Mariposa County, California, United States
Set in between the world-renowned Nevada and Vernal Falls, Silver Apron is the third of the three major waterfalls which comprise a section of the Merced River known as The Giant Stairway. Though the falls are only slightly less visible than its more famous siblings, and hundreds of people will see the falls every day during the tourist season, Silver Apron is a rather neglected and forgotten waterfall (though perhaps mainly due to being overshadowed by the much larger falls up and downstream).
The falls occur where the Merced River exits a small, narrow gorge leading downstream from Nevada Falls, and explodes into a mist of water droplets as it thunders over a small plunging fall of about 25 feet, and then spreads out over a long, smooth granite slide and sheets down another 55 vertical feet into Emerald Pool. About two-thirds of the way down the fall, one may notice an exceptionally well formed waterwheel during the spring and early summer months - much more accessible than those found at LeConte and Waterwheel Falls along the Tuolumne River, but definitely nowhere near as large.
Because the Merced River beckons with the siren's call during many a hot summer days, it has been the site of dozens of unfortunately fatal accidents where people have lost their balance and been swept over Vernal Falls just downstream. Due to this ever present and (what should be) very obvious hazard, no swimming is allowed in Emerald Pool, and this includes sliding down the face of Silver Apron - tempting as it may be. Please obey the signs and stay out of the water.
History and Naming
Silver Apron is the Official name of this waterfall.
Has also been known as:
- Diamond Cascade
- Wild Cat Fall
Dating back as far as perhaps 1870 the upper plunging part of Silver Apron was known distinctly as Diamond Cascade, while the long sliding section below was then referred to as Silver Apron. In a historical context this may be the correct naming convention, however the name Diamond Cascade has become so infrequently used that few references mention it any longer. Because there is no distinction between the two "sections" of the falls, the entire formation should be referred to using one name, and given that the commonly accepted and proper name for the lower three-quarters of the falls is Silver Apron, that's probably the best one to go with.
Additionally, we've seen an 1872 image credited to Eadward Muybridge which captions the upper plunging part of the falls as "Wild Cat Fall". This seems likely to have been a one-off name that didn't stick or was applied without knowing of the other more accepted names already given to the falls.
Though it's size and stature immediately result in Silver Apron getting the short straw of the three falls along the Merced in this area, it is actually a much more significant waterfall than it first lets on. The best views of the falls would be from the opposite side of the river, but unfortunately it appears that access may be rather difficult (though probably not impossible - however given the throngs of tourists usually in the area, it would be best to not create a spectacle by attempting to find a vantage).
Location & Directions
Coordinates: Unknown Elevation: 5112 feet USGS Map: Half Dome 7 1/2"
Silver Apron 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 Vernal Fall, 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. The shortest route is to take the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall in about half of a mile, then continue upstream to the bottom of Silver Apron where sections of the falls can be seen through the trees. In another quarter of a mile the footbridge crossing the top of the falls will be encountered. DO NOT under any circumstances cross guard rails at the top of Vernal Falls, do not swim in Emerald Pool just upstream of the falls and do not attempt to get closer to the river to take pictures.
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.