Upper Falls (of the Yellowstone River)

Yellowstone National Park / Canyon, Wyoming, USA

About Upper Falls (of the Yellowstone River)


Hiking Distance: roadside; wheelchair
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2004-06-21
Date last visited: 2020-08-02

Waterfall Latitude: 44.71291
Waterfall Longitude: -110.49959

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Upper Falls was the other major waterfall that we saw on the Yellowstone River.

We thought it tended to be overshadowed by the Lower Falls further downstream because it wasn’t plunging within the depths of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Uncle_Tom_Point_005_iPhone_08022020 - Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River
Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River

Nonetheless, this impressive 110ft waterfall held its own in terms of scenic allure, especially when we considered its power.

In fact, I’d bet there would be an entire state park or reserve devoted to just this waterfall had it been on its own outside the Yellowstone National Park boundaries.

To our knowledge, I don’t think it was possible to get down to the river level to see the falls at its base (or at least not possible from the obvious lookouts and trails sanctioned by the Park Service).

We’ve managed to experience this waterfall in a three different ways, which we’ll get into below…

Experiencing Upper Falls – view from Uncle Tom’s Point

Canyon_115_08022020 - Looking across the viewing area for the Upper Falls and the Chittenden Bridge at Uncle Tom's Point
Looking across the viewing area for the Upper Falls and the Chittenden Bridge at Uncle Tom’s Point

The viewpoint near the Uncle Tom’s Trailhead and Lookout (also known as Uncle Tom’s Point) gave us the classic view of Upper Falls, which was just a few paces from the parking lot for the Uncle Tom’s Trail.

From the Canyon Junction, we drove south past the Chittenden Bridge (which was that bridge you see in the photo above that was upstream of the falls), and then we turned left onto the South Rim Drive.

After about 0.6 miles on the South Rim Drive, we reached the parking lot.

Once we parked the car, we headed towards the western end of the lot, and that was when we saw a trail that continued west and provided the frontal view of the Upper Falls.

Experiencing Upper Falls – profile view from opposite side of the brink

Canyon_074_08022020 - Walking along the paved South Rim Trail leading to the less-visited profile view of Upper Falls
Walking along the paved South Rim Trail leading to the less-visited profile view of Upper Falls

While the Uncle Tom’s Lookout mentioned above yielded the classic view of Upper Falls, the South Rim Trail continued another 0.3 miles upstream along the Yellowstone River to a lesser-visited overlook.

During this walk, the paved walkway continued alongside the river though the views were blocked by trees.

However, after making one last curve gently downhill (lots of people opted to bypass this curve and take an unsanctioned shortcut), we then arrived at the overlook, which gave us an unusual profile view of the Upper Falls.

On the morning of our visit in early August 2020 at around 10am, we managed to see a double rainbow in the blasting mist at the base of the falls.

Canyon_095_08022020 - Profile look across Upper Falls with a double rainbow from the refraction of the mid-morning sunlight
Profile look across Upper Falls with a double rainbow from the refraction of the mid-morning sunlight

Compared to the main lookouts at Uncle Tom’s Point, this spot was much quieter largely because most people don’t bother exploring the South Rim Trail in this direction.

But it’s not completely unknown because there would always be a handful of people showing up in between stretches of having this spot to ourselves.

Experiencing Upper Falls – view from the brink

As the name implied, this way of experiencing Upper Falls pretty much involved getting right up to the edge of the powerful waterfall.

From the nearest parking area, we walked a mere 450ft to the upper lookouts as well as steps.

Canyon_182_08022020 - Approaching the very busy lookout right at the brink of the Upper Falls
Approaching the very busy lookout right at the brink of the Upper Falls

Then, as we descended the steps, we could start to appreciate some of the intermediate waterfalls on the Yellowstone River rapidly tumbling towards the brink of the Upper Falls.

The foot path then proceeded another 100ft or so to the very busy lookout right next to main drop of the Upper Falls.

From there, we could appreciate the waterfall’s power as well as try to make feeble attempts at conveying that power in our awkward photos.

It was hard to maintain social distancing at this overlook given how popular it was, but it seemed that most people don’t linger here for long.

Canyon_175_08022020 - Looking upstream towards the Chittenden Bridge at some intermediate waterfalls and cascades on the Yellowstone River further upstream from the Upper Falls
Looking upstream towards the Chittenden Bridge at some intermediate waterfalls and cascades on the Yellowstone River further upstream from the Upper Falls

The parking lot for the Brink of the Upper Falls was at the end of the well-signed turnoff 1.7 miles south of the Canyon Junction along the Grand Loop Road near Canyon Village.

This well-signed turnoff was between the Chittenden Bridge and the entrance to the one-way North Rim Road that loops back to Canyon Village.

Authorities

Upper Falls resides in Yellowstone National Park near Gardiner in Park County, Wyoming. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

Canyon_001_08022020 - After some extensive construction activity that took place that closed off most of the South Rim on our last visit in 2017, we finally got to visit the Uncle Tom's Point when we came back in August 2020. This photo and the next several photos were taken on that visit.
Canyon_003_08022020 - Looking along the wide walkways and the front of the parking lot for Uncle Tom's Point in August 2020
Canyon_004_08022020 - While the Uncle Tom's Point was re-opened on our August 2020 visit, unfortunately, the stairs down to the Uncle Tom's Lookout by the Lower Falls was still closed.  So we wound up spending more time at the Upper Falls
Canyon_118_08022020 - Some signage letting us know what the distances were to the nearest lookouts from Uncle Tom's Point
Canyon_016_08022020 - Broad contextual look at Upper Falls backed by the Chittenden Bridge with a surprise rainbow in front of it on our August 2020 visit
Canyon_057_08022020 - It seemed like the morning lighting was such that the Sony Mirrorless camera didn't really handle the high dynamic range very well as the Upper Falls was really washed out on most of our photos from Uncle Tom's Point
Uncle_Tom_Point_013_iPhone_08022020 - However, I found it quite interesting that the iPhone XR did a better job of equalizing out that high dynamic range, which convinced me that the iPhone does some postprocessing in real-time while the mirrorless camera required us to shoot in RAW format and then make the lighting adjustments after the fact in Lightroom and/or Photoshop
Canyon_073_08022020 - After having our fill of the lookouts at Uncle Tom's Point, we then explored a little further along the South Rim Trail to see if there were other ways to experience the Upper Falls
Canyon_109_08022020 - Descending a long bend towards the lookout with a profile view of the Upper Falls
Canyon_080_08022020 - Our inquisitiveness paid off as we eventually got to this lookout with a profile view of the Upper Falls during our August 2020 visit
Canyon_084_08022020 - We were also surprised with a rainbow showing up even from this profile angle of Upper Falls
Canyon_088_08022020 - Depending on where we stood in the lookout, we had to choose between seeing more of the waterfall or more of the Yellowstone River due to the positioning of the trees blocking one or the other
Canyon_093_08022020 - This was about as much of Upper Falls as we could see from this lookout, but that tree blocked the Yellowstone River so it wasn't as all-encompassing as I would have preferred
Canyon_110_08022020 - After having our fill of the Upper Falls, Julie and Tahia then started heading back to the parking lot at Uncle Tom's Point
Canyon_117_08022020 - Julie and Tahia returning to the busy parking lot for Uncle Tom's Point in August 2020
Canyon_163_08022020 - Julie and Tahia walking on the paved walkway leading to the lookout for the brink of the Upper Falls on our visit in August 2020
Canyon_164_08022020 - Julie and Tahia approaching one of the upper viewing areas though this one didn't really have a great view of the Upper Falls.  It only had a view of the canyon downstream from it
Canyon_167_08022020 - Julie and Tahia going further along the paved trail to the lookout for the brink of the Upper Falls
Canyon_168_08022020 - On the steps leading down to the lookout for the brink of the Upper Falls, we got this upstream look at some waterfalls on the Yellowstone River upstream of the Upper Falls
Canyon_169_08022020 - Looking down at the context of the Brink of the Upper Falls and the lookout right next to it
Canyon_179_08022020 - It was definitely quite busy at the lookout for the brink of the Upper Falls despite the COVID-19 pandemic during our visit in August 2020
Canyon_192_08022020 - Looking across the brink of the Upper Falls in August 2020
Canyon_207_08022020 - After having our fill of the brink of the Upper Falls, we had to go back up these steps to return to the parking lot
Canyon_198_08022020 - The amount of foot traffic was pretty heavy during our August 2020 visit to the Brink of the Upper Falls
Upper_Falls_brink_002_jx_08122017 - Looking down over the brink of the Upper Falls during our visit in August 2017
Upper_Falls_Brink_002_06212004 - Looking down from the brink of the Upper Falls in a sort of awkward view from the overlook as seen during our first time in Yellowstone in June 2004. This photo and the rest of the photos in this gallery came from that trip
Upper_Falls_Brink_003_jx_06212004 - Looking upstream from the brink of the Upper Falls during our visit in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_029_06212004 - Contextual view of the Upper Falls with the Chittenden Bridge as seen from the Uncle Tom's Point during our visit in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_036_06212004 - Portrait view of the Upper Falls with the Chittenden Bridge as seen from the Uncle Tom's Trailhead area during our visit in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_039_06212004 - Another look at the Upper Falls and the Chittenden Bridge as seen from the Uncle Tom's Trailhead area in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_046_06212004 - Contextual view of the Upper Falls and the Chittenden Bridge as seen from the Uncle Tom's Trailhead area in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_032_06212004 - Focused look at the Upper Falls with the Chittenden Bridge as seen from the Uncle Tom's Point during our visit in June 2004
Uncle_Toms_Trail_051_06222004 - Darker photo from a different time in the day when the Upper Falls was in shadow as seen from the Uncle Tom's Trailhead area in June 2004

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Upper Falls of the Yellowstone River is in the Canyon section of Yellowstone National Park.

All the ways to experience it described above were accessed from this fairly developed part of the park.

The Canyon Junction was on the Grand Loop Road about 15.4 miles north of the Lake junction (through Hayden Valley), 11.5 miles east of the Norris Junction, or 18.3 miles south of the Roosevelt Junction (over Dunraven Pass).

We managed to drive here via the Norris Junction approach, which itself was 13.3 miles east of the Madison Junction and 27.2 miles east of Yellowstone’s West Entrance near West Yellowstone, Montana.

For some context, West Yellowstone was 4.5 hours drive north of Salt Lake City. The Roosevelt Junction was over 2 hours drive (102 miles) from Bozeman via the North Entrance. The Lake Junction was over 2 hours drive (98 miles) north of Jackson Hole.

Brief sweep showing the Upper Falls from the Uncle Tom Point lookout


Sweep checking out the Upper Falls from the Uncle Tom Point


Sweep showing the profile of the Upper Falls with a bold morning rainbow as seen from a couple of spots on that lookout


Sweep showing the cascades upstream from the brink of the Upper Falls


Multiple sweeps of the brink of Upper Falls from different parts of the lookout


Sweep starting off with Crystal Falls before going over to different vantage points of Upper Falls from Uncle Toms Point

Tagged with: yellowstone river, yellowstone, canyon, uncle toms trail, brink, chittenden bridge, wyoming, waterfall, rockies, rocky mountains, park county



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