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Judi's Jaunts - Check Out Hetch Hetchy

Hiking

By Judi Hussain, Visit Center Coordinator | May 4, 2018 

Judi’s Jaunts – Check Out Hetch Hetchy

It seems like Yosemite’s busy season arrives earlier and earlier each year. What to do, then, if you visit during a holiday period or one of those magical spring weekends only to find the Valley uncomfortably full of people.

Think Hetch Hetchy. 


John Muir’s passion, before he died on December 24, 1914, was to save the area of Hetch Hetchy from being dammed. He called it a “Little Yosemite Valley” (not the one at the top of the Mist Trail) and declared that it should never be defaced. He lost that last battle, and Hetch Hetchy became a reservoir that serves the water needs of San Francisco. 

If you’re going to Hetch Hetchy from Yosemite’s southern gateway, you’ve got a bit of a drive ahead. Take Highway 41 north to the park entrance and either show your pass or pay your entry fee (which goes up to $35 per vehicle for a seven-day pass on June 1, 2018) and continue on down to Yosemite Valley. After Bridalveil Fall, look for the sign on your left pointing you toward Highway 120 (Big Oak Flat Road). You’ll take the El Capitan Cutoff to transverse the valley without going into the crowded east end. Turn left on Highway 140 then sharply right onto Highway 120. Continue on Highway 120 out past the Big Oak Flat entrance station and watch for the turn to Hetch Hetchy on the right.

Alternatively, from Oakhurst you can take Highway 49 to Mariposa, Highway 140 from Mariposa to the Big Oak Flat turnoff inside Yosemite National Park. From there follow the directions above.

You can do as little or as much of a hike as you feel up to. If you choose to go out to Wapama Falls, you’re looking at a six-mile round trip hike. Backpackers often begin at Hetch Hetchy and head out to some lovely spots, even going out as far a the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne and Tuolumne Meadows. That’s not for me. A leisurely day hike is more my style.


Find parking at the dam and walk across the bridge and through the tunnel. That’s where the actual trail begins. It meanders through relatively flat, unshaded, territory, always with a view of the reservoir and magnificent cliffs in sight. 


Ideal hiking time for Hetch Hetchy would be early to late spring. There aren’t many trees, so shade is pretty non-existent. Be sure to take a hat and plenty of drinking water because the entire hike is exposed to the sun, no matter how far you hike. We hiked in July, and the sun was pretty brutal by the time we lumbered back to the car.

Two main waterfalls are visible throughout the hike. The smaller is Tueelala, which is quite seasonal and may dry up early on. The other is Wapama Falls, which in the spring is massive and powerful. I shouldn’t need to remind anyone to take care around any of Yosemite’s waterfalls and rocks, but I will anyway.

If you love wildflowers, as I do, Hetch Hetchy is a wildflower goldmine before summer heat dries them up. Even in July, we saw plenty.


Judi Hussain came to Bass Lake 28 years ago and fell in love with the area. She bought a house that weekend, moved here from Southern California four months later. She’s made the Sierra Nevada foothills her home ever since. 

An avid hiker, she believes the best way to see Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada is by foot or bike. She has trekked virtually all of the trails in Yosemite Valley and many in the high country, as well. She’s always open to new adventures and loves sharing those journeys with visitors to the area.

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