Yosemite Valley Waterfalls

Yosemite Valley is a lush garden space of meadows, woods and the Merced River flowing between high, massive granite cliffs like Cathedral Rocks, El Capitan and Half Dome.


Tunnel View parking lot is one of the most popular photography spots for views of Yosemite Valley.

Turkey vulture welcomed me to Yosemite Valley after hours in the high Sierra of Tioga Road where I was watched over by Raven, my guide animal for Utah and Death Valley. Seriously, ravens were the dominant wildlife feature in all the National Parks I visited. Turkey vultures are the birds I encounter commonly when hiking the Monterey County coastline of Big Sur.


Turkey vulture appeared as I first saw Yosemite Valley from Big Oak Flat Road while driving west through Yosemite National Park on Highway 120 from Tioga Pass, the highest trans-Sierra road at 9,945 feet.

Three main features of Yosemite Valley are seen in the Tunnel View photo with El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and Half Dome.


Southwest face of El Capitan.

El Capitan is a vertical granite rock face rising 3,000 feet from the Yosemite Valley floor. El Cap is one of the great rock climbing venues of the world. There is the southwest face and southeast face with different climbing routes.


Bridalveil Fall plunges 617 feet to join the Merced River in Yosemite Valley.


Half Dome at 8,840 feet has a vertical granite rock face that rises 4,737 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. The Native American Ahwahneechee name for Half Dome is Tis-sa-ack. This is another favored climbing location.


Bridalveil Fall is an easy walk of a couple hundred yards from the parking lot. The mist from Bridalveil Fall keeps the area quite wet at the base.


Tourists at base of Bridalveil Fall are usually sprayed with mist which is comforting on warm days and chilling on cool days. Yosemite Valley was about 70 F degrees on Friday, May 17, 2013. The mist was refreshing.


Cathedral Rocks are the large rocks seen on the south side of Yosemite Valley between Bridalveil Fall and Half Dome.


Yosemite Falls at 2,245 feet is the 20th highest measured waterfall in the world. Yosemite Falls actually has three sections with the upper falls plunging 1,430 feet. The Middle Cascades are a series of five plunges for a drop of 675 feet. Lower Falls is a 328 feet drop with a popular viewing location near Yosemite Lodge.


Upper Falls of Yosemite Falls being dispersed by wind.

I talked with a 20-something physically fit woman riding a bike through the valley. She said hiking the 3.5 mile trail to the Upper Falls is one of her great experiences in Yosemite. The combined plunges of Yosemite Falls makes this waterfall number 20 on the top 20 highest waterfalls in the world.


Yosemite Falls seen from the Valley floor meadow.

Completing the circle

Pulling myself away from the beauty of Yosemite Valley was a delayed reaction. Monterey was still a 200-mile, four hour drive to endure to reach the end of my 3,500 mile, 12-day road trip from Monterey to Colorado Springs for the Boarding Area conference (BAcon) and back again with stops in seven National Parks along the journey.


When the mountains call I must go to them.

But I always find my way back to the sea.


My view of the Santa Cruz Mountains looking north from my street in Monterey.

This desert journey through California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah and Colorado took me to the mountains and deserts, then home to the sea of central coastal California once again.


  • Julian May 20, 2013

    Very informative report. Fantastic pictures!

  • autolycus May 20, 2013

    Ric, Thanks for this series. I have thoroughly enjoyed your photos and the information about the sites you saw. I have visited a couple of these parks and several more are on my bucket list.

    You should make a similar road trip in the Appalachians, especially from the Smokies across the Black Mountains and up the Blue Ridge to Shenandoah (or reverse). Completely different type of scenery from the Rockies and Sierra Nevada, but one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world is quite stunning in its own way. Mid-late October is best because of the fall colors, but spring and summer have their flowers.

  • Kelly May 20, 2013

    Thank you for the update! We have been burning miles and points trying to visit the National Parks the last few years. We have managed to squeeze in Rocky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Zion, Joshua Tree, Death Valley, Haleakula, and Volcano just in the last 2 years flying from Texas! Just booked a trip for July to see Yosemite, Kings Canyon and Sequoia! Have to fly in and out of LA Area in order to use my points during this time frame, but the car rental rates are attractive even for one way rentals in some markets. We always try to use points for hotels if we can, but make it a point to stay within the national parks at least one night and pay cash!

  • Ric Garrido May 20, 2013

    @Kelly – Yosemite is one expensive place to stay in the park, but the only alternative is an hour drive from the closest towns. Spending only one day in Yosemite is painful for me when I want to stay for days.

    Here is a post from May 17, 2011 also titled Yosemite Valley with photos of Ahwahnee Lodge and some other areas of the valley I did not reach this trip.

    This other post talks about lodging options when coming to Yosemite via Highway 41 out of Fresno and has pictures of Wawona Lodge in the southwest portion of the park outside Yosemite Valley.

    Kings Canyon is one of the great road drives I wrote about in this post:

    @autolycus – I would like to visit the Appalachians again. I lived in Virginia in 7th grade and a family in the neighborhood took me with them to Shenandoah National Park one trip. I have relatives who lived in the Roanoke-Salem area and I have spent time in the mountains there. Kelley and I once did a road trip on the back roads from Kentucky to Washington, DC. Time to get back to that part of the country I have not seen in 20 years.

  • Pamela T May 20, 2013

    Thanks for taking us on tour trip. I’ll be linking your whole series to the young adult grandchildren we are taking to most of those Parks this summer. Round trip Phoenix. Last Park will be the North Rim of Grand Canyon. Also doing LA to SF via US 1 as part of this. Maybe we’ll bump into you in Monterey! Any ideas for us in Carmel and Monterey?

  • Michael May 20, 2013

    where is the best place to stay for a family of four (two 10 year old twins)…

  • Ric Garrido May 20, 2013

    @Pamela T – wishing you a fog-free drive on Highway 1.

    Take a hike at Pfeiffer Big Sur State Park. There are rock pools where swimming is possible if the water level is high enough or Julia Pfeiffer Burns State Park.

    Go to the State Beach at Big Sur for some ocean views if the weather is nice.

    An easy hike is around Soberanes Point at Garrapata State Park. I have written several posts about this location.

    Two restaurants with outstanding views and high prices are Nepenthe (about five miles south of Big Sur town)and Rocky Point about 15 miles north of Big Sur town.

    River Inn is a gathering place around Big Sur town with a brewpub and lodging. This is a popular place to take a chair and sit right in the river on a warm day.

    Monterey has whale watching tours, sandy beaches, rocky coast for tidepooling, and a coastal path that goes for miles. A nice place to ride a bike or walk around the Monterey Peninsula with great ocean views.

    Carmel has art galleries, expensive shops and one of the best beaches in California to spend the day.

    Just be aware the ocean water is uncomfortably cold for most people.

    There are many historical sites in Monterey and Carmel from the Spanish colonial era.

  • Ric Garrido May 20, 2013

    @Michael – camping is the cheapest option. Yosemite Lodge is probably far less than Ahwahnee Lodge.

    I just tried a sample booking midweek in June and only Tuolumne Lodge and Tenaya Lodge were available. These are both about an hour drive from Yosemite Valley.

    Tuolumne at $146 looks like a good deal.

    Curry Village in Yosemite Valley is about the same price.

    Housekeeping Camp is $108 per night in Yosemite Valley.

    Yosemite Lodge has sparse availability with rates around $220.

    Ahwahnee Lodge is the historic lodge for Yosemite and a great place to visit, but at $500 per night only a press media trip will get me into a bed at that hotel.

    Wawona Lodge is a fun place, but still a long drive to Yosemite Valley.

  • Diane May 20, 2013

    We just booked 4 nights at Yosemite lodge for late Sept. last Friday. The key was a note in comments saying we could come anytime in Sept. I received a call the same day from their reservation office.

  • Pamela T May 22, 2013

    Thanks for the ideas Ric. I hadn’t thought about the fog. Just remembering all the clear sunny days we have encountered in the past.

    Been many years since we have driven it and bee to Carmel and Monterey. So looking forward to it. My husband and I had a very lovely evening meal at a Carmel restaurant. A little French one. We will have to put our heads together and try to remember it.

    Thanks again for the ideas.

  • Michelle S May 24, 2013

    Yosemite never gets old! Thanks for sharing about your road trip. It definitely helped me re-live some of mine. Definitely prefer reading about something different like this than seeing another pic of a first class cabin!

    P.S. I grew up on the Monterey Peninsula, but relocated to be a little closer to the “mountains” 🙂

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