California Falls is the third major waterfall on the Tuolumne River going from Tuolumne Meadows to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River.
This particular waterfall seemed to pertain to a pair of cascades at the bottom of a much longer waterslide that tumbled in profile away from the trail before the river twisted and turned in a direction that became visible to us. I suppose I could’ve also taken the interpretation that the ensemble of whitewater that began well downstream of Glen Aulin Falls and would continue until the next calm section of the river could also be California Falls. I somehow doubt most people could care less either way.
From the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp (to read a trail description of the hike up to that point, see the Tuolumne Falls and White Cascade pages), the hike descended along the last of the cascades beneath the White Cascade. Then, the trail leveled out and followed along a calm section of the Tuolumne River before the trail veered a little away from the river some more.
Somewhere along this stretch of trail, we noticed a couple of small or seasonal waterfalls on the cliff walls to our right. However, there was one in particular that flooded the trail we were on. The flood was deep enough to go shin deep in parts so it would’ve most certainly ruined our backpacking boots is we just waded through the flood. In any case, I called that waterfall “Mattie Falls” because it seemed to drain Lake Mattie (according to our Topo). We did a separate write-up for that waterfall, which is on its own page.
Beyond the flooded section, the trail (as well as the river) then descended once again. Eventually at the bottom of this descending section, we found a spur trail (probably around 1.5 to 2 miles downstream of Glen Aulin Falls). That spur trail headed straight for the river and terminated right where the Tuolumne River made a bend and presented to us the pair of cascades pictured at the top of this page.
Back on the Waterwheel Falls Trail, I recalled that the descent briefly calmed down (as did the river), but it wouldn’t last long as the next series of whitewater and cascades would soon be encountered. See the LeConte Falls page for a more detailed trail description beyond what this page describes.
This waterfall shares the same trail and trailhead as that of Tuolumne Falls, Glen Aulin Falls, LeConte Falls, and Waterwheel Falls. See the Tuolumne Falls or Waterwheel Falls pages for road directions.
To give you some context, this hike is accessible when the Tioga Road has been mostly snow free, which also means we would be able to access the trailhead from Mammoth Lakes (roughly an hours drive; Hwy 120 turnoff from Hwy 395 is just south of Lee Vining). Mammoth Lakes is roughly 5 hours drive from Los Angeles via the Hwy 14 and Hwy 395.
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