Alder Creek Falls

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About Alder Creek Falls


Hiking Distance: 8.2 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 4-5 hours

Date first visited: 2003-05-31
Date last visited: 2004-05-21

Waterfall Latitude: 37.59111
Waterfall Longitude: -119.66051

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Alder Creek Falls probably gets my vote as the truly “secret” or “hidden” waterfall of Yosemite National Park.

It has an unsigned trailhead, requires an eight-mile round-trip out-and-back hike, and hardly exists in the literature.

Alder_Creek_Falls_021_05312003 - Alder Creek Falls
Alder Creek Falls

It’s also a pleasant 100-150ft waterfall (just a guess) so it’s no slouch as far as legitimate waterfalls are concerned.

I can vividly remember this waterfall and the hike to get to it.

That’s because I not only proposed to my wife here, but we also had our very first close encounter with a bear just moments afterwards!

Talk about a memorable proposal story!

Hiking to Alder Creek Falls

Alder_Creek_Falls_006_05212004 - My parents starting on the hike to Alder Creek Falls
My parents starting on the hike to Alder Creek Falls

The overall hike is about 8.2 miles round trip with most of the 1000ft elevation gain in the first 3/4-mile.

Towards the end of the first mile, we reached a trail junction where we continued to the left.

At this point, the trail flattened out and meandered for quite some time amongst the silence and serenity of the forest.

I could remember hearing the wood thumping from woodpeckers as well as birds chirping and singing away.

Alder_Creek_Falls_052_05212004 - Remnants of railroad tracks on the Alder Creek Trail
Remnants of railroad tracks on the Alder Creek Trail

Eventually, we reached a part where we could see remnants of some old railroad tracks.

We not only saw wooden planks crossing our path, but we also noticed some steel cables off to the side.

In addition, we passed through a stretch of trail that might have been cleared or blasted to make room for the tracks (as evidenced by the rubble flanking the path).

It wasn’t until after we went through the railroad remnants did we finally start to hear the rushing waters of Alder Creek (roughly 4 miles from the trailhead).

Alder_Creek_Falls_053_05212004 - My parents passing through an area that might have been blasted to allow the railroad tracks to get through, which is now part of the Alder Creek Falls Trail
My parents passing through an area that might have been blasted to allow the railroad tracks to get through, which is now part of the Alder Creek Falls Trail

Ultimately, as the trail got closer to Alder Creek, we were able to see the impressive Alder Creek Falls making its impressive drop into a forested canyon below.

Due to the presence of those trees, we were never really able to get a totally clean look at the waterfall (though we still did see most of it).

The trail continued further along the rim of this canyon eventually going past the top of the waterfall, but that was our turnaround point as we had no interest in continuing on towards Deer Camp or other backcountry spots.

Alder_Creek_Falls_003_05312003 - Looking down at Alder Creek Falls from near the top of the steep bouldery scramble
Looking down at Alder Creek Falls from near the top of the steep bouldery scramble

On a second visit with my parents, we actually found a steep descent along some very loose boulders leading us into the canyon where we at least got in front of the main drop of Alder Creek Falls.

However, after having done it, I’d have to say that it was definitely not for everyone.

That’s because the instability of the loose boulders that we had put our weight on could be very dangerous.

I’ll let you decide from looking at the photos below if you think it’s worth the risk or not.

Alder_Creek_Falls_050_05212004 - My parents scrambling back up to the main trail after having gone to the base of Alder Creek Falls
My parents scrambling back up to the main trail after having gone to the base of Alder Creek Falls

All in all, both times I partook on this hike, it took us around 4 or 5 hours total.

The path was well shaded so we never really felt uncomfortably hot despite the length of the hike.

Authorities

Alder Creek Falls resides in Yosemite National Park near Oakhurst in Mariposa County and Fresno County, California. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Alder_Creek_Falls_007_05212004 - My parents on the Alder Creek Falls Trail as it initially crossed a flat forested stretch before climbing in the first 3/4-mile during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_009_05212004 - At the top of the initial climb, we reached a trail junction where we saw this sign directing us towards Alder Creek in May 2004
Alder_Creek_Falls_010_05212004 - Ad on the well-shaded trail to the Alder Creek Falls in May 2004
Alder_Creek_Falls_012_05212004 - Checking out some snow flowers blooming along the Alder Creek Falls Trail during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_014_05212004 - Our first look at the Alder Creek Falls during our May 2004 visit, and as you can see, we were motivated to improve the experience
Alder_Creek_Falls_016_05212004 - How Alder Creek Falls looked on the morning of our second visit in May 2004
Alder_Creek_Falls_018_05212004 - Focused look at the entire main drop of Alder Creek Falls as seen during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_024_05212004 - Frontal look at the Alder Creek Falls at its base as seen during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_025_05212004 - Looking up from a little downstream from the base of Alder Creek Falls during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_036_05212004 - Dad standing by the rocky base of the Alder Creek Falls as seen during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_045_05212004 - Looking back at the loose boulder scramble that we had to make in order to access the base of Alder Creek Falls during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_046_05212004 - Dad making the climb back up from the Alder Creek Falls with Mom looking on during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_054_05212004 - On the way back from Alder Creek Falls, we noticed these steel cables besides what I suspected were railroad tracks as seen during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_055_05212004 - My parents returning on the Alder Creek Falls Trail after having had their fill of the falls during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_056_05212004 - Continuing back along the Alder Creek Falls Trail flanked by cut up logs, which are obvious signs that this trail has been maintained despite its light use during our May 2004 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_057_05212004 - This scenery was pretty typical of the mostly 3-mile forested stretch that dominated this hike to or from the Alder Creek Falls in May 2004
Alder_Creek_Falls_007_05312003 - Looking down at the profile of Alder Creek Falls from the trail during our late May 2003 visit as we were looking for a way to the bottom to improve the view
Alder_Creek_Falls_011_05312003 - Looking over the profile of the Alder Creek Falls revealing its steep slope from a little further along the Alder Creek Falls Trail as seen during our late May 2003 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_023_05312003 - This was perhaps the best look at the Alder Creek Falls that I could get from the main trail during our late May 2003 visit
Alder_Creek_Falls_028_05312003 - Last look at Alder Creek Falls during our late May 2003 visit

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To get to the rather hidden Alder Creek trailhead from the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park, drive north on Hwy 41 for about 4.2 miles past the Wawona Campground.

There is a large hairpin turn near the usually dry Mosquito Creek.

Alder_Creek_Falls_001_05212004 - There used to be a Mosquito Creek sign near the trailhead to the Alder Creek Falls
There used to be a Mosquito Creek sign near the trailhead to the Alder Creek Falls

Look for a yellow 25mph hairpin turn sign which is a useful landmark just before the hairpin turn of interest.

There may be a Mosquito Creek sign at this hairpin turn (which was the case when I first visited the waterfall in May 2003), but the sign was gone on subsequent trips in 2005 and thereafter.

The hairpin turn has pullouts on either side of the road, but the trail begins on its east side.

So if you’re on the west side of the road, be careful when crossing because oncoming cars can’t see you at this blind turn.

Alder_Creek_Falls_003_05212004 - Context of my parents parked at the hairpin turn before starting on the hike to the Alder Creek Falls
Context of my parents parked at the hairpin turn before starting on the hike to the Alder Creek Falls

You’ll know you’re on the right trail when you see a wilderness sign as well as signs showing distances, especially one for “Alder Creek.”

For some context, to get to Wawona (within Yosemite National Park) from Los Angeles, we’d typically drive on the I-5 north to the Grapevine, then Hwy 99 north to Fresno (taking us between 3-4 hours of driving). Next, we’d take the Hwy 41 from Fresno through the smaller towns of Coarsegold, Oakhurst, and Fish Camp before reaching the hamet of Wawona after about 66 miles (90 minutes drive). Overall, the entire drive would take us roughly 4.5 to 5 hours.

Sweep from the trail to the falls

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Tagged with: wawona, chilnualna, alder creek, deer camp, empire meadow, railroad, oakhurst, fish camp, coarsegold, fresno, yosemite, south entrance, sierra, california, waterfall, 41



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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls. Over the last 2 decades, he has visited thousands of waterfalls in over 40 countries around the world and nearly 40 states in the USA.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.