“A nice out-and-back to two beautiful waterfalls without the Yosemite valley crowds.
— David Hitchcock
Lake · Views · Waterfall · Wildflowers
A fairly easy hike along the shore of Hetch Hetchy with plenty to see along the way.
This route highlights the beauty of Yosemite, and the struggle to define what the National Park system was going to be. Once a valley that rivaled Yosemite Valley, the Dan O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed in 1923 in order to create a reservoir from the waters of the Tuolumne River
in order to provide drinking water for the people of San Francisco. John Muir believed the valley to rival Yosemite in terms of scenic beauty, though even his voice couldn't stop the progress of the dam. Today, a large lake fills the valley, creating beauty in its own way.
In the springtime, wildflowers are plentiful around the lake. Rancheria, Wapama, and Tueeulala Falls flow into the lake, highlighting some of the majestic beauty in the area. Hetch Hetchy Dome, Kolana, and other peaks rise above the lake. Even though great trails exist in this area, like this one, the crowds are small due to the distance from Yosemite Valley.
Evergreen Road into Hetch Hetchy can be closed due to snow in the winter or a washout after storms. You can check road conditions atnps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/…
or by dialing 1-209-372-0200, dialing extensions 1/1. Chain restrictions may also go into effect at any time in the winter, so bring chains with you.
No swimming or boating is allowed in the reservoir.
Need to Know
Seasons: Open all year, but chains may be required in the winter.
This is the only park road not open 24 hours/day, the hours below may change without notice:
April 1 to April 30: 8 am to 7 pm
May 1 to Labor Day: 7 am to 9 pm
Day after Labor Day to October 31: 8 am to 7 pm
November 1 to March 31: 8 am to 5 pm
Most of this trail is very open with very little shade, so making sure you have enough water is important, as it can get hot as the day progresses. Views of the dam and shoreline are easy to come by on this trail, so take the opportunity to try to picture this valley without all the water in it.
The trail begins at the Dan O'Shaughnessy Dam. Make your way across the dam, taking time to learn a little more about the dam from informational signs that line the dam. Once you've made it across the dam, you get the opportunity to pass through an old train tunnel that was used to get supplies up to the dam during it's construction. The tunnel can be wet as water drips through the rocks, so make sure to wear appropriate footwear. Follow along the old road as it climbs for about .9 miles until the road goes off to the left and the trail breaks off to the right.
The trail curves through little gardens and pockets of wildflowers as the trail makes it's way down from the Miguel Meadow Fire Road
. At this point the trail can be very narrow, or wide as it crosses granite rocks by the shore. As you work your way toward Tueeulala Falls, a seasonal waterfall that covers the trail in the spring, you begin to encounter an area where wildflowers can be viewed. Fed by snow-melt, the creek that feeds this fall is usually dry by mid-June.
At this point, the trail descends briefly and then starts to climb up some steps dynamited into the rock. You cross a bridge over a deep ravine, where your view of the Tuolumne River
flowing into the reservoir is possibly at its best. At this point, Kolana Rock sits on the opposite shore, rising high above the waterline.
Eventually, you'll reach the main event - Wapama Falls. The water descends almost 1,100 feet as it plunges 300 feet at the top, 600 feet through a steep gorge, and then another 200 feet as the water make its way down into the reservoir. Take in the view underneath the falls as the water thunders over the cliffs and creates a drenching spray.
The trail ends at the Wapama Falls footbridge, which at times can be flooded when there is a lot of water flowing in the early spring. Note, that if the water is high and moving fast over the bridge, it could be dangerous to attempt to cross the bridge. The falls are in full view at this point as the water plunges almost over the edge, and then makes it way into the reservoir via several different paths.
Flora & Fauna
Lots of wildflowers like buttercups, monkey flowers, wallflowers and lupine varieties can be seen along the lake.
California newts, snakes (including rattlers), and bear can be seen in this area. The area is also home to 17 species of bats
History & Background
This area was once a valley that rivaled Yosemite Valley in terms of beauty according to John Muir. Completed in 1923 and then expanded again in 1938, the Dan O'Shaughnessy Dam damed the Tuolumne River
in order to provide water and power for the city of San Francisco. It was one of the biggest conservation controversies in the history of the National Park Service. Even though John Muir and the conservationists lost, Hetch Hetchy became an example of what could happen if dams were built in National Parks or Monuments and prevented many future dams from being built. Even today, there is a movement to tear down the dam and restore the valley to its original state.