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Top five 'must see' waterfalls in Yosemite National Park | Bartell's Backroads

Springtime is waterfall season at Yosemite National Park and you don't want to miss it! Here are the top five waterfalls to see during your visit.

YOSEMITE VALLEY, Calif. — Naturalist John Muir once said, “The snow is melting into music.” If you visit Yosemite National Park in the spring, that music will be all around you. 

It would be hard to pick just one waterfall to focus on in the park, so Yosemite Conservancy President Frank Dean suggested five waterfalls that any visitor could easily see on an ordinary day trip. He describes them as "ephemeral."

“It’s only temporary and usually it’s only a springtime situation,” says Dean.

The first waterfall almost every visitor will see is at the end of Wawona Tunnel. Bridalveil Falls is the focal point for every picture, painting and memory had by just about anyone whose visited. 

“The Miwok name for Bridalveil is 'Puffing Wind,'” Dean said. 

It’s below the billowing mist that the Conservancy and the National Park System are working to make access to Bridalveil Falls even better. The construction of new utilities, bathrooms and trails will make it easier for everyone to get an up-close view by the end of 2022.

Credit: ABC10 / Rory Ward


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At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is not only one of the most iconic falls, it’s also one of the tallest in the world and it’s broken up into three parts: upper, middle and lower. In the winter and spring it sheds off ice that eventually makes its way into the Merced River. 

“Frazzle ice--you can’t see it in very many places in the world, only in places with high waterfalls,” says Dean.

Although not required, it is easier to drive then park in front of many of the waterfalls, especially the hard to find ones like Sentinel Falls. The unique thing about Sentinel Falls is that it’s seasonal you can only see it from March to June.

It's located to the west of Sentinel Rock and it tumbles down multiple cascades that range from 50 to 500 feet. “In the winter the water freezes and people actually ice climb up that waterfall,” says Dean.

Another seasonal waterfall is Ribbon Falls and it’s easy to spot because it's right next to El Capitan, one of the most challenging climbs in the park. Seasonal or not, all the waterfalls in Yosemite Valley ends up in the Merced River. 

“These are all part of the headwaters to the Merced River which eventually makes its way down to the central valley and eventually to San Francisco Bay.”

Horsetail Falls brings in hundreds of photographers every year to catch a glimpse of what’s called "firefall." 

RELATED: Yosemite 'Firefall' set to manifest in February

“There is a certain time in February where the sun sets at just the right angle and illuminates the water, turning it bright orange,” says Dean.

The snow melt puts on a spectacular show every year in Yosemite, but due to climate change that show is becoming shorter and shorter. The two remaining ancient glaciers inside the park have almost completely melted. So, if you want to see and hear these waterfalls, there’s no better time than now.

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