There’s a reason Yosemite Falls is the most visited landmark in Yosemite Valley. Quite frankly, it’s a spectacular sight. That’s especially true this year, when the winter snowpack topped out at 165 percent of average. After all, when all that snow melted, the water had to go somewhere. And although Yosemite National Park is most certainly worthy of a visit any time of year, the massive 2011 runoff makes Yosemite Falls a must-see this summer.
Along the Way
Located about 150 miles east of San Francisco, Yosemite National Park (209-372-0200, www.nps.gov/yose) is certainly a doable day trip from the Bay Area. That said, it will be a long day; and although you’ll certainly have time to enjoy the falls, one day is simply not enough time for a comprehensive visit. So if it’s your first visit to the park, plan to spend several days there; however, if you’re a repeat visitor who just wants to see the falls, then get an early start and make a day of it.
From the San Francisco area, head east through the Central Valley and connect to Highway 120 to Yosemite. It’s a very scenic drive, so save some time to stop and enjoy the view along the way. You’ll also get a good view from the Priest Station Café (209-962-1888). Located at the top of Priest Grade, it makes an excellent lunch stop. Not only does it have a nice deck that overlooks the road; but to be honest, you’ll be ready for a break by the time you make it to the top of Priest Grade.
Built in 2010, the Priest Station Café stands near the site of the historic stage and wagon stop on the route to Yosemite. And although the Anker family wanted to preserve the local history of Priest Station when they built the restaurant, they also did a nice job of incorporating access into it.
There’s accessible parking in the new paved lot, with level access to the restaurant and to an accessible family restroom. There’s good pathway access inside the restaurant, as well as on the deck; but try and snag a spot outside if you can.
The weekday menu features a variety of sandwiches, burgers and salads; but on weekends they also serve up eggs, pancakes and other breakfast favorites. And although they’re known for their hamburgers, they also have a number of vegan options. Don’t forget to try their home made potato chips — you won’t be disappointed. After lunch, save some time to browse through the historic photos inside the restaurant, before continuing on to Yosemite.
Make no mistake about it, there will be a lot of traffic in the park; but the view of the falls will be worth it. Although some people park on the road directly in front of Yosemite Falls, it’s not a good idea for anyone with access issues. For the easiest access to the falls, park in the day use area in Yosemite Village and take the free shuttle bus to Yosemite Falls. All park buses are lift-equipped, and it’s really the easiest way to get around Yosemite Valley, especially in the summer.
The accessible trail to Lower Yosemite Falls is located on the east side of the falls, with the trailhead directly in back of the shuttle bus stop. This gently graded paved trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls, and has a number of pull outs, resting spots and benches along the way.
The trail on the west side of the falls is also paved, however it’s not accessible, due to the steep grade near the top; so be careful which trail you take. If you’re walking, use the shuttle bus stop as a landmark and go from there The two trails join at a bridge at the base of Lower Yosemite Falls to form a one-mile loop. And if you can’t do distances at all, you can still get a great view of the falls from the shuttle bus stop.
Tips and Tricks
In normal years Yosemite Falls is just a mere trickle by July and almost nonexistent in August. This year the falls were massive in June, and are expected to run well into August. Still, for the maximum water flow, go as early in the summer as possible.
Additionally, it’s a good idea to take a light jacket with you, if you don’t want to get wet from the spray at the base of the falls.
And although the park will be crowded all summer, try and avoid holiday weeks and weekends, as these are the busiest times. Aim for a midweek visit if at all possible.
Last but not least, make sure and get your America the Beautiful Access Pass for free admission to all National Parks and Recreation Areas. This lifetime pass is available to any US resident with a permanent disability, and can be obtained at any national park entrance. For more information on the America the Beautiful Access Pass, visit www.nps.gov/findapark/passes.htm.