Upper Yosemite Falls Trail – Yosemite National Park

April 2021

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail – Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls is one of the most notable falls in the park as it is front and center from almost any point in the park. The falls are made up of two falls – Upper and Lower. The Lower Falls are accessible on an easy walking path on the valley floor – very popular among visitors due to the minimal effort to get a closer view of a waterfall. The Upper Falls takes a bit more work. 

Upper Yosemite Falls is a difficult 6.8 mile there and back with 2600 feet elevation gain to the top of the falls. There are two viewpoints along the way – Columbia Rock just over 1 mile into the trail at 1000 foot elevation and Upper Falls Viewpoint another mile after that before reaching the top of the Upper Yosemite Falls. 

I had intended us to start this trail earlier in the day on a later time of the trip but since everything on Glacier Road was still closed for the season, it made sense to give this trail a try. We started just before 10A and decided to not make too many promises – we had been up since 4A with a four hour drive to get here so we wanted to be mindful, especially since we had two more full days of hiking ahead. 

From the Lower Yosemite Falls area, it is about a half mile to the trailhead of Upper Yosemite Falls. Once you reach the trailhead, you get a quick glance of the options on this trail. What is nice about having these Fitbit watches is that we can track how far into the trail we are to help determine how much more we have ahead. 

The beginning of this trail starts like any trail you would expect for a several thousand foot elevation gain – steep switchbacks. While the trees provided some relief, the sun quickly heated us up but the temperature sat in the low 60s so tt really was a perfect day to be hiking! These switch backs were pretty brutal but like most people on the trail, you take your time and take breaks, let people plowing through the trail pass you and not define your pace. As we began to get higher, the sneak peeks through the trees were motivating! 

Once out of the trees, the views became incredible. A few more switchbacks – these even steeper and more sandy than the beginning ones and now without the cover of trees – got us to the Columbia Rock Viewpoint and my goodness, it was awesome! Only a half hour of uphill got us to this amazing view.

Many people reach Columbia Rock and return back down but if you are not set on reaching the top of the falls, at least continue at little more to the Falls Viewpoint. We still felt great and decided to continue on to the Falls Viewpoint and settle there for lunch. This part of the trail was most enjoyable as it featured cutting across the rock, through more trees, and even over some small waterfalls. As the snow melts into springtime, tiny waterfalls emerge everywhere. 

About a half hour later, we made it to the Falls Viewpoint and boy was it worth it. It was hard to believe we were down on the valley floor not only an hour ago staring up at this enormous waterfall and now we were sitting eye level with it. To the right, there is even a great view of Half Dome. 


We found a ledge and a few rocks to relax and have our lunch. Trick with trail food is to bring something you are excited to eat – keeps the motivation going especially during long trails. If interested, check out this post on what trail food and other items we pack on long trails – coming soon! 

After eating and enjoying this epic view, we decided to not push our bodies too much more and head back down. At this point we were 2 miles with another 1.5 miles to get to the top. We had quite a bit more to do this day and still had to check into our Airbnb. 

According to the FitBit, we completed a 4 mile there and back in 3 hours with 2334 ft elevation gain which includes time stopping for lots of photos and lunch.

We were very satisfied with the trail and the views – what a great way to start our Yosemite journey. While this one is certainly not easy, if you take your time, you will be rewarded with some amazing views. Highly recommend this trail! 

To read all the details of our Yosemite trip – here!

Leave a Reply