"El Capitan Falls"

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About “El Capitan Falls”

Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 2004-03-21
Date last visited: 2005-04-30

Waterfall Latitude: 37.74872
Waterfall Longitude: -119.60592

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

The ephemeral “El Capitan Falls” is the name I’m associating with this waterfall though it’s an unofficial name and probably totally made up by someone.

I’m just running with it since it’s in somewhat close proximity to the eastern end of the massive monolith known as El Capitan.

We noticed this waterfall from the car park of Camp 4 (also known as the Sunnyside Campground).

El_Capitan_Falls_002_03212004 - The so-called 'El Capitan Falls'
The so-called ‘El Capitan Falls’

And since rock climbers desiring to summit El Capitan usually base themselves there before and after the marathon ascent up the famous monolith, I have to believe that the climbing community must know about this ephemeral waterfall as well.

Legitimate Waterfall?

Despite its possible notoriety, I believe this waterfall marginally counts as a legitimate one due to its very short season.

However, it’s probably on par with some of the other named waterfalls in the park that also happen to be ephemeral as well such as Widow’s Tears, Staircase Falls, and Horsetail Falls.

In order to see this waterfall perform, I’m betting you need to have a combination of high snow pack and warm weather (to quickly melt the snow).

But given its small drainage, it probably wouldn’t last more than a couple of weeks of sustained dryness before it runs through its small supply of melting snow.

Thus, the timing of a visit to see it must be around mid- to late Spring give or take depending on the aforementioned conditions.

Indicator of a Stream Crossing Hazard?

Another thing worth mentioning about “El Capitan Falls” is that its presence may influence trail conditions on the Yosemite Falls Trail to its top.

The reason why is because if the waterflow is big enough (as it was on our April 2005 visit), there will be a stream that needs to be crossed.

The larger the waterflow, the greater the potential for a dropoff hazard or at least for getting your socks wet (see photos below).


“El Capitan Falls” resides in Yosemite National Park. For information or inquiries about the park as well as current conditions, visit the National Park Service website.

Upper_Yosemite_Falls_019_04302005 - Potentially hazardous stream crossing on the top of Yosemite Falls Trail
Upper_Yosemite_Falls_004_03202004 - El Capitan Falls as seen from the trail to the top of Yosemite Falls
El_Capitan_Falls_003_03212004 - Contextual view of El Capitan Falls from the car park for Camp 4
Upper_Yosemite_Falls_007_03202004 - Looking back at El Capitan Falls barely visible in context as we got close to the Columbia Point Lookout

In my experience, the best place to view this waterfall is from the car park to the Sunnyside Walk-in Campground (also known as Camp 4). This campground (which is also the trailhead to the top of Yosemite Falls) is at signpost V5 on the Northside Drive just about 0.3 miles west of Yosemite Lodge.

For a bit of context, Yosemite Valley was roughly a 6 hour drive from Los Angeles via our preferred route of the I-5 then Hwy 99 to Fresno, then Hwy 41 through Coarsegold, Oakhurst, Fish Camp, Wawona, etc. all the way to Yosemite Valley.

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Tagged with: el capitan, yosemite valley, yosemite, california, sierra, yosemite falls, camp 4, sunnyside, mariposa, waterfall, oakhurst, wawona, fresno, 41

Visitor Comments:

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Columbia Cascade January 26, 2012 4:48 am by Zach Johnson - I was told recently by Bryan Swan of World Waterfall Database that this waterfall (that you dubbed "El Capitan Falls") is known as "Columbia Cascade". He also said that Horsetail Falls is sometimes known as "El Capitan Falls". ...Read More

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Johnny Cheng

About Johnny Cheng

Johnny Cheng is the founder of the World of Waterfalls and author of the award-winning 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.
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