World Waterfall Database

Nevada Fall

Mariposa County, California, United States

Status: Cataloged
This waterfall has been surveyed in person by the World Waterfall Database.

Detailed Info

Nevada Fall is the largest and most impressive waterfall along the Merced River, one of Yosemite's signature cataracts and one of California's best waterfalls. The Merced River, fed by countless lakes and a basin of 118 square miles, funnels through a notch in solid granite rock and leaps free over a broad cliff for half of its fall, impacting on an apron-like protrusion of rock which angles downstream and veiling for the final half of the fall. Measurements taken by USGS surveyor Francois Matthes in or around 1913 placed the height of the falls at 594 feet, and that figure has been assumed to be accurate since. The current USGS topographic maps however suggest the height of the falls to be closer to 480 feet, so the question of whether Matthes' figures could be accurate after 100 years led us to think that the USGS maps might portay more accurately the true height of the falls. Well after surveying the falls in May of 2013, we came away with a measurement of 577 feet, which is just barely within our acceptable margin of error in comparison to the original figure. So it seems that even after 100 years there are still mapping errors in need of correction - though in this case it's simply a matter of the contour data which the USGS uses not having been updated accurately enough.

Though the Merced River is the largest and most volumnous stream in Yosemite Valley, because practically the entire Merced River basin upstream from Nevada Fall consists of solid bedrock terrain, there is very little groundwater retention and as a result when the seasonal snowpack has melted off completely, the volume of the Merced will quickly shrink. By September and October it is not uncommon to see Nevada Fall as just a trickle of water down a black stain on the cliff (though the falls are rarely known to run completely dry).

History and Naming

Nevada Fall is the Official name of this waterfall.

Has also been known as:

  • Yo-wy-we

Lafayette Bunnell cites the Native American name for the falls as Yo-wy-we, meaning "wormy" water. He later proposed the name Nevada (Spanish for Snow) because he felt the thunderous river resembled an avalanche of snow cascading down a mountainside. Like so many of the other waterfalls in Yosemite, the suffix Fall is again properly used in the singluar form.

Our Thoughts

We've surveyed Nevada Fall in 2004 and again in 2013. On our first visit, it looked suspiciously clear to our trained eyes that Nevada Fall was not 594 feet tall as has been assumed all these years. When revisiting in 2013 we got a bit of the same feeling, though not to the same degree as before, so it seems that there may be at least a partial optical illusion in play to makes Nevada Fall seem smaller than it actually is. However it presents itself, Nevada Fall is without question one of California's best waterfalls and should not be passed up by visitors at all. If you hike to the top of Vernal Fall, take the extra 30 minutes and continue (at least) to the bottom of Nevada Fall (the climb all the way to the top is a bit grueling but is worth it in its own right as well).

Location & Directions

Coordinates:   Unknown
Elevation:   5880 feet
USGS Map:   Half Dome 7 1/2"

Nevada Fall is accessed from the Happy Isles area of Yosemite Valley 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 to the Happy Isles Nature Center (two stops from Curry Village) and begin hiking on the John Muir Trail, signed for Vernal and Nevada Fall, as well as the summit of Half Dome. Just over three-quarters of a mile the trail crosses the river below Take the Shuttle Bus to the Happy Isles Nature Center (two stops from Curry Village) and begin hiking on the John Muir Trail, signed for Vernal and Nevada Fall, as well as the summit of Half Dome. Just over three-quarters of a mile the trail crosses the river below the falls, with a fraction of the falls visible from the bridge. Here the trail splits, the Mist Trail climbing alongside the river while the John Muir Trail takes a longer, gentler and drier route up the mountainside Vernal Fall, with a fraction of the falls visible from the bridge. Here the trail splits, the Mist Trail climbing alongside the river and Vernal Fall while the John Muir Trail takes a longer, gentler and drier route up the mountainside. Staying on the John Muir Trail, one will achieve side views of Nevada Fall at 2.6 miles, and will cross the Merced at the top of the falls at about 3.5 miles. Taking the Mist Trail from the junction, then heading left over the Merced above the Silver Apron will achieve the base of Nevada Fall after about 1.8 miles. The trail continues climbing up the gully to the left of the falls and reaches the top in another mile.

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.

Total Height

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.

Tallest Drop

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.

Avg Width

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

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.

Avg Volume

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.

Flow Consistency

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).

Best Flow

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.



Cataloged Icon
Waterfalls 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.
Confirmed Icon
Confirmed 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.
Unconfirmed Icon
Unconfirmed 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.
Unknown Icon
Waterfalls 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.
Inundated Icon
Inundated 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.
Subterranean Icon
Though 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.
Disqualified Icon
Waterfalls 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.
Posted Icon
Posted 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.

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