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Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls in California, United States
Yosemite Falls in California, United States / Photo by BorisFromStockdale, Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA-3.0

WorldBlue  In short

One of the tallest waterfalls in North America is Yosemite Falls. The total height of this waterfall is 739 m, but especially impressive is the tallest cascade of this waterfall – the whooping 436 m!

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GPS coordinates
37.7565 N 119.5969 W
Location, address
North America, United States, California, Yosemite National Park, northern side of Yosemite Valley
Alternate name
Cholock (in Ahwahneechee language, means "the fall"), Choo-look, Schoolook, Yo-ham-i-te, Cho-looke
Total height
739 m
Highest drop
436 m
25 – 30 m
Average annual flow
7 m3/s
Yosemite Creek
UNESCO World Heritage status
Part of "Yosemite National Park", 1984, No. 308.

Map of the site

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WorldYellow In detail

Yosemite Creek

Yosemite Valley could be one of the most wonderful places on Earth. This 13 km long valley has been shaped by glaciers and is up to 914 m deep.

Valley has many amazing waterfalls, but the largest and tallest is Yosemite Falls. It is formed by Yosemite Creek. This stream flows some 12.8 km before the falls, on its way falling for some 300 m. And then it… whoosh… falls for 739 m over a distance of approximately 700 meters. Afterward, it flows some 1.2 km and enters Merced River.

Yosemite Falls, Upper Fall
Yosemite Falls, Upper Fall / Melissa Wiese, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

Here have been developed trails leading towards the waterfall and providing many fine views of it – and from it.


The volume of water in Yosemite Creek is fluctuating. This is caused by the thin soil on granite surfaces around Yosemite Valley. Water does not accumulate in this thin soil and – as the rain falls, the water is quickly drained by the river network.

Yosemite Falls is especially impressive in May when the snow in the mountains is melting. In this period the force of water is creating a constant tremble of the ground and a deep, unforgettable roar.

After dry summers Yosemite Creek – and Yosemite Falls – get dry. The waterfall can be dry from August to October. But it is enough to have a rainy day – and falls "start" again.

In the winter at the base of the upper fall forms an impressive ice cone. It forms because this supertall waterfall turns into mist, which is frozen on its way.

Yosemite Falls, Lower Fall
Yosemite Falls, Lower Fall / chensiyuan, Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

Seven drops

Most descriptions divide Yosemite Falls into three parts – Upper Fall, Middle Cascades, and Lower Fall. As Middle Cascades have five smaller plunges, we can consider that Yosemite Falls has seven drops.

It seems that the last time when the exact height of falls was estimated, was in 1913 – and since then it has not been checked with contemporary methods.

Upper Fall is a 436 m tall cascade. In the upper part of falls the stream hits a ledge – and then the water is thrown in the air and most of it turns into mist before hitting the ground.

Middle Cascades are five smaller plunges in between the two large falls. Yosemite Creek drops here 206 m over the distance of some 550 m. These falls are very impressive as well – but this sight is hidden in a narrow gorge and it is very hard and dangerous to access these cascades.

Lower Fall is well visible, 98 m high drop. For most part it falls free, hitting the cliff closer to the base. Below the falls has formed a smaller pool.

Yosemite Falls, two drops in the Middle Cascades
Yosemite Falls, two drops in the Middle Cascades / Chris Dunstan, Wikimedia Commons, public domain

Land of Ahwahnechee

At the base of the waterfall was standing the main center of the natives of Yosemite Valley – Ahwahnechee people. Ahwahnechee means "dwellers of Ahwahnee" – Ahwahnee is the older native placename for Yosemite Valley. The name of the valley has been given by them – "Yo-sem’-i-te" means "adult grizzly bear".

White people – the Mariposa Batallion led by James D. Savage – found the valley in the pursuit of Indians around the 21st of March 1851. Member of Mariposa Batallion – Lafayette Bunnell – gave the Falls their present name – Yosemite Falls. Natives called it simply – "the fall" – Cholock.

Ahwahnechee lived here up to the 20th century. Unfortunately, these people were evicted from their beautiful homeland by the government of the United States. Their last village in the valley was burned down in 1969 for… firefighting practice. Nature conservation ideals of those times required creating a wilderness in Yosemite Valley – thus it was cruelly created.

Ahwahnechee believed that the pool at the base of the falls was inhabited by the spirits of several witches whom they called Poloti.

One local story tells about a woman who came here to take some water from the pool. As she took a bucket full of water, it turned out to be full of… snakes. Later in the night spirits brought an act of revenge – a whirlwind took the house of woman with her and her newborn to the pool and drowned them.


  1. Yosemite Falls. World Waterfall Database. Accessed on June 11, 2012.

Yosemite Falls are included in the following article:

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Bridalveil Falls in Yosemite Valley./ Jorge Láscar, Flickr / CC BY 2.0

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Virginia Falls / Paul Gierszewski, Wikimedia Commons / public domain


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Moon California Waterfalls

California outdoorswoman Ann Marie Brown covers the best of California’s waterfalls, from all areas of the state: Cascade Falls in Lake Tahoe, Limekiln Falls in Big Sur, and South Fork Kaweah Falls in Sequoia National Park, among others. Brown includes various travel strategies, including Top 5 Unusual Waterfalls and Top 5 Waterfalls at Family Campgrounds.

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