A waterfall wonderland hidden in a deep valley surrounded by proud granite peaks: this is Yosemite Valley, part of California’s world famous Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada.
We were fallen in love with this park from the very first moment when we got out from our car in the middle of the valley.
Enchanting valley of waterfalls
Yosemite Valley is home of 8 beautiful, impressive waterfalls which all has their own special beauties. A lot of them can be seen from the valley, some requires a short walk or a longer hike – discovering all was one of the greatest hiking experience of our lives!
A waterfall with rainbow guarantee: Vernal Fall
The smallest waterfall in the valley is Vernal Fall with only 317 feet (~96 m) – yes, this means small here!
But it features one of the most special views: thanks to the mist coming from the falls you can always find a rainbow somewhere near the waterfall in sunny weather. Big, strong, beautiful rainbow. Though you have to pay the price: you will get completely wet – but believe me, you won’t even care!
Vernal Fall requires a hike on a short, but steep trail where we could enjoy views of the wild Merced River all the way. And good things won’t end at Vernal Fall, because the trail continues to Emerald Pool and to the top of Nevada Fall (594 feet / 181 m).
Perfect for a half day hike and can be extended to a full day hike with one more hidden waterfall (Illilouette Fall on Panorama Trail) and breathtaking views of the park.
The world’s 5th tallest waterfall: Yosemite Falls
The greatest of all here is Yosemite Falls which is actually the 5th tallest waterfall in the world! (2425 feet / 739 m) It’s hard not to notice it while you are in the valley, because it can be seen from a lot of spots and its sounds fill the valley.
There’s a steep, challenging hike to the top of the falls for the adventurous ones – we loved it! And the top of this giant fall is a perfect place to rest after the tiring hike. We continued a bit further toward Yosemite Point, so we could actually cross Yosemite Creek – it’s also a nice place to relax.
Short walks to great views
There’s two of the big waterfalls which can be accessed by a very short and easy walk: Bridalveil Fall (620 feet / 188 m) and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet / 97 m).
Because of the easy accessibility and the great views, there’s always a big crowd at these falls so we went there early in the morning to avoid that as much as we can.
We also found a short, somewhat hidden – and I guess, unofficial – trail leading closer to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls which offers the best close views and more peace and quiet than the official viewpoint.
The hidden treasure: Illilouette Fall
Illilouette Fall (370 feet / 112 m) is an almost perfectly symmetric waterfall in a deep, green, inaccessible valley – scenery which looks just like a postcard!
There’s no way to go to the bottom of this fall, but we had an astonishing view from Panorama Trail – which is full of great views all the way as you can guess by its name.
Best panorama: Glacier Point
Glacier Point is the place where we got a wide, impressive panorama of the whole valley including Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Fall. Even more distant peaks can be seen which were still snow-capped at the end of May.
There’s two amazing, but strenuous panorama hikes leading to Glacier Point (Four Miles Trail and Panorama Trail) and it’s also accessible by car via Glacier Point Road which opens in late spring.
Of course, we hiked and we truly felt that we deserve that panorama after the strenuous hours of hiking. 🙂
Best view of the valley: Tunnel View
Driving from Wawona to Yosemite Valley, we came out of a long tunnel and immediately felt like Alice in Wonderland.
There’s a parking lot next to the road, so we could spend some time there enjoying the wonderland which welcomed us with appealing views and a nice, huge rainbow – a thunderstorm has just been over.
Magical mirror of the valley: Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake is more a pond than a lake, but it has a high enough water level in spring to reflect Half Dome and the other surrounding granite peaks. We’ve never seen such a perfect mirror like this calm, shallow lake!
It’s accessible by a lovely walk along Tenaya Creek.
Where to stay?
I don’t know how much in advance you need to book the lodges in or near Yosemite Valley – I was not successful even when I tried half year in advance. Finally, we decided to stay in a lodge in Fish Camp which is an hour drive from the valley.
There’s also campgrounds in the valley, but it’s good to keep in mind that they are busy, too and some of them need reservation in advance.
Best time to visit
Yosemite Valley is beautiful all year, period. But if you want to hike, you should plan it from May to October. Moreover, if you want to see the waterfalls, the best time is May and June.
Most of the waterfalls get their water from snowmelt and they usually dry out by August (yes, Yosemite Falls, too) – except from Vernal and Nevada Falls on Merced River which have some water all year.
It’s a busy park
Yosemite is popular. Very popular. Especially Yosemite Valley. This means once you find a parking spot, you better not to move your car by the end of the day, otherwise there’s a chance you won’t find another free spot.
Use the free shuttle buses inside the valley and expect to be surrounded by a lot of fellow hikers on the trails. You won’t need much time to understand why it is so busy.
Is there a national park which is especially memorable for you?
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