Wapama Wows

Hike to Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy Yosemite National Park

Hetch Hetchy can be overlooked in Yosemite National Park because of its more remote location and limited facilities. But this is where you’ll also find one of the best day hikes in the park: Wapama Falls. At 4.5 miles (round trip) and with only 1,108 feet of elevation gain, the mileage is more friendly than many of the other trails in the park.

Woman hiking along a trail in Yosemite

Woman smiling on the hiking trail with a lake in the background at Hetch Hetchy in Yosemite

Woman on bridge at Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy Yosemite

The moderate trail begins at the dam. As you walk across the concrete structure you can see the waterfalls on the other side, giving you an idea of how far you’ll be hiking. After crossing the dam, the route cuts through a tunnel and onto a more regular looking trail for the rest of the hike.

Over the course of the 2.25 miles to the waterfall, the trail passes through a variety of landscapes, all while following the edge of the lake. The views are incredible from start to finish, weaving through meadows, stream crossings, forests, rainbows from the waterfall mist, wildflowers … this hike truly has it all!

As you approach Wapama Falls there are a lot of stairs, which is where most of the elevation change occurs. It doesn’t last long though, and you’ll quickly find yourself at the base of the falls; here there are bridges and viewing platforms to admire the views. NOTE: It can get very wet! Rain shells are recommended unless you want to get completely soaked from the mist.

Keep your wits about you! During periods of heavy water flow (usually spring and into early summer) the water covers the bridge; so use your best judgment, always, and if the bridges don’t look safe to cross, don’t cross them.

The trail continues onward, creating a massive backpacking loop around the lake. However, this is where the Wapama Falls section ends, so once you reach the other side of the bridges, turn around and go back the way you came! And appreciate the views that inspired John Muir to say, “Hetch Hetchy is a grand landscape garden, one of nature’s rarest and most precious mountain temples."

Day use at Hetch Hetchy is open from sunrise to sunset. *Reservations are required to drive into the park on some dates: check ahead. Park entrance fee required. Roads are suitable for all types of vehicle, but since this is a remote area, be sure to have plenty of gas before heading up there. Map. No dogs allowed on trails within Yosemite National Park. Please obey warning signs posted by rangers if they say water flow is too high to cross bridges!

Story and photos by Natalie Bates, @wanderwithnatalie

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