LeConte Falls

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About LeConte Falls

Hiking Distance: 15 miles round trip
Suggested Time: at least 13 hours

Date first visited: 2004-05-30
Date last visited: 2004-06-05

Waterfall Latitude: 37.92361
Waterfall Longitude: -119.45417

Waterfall Safety and Common Sense

LeConte Falls starts off as mostly a long series of featureless cascades until its main drop, where the Tuolumne River slides down a fifty-degree slope into potholes backed by rocks.

The result is water thrown up as it tumbles towards the bottom resulting in the illusion of waterwheels.

LeConte_Falls_007_05302004 - LeConte Falls
LeConte Falls

In a strange twist, this was one of the few waterfalls we’re aware of where we care more about how high up the water was being thrown as opposed to how far down the water fell!

Given the presence of its waterwheels, many people mistake this waterfall for Waterwheel Falls.

How do I know this?

Well after my Memorial Day backpacking trip in 2004, I got home and downloaded my GPS waypoints onto the digital topo map.

LeConte_Falls_051_05302004 - Context of the waterwheels on LeConte Falls
Context of the waterwheels on LeConte Falls

You could imagine my disappointment when I found out that we were short of the real Waterwheel Falls by less than a mile!

So, I did what any waterfall nut would do and went back the following week… (click here to read more about my Waterwheel Falls escapades).

Now in all fairness, I don’t blame anyone for getting this waterfall and Waterwheel Falls confused.

After all, you could make the argument that this waterfall has sections that look more like waterwheels than the giant “wheel” on Waterwheel Falls.

California_Falls_019_05302004 - Cascades tumbling upstream of the waterwheels on LeConte Falls
Cascades tumbling upstream of the waterwheels on LeConte Falls

Heck, even Ann Marie Brown got it wrong in the 2nd edition of her book.

LeConte Falls is roughly a half-mile further downstream of California Falls (or at least 3 miles from the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp).

By now, we would have passed by Tuolumne Falls, White Cascade (or Glen Aulin Falls), and California Falls.

You can read the trail description leading up to LeConte Falls by visiting their respective pages in order.

California_Falls_026_05302004 - More cascades kind of obscuring where LeConte Falls begins since it seems to be non-stop cascades leading down to the waterwheels themselves
More cascades kind of obscuring where LeConte Falls begins since it seems to be non-stop cascades leading down to the waterwheels themselves

Now beyond California Falls, the series of whitewater rapids and cascades continued while the trail descended alongside it as if it was trying to keep up.

There were lots of giant boulders and trees blocking satisfactory views of this cascading stretch as we were only able to see bits and pieces of the Tuolumne River during this stretch.

I’m pretty sure that if you didn’t know what you were looking for, it’d be hard to tell where California Falls ends and where LeConte Falls begins.

Fortunately, we eventually got to a part where there was a fairly obvious spur trail leading to the left taking us through a shady grove of trees and putting us right in the middle of the sloping LeConte Falls.

LeConte_Falls_053_05302004 - Looking further downstream from LeConte Falls into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River
Looking further downstream from LeConte Falls into the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River

And it was here that we were able to look down towards the series of lower waterwheels that mades this waterfall stand out.

The only thing we had to watch out for was the slippery granite and relatively steep slope of this vantage point.


LeConte Falls resides in Yosemite National Park near Mammoth Lakes in Mono 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.

California_Falls_015_05302004 - Descending the trail beyond California Falls
California_Falls_018_05302004 - I had to scramble a little off trail to get this photo of part of the endless cascades between California Falls and LeConte Falls
LeConte_Falls_007_06052004 - Looking up towards the top of LeConte Falls' main cascade
LeConte_Falls_023_05302004 - Closeup look at a pair of waterwheels on LeConte Falls
LeConte_Falls_015_06052004 - Partial rainbow coming out of the mist from the wheeling LeConte Falls
LeConte_Falls_055_05302004 - Looking down at a waterwheel on LeConte Falls from the main trail
LeConte_Falls_042_05302004 - More direct view of LeConte Falls showing its width
LeConte_Falls_038_05302004 - Looking back at LeConte Falls in context from further down the trail
LeConte_Falls_031_06052004 - Contextual look at the waterwheels on the Tuolumne River at LeConte Falls backed by granite slopes and domes of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River as seen in June 2004

This waterfall shares the same trail and trailhead as that of Tuolumne Falls, Glen Aulin Falls, California Falls, and Waterwheel Falls.

See the Tuolumne Falls or Waterwheel Falls for road directions.

See Tuolumne Falls, Glen Aulin Falls, and California Falls pages for trail descriptions leading up to the trail description on this page.

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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Tagged with: tuolumne, mariposa county, high country, yosemite, tioga, sierra, california, waterfall, glen aulin, waterwheel, tuolumne meadows

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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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