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Blog 5 Lesser Known Waterfalls to See in or Near Yosemite
Alex Silgalis | 05/10/2019Hiking, Nature, Photography, Seasons, Waterfalls |   

5 Lesser Known Waterfalls To See In Or Near Yosemite

No matter if you’re a city slicker or a mountain enthusiast, there’s something that draws every human being to waterfalls. For some, the sound of cascading water against polished rocks takes the daily stress away. For others, it’s the sheer beauty & tranquility of them. No matter the reason, waterfall season is prime visiting time! While the famous waterfalls in Yosemite are a must see, sometimes you just want venture away from the crowd and take a peek at a hidden gem. Well, here’s 5 lesser -known waterfalls in or near Yosemite that you should consider checking out.

While Glacier Point provides majestic views of Yosemite Valley along with Vernal & Nevada Falls, these are not the only vistas to explore. Many folks don’t know that with a just bit more effort, you can take in Illilouette Falls as well. Visible at a distance from the Mist Trail as you hike toward the bridge that spans the Merced River below Vernal Fall, Illilouette tumbles down  the canyon to connect with the Merced river about halfway to the bridge.  For a closer (and more strenuous) look, take the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point toward Nevada Fall. You’ll cross Illilouette Creek bridge in about 2 downhill miles from Glacier Point. From the bridge you’ll be staring at the top of the waterfall. Be forewarned, the trek back up to Glacier Point is quite the climb. If you’ve got the energy to go a few more miles (and a car waiting in Yosemite Valley), take the Panorama Trail to its junction with the John Muir Trail on down to Happy Isles. This 370-foot-tall, cascading beauty flows all year-round but peaks in May. After particularly wet winters, the flow can be massive.

Waterfall, Yosemite, Illilouette Falls

Illilouette Falls view from the Mist Trail

Being the highest free-leaping fall in all of North America, you’d think Ribbon Fall would get a lot of attention. Somehow it's maintained a low profile, hence its status as a hidden gem. There are two reasons why it's not as well-known. First, this 1,612-foot-tall hulk is fed by snowmelt over granite rock which means it's typically dry by June. Second, it sits opposite the legendary Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley; most visitors don’t even notice it. Admittedly, Bridalveil is quite the competition. Most visitors drive swiftly by admiring the scenic icon when a simple turn of the head to the left would bring Ribbon Fall into view. The best part? You can take in its serene beauty right from your car on Southside Drive as the water plunges down the face the valley wall right next to El Capitan.

Ribbon Fall, Waterfall, Yosemite

Ribbon Fall

For those seeking a bit more tranquility along with their waterfall viewing, these two should be on your list. Located outside of Yosemite in the Sierra National Forest, this local favorite is much less crowded compared to the ones in Yosemite. On the Lewis Creek trail, the first one is the Corlieu Falls (80 feet tall) that cascade into a tight canyon. At a half mile round-trip, it's perfect for families with young kids. Be aware: This portion of the trail currently has downed trees and lots of poison oak. Further up the trail is Red Rock Falls which might be a bit shorter but is wider & more powerful. Highly recommended right now is the trailhead departing from Sugar Pine Drive (Road 630) at the north end of the trail. Hike south to the creek and back for an approximate 4 mile round trip. The best time to visit is during the spring when the falls are at their peak and the dogwoods and other wildflowers are in bloom.

Red Rock Falls in Spring

Bird's eye view of Corlieu Falls - Spring 2019

Another great option for those wanting a pit stop to or from Yosemite via the southern gate is the Whisky Falls. Clocking in at 40 feet tall & tumbling down over a couple of tiers of rounded granite slabs, it's a perfect spot to take off your shoes and cool down on a late spring/early summer day. Whisky Falls is located near the Whisky Falls Snowmobile Area, approximately 4.6 miles to the east of Bass Lake (as the raven flies...). Despite its relative ease of access via vehicle, the last 7.5 miles are unpaved. While you don’t need an AWD/4WD to visit these, remember that this is still the wilderness so be prepared (word from our friends at the Sierra National Forest are that high clearance vehicles are needed to for access via Peckinpah Road/Forest Road 8S009).

Whisky Falls

While these are the named waterfalls that normally flow during spring, bear in mind their flow and the length of their season depend on how much snow the region received over the prior winter. You may also see dozens of ephemeral waterfalls throughout the park during especially wet years. For waterfall lovers, this is THE time to visit!


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Alex Silgalis

Alex founded localfreshies.com® in 2014 to be the #1 website providing the “local scoop” on where to eat, drink & play in mountain towns throughout North America. When he’s not writing and executing marketing strategies for small businesses & agencies, he’s in search of the deepest snow in the winter and tackiest dirt in the summer.

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