Mariposa County, California, United States
With a sheer drop of 1,612 feet Ribbon Fall is the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the United States, and is among the tallest sheer waterfalls on the planet. Ribbon Creek drains an area of about 4 square miles immediately to the west of El Capitan, the collective waters of which intersect Yosemite Valley about 3,000 feet above the valley floor. As the creek runs off the edge of the valley, it carries down a slightly corkscrew-shaped plain of rock which causes the falls to twist off axis and fall to the right of its original course. The stream stays in contact with the cliff face for perhaps the first 200-300 vertical feet of the falls, and then free-falls for over one thousand feet before it sprays onto a steep skirt of the cliff face and veils the final distance to the bottom of the cliff. This contact with the cliff disqualifies Ribbon Fall from being considered a truly free-falling waterfall in that it does retain some contact with the cliff face, however the fall is entirely uninterrupted (i.e. there are no pools or pauses in the fall), so it is still appropriate to consider it to be the tallest uninterrupted waterfall in the country.
Ribbon Fall occupies a deep alcove directly to the west of the massive granite monolith El Capitan and because the falls cannot be easily seen from many of the signature views around Yosemite Valley, they are not regarded nearly as highly as Yosemite Falls or - especially - Bridalveil Fall which is situated directly across the valley. But also because Ribbon Creek drains from such a small area, it retains a consistent flow for only about half of the year, usually peaking in volume between mid April and mid May, and then quickly diminishing and running completely dry by July at the latest in most years (if not earlier).
History and Naming
Ribbon Fall is the Official name of this waterfall.
Has also been known as:
- Lung-yo to-co-ya
- Pigeon Creek Fall
- Virgins Tears
Lafayette Bunnell reports the Native American name for Ribbon Fall to be Lung-yo-to-co-ya, which literally means "Pigeon Basket", likely an homage to bird nests which could be found in the vicinity of the falls. Because of this native title, Bunnell attempted to apply the name Pigeon Creek Fall. Later, the falls were commonly known as Virgin's Tears as a somewhat tasteless comparative to neighboring Bridalveil Fall. At a further later date James Hutchings interpreted the name of the fall to mean along the lines of "the graceful and slender one", and it is said to be this interpretation which inspired the name Ribbon Fall (again using the singular form on the suffix).
Ribbon Fall isn't even remotely the main attraction in Yosemite Valley - or even one of the many main attractions for that matter. But Ribbon Fall is also a very striking waterfall when it's flowing and if its flowing well (as seen in some of the recent years when Yosemite has received well above average snowpack) it can be downright spectacular. If you plan on visiting Yosemite before July, do not pass up the opportunity to seek out this waterfall - just be prepared for a less than stellar performance unless you time your visit perfectly with the peak of snow melt season.
Location & Directions
Coordinates: Unknown Elevation: 6950 feet USGS Map: El Capitan 7 1/2"
Ribbon Fall is located directly west of El Capitan on the north wall of Yosemite Valley within Yosemite National Park. The best views of the falls are from Southside Drive about 1/5 of a mile east of the junction with the Wawona Road at a large pullout where both Ribbon Fall and Bridalveil Fall can be seen. Ribbon Fall can also be easily seen from Crocker Point, Dewey Point and can partially be seen from Valley View along Northside Drive.
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.
SubterraneanThough not common, some waterfalls can be found entirely underground within cave systems. Access to subterranean waterfalls can vary from easy via developed walkways to requiring a high level of extremely technical spelunking skill, including familiarity with ropework and a distinct lack of claustrophobia.
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.