Visit the Hetch Hetchy Region of Yosemite National Park for Wonderful Views of Wapama Falls.

Part of the You Can Learn Travel series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
Updated:
September 3, 2007

Hetch Hetchy Region will Wow You with Outstanding Views.

Are you looking for an easy hike in a less crowded area of Yosemite National Park? Vist the Hetch Hetchy region of the park. You will see waterfalls that drop over 1000 feet.

The Wapama Fall Trail will take you around the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. You will see Tueeulala Falls which plunges off the granite mountain close to 1,000 feet. As you continue on the trail you will first hear the roaring sound of snow melt falling from the cliffs and then see the beautiful waterfall, Wapama Falls.

But, don't just look at the waterfalls. Spend some time to admire the beautiful flowers especially in the spring time. Even though it is dry in some areas of the trail, the places that get water bloom with colorful flowers of different shapes and sizes. Plus, the reservoir itself is outstanding and surrounded with Granite Domes. The O'Shaughnessy Dam is an impressive site of concrete 317 feet tall.
Click on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir photo.
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir holds water for the city of San Francisco and is part of Yosemite National Park
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is in the Northwestern part of Yosemite National Park.
Click to see larger photo.
The O'Shaughnessy Dam was built between 1914 and 1923 in Yosemite National Park
The O'Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite National Park
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir holds water for the San Francisco area. The O'Shaughnessy dam was built between 1914 and 1923. The great naturalist John Muir worked hard to prevent the dam from being built. He likened the Hetch Hetchy region as a valley as beautiful as the Yosemite Valley.

Even with the 360 foot deep reservoir, Hetch Hetchy is a beautiful area. The reservoir extends 8 miles into the valley at an elevation of 3700 feet. The people that manage the reservoir have to determine how much water to hold back every year. When the snows are heavy they release more water down the Tuolumne river. If the snows are light, they have to manage the water behind the dam. If they release too much water too early in the year they don't have enough water for San Francisco. If they don't release enough water in the spring then they could cause problems downstream if they have to send millions of gallons of water all at once.

It is a tough job to balance the water supply. As you stand on the dam wall you can look downstream 317 feet down to the Tuolumne river. Turn around and look at the reservoir and you can see granite peaks and Wapama Falls. During spring runoff you can see Tueeulala Falls. Rising to 6,165 feet you see Hetch Hetchy Dome to the right of Wapama Falls. On the other side of the reservoir, Kolana Rock rises singularly to 5,772 feet or 2000 feet above the height of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

Click on photo to see larger photo of flower.
Flowers bloom along the The Wapama Trail in the spring time.
In the spring time many different flowers bloom along the Wapama Trail

Click to see larger photo.
It only takes a little water to see wonderful blooms of flowers.
Water from snow melt creates opportunities for beautiful flowers along the Wapama Trail.
Are you ready to take a hike? There are two popular hikes in the region.
  • Wapama Fall Trail
  • Poopenaut Trail
The Wapama Fall Trail follows the north / west side of the reservoir and will take you to Wapama Falls. The Poopenaut Trail is a short trail only 2 miles round trip. But, the Poopenaut Trail is very steep and your elevation change is 1250 feet. It will take you to the Tuoloumne River and can provide you with peace and solitude. You can reach the Poopenaut Trail approximately 3 miles from the dam along the road to the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.

To reach the Wapama Fall Trail, just walk across the dam. A tunnel has been created in the granite on the other side of the dam. You walk through the tunnel, it is dark, cool and damp. Water is dripping from the ceiling in early spring.

On the other side of the tunnel you begin a trail that is gentle. The trail is wide and easy to navigate. You will rise over 400 feet in some areas of the trail. It becomes more rugged, but it is manageable by most people. As you travel the trail be sure and admire the different flowers along the path. I was amazed at some of the places flowers were growing. You would see a rocky, dry, hot area and there poking it's head from the rocks was a tiny but beautiful flower. There are many different flowers. See if you recognize any of them.

Tueeulala Falls - Misty Falls of Lace and Soft

We went to Yosemite National Park the first week of June 2007. The snow that year was 40% of normal snow. The first falls you reach is Tueeulala. This year it was more than a trickle; it appeared to be a creek. We didn't notice the falls until after we had passed it. But, what we saw when we looked up was a misty falls of lace and soft. If you look at the photo of the yellow flowers above you can see the results of the falls. Where ever water crossed the path, flowers would flourish. In this area, it was actually a little dangerous and slippery. I almost slipped as I crossed this area. I don't think my life was in danger, but after the flowers the water dropped over 100 feet to the reservoir below.

The north side of the reservoir there is little in the way of shade. During the hot dry days of summer, the trail can be brutal. You must bring water with you. As you continue the Wapama Trail towards Wapama Falls you experience a few ups and downs in the path. Shortly, you will hear the falls as it roars 1400 feet off the top of the granite. During some spring and late winter periods the trail will be closed because of the amount of water splashing over the path.

Once you get to the falls, there is a boardwalk that allows safe passage around the falls. Take plenty of photos before the bridge, on the bridge and after the bridge. The look of the falls is different in each of those spots. Watch the mist that it doens't mess up your camera lens. After the falls many people will find some shade and eat a snack they brought with them and prepare for the hike back.

Kolana Rock Rises almost 2000 Feet Above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

As you head back be sure and look across the reservoir to see Kolana Rock. A massive granite that rises almost 2000 feet above the reservoir. Use your binoculars to view peregrine that nest on Kolana Rock. We weren't able to see anything with our binoculars. "Time for new binoculars!"

The distance for the hike is 5.4 miles and can take up to 3 hours depending on your level of fitness. Are you up to continue on for another 4.7 miles one way? You can visit Rancheria Falls. This would be a long day hike. There are campgrounds in the area if you want to camp and make it a two day hike.
Click on photo.

Wapama Falls is spectacular during the spring snow melt at the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park
Wapama Falls plunges spectacularly over 1400 feet from the spring snow melt.

    
Click to see larger photo of Kolana Rock.
Many granite domes line the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir like this photo of Kolana Rock.
Kolana Dome rises above the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir across from Wapama Falls.

We hope you enjoy your hike to Wapama Falls It is beautiful and the contrast between the hard, rough, rugged granite and tiny little delicate flowers cause you to stop and wonder as you hike along the trail. Depending what time of year you visit the waterfalls are fantastic. In the fall Tueeulala Falls may be just a trickle, but during the spring snowmelt the 1000 foot falls is a real joy.

When is the best time of year to visit? Well during the mid summer and early fall it will be hot on the trail and you will have limited water flow. Winter the Hetch Hetchy section of Yosemite National Park has limited hours. Basically daylight hours and you may have to contend with snow. Once the snow begins to melt the trail can be dangerous in places. But, if you go too late in spring the creeks begin to dry up.

I think whenever you can make it to Yosemite National Park and especially the Hetch Hetchy region of the park is a good time to go. There is alwas something interesting happening with newts, lizards, flowers, birds and waterfalls. You will enjoy.

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