Foresta Falls

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About Foresta Falls


Hiking Distance: 1.5 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 1 hour

Date first visited: 2004-04-23
Date last visited: 2017-06-16

Waterfall Latitude: 37.6927
Waterfall Longitude: -119.7599

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Foresta Falls was probably one of the more pleasant yet unsung and off-the-beaten-path waterfalling surprises to be found in Yosemite National Park.

In the past, every time we’d drive the Big Oak Flat Road (usually to go to Hetch Hetchy or to the Tioga Road if we were coming from Yosemite Valley), we’d always see a signed turnoff for Foresta.

Foresta_Falls_042_06162017 - Foresta Falls
Foresta Falls

However, we had never suspected there’d be anything on interest there let alone a waterfall.

The Breakthrough for finding Foresta Falls

Then on one visit where we had some spare time, we decided to follow an obscure writeup in our old second edition of Ann Marie Brown’s book.

The kicker with that trail description was that it wasn’t complete.

She only saw the upper cascades and not the main waterfall you see pictured above.

Foresta_Falls_100_06162017 - This must have been the 'Upper Foresta Falls' or upper cascades on Crane Creek that Ann Marie Brown thought was the actual falls itself, but the main falls was still further downstream
This must have been the ‘Upper Foresta Falls’ or upper cascades on Crane Creek that Ann Marie Brown thought was the actual falls itself, but the main falls was still further downstream

So imagine our surprise when curiosity got the better of us as we ended up venturing a bit further on the unpaved community road from Foresta until we finally found the actual Foresta Falls.

Its main steep drop was probably on the order of 60ft, but there were also some cascades further downstream possibly bringing the cumulative height to nearly 100ft.

I’m willing to bet that of the millions of people that go to Yosemite National Park each year, probably not even 1% of those visitors know about this place!

In other words, you’re likely to get a quiet experience where chances are that you might even have it to yourself.

Foresta_Falls_017_04232004 - Looking back at Foresta Falls when we first saw it back in April 2004 with signage suggesting that vehicles used to drive this road!
Looking back at Foresta Falls when we first saw it back in April 2004 with signage suggesting that vehicles used to drive this road!

And that is quite a statement to make concerning a significant waterfall such as this sits in a place as busy and as well known as Yosemite National Park.

The cascades that Ann Marie Brown stopped at (further upstream of the main falls) were also no slouch.

That consisted of three tiers dropping with a cumulative height of a reported 30ft.

Although the upper cascades of Foresta Falls were visible from the unpaved road, they were difficult to access because of the thick shrubbery between the unpaved road and Crane Creek.

Foresta_Falls_021_04232004 - I did a rough scramble to the base of Foresta Falls to get this unusual look up at the road bridge bisecting the waterfall back in April 2004
I did a rough scramble to the base of Foresta Falls to get this unusual look up at the road bridge bisecting the waterfall back in April 2004

I’m sure some people might have accessed the creek by off-trail scrambling there to cool off, but we’ve never done it so we can’t describe how it could be done.

Hiking to Foresta Falls

As for hiking to the main drop of Foresta Falls, we began by parking at a pullout shortly after the road became unpaved (see directions below).

It might have been possible to keep driving the road to reduce the amount of hiking.

However, the road quickly became narrow, rocky, and rugged.

Foresta_Falls_098_06162017 - Sign talking about the McCauley Ranch Addition of Yosemite National Park on the way down to Foresta Falls
Sign talking about the McCauley Ranch Addition of Yosemite National Park on the way down to Foresta Falls

We felt it wasn’t worth the potential damage to the car just to save a few minutes of hiking.

So at this point, we got out of the car and walked the rugged road which continued downhill as it rounded a bend (past some Mcaulay Ranch Addition sign).

Then, we proceeded to a switchback roughly 0.4 miles from the pullout.

Along the way, we saw the upper cascades as well as some views of the Crane Flat area further downstream in the direction of Merced Canyon.

Foresta_Falls_017_06162017 - Mom descending to a switchback on the rough road leading towards Foresta Falls. During our June 2017 visit, someone managed to risk damage to their car by driving down to this switchback
Mom descending to a switchback on the rough road leading towards Foresta Falls. During our June 2017 visit, someone managed to risk damage to their car by driving down to this switchback

Continuing down the trail, the terrain showed more evidence of fire that had destroyed much of the community of Foresta in 1990 (known as the A-Rock Fire).

There might have been subsequent fires (including one between our visits in 2004 and 2017) because we have before and after pictures showing further damage to the vegetation and human-built infrastructure (especially at the falls).

Such fires resulted in minor obstacles like dead falls that we had to hike over or around as well as black-barked trees that stood eerily bare while offering little to no shade.

Foresta was once a ranching and private community, but the majority of the structures were destroyed in that event.

Foresta_Falls_025_06162017 - Mom hiking to Foresta Falls while traversing through an area devastated by the A-Rock Fire that took place back in 1990
Mom hiking to Foresta Falls while traversing through an area devastated by the A-Rock Fire that took place back in 1990

Some remnants of its past still remain in the Crane Flat area, and we even noticed a handful of buildings that appeared to still offer lodging.

It was believed that the firestorm that engulfed the area during the A-Rock event was the result of years of fire suppression combined with a multi-year drought sparked by lightning from a thunderstorm.

After the switchback, we then continued downhill for the remaining 0.3 miles as the dirt road made one final bend to the left leading to a bridge fronting the Foresta Falls.

Exploring around Foresta Falls

The bridge looked like it supported vehicular traffic at one point (as evidenced by a couple of signs saying there was a 6 ton weight limit).

Foresta_Falls_029_06162017 - Mom descending to the bridge over Crane Creek and in front of the main drop of Foresta Falls. Note the weight limit sign suggesting it used to support vehicular traffic in the past
Mom descending to the bridge over Crane Creek and in front of the main drop of Foresta Falls. Note the weight limit sign suggesting it used to support vehicular traffic in the past

However, these days, it appeared that the path now pretty much supported only foot and bicycle traffic.

There were more cascades immediately downstream of the bridge, but we had to do an awkward scramble to try to photograph the whole thing in one shot.

Speaking of photographs, this was a west-facing waterfall so it would get the best light in the afternoon.

Once we had our fill of the falls while being refreshed by its cool spray, we went back the way we came.

Foresta_Falls_097_06162017 - Looking down towards Merced Canyon through the ghostly remnants of trees left bare from the A-Rock Fire in 1990
Looking down towards Merced Canyon through the ghostly remnants of trees left bare from the A-Rock Fire in 1990

Both times we’ve done this hike, we didn’t continue hiking further along the road beyond the falls so we can’t say what else was there.

That said, we did see a couple of people continue walking in that direction so maybe we’ll satisfy our curiosity the next time we’re here.

Overall, we had hiked about 1.5 miles round trip, and it took us about an hour away from the car.

Authorities

Foresta 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.

Foresta_Falls_001_06162017 - Mom starting the hike down to Foresta Falls from the pullout where we felt uncomfortable continuing past this point given the road conditions during our visit in June 2017
Foresta_Falls_004_06162017 - Looking down the profile of some of the upper cascades on Crane Creek as seen during our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_005_06162017 - Mom descending towards a bend on the rough road leading to the bridge before the Foresta Falls
Foresta_Falls_009_06162017 - Context of Mom descending rounding a bend on the rough road leading to the bridge before the Foresta Falls while revealing parts of Merced Canyon in the morning light in the distance
Foresta_Falls_012_06162017 - Mom further along the road leading closer to Foresta Falls through the ghostly remnants of the forest that was once here
Foresta_Falls_014_06162017 - The further down the Foresta Road we walked, the rougher the road became. So we felt comfortable walking this stretch instead of driving it during our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_023_06162017 - This was one of the deadfall obstacles that Mom encountered during our June 2017 visit, which was a casualty of the fires that have come through Foresta
Foresta_Falls_039_06162017 - Looking back at Foresta Falls from the other side of the bridge during our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_045_06162017 - Looking downstream from the bridge before the Foresta Falls during our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_049_06162017 - Direct look right at the main drop of Foresta Falls on the morning of our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_057_06162017 - Direct look upstream at the Foresta Falls on our morning of our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_064_06162017 - Mom having her fill of Foresta Falls and starting to walk back up to the parked car on our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_069_06162017 - There were more cascades immediately downstream of the bridge fronting Foresta Falls
Foresta_Falls_074_06162017 - Last look back at the Foresta Falls and bridge before heading back up to end our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_076_06162017 - Mom following someone on the uphill hike as we returned from the Foresta Falls during our June 2017 visit
Foresta_Falls_078_06162017 - Closeup look at some of the wildflowers blooming by the trail to the Foresta Falls in June 2017
Foresta_Falls_079_06162017 - Another wildflower in bloom during our June 2017 excursion to Foresta Falls
Foresta_Falls_080_06162017 - Context of Mom hiking back from the Foresta Falls with wildflowers flanking the road
Foresta_Falls_084_06162017 - Mom ascending towards the BMW was that parked at the switchback. So that dude that we followed on the way up must have owned this car
Foresta_Falls_087_06162017 - Mom ascending the switchback on the Foresta Road as we were headed back from Foresta Falls
Foresta_Falls_103_06162017 - Looking back downstream over Crane Creek as we were about to end our June 2017 visit to Foresta Falls
Foresta_Falls_001_04232004 - Looking back at Foresta Falls from our first visit back in April 2004. The rest of the photos in this gallery were taken on this day
Foresta_Falls_004_04232004 - Another look at Foresta Falls from beyond the bridge
Foresta_Falls_014_04232004 - Looking directly at the main Foresta Falls from the bridge
Foresta_Falls_030_04232004 - Cascades on the Upper Foresta Falls as seen during our first visit back in April 2004

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Foresta Falls is located near the community of Foresta.

You can get to there from Yosemite Valley by leaving the valley to the west into the Merced Canyon along Hwy 140.

Foresta_Falls_109_06162017 - Looking ahead at where the Foresta Road because unpaved just past this junction with Lyell Way in the community of Foresta
Looking ahead at where the Foresta Road because unpaved just past this junction with Lyell Way in the community of Foresta

Then, just under a mile west of the bridge over the Merced River (where the bridge led back into Yosemite Valley near Fern Spring), we then kept right to leave the Route 140 and head up the Big Oak Flat Road (towards Route 120).

After passing through three tunnels, we then took the signed turnoff (I recalled there was a sign for “Foresta” as well as a signpost B5 near that junction) to our left.

This road led roughly two miles into Foresta and the visibly devastated area from the A-Rock Fire back in 1990.

We then continued driving on the main Foresta Rd through the remaining active parts of the community as it crossed a bridge over Crane Creek.

Foresta_Falls_107_06162017 - Closure sign warning of the bridge washout, which was really suffering from fire damage since we walked to it in order to get in front of Foresta Falls
Closure sign warning of the bridge washout, which was really suffering from fire damage since we walked to it in order to get in front of Foresta Falls

Shortly after the bridge, we took the first left turn, which then led to the end of the pavement right after intersecting with Lyell Way (which looked more like a driveway to limited parking for the neighboring house or accommodation).

We then drove onto the unpaved road where barely a quarter-mile from the end of the pavement, we found a pullout on our left (maybe room for three small cars).

This pullout was where we parked the car and began hiking.

The road continued beyond this pullout, but it quickly became narrow, overgrown, and really rugged.

Foresta_Falls_106_06162017 - This was the pullout where we parked the car and started hiking
This was the pullout where we parked the car and started hiking

I wouldn’t recommend taking a passenger car past the pullout though I did see at least one person risk damage to his car by driving down to a larger pullout at a switchback another 0.4 miles further.

For a bit of context, Foresta was roughly 6 hours drive from Los Angeles via our preferred route of going up the Hwy 41 from Fresno via Oakhurst and the South Entrance. From San Francisco, this was roughly a 4 hour drive along route 120 and the Big Oak Flat Entrance (or the “Northwest Entrance” if you will). From Merced, it was roughly a 2 hour drive via Mariposa and the Arch Rock Entrance along the Route 140.

Checking out Foresta Falls from both sides of the bridge in the morning

Tagged with: foresta, big oak flat, merced, yosemite, el portal, mariposa, fresno, oakhurst, wawona, yosemite valley, sierra, california, waterfall, tioga, tuolumne



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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.
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