Snow Creek Falls
Mariposa County, California, United States
Snow Creek Falls is a booming chain of horsetails and cascades which enters Tenaya Canyon above Mirror Lake in one of Yosemite Valley's most boisterous waterfalls. The falls are commonly said to be 2,000 feet tall and after examining the topography of the area, we concluded the total drop of Snow Creek from the rim of Yosemite Valley to the base of the falls to be even greater than that. However, upon further examination of the course of Snow Creek, we felt it necessary to segregate its waterfalls into two entries. Where Snow Creek enters Tenaya Canyon at an elevation of about 6500 feet, it drops down what we are referring to as Upper Snow Creek Falls - a multi-step fall of about 700 feet. From an elevation of about 5800 feet down to 5000 feet, the stream cascades steeply down the boulder-strewn gorge such that it simply cannot be considered to be part of a waterfall given the makeup of this section of the gorge. Additionally, this stretch constitutes a linear run of over one third of a mile between the bottom of Upper Snow Creek Falls and the top of Snow Creek Falls - a distance far too great for the two sections of falls to be considered one congruent series of falls.
At the 5000 foot mark, where Snow Creek Falls proper begins, the creek plunges down seven distinct steps, with the upper drops falling more vertically and the lower tiers taking on more of a sliding horsetail form. The second and largest tier produces a waterwheel of substantial size during the spring, and were it more easily accessible it might be known as well as those seen at LeConte and Waterwheel Falls along the Tuolumne River further to the north. The total drop of the formation is around 600 feet. We should also note that the USGS Half Dome quadrangle marks Snow Creek Falls as occurring at roughly 5240 feet. We have not seen any evidence to suggest that there are legitimate sections of the falls above the 5000 foot level, so this appears to be more a generic mapping error than anything else.
Snow Creek is among the largest tributaries of Yosemite Valley and its substantial drainage basin allows it to flow with immense force and consistency through the spring and early summer months. However, like Yosemite Creek to the west, because the basin is composed of almost entirely solid granite bedrock, Snow Creek will usually dry out entirely by the end of August (if not earlier) despite being fed by a large lake at its headwaters.
History and Naming
Snow Creek Falls is the Official name of this waterfall.
Has also been known as:
- Dome Cascade
Snow Creek was officially named in or before 1896, before which it had been known as both Dome Creek - which led John Muir to call the falls Dome Cascade - and Glacier Brook. The Native American name for this waterfall was not recorded by any of those who were credited with discovering Yosemite Valley.
That Snow Creek Falls has been downgraded in height should not at all be a statement against the substantiality of the falls. Snow Creek Falls is without question one of the best waterfalls in Yosemite Valley. The best part is that because viewing the falls actually requires a little bit of effort (but not too much), you've got a good chance to actually enjoy the falls without having to jostle among the ever present crowds that flock to the valley every year - even if just temporarily. On an ancillary note, those who opt to venture to the base of Snow Creek Falls are urged to take along bug spray - mosquitoes seem to love to swarm around the forest right below the falls, even if they aren't a problem elsewhere in Yosemite Valley.
Snow Creek Falls faces southeast and will see direct sun in the late morning to mid afternoon hours. Because of the looming face of Half Dome directly across from the falls, the falls should remain shaded until at least 8am during the spring and early summer months (possibly later). Expect some spray at the base of the falls but because the larger parts of the falls are set back from the unofficial viewpoint, it shouldn't be too much of an issue.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: 37.76389, -119.53526 Elevation: 5000 feet USGS Map: Yosemite Falls 7 1/2"
Snow Creek Falls is accessed from the Mirror Lake Trail in Tenaya Canyon in Yosemite National Park. From any entrance to Yosemite National Park, proceed to Curry Village at the very end of Yosemite Valley and park. Take the Shuttle Bus from Curry Village to the Mirror Lake Trail stop (three stops from Curry Village) and hike the easy trail to Mirror Lake. From Mirror Lake stay on the Tenaya Creek Trail for another mile to the upper bridge over Tenaya Creek - be sure to stay right at the junction with the Snow Creek Trail (the Snow Creek Trail does not lead to views of the falls). To reach the base of Snow Creek Falls, find an old and no longer maintained trail just to the north of the Tenaya Creek bridge (not the bridge over the dry channel) and follow it upstream to the base of the falls in about one-eighth of a mile - there are a few sections where the old trail is hard to follow but for the most part it's fairly obvious. To view the majority of the falls, cross Tenaya Creek on the bridge, then bear left onto the unmarked trail traveling upstream and go about 500 feet to a significant rocky gully, then scramble up the boulders as far as necessary to break out of the trees to where the falls can be seen. Use caution when climbing on the boulders as some may be loose and rock falls are common in this area.View this location in Google Earth Snow Creek Falls is marked with the large icon in the center of the map. Up to ten additional waterfalls (if any) may be marked as well, with links below.
Other Nearby Waterfalls
By The Numbers
The information presented in this table is meant to help identify and clarify the physical aspects of the waterfall for comparative purposes. While we try to ensure this information is as accurate as possible, sometimes it will prove necessary to either estimate or flat out guess at certain characteristics where either enough information isn't readily available, is not known, or we were not able to confirm a given trait upon surveying. This information may be changed at any given time to ensure accuracy.
The Total Height listed for the waterfall represents the difference in elevation from the top of the uppermost drop, to the bottom of the lowermost drop of the waterfall, including all stretches of interstitial stream in between. Stream between two tiers of a waterfall is counted in its overall height regardless of whether or not that section of the stream would be legitimately considered a waterfall on its own right, were it to be isolated. Waterfalls with only one drop will of have the height of only the single drop listed here.
The Tallest Drop figure represents the height of the largest single drop within a multi-stepped waterfall. Waterfalls with only one drop will have the total height of the waterfall repeated here.
Num of Drops
The Number of Drops in a waterfall is a tally of the total number of distinct drops which make up the waterfall. Stretches of interstitial stream in between two or more distinct drops of a single waterfall are NOT considered to be distinct drops of the waterfall unless the section of stream in question would otherwise qualify as a waterfall were it to be isolated.
The Average Width of the waterfall represents the breadth of the waterfall from bank to bank under typical flow conditions, or if the waterfall has been Cataloged, under the conditions which it was most thoroughly surveyed. Often this number will be approximated because of a lack of approachability to many waterfalls. We often utilize Google Earth to measure the width (where imagery is of sufficient quality and resolution to allow it.
Maximum Width represents a hypothetical measurement of roughly how wide a waterfall could get during peak streamflow or flood conditions. For smaller waterfalls, this figure will generally not differ much from the Average Width measurement, but for broader waterfalls - especially those that feature a crest that isn't constricted - this figure can at times be consideraby larger. Like the Average Width measurement, this measurement will take into account the difference in width at the top and bottom of the waterfall as much as possible, but will often be made based on the width of the crest of th falls alone.
The Pitch of a waterfall is an estimated - often very roughly - measure of the average slope or steepness of a waterfall. The Pitch figure only takes into account sections of stream which are actively falling. Pools or stretches of level stream in between two or more successive drops of the falls will not factor in this figure. As an example, a waterfall which features two truly free-falling leaps separated by several dozen yards of flat stream will have a Pitch of 90 degrees. Similarly, a waterfall with two drops separated by a pool, one with a true free-falling drop, and one with a Horsetail type fall will average the two, so while the Plunging drop has a Pitch of 90 degrees, if the Horsetail drop has a Pitch of 45 degrees, the total Pitch will be roughly 67 degrees.
The Run of a waterfall is a measurement representing the total linear distance on the ground between the top and bottom of a waterfall. This figure is not often easy to establish with a high degree of precision and as such will often be estimated. Waterfalls with a longer Run will usually either be less steep, often cascading type waterfalls, or will feature multiple steps separated by shorter stretches of a more gradual gradient streambed.
The system of classification of waterfall forms we use is a heavily modified derivative of the classifications outlined by Greg Plumb in his "Waterfall Lover's Guide to the Pacific Northwest" books. While plumb uses eight distnct forms, we wanted further granularity and opted to break down the hierarchy twofold: first based on the overall pitch of the waterfall, and then based on what shape the fall takes as it makes its descent. There are five primary Categories of falls in this system: Plunge, Horsetail, Steep Cascades, Shallow Cascades, and Rapids. Additional deliniation is then applied depending on characteristics such as the breadth of the falls, whether it splits into two or more channels, whether it falls in multiple successive drops, etc. For more information on our waterfall form classifications, see the Help page.
The watershed which a waterfall occurs within, if it is specified, will be based on the ultimate distributary watercourse to the ocean. For example, Washington's Palouse Falls occurs along the Palouse River - which is a tributary to the Snake River, which is itself a tributary to the Columbia River, which ultimately enters the Pacific Ocean, so Palouse Falls would then fall within the Columbia River watershed. Streams which empty directly into the ocean, or into a minor basin which then empties to the ocean will often have this field left blank.
The name of the watercourse which the waterfall occurs along. If the watercourse is not known to have an officially or colloquially recognized name, this field is left blank.
The volume of water present in the stream at the location of the waterfall. This is often the most difficult figure to pin down because accurately measuring streamflow is not a simple process. We will rely on USGS data as much as possible, and attempt to take into account seasonal fluctuations in stream levels if possible. There is no guarantee that this figure will be accurate, and in cases where there is no USGS data to use, it may be a very, very rough estimate at best.
If known, the primary source of the watercourse which produces the waterfall will be listed here. This is helpful in determining whether a waterfall may flow more consistently during certain periods of the year - streams which originate in Springs, Lakes, or Glaciers will often flow more consistently throughout the year than those fueled by simply Runoff. The source of the stream may also be either unknown or undetermined.
A rough estimation of how many months out of the year the stream which produces the waterfall will actually hold water. The vast majority of waterfalls featured on this website will technically be truly perennial waterfalls (those that flow all year long), but some may see their flow dwindle greatly in the late summer months. This figure will not take into account the winter months when the waterfall may freeze, because in such cases the waterfall will very often be inaccessible. Entries which specify a Flow Consistncy of 12 Months should in general have an acceptable flow at any time of year (but may be better during certain periods - see below).
A general estimate of the best period of the year during which time the falls will be considered at optimal conditions, or flowing at their best. There may be variance within the range specified where the flow will be better or worse, but visiting at any time in the range specified (if available) will generally present the waterfall in its best light.Close
CatalogedWaterfalls which are Cataloged we have visited and surveyed in person. Statistical information should be quite accurate (for the most part), and exact measurements will often be available (information is not guaranteed to always be up to date). Detailed information, directions, and photographs will almost always be available.
ConfirmedConfirmed Waterfalls are known to exist, should be relatively accurately mapped and geotagged, and the statistical information available will often be dependable. If height information is presented, it may be estimated but should be accurate. Directions will not likely be available.
UnconfirmedUnconfirmed Waterfalls are often marked on a published map, but we have yet to confirm the exact location and / or whether or not its stature is significant enough to qualify for listing in the database. Statistical information may be estimated and may be inaccurate. No directions.
UnknownWaterfalls marked as Unknown are either suspected to exist based on heresay or a hunch, or we have received unverified information suggesting a waterfall may exist near the location provided but cannot corroborate it in any way. Geodata may not be accurate, the location may not be known at all, and statistical information will be estimated and highly inaccurate.
InundatedInundated Waterfalls have been submerged beneath lakes or reservoirs, usually a result of impoundment of a river behind a dam, and most often no longer functionally exist (there may be rare exceptions). We maintain records for these features out of historical importance.
DisqualifiedWaterfalls which have been marked as Disqualified do not have the necessary stature or features to qualify as a legitimate waterfall according to our criteria. We will maintain records for entries with this status where the feature is well known and / or may have been historically referred to as a waterfall at some point in time.
PostedPosted Waterfalls are known to exist, and we may have a large amount of information associated with them, but are located on private property and are not legally accessible to the general public. Accessing waterfalls with this status should not be attempted without first being explicitly granted permission of the property owner.