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Yosemite Falls

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Yosemite Falls seen from the valley floor.
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Yosemite Falls seen from the valley floor.
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Yfalls_distance2.jpg
A photo which shows about 75% of Yosemite Falls 2,425 foot drop, making the Falls higher than the Sears Tower and the Eiffel Tower combined.

Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America. Located in Yosemite National Park in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, it is a breathtaking sight best viewed in the late spring.

The total 2425 foot distance from the top of the upper falls to the base of the lower falls qualifies Yosemite Falls as the sixth highest waterfall in the world. Although often referred to as a "two-stage drop", the falls actually consist of three sections:

  • The 1430 foot plunge qualifies the Upper Falls alone as one of the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. Trails up from the valley floor and down from other regions of the park outside the valley proper lead to both the top and base of upper Yosemite Falls. The upper fall is formed by the swift waters of Yosemite Creek which, after meandering through Eagle Creek Meadow, hurls themselves over the edge of a hanging valley in a spectacular and deafening show of force.
  • Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of cascades and smaller plunges generally referred to as "the cataracts". Taken together these account for another drop of 675 feet, nearly twice the height of the lower falls. Because of the layout of the area, the lack of any major drops in this section and the lack of public access they are all too easy to overlook. Most viewpoints in the valley miss them entirely. The best vantage points for the cataracts are found along the Yosemite Falls trail. Warning: Individuals climbing down from the falls trail towards the cataracts for a better look have required an expensive helicopter rescue due to steep and slippery terrain and features.
  • The final 320 foot drop of the Lower Falls, adjacent to an accessible viewing area provides countless park visitors with a close look at this spectacular waterfall. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the lower falls and flows into the Merced River nearby. Like many areas of Yosemite the plunge pool at the base of the lower falls is surrounded by dangerous jumbles of talus made even more treacherous by the high humidity and resulting slippery surfaces.

In years of little snow, the falls may actually cease flowing altogether in late summer or fall. A very small number of rock climbers have taken the opportunity to climb the normally inaccessible rock face beneath the falls, although this is an extraordinarily dangerous undertaking; a single afternoon thunderstorm could restart the falls, sweeping the climbers off the face.

The Lower Falls are easily accessible near the Yosemite Lodge in Yosemite Valley. The top of the Upper Falls may be reached via a steep, strenuous, and usually crowded 3.5 mile hike beginning near the Sunnyside Walk-in Campground. The Upper Falls may also be reached via several routes from the Tioga Road to the north.

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