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Snow Creek Falls
   Mariposa County, California, United States

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This waterfall has been surveyed, mapped and measured in person by the World Waterfall Database.
Photo of Snow Creek Falls 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 NAMES


  • Also Known as: Dome Cascade
  • Snow Creek Falls is the Official name of this waterfall

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.

Our thoughts


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.

Location and directions


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.

Snow Creek Falls is shown in the center. Additional nearby waterfalls (if any) can be found in the list below.

Additional Nearby Waterfalls


Name of Waterfall Distance
Upper Snow Creek Falls 0.44 mi / 0.7 km
Tenaya Falls 0.45 mi / 0.72 km
Royal Arch Cascade 2.19 mi / 3.51 km
Lehamite Falls 2.4 mi / 3.83 km
Vernal Fall 2.56 mi / 4.09 km
Silver Apron 2.6 mi / 4.16 km
Tenaya Cascade 2.63 mi / 4.21 km
Nevada Fall 2.71 mi / 4.33 km
Pyweak Cascade 3.05 mi / 4.89 km
Staircase Falls 3.1 mi / 4.96 km

 

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Photo of Snow Creek Falls Photo of Snow Creek Falls Photo of Snow Creek Falls

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Photography tips


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.

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