were really hurting and we were having to stop a lot. I think trekking poles would have helped cushion the impact on her knees. If you’re curious about trekking poles, check out my post on budget trekking poles for beginners.
  • Easiest parking: Park in the lot ACROSS from Camp 4. The lot beside Camp 4 will likely be full. If you arrive early morning, there will be plenty of spots in the lot across from Camp 4.
  • Other parking: if you park elsewhere in the park, you can ride the Shuttle to stop #7, which is across from Camp 4.
  • When to visit: The end of May or early June if you plan to hike any of the waterfalls in the park.
  • Allot at least 6-8 hours for this hike, depending on fitness level and how long you choose to stay at the top of the falls.

More Information:

Here’s more information about the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail:



Here is my Fitbit info for the day we hiked the falls, just to give you a glimpse of the amount of climbing you will be doing. The average number of stairs in a flight is anywhere between 12-16, so at MINIMUM it’s the equivalent of walking up 3,960 stair steps.

screenshot of Fitbit stats for hiking Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Fitbit stats for my Upper Yosemite Falls Trail hike.

Hope you enjoyed this post about hiking Upper Yosemite Falls!

If you want to read more about Yosemite National Park, click here to read about our two-day visit and how to make the most of your trip! Let me know your favorite Yosemite hike in the comments below!

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Hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park!

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