Cascade Falls

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About Cascade Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside; 1/4-mile scramble on Turtleback Dome
Suggested Time: 15-30 minutes (Turtleback Dome)

Date first visited: 2002-05-30
Date last visited: 2017-06-17

Waterfall Latitude: 37.72619
Waterfall Longitude: -119.71183

Find Nearby Accommodation



Booking.com

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg

Cascade Falls (also known as The Cascades) starts off as a series of tumbling waterfalls and cascades through a dense forest in the Western Yosemite High Country.

However, as it gains momentum and combines with Tamarack Creek just below the Big Oak Flat Road, it plunges as an impressive 500ft waterfall before feeding the Merced River.

Turtleback_Dome_002_03192004 - Full view of Cascade Falls
Full view of Cascade Falls

I’d imagine this is probably the introductory waterfall for visitors entering the park through its western entrance at Arch Rock.

After all, going that route would result in this being the first major waterfall encountered in the park.

Usually, Bridalveil Fall plays that role for us since we typically enter the park from the southern entrance.

However, as you’ll see later on this page, it’s possible to stop for a quick scramble to get the photo you see at the top of this page before even entering the long tunnel to the Tunnel View.

Lower_Cascades_002_04292005 - Context of Cascade Falls as seen from perhaps its more familiar and official lookout just east of the west entrance to Yosemite
Context of Cascade Falls as seen from perhaps its more familiar and official lookout just east of the west entrance to Yosemite

Given this waterfall’s enormous size, we found it rather perplexing that it doesn’t seem to get the same amount of love as its neighbors further to the east in Yosemite Valley.

Perhaps it’s because the rugged Merced River Canyon is really more of an area that visitors to the park merely pass through.

That said, in the park’s early years, visitors had to enter by stagecoach from Coulterville.

The route passed before Cascade Falls, which offered visitors a cool and refreshing respite from the typically hot and dusty approach.

Cascade_Falls_004_06032011 - Context of Cascade Falls fed by the cascading waters of Tamarack Creek and the Upper Cascades further upstreamFull
Context of Cascade Falls fed by the cascading waters of Tamarack Creek and the Upper Cascades further upstreamFull

Thus, the falls was probably better known back then than now.

Like most of the waterfalls in Yosemite, its flow is best during the annual Spring snowmelt.

However, I’ve read that it can go dry by early Autumn as the falls depletes its snowpack throughout the Summer (similar to Yosemite Falls).

We know of a couple of ways to experience the main waterfall (the part we’re referring to as Cascade Falls), but we have also gotten close its Upper Cascades on the Big Oak Flat Road.

So we’ll break down these excursions below.

Experiencing Cascade Falls – view from Turtleback Dome

Cascade_Falls_001_05102003 - Cascade Falls and the Big Oak Flat Road above it
Cascade Falls and the Big Oak Flat Road above it

This was our favorite vantage point for seeing the main plunge of Cascade Falls even though it wasn’t the official viewpoint.

The tricky part was finding it as there was no explicit signage to experiencing the falls in this manner.

First, we had to drive the Wawona Road (Hwy 41) towards a section of the road where it curves while being flanked with elongated pullouts paralleling a concrete wall by signpost W3.

According to our Yosemite Road Guide, this part was called Turtleback Dome, and I believe we had to scramble onto the dome itself in order to get the view you see photographed above.

Turtleback_Dome_001_03192004 - Signpost W3 by the elongated pullout along the Hwy 41 a little to the west of the Wawona Tunnel
Signpost W3 by the elongated pullout along the Hwy 41 a little to the west of the Wawona Tunnel

Once we parked the car on this elongated pullout, the next tricky part was figuring out a way to safely get over the concrete wall without taking a nasty fall.

Our trick was to look over the wall on the end furthest from the Wawona Tunnel near a tree standing next to that wall growing from the other side.

Then, we had to search for either a tree root or another ledge to reduce the dropoff on the other side.

Once we stood on the intermediate foothold, we then were able to complete the descent without taking a leap of faith from the top of the concrete wall (a leap that we really wouldn’t recommend).

Cascade_Falls_001_06032011 - Rocks on the other side of the barricade providing tenuous footholds to reduce the dropoff
Rocks on the other side of the barricade providing tenuous footholds to reduce the dropoff

Then, we were on the granite surface and we were able to scramble lower until we got satisfactory views of the Cascades.

To the left of the Cascades, we could see the upper tiers of Wildcat Falls, which was much thinner than this waterfall.

Even from this vantage point, we could see in the distance the extent that the Upper Cascades continued further up the mountain! And if we looked far to our right, we could glimpse Half Dome way in the distance.

In any case, we never scrambled all the way to the edges of Turtleback Dome where I’d imagine there would be dropoffs going into Merced River Canyon.

Cascades_016_04292005 - Unusual view of Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Valley from Turtleback Dome, where I was able to scramble for a good view of the Cascade Falls
Unusual view of Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Valley from Turtleback Dome, where I was able to scramble for a good view of the Cascade Falls

So we can’t say whether there might have been even better and more revealing views than what we’re showing you here.

The Official Viewpoint

We call this view the official viewpoint because there’s a dedicated car park, signage, and lookout of most of the lowest tier of Cascade Falls.

The car park or pullout for this spot was on the Road 140 along the Merced Canyon at signpost M1 about 1.7 miles west of the Route 120/140 junction and about 3 miles east of the Arch Rock Entrance (i.e. the Western Entrance) to the park.

On one occasion we tried unsuccessfully to get right up to the base of this waterfall, but it turned out to be a bit of a bushwhack and dicey boulder scramble with a lot of fast moving water.

Lower_Cascades_003_04292005 - Context of the official viewpoint and interpretive sign along the Hwy 140 east of the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite
Context of the official viewpoint and interpretive sign along the Hwy 140 east of the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite

So aside from that futile experience, I don’t believe there’s a sanctioned way to get closer to the base of the waterfall.

Then again, maybe some intrepid scramblers may be able do it when Cascade Creek would be at lower flow.

The Upper Cascades

As you drive up (or down) the Big Oak Flat Road (Route 120), there are a couple of pullouts that you can stop for and get different looks at the Upper Cascades.

The first pullout is at the bridges over both Tamarack and Cascade Creek at signpost B2 (note that there is no pullout for signpost B1 if you’re curious).

Upper_Cascades_006_04232004 - The Upper Cascades from the Big Oak Flat Road
The Upper Cascades from the Big Oak Flat Road

This pullout by the bridges is just west of the second tunnel.

Once you’re out of the car, you can walk to the road bridges and look up closely at the upper tiers of the Cascades.

Further up the ascent on Big Oak Flat Road, you’ll find signpost B3 whose pullout is also on the left side of the road facing uphill.

It’s here that you can see Bridalveil Fall way down the Merced Canyon, but you can also stop the car here and look back towards Tamarack Creek and Cascade Creek tumbling together.

I actually walked further uphill along this road from the pullout for a slightly higher perspective (pictured above).

Upper_Cascades_015_04232004 - Distant view of Bridalveil Fall from the Big Oak Flat Road where I was also able to view the Upper Cascades
Distant view of Bridalveil Fall from the Big Oak Flat Road where I was also able to view the Upper Cascades

This pullout is minutes before the first of three tunnels as you ascend Big Oak Flat Road (or soon after you leave the last tunnel as you descend this road in the opposite direction).

Early afternoon is the best time of day to get this view of both Tamarack Creek Falls and the Upper Cascades tumbling together.

Authorities

Cascade Falls resides in Yosemite National Park near El Portal in Mariposa County, California. It is administered by the National Park Service. For information or inquiries as well as current conditions, visit their website.

Big_Oak_Flat_Rd_17_004_06172017 - Looking way downstream towards Bridalveil Fall from signpost B3, where I was able to see the Tamarack Creek and Cascade Creek cascading towards Cascade Falls beneath the Big Oak Flat Road. This photo was taken in June 2017
Big_Oak_Flat_Rd_17_006_06172017 - If you come too late in the afternoon like we did in June 2017, both Tamarack Creek and the Upper Cascades start hiding in the shadows
Big_Oak_Flat_Rd_17_009_06172017 - Focused look towards the Upper Cascades as seen from the Big Oak Flat Road in June 2017
Big_Oak_Flat_Rd_17_014_06172017 - Looking up at the thinner flowing Tamarack Creek, which didn't look like it was doing that great by June 2017
Cascade_Falls_003_06032011 - Focused look at the Cascade Falls from Turtleback Dome in June 2011
Lower_Cascades_009_04292005 - Looking towards the Cascade Falls during our April 2005 visit from the official lookout along Hwy 140
Cascades_008_04292005 - Cascade Falls from Turtleback Dome in April 2005
Cascades_011_04292005 - Cascade Falls (right) and Wildcat Falls (left) in April 2005
Cascades_010_04292005 - Some thin cascade seen from Turtleback Dome in April 2005
Cascades_013_04292005 - Context of Tamarack Creek tumbling towards the Cascade Falls as seen from Turtleback Dome in April 2005
Upper_Cascades_008_04232004 - Looking towards both Tamarack Creek (left) and Cascade Creek (right) from the Big Oak Flat Road in April 2004
Cascade_Falls_008_05102003 - Checking out Cascade Falls from Turtleback Dome as seen in May 2003
The_Cascades_001_05302002 - Cascade Falls from the official viewpoint in late May 2002
The_Cascades_002_05302002 - Checking out Cascade Creek from the Big Oak Flat Road just upstream from its plunge over Cascade Falls as seen during our late May 2002 visit
The_Cascades_003_05312002 - Looking up at the Cascades from the bridge on the Big Oak Flat Road in late May 2002
The_Cascades_004_05312002 - Looking down towards the bridge at the Upper Cascades during our late May 2002 visit
Cascade_Falls_002_scanned_05312002 - Closer look at the Upper Cascades from the bridge over Cascade Creek during that late May 2002 visit

join-booking-970x240-1.jpg


The Cascades feed the Merced River downstream of the mouth of Yosemite Valley.

The West Entrance of Yosemite (near El Portal via Mariposa) gets you closest to the official overlook.

However, since we tend to come into the park via Fresno on the Hwy 41, we tend to get to the better view of Cascade Falls near Turtleback Dome.

Our route to get to Yosemite National Park’s southern entrance from Los Angeles would be to go north on the I-5, then onto the Hwy 99 through Central Valley.

Next, we’d go onto Hwy 41 at Fresno.

At that point, we would follow the Hwy 41 (now Wawona Road) up to the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park (passing through smaller towns like Coarsegold, Oakhurst, Fish Camp, etc.).

Then, we’d continue following this road for another hour or so into Yosemite Valley (passing through Wawona), where the long Turtleback Dome pullout would be a short distance before the long tunnel by the view of the Gates of Yosemite Valley.

The drive from LA to Yosemite Valley would typically take us around 6 hours.

Comprehensive sweep starting with Half Dome, then focusing in on the cascades on Tamarack Creek before ending with Cascade Falls and its context

Tagged with: oakhurst, el portal, mariposa, yosemite, merced, turtleback dome, wawona, tunnel, arch rock, big oak flat, california, waterfall, sierra



Visitor Comments:

No users have replied to the content on this page


Share your thoughts about what you've read on this page

You must be logged in to submit content. Refresh this page after you have logged in.

Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Hiker 2020 Cascade Falls, California January 30, 2010 4:14 am by Tim - I visited these falls April 2005 and loved them. It's almost as good as Yosemite Falls but you have to be in the right place to view them Cascade Falls. I saw the same view as Johnny Cheng. Park at the Inspiration Point (near the tunnel) and carefully walk down the rockface northward to near… ...Read More

Have you been to a waterfall? Submit a write-up/review and share your experiences or impressions

Review A Waterfall

Nearest Waterfalls