One of the easiest, most popular walks in Yosemite is the simple stroll to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. If you haven’t been to the park before, this is an obvious destination for any time of year. If you were thinking of avoiding it because it’s too easy or too crowded – or if you saw it a few years ago – I’d still commend this walk to you.
You can see Upper Yosemite Falls from most of eastern Yosemite Valley – in spring it’ll really grab your attention as you drive into Chapel Meadow (in the autumn you might miss it). The visibility of the tallest waterfall in North America makes it easy to navigate to this target just by eyeballing the way. The falls is located between Yosemite Village and Yosemite Lodge.
There’s no longer a parking lot near the foot of the waterfall-Yosemite lovers donated millions to remove the parking lot and improve the foot trail and signage. Unless you’re a guest at Yosemite Lodge, the best parking for all activities in/near Yosemite Village is the Day Use Parking Area (Camp 6). From here it’s about a mile of flat walking to the base of the falls, or you can take the free shuttle from the parking to the trailhead. If you’ve got your bikes (or rented bikes at the Lodge or Curry Village) there are great bike trails to the trailhead – but obey the rules and don’t bring your bike on the busy pedestrian paths; there are bike racks near the falls shuttle stop.
The trail makes a loop on either side of Yosemite Creek with the eastern (toward Half Dome) side being at wheelchair grade the whole way. There’s a new, large bathroom near the Lodge end of the loop. It’s a short stroll to find food at Yosemite Lodge or in the Village.
There are some quality interpretive signs/exhibits along the trail. One display is a brass sculpture of the landscape around the falls, so you can orient yourself both horizontally and vertically. From other signs you’ll learn about an early hotel keeper, the falls in different seasons, some park wildlife, and John Muir. You can see two spots where Muir lived and a faint remnant of one of his workplaces. Sometimes you see rockclimbers on the walls to either side of the waterfall. Lower Yosemite Falls is a drop of about 320 feet – about twice as high as the American side of Niagara. There’s a broad viewing platform adjoining a wooden footbridge over Yosemite Creek. Thousands of family vacation portraits are taken from this terrace each year, with the roaring fall beyond.
In April you might get lucky and see the incredible frazil ice. If you come in May or June the base of the fall is an intense windy, misty place – too powerful to linger long. If you come August-September there may not be a single drop of water here – that’s California’s Mediterranean climate: winter storms bring snow and when that’s all melted the waterworks are over. Full moon nights during spring runoff provide a chance to see the elusive ’moonbow’ here.
Yosemite Falls has been waiting; come and be baptized in its mist.