Foresta Falls was probably one of the more pleasant yet unsung and off-the-beaten-path waterfalling surprises to be found in Yosemite National Park. Every time we'd drive the Big Oak Flat Road (usually to go to Hetch Hetchy or to the Tioga Road if we were coming from Yosemite Valley), we'd always see a signed turnoff for Foresta, but we never suspected there'd be anything on interest there let alone a waterfall. Then on one visit where we had some spare time, we decided to follow an obscure writeup in our old second edition of Ann Marie Brown's book, but the kicker with that trail description was that it wasn't complete (she only saw the upper cascades and not the main waterfall you see pictured above).
So imagine our surprise when curiosity got the better of us as we ended up venturing a bit further on the unpaved community road from Foresta until we found the waterfall you see pictured at the top of this page. Its main steep drop was probably on the order of 60ft, but there were also some cascades further downstream possibly bringing the cumulative height to nearly 100ft. I'm willing to bet that of the millions of people that go to Yosemite National Park each year, probably not even 1% of those visitors know about this place! In other words, you're likely to get a quiet experience where chances are that you might even have it to yourself, which is quite a statement to make concerning a significant waterfall such as this in a place as busy and as well known as Yosemite National Park.
The cascades that Ann Marie Brown stopped at (further upstream of the main falls) were also no slouch. That consisted of three tiers dropping with a cumulative height of a reported 30ft. Although the upper cascades of Foresta Falls were visible from the unpaved road, they were difficult to access because of the thick shrubbery between the unpaved road and Crane Creek. I'm sure some people might have accessed the creek by off-trail scrambling there to cool off, but we've never done it so we can't describe how it could be done.
As for hiking to the main drop of Foresta Falls, we began by parking at a pullout shortly after the road became unpaved (see directions below). It might have been possible to keep driving the road to reduce the amount of hiking, but the road quickly became narrow, rocky, and rugged where we felt it wasn't worth the potential damage to the car just to save a few minutes of hiking. At this point, we got out of the car and walked the rugged road which continued downhill as it rounded a bend (past some Mcaulay Ranch Addition sign) then proceeded to a switchback roughly 0.4 miles from the pullout. Along the way, we saw the upper cascades as well as some views of the Crane Flat area further downstream in the direction of Merced Canyon.
Continuing down the trail, the terrain showed more evidence of fire that had destroyed much of the community of Foresta in 1990 (known as the A-Rock Fire). There might have been subsequent fires (including one between our visits in 2004 and 2017) because we have before and after pictures showing further damage to the vegetation and human-built infrastructure (especially at the falls).
Such fires resulted in minor obstacles like dead falls that we had to hike over or around as well as black-barked trees that stood eerily bare while offering little to no shade. Foresta was once a ranching and private community, but the majority of the structures were destroyed in that event. Some remnants of its past still remain in the Crane Flat area, and we even noticed a handful of buildings that appeared to still offer lodging. It was believed that the firestorm that engulfed the area during the A-Rock event was the result of years of fire suppression combined with a multi-year drought sparked by lightning from a thunderstorm.
After the switchback, we then continued downhill for the remaining 0.3 miles as the dirt road made one final bend to the left leading to a bridge fronting the Foresta Falls. The bridge looked like it supported vehicular traffic at one point (as evidenced by a couple of signs saying there was a 6 ton weight limit), but these days, it appeared that the path now pretty much supported only foot and bicycle traffic. There were more cascades immediately downstream of the bridge, but we had to do an awkward scramble to try to photograph the whole thing in one shot. Speaking of photographs, this was a west-facing waterfall so it would get the best light in the afternoon.
Once we had our fill of the falls while being refreshed by its cool spray, we went back the way we came. Both times we've done this hike, we didn't continue hiking further along the road beyond the falls so we can't say what else was there (though we did see a couple of people continue walking in that direction so maybe we'll satisfy our curiosity the next time we're here). Overall, we had hiked about 1.5 miles round trip, and it took us about an hour away from the car.
I scrambled beneath the bridge for this view of Foresta Falls
On the way up the Big Oak Flat Road towards the Forest community, we got this view of Bridalveil Fall backing the rugged Merced River Canyon
This was right where the pavement ended just beyond Lyell Way
A sign here warned of a bridge washout up ahead
Starting the hike down to the falls from the pullout where we felt uncomfortable continuing past this point given the road conditions
Looking down the profile of some of the upper cascades on Crane Creek
Cascades tumbling before the big drop
Walking past some sign saying we were entering the McCaulay Ranch Addition
The further down the road we walked, the rougher the road became. So we felt comfortable walking this stretch instead of driving it
That said, one person managed to drive his BMW down to this switchback
This was one of the deadfall obstacles that was a casualty of the fires that have come through Foresta
Approaching the bridge and the main drop of Foresta Falls in the early morning
There were more cascades immediately downstream of the bridge fronting Foresta Falls
Looking back at Foresta Falls from the other side of the bridge
Just to give you some perspective on the extent of subsequent fires since the A-Rock Fire in 1990, compare this photo with the preceding one. Notice the condition of the sign and the presence of railings on the bridge
Here is another photo from our first visit in 2004. Looking directly at the falls from the bridge
Foresta Falls is located near the community of Foresta. You can get to there from Yosemite Valley by leaving the valley to the west into the Merced Canyon along Hwy 140. Then, just under a mile west of the bridge over the Merced River (where the bridge led back into Yosemite Valley near Fern Spring), we then kept right to leave the Route 140 and head up the Big Oak Flat Road (towards Route 120). After passing through three tunnels, we then took the signed turnoff (I recalled there was a sign for "Foresta" as well as a signpost B5 near that junction) to our left as it led roughly two miles into Foresta and the visibly devastated area from the A-Rock Fire back in 1990.
We then continued driving on the main Foresta Rd through the remaining active parts of the community as it crossed a bridge over Crane Creek. Shortly after the bridge, we took the first left turn, which then led to the end of the pavement right after intersecting with Lyell Way (which looked more like a driveway to limited parking for the neighboring house or accommodation). We then drove onto the unpaved road where barely a quarter-mile from the end of the pavement, we found a pullout on our left (maybe room for three small cars).
This pullout was where we parked the car and began hiking. The road continued beyond this pullout, but it quickly became narrow, overgrown, and really rugged. I wouldn't recommend taking a passenger car past the pullout though I did see at least one person risk damage to his car by driving down to a larger pullout at a switchback another 0.4 miles further.
For a bit of context, Foresta was roughly 6 hours drive from Los Angeles via our preferred route of going up the Hwy 41 from Fresno via Oakhurst and the South Entrance. From San Francisco, this was roughly a 4 hour drive along route 120 and the Big Oak Flat Entrance (or the "Northwest Entrance" if you will). From Merced, it was roughly a 2 hour drive via Mariposa and the Arch Rock Entrance along the Route 140.
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