Why Hiking to the Summit of Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park is a Bucket List Must. North America’s Highest Waterfall

Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, North America's Highest Waterfall

Parking at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls near Yosemite Lodge, I grab my big-old red backpack filled with a day hike’s worth of snacks and layers and gear worthy of a monumental Yosemite National Park Trail.

I’ve set aside one extra day for an adventure on a work-trip up to Yosemite, and I decide, once I’ve confirmed the current trail reports from the helpful ranger at the entrance gate, to tackle, enjoy, conquer, glide, and grind my way up to the top of the famous, over 2,400 foot Yosemite Falls during the quiet off season. When it’ll just be me and my trail runners and a 2,700 foot elevation of glorious, granite switchbacks climbing up the north edge of Yosemite Valley.

9:30am on freezing February morning – note the California Sierras are having a dry spell and Yosemite Valley is at the time of this hike NOT full of snow – I start the half mile hike on the meandering Valley Loop Trail at Lower Yosemite Falls over to the famous Camp 4, passing by Swan Slab, empty of beginning climbers in these chilly morning temps.

Camp 4’s sign says 3.5 miles to the top and I stop to shed a layer, knowing that in just moments, the switchback stair-climb the size of two Empire State Buildings is going to heat things up – fast.

View from 1,000 feet up, Columbia Rock. Half Dome.

One thousand feet and one mile up, my first stop for jaw-dropping morning valley views is the overlook at Columbia Rock. Hello Half Dome, bursting into the air like a massive shark fin out of a Sea of Sierras.

Continuing along on an unexpected rolling section of trail leads me to my first Upper Yosemite Falls views displaying a giant mound of snow at the bottom of this portion of the falls. 

Upper Yosemite Falls

I find a moment to stop, close my eyes, and listen. Better than any Brookstone trickling-water, noise-maker ever, the giant roar of the Upper Falls speaks to my insides from some primal place that makes all breath and emotion in that moment the #Truth. Wow.

Switchbacks on Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Banking left, I welcome back the butt-shaping switchbacks and sheer cliffs of the north wall of the valley, the trail cut into the granite slabs and the imperious boulder and rock field.

Trail through the boulder & rock fields under Yosemite's granite cliffs.

Up, up, up I follow the trail.

Sweat. Breathe. Hydrate. Soak it all in... 

Step after step. And then, the reward...

Yosemite Falls Overlook

Coming up over the crest of the ridge and leaving the switchbacks and 2,700 vertical behind, I hit a Yosemite Falls sign: 0.2 miles to go, leading to the famous Yosemite Falls Overlook. 

Friends, this is when it gets hairy, precarious, dangerous, scary, Darwin Award winning if you’re not careful. SCRAMBLE WITH CARE.

Yosemite Creek forming pools just before the cascade down the falls.

Choosing life over imminent plunging to my death, I bank left and skitter over to the pools of Yosemite Creek with ultimate caution, just above the mouth of the falls. 

At this time it's a relatively safe little oasis, however, don’t be fooled. Stay out of the water all days of the year. No one needs a 2,400-plus-foot drop into their next life...

Yosemite Creek near mouth of Upper Yosemite Falls. Sharing the moment with a couple from Spain.

A handful of gorp. A hello to a couple of fellow hikers from Spain. A wide-eyed sense of wonder at the power of where I am standing at this moment. I can feel the energy. The giddy height and roar and adrenaline of this spot reconfirms I’m just tiny drop in a massive ecosystem of nature.

I’m feeling big, powerful, in my own personal, mind-body-hiking-fresh-air connection, and I’m also feeling small, happily insignificant in the bigger-picture aspect of the universe. THIS is the gift a hike to the top of North America’s Highest Waterfall gives me. A gift that reminds me that all of my must-dos and Bucket Lists hold a place to remind me of both my insignificance and, oddly, my importance... Mind blown.

A scoop of gorgeous, crisp Yosemite Creek water through my filter to replenish the h20 quotient in my body, and I’m ready to move on. And, after that exhilarating moment of Trail-Zen, there’s now no way I’m heading back down without the quick, last mile up to Yosemite Point for some more rush.

Yosemite Point. Epic Half Dome views. 
There’s some snow on this last part of the trail, and the wilderness opens up to the north, and I’m pumped with an explorers thirst for more land to cover, discover and soak-in. Not another person in sight, I crank-through the final moderate push to destination Yosemite Point and the reward is a wide-open sky of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley granite greatness, 3,000 feet up from the valley floor.

Go now. Bucket list. -OM

The Trip Report:
Location: Upper Yosemite Falls Hike, north side of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Lodge and Camp 4 area.
Length: From Camp 4 Trailhead to Summit of Upper Yosemite Falls: @7.2 miles round trip.
Add Yosemite Point from Upper Yosemite Falls: add @1.6 miles round trip.
Add Valley Loop Trail from Lower Yosemite Falls: add @1.2 miles round trip.
Level of Difficulty: Strenuous.
Elevation: @2,700 feet to top of Upper Falls. @3,000 feet to Yosemite Point.
Exposure: Mostly sun.
Kid friendly? Recommended for teens and up who are in excellent shape and follow strict hiking guidelines. Steep, dangerous exposures.
Best time to visit? Spring run-off is most popular. Though the staggering views make this a year round must-do if the trail is clear and safe.
What to Wear: Hiking boots or trail runners that can take a switchback beating.
Video: 2 videos in article above: Upper Yosemite Falls with Snow Pile & Pools from Summit of Upper Yosemite Falls

For more Yosemite hikes and info:

Disclaimer: When researching elevations and trail distances, there were a variety of measurements of length of hikes and elevation gain from each source. Therefore, all of my notes are estimates...... Check the weather and trail conditions from a trusted source before attempting any hike........


5 Reasons to Grab The Kids & Bring them to Yosemite in Winter - Yosemite National Park, Dry California Style. Outdoorsy Families.

Empty trails - very few hikers heading to the base of Yosemite Falls last week, Yosemite National Park.

Ok, I agree, a little more snow might be nice. But we’re taking advantage of this California winter dry-spell and dry-trails to experience Yosemite in a whole different way in Winter. So let’s throw the kids in the car and cruise on over to one of the world’s most breathtaking parks. This is one in a series of Yosemite National Park postings that will follow.

Why go to Yosemite now in the Winter? 5 reasons:

1 - It’s Less Crowded by a Zillion
Let’s face it.  As much as we love the grandeur of America’s national parks, there’s nothing less lovely than being sandwiched like sweaty sardines as we take in the parks in say, August. Some stranger’s elbow or camera in your ear as you gaze up at El Capitan or Half Dome... The kids will THANK US as they’ll have more space to run loose and enjoy the fresh air. And we'll feel that sense of s-p-a-c-e that nourishes us from inside out. Yosemite National Park 

Allissa from Yosemite Mountaineering School showing us the Ahwahnechee grinding holes.

2 - Cool Mountain Guides Like Allissa to Climb Steep Rocks & Hike With
Allissa and her team from Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service will take us and our kids out for a beginners run up "Swan Slab", the massive, well-known, beginners rock formation near Camp 4. Or she can take the fam on the Panoramic Hike that loops down from Glacier Point, through Yosemite back-country and down the Mist Trail for a little waterfall action. Want something a little less massive, she’ll customize any hike that will work for the age of our crew. Even little nature walks to see some historic Native American sites. And, major bonus, she’s just darn COOL and your kids will flip to hang with a real live mountain guide. Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guides 

Yo has bikes to rent or bring your own. Breathtaking flat trail system great for the fam.

3 - Family Biking
Cram your bikes onto your bike-rack or rent them up here at Yosemite Lodge, the biking trails are WIDE OPEN with so few people to run into. Even the wobbly little ones can ride more safely without as many tourists to dodge. There is freedom in biking, and the kids feel it too. Biking the flat Yosemite Valley trails while gazing and gasping at Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan is a once in a lifetime experience. Yosemite Bike Rentals

Curry Village Ice Skating Rink. Skates to rent. Bonfire & S'Mores.

4 - Ice Skating
The skating rink is snuggled into the heart of Curry Village and is open around November through early March. Rent skates, show off your half-axle-gainer-spins and stay warm by the roaring bonfire just outside the rink. S’Mores makings to purchase on site make this a family favorite! Note: Check the dates of the rink - it CLOSES early March, no exact dates posted as of yet. Curry Village Ice Skating Rink

Come now with the kids because It’s Yosemite.  It’s John Muir. It’s Ansel Adams. It’s the Dawn Wall on El Capitan with cracks so tiny yet will hold the weight of a spider-man man named Tommy and Kevin. It’s the Ahwahnechee. It’s American history, the birthplace of the national park system. It’s getting the special chance to do summer activities in winter temperatures, a little dash of DIFFERENT, unique. It’s celebrating it’s 150th Birthday this year. 

Let’s grab our kids and go NOW – see you there! 


For more information on Yosemite, Park Partners & the surrounding areas:

Disclaimer: #YosemiteSocial by Yosemite, Delaware North, hosted an influencer event and goods were provided at discounted rates for attendees. All opinions in all posts are always my own and i write with my own free will. Cheers!


Love in the Outdoors: Camping with Kids - Not a Lot of Space for Sexy Time. #OutdoorFamilies Valentine's Tribute

Well there's NOTHING sexier than a camping trip with the kids! 

A little Valentine's Humor from the vault... originally published 2/13/14. Happy Valentines Week everyone & good luck!

Recently, on a Twitter Chat, a question similar to this was posed: Question: What 3 things impede you from getting sexy with your partner in the outdoors?

My automatic, immediate, couldn't help myself answer was Answer: Child #1, 2 & 3.

Which received lots of Twitter "Favorites", which are like high-fives to non Twitter-ites.

Good to have a sense of humor about these things because, truth is, there's not a lot of "sexy-time" on family camping trips what with the 5 of us stacked in the tent like ripe, dirt-slicked sardines each night -- an 8 year old elbow in my nose, a 12 year old foot in my face. Lots of heavy breathing - but not in the Valentines way. 

Ahh. Outdoor sexy time!

I have visions of riding a white horse on a beach towards my husband, who is riding maybe a black horse, galloping, galloping, towards each-other. The wind in my hair. The sound-track playing something super romantic -- Titanic-y, maybe. 

But that vision is quickly hijacked, yes, like the Titanic -- because inevitably, one of my kids will come sprinting-out, screaming, directly in front of my horse holding a ripe, dead seagull's body on the tip of a long, unwieldy stick, and my glorious mount will rear-up and buck me and my flowing, white gown off…. and I will land flat on my face, mouth full of seaweed and sand.

Ahhhh. Another sexy-time moment as a parent…

But as bad as that all seems - serious birth control for many folks - and even though it's been said by scientists with gweeby glasses that couples with kids are much less happy than those without, could you even imagine NOT having that little dirty face to kiss on her marshmallow-covered nose each campfire night? To not have that little-bitty hand to hold while crossing that stream?

I think not.

So outdoor sexy-time with the hubby be damned -- for now. Our time will come again. 

In eleven years and counting when they're all headed off for college… 

Be. Breathe. Do it. Happy Valentines day! -OM

For more outdoor humor:
Packing for Family Camping so you don't blow up the campsite
Packing for your kid's summer camp in 10 minutes or less