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Yosemite Falls
   Mariposa County, California, United States

This waterfall has been surveyed, mapped and measured in person by the World Waterfall Database.
Photo of Yosemite Falls Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the state of California, dropping a total of 2,425 feet. The falls are commonly said to consist of three parts, but actually are made up of five distinct plunges and one section of cascades. Yosemite Creek enters the falls by plunging 1,430 feet over the massive Upper Yosemite Fall (when referenced by itself, the singular form is used). At the base of the upper fall, the creek sprays widely over a bedrock bench and begins flowing towards the narrow gorge just downstream. In a run of about 800 linear feet the stream drops over a series of small falls and cascades, losing about 240 feet in elevation. The second major fall, where Yosemite Creek enters the gorge proper, drops nearly vertically for about 250 feet, followed shortly by the third fall of about 120 feet and the fourth fall of about 50 feet. The fourth fall terminates almost immediately above the top of Lower Yosemite Fall (again, singular when referenced independently) which itself drops 329 feet (this was the only section of the falls we were able to accurately measure on our most recent survey). The falls and cascades between the bottom of the Upper Falls and the top of the Lower Falls are often referred to as Middle Cascades, however this is essentially a deceitful name as there is only one section of this part of the falls can legitimately be qualified as Cascading type falls. Unfortunately the only place that all six parts of the falls can be seen is from the Pohono Trail and in the vicinity of Sentinel Dome near Glacier Point.

We should also note that according to photographer and former park ranger Mike Osborne's excellent book "Granite, Water and Light: The Waterfalls of Yosemite Valley" the measured height of Yosemite Falls apparently stems from the first USGS survey of the valley by geologist Francois Matthes in 1913. The process by which he measured the valley's waterfalls was not documented in his studies and simply because these measurements were taken over a century ago their accuracy should be called into question. The current USGS topographic maps support Matthes' measurements, but to what degree of accuracy is not yet known. We don't have any reason to think the original measurements are grossly inaccurate however.

In addition to being California's tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls is commonly claimed to be both the tallest waterfall in the United States and in North America. Given that Yosemite's height takes into account six distinct leaps, we must consider other waterfalls which do not drop in one single fall against this claim, in which case there are several waterfalls in Canada, Hawaii and one in Washington State which are taller than Yosemite. If the qualifier is only those waterfalls with a sheer drop, then the 1,430 foot drop of Upper Yosemite Fall is bested by neighboring Ribbon Fall just a few miles to the west, so while the popular conception is that Yosemite is king, in reality it is only the top dog in California, not in all of the USA.

Due to the fact that the Sierra Nevada range is composed almost entirely of glaciated granite and contains little soil to retain precipitation and runoff, the waterfalls in Yosemite National Park exhibit a behavior we refer to as "The Yosemite Effect". Essentially without soil to promote groundwater retention, precipitation has the tendency to run off extremely fast, so once the winter snowpack has melted and the rain has stopped for the season the volume of the streams in the area dwindle very quickly. This becomes especially clear when looking at the average volume of Yosemite Creek over the year. The USGS gauge at Yosemite Creek was only active for 6 years between 1912 and 1918, but it provided what should be a ballpark for the typical flows that the creek sees. In April, May, and June, the creek averages about 307 cubic feet per second. But for the remaining 9 months out of the year, its flow averages just 16 cubic feet per second, and it drops to just one cubic foot per second in October and November (per the limited gauge statistics at least). These figures may not be entirely accurate 100 years later, because the creek has been known to run entirely dry in the summer during dry years in modern times. That the falls do not flow consistently all year long is the only factor that prevents Yosemite Falls from scoring in the absolute highest margins of our rating system.


  • Also Known as: Choo-look, Scholook, Yo-ham-i-te Falls
  • Yosemite Falls is the Official name of this waterfall

Yosemite Valley, Creek and Falls were all named by Lafayette Bunnell, who was a member of the volunteer-based Mariposa Battalion which discovered the valley in 1851. He proposed naming the falls for the Indians who inhabited the valley (whom in a twisted bit of irony the Battalion was apparently hunting and capturing to remove from the area). The Indian names for the falls, Choo-look and Scholook, both essentially mean "the fall", a reference to the fact that Yosemite Falls is easily the most prominent waterfall in the valley.

Our thoughts

Despite its inconsistent flow throughout the year and the fact that it is neither the true tallest waterfall in North America or the United States, Yosemite Falls is far and away the best waterfall in the United States. The scenery of Yosemite Valley is truly one of a kind and can't be seen anywhere else in the country and when the winter snow is melting off, the falls can exhibit extremely violent tendencies which will not only shake the ground itself, but will instill a sense of wonder that simply can't be replicated anywhere else.

Location and directions

Yosemite Falls can be seen from literally dozens of vantages throughout Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park. Commonly popular views are had from Swinging Bridge at Leidig Meadows, Southside Drive near Sentinel Rock, Glacier Point, Taft Point as well as all manor of locations around the base of the falls and along the Yosemite Falls trail. Parking can be sparse in the area (especially since the lot at the foot of the falls has been permanently closed as of 2011). Pullouts along Northside Drive, as well as lots at Yosemite Village, Yosemite Lodge and Sentinel Bridge picnic areas all provide access to the base of the falls within about half of a mile of easy walking. Shuttle buses also run throughout Yosemite Valley providing easy access to the trails around the falls from larger parking areas such as at Curry Village.

Yosemite 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
Columbia Cascade 0.92 mi / 1.47 km
Lehamite Falls 1.04 mi / 1.66 km
Royal Arch Cascade 1.48 mi / 2.37 km
Staircase Falls 1.85 mi / 2.96 km
Eagle Creek Cascade 1.87 mi / 3 km
Sentinel Fall 2.35 mi / 3.76 km
Horsetail Falls 2.48 mi / 3.97 km
Fissure Falls 3.06 mi / 4.9 km
Ribbon Fall 3.13 mi / 5.01 km
Snow Creek Falls 3.4 mi / 5.43 km


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Photography tips

There are too many locations from which to photograph Yosemite Falls for us to go into detail about - you can literally see it for half the length of Yosemite Valley. Just walk around and you'll no doubt come across a fairly compelling composition. Yosemite Falls faces south and will see even lighting for the majority of the day. Lower Yosemite Fall is more susceptible to bad lighting due to the large cliffs immediately to its west, and it will fall within partial shade starting at around 1-2pm, and should be entirely shaded by around 4pm at the latest. Expect to encounter heavy spray near the base of the falls.

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