Pywiack Cascade

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About Pywiack Cascade


Hiking Distance: 6 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 3-4 hours

Date first visited: 2003-06-07
Date last visited: 2004-06-04

Waterfall Latitude: 37.78767
Waterfall Longitude: -119.48902

Pywiack Cascade (sometimes known as Slide Falls) is an interesting sliding waterfall at the head of the rugged Tenaya Canyon.

It’s said to slide from a cumulative height of 600ft though it seemed to be difficult to get a full view that would have made us confirm or deny the plausibility of that claim.

Pywiack_Cascade_015_06042004 - Pywiack Cascade
Pywiack Cascade

Moreover, it’s another one of those Yosemite Waterfalls that manages to elude most of the park’s visitors since it’s rather hidden as well as difficult to view satisfactorily.

This characteristic seems to be typical of waterfalls in Tenaya Canyon (another example is the elusiveness of Snow Creek Falls) and I suspect a big reason why would be the inaccessibility of Tenaya Canyon itself.

To illustrate how elusive Pywiack Cascade was, we either had to be very observant from the lookouts near Glacier Point, or we had to go an a bit of a little-known minimum of six-mile round-trip out-and-back back overlooking parts of Tenaya Canyon.

I’m sure there must be ways to gain better views than we were able to attain given a photo we saw in the Osborne book on Yosemite Waterfalls, but it seemed to be a bit too much trouble for something that didn’t seem worth an inordinate amount of effort to see.

Pywiack_Cascade_022_06042004 - Zoomed in look at the elusive Pywiack Cascade
Zoomed in look at the elusive Pywiack Cascade

Even though this waterfall is on Tenaya Creek (so it’s sourced by Tenaya Lake), I believe Tenaya Creek still only has seasonal flow.

This claim is supported by the fact that Mirror Lake tends to dry up once the snowmelt period is over in the mid- to late Summer. Thus, a visit to this waterfall would require timing to be in the late Spring.

To my knowledge, there is no official trail to get to the base of this waterfall for Tenaya Canyon is too rugged and said to require technical gear to navigate through the terrain.

However, the following is how we managed to experience this cascade.

Hiking to the Pywiack Cascade Viewpoint

Olmstead_Point_004_07062002 - Glacial erratics and Jeffrey Pines at Olmstead Point
Glacial erratics and Jeffrey Pines at Olmstead Point

In order to get the view you see in the photos above, we had to start our hike from Olmstead Point, which is at signpost T24 along the Tioga Road (Route 120).

The Tioga Road cuts across Yosemite’s high country, but is closed during the Winter due to snow and avalanche danger.

Olmstead Point was a pretty popular spot for photographs as there were glacial erratics (i.e. lone boulders seemingly dropped onto the scene) along with Jeffrey Pine Trees settling on exposed granite as if they were subjects of some kind of art piece.

In the distance was an unusual view of Half Dome and its saddle, which was the side of the iconic rock formation where we would ascend to its summit if we did the epic Half Dome hike.

Olmstead_Point_027_06042004 - Focused look at the backside of Half Dome as seen from Olmstead Point
Focused look at the backside of Half Dome as seen from Olmstead Point

Looking along the Tioga Road, there was also Tenaya Lake, which was a beautiful natural lake backed by granite domes.

The trail (which wasn’t very well signposted) descended from the granite outcrop, then followed some well-placed line of rocks.

Next, it went into a somewhat shaded pine forest passing by some reflective ponds en route. At that point, the trail meandered among the trees while undulating in elevation.

Eventually, the trail lost a total of 500ft in a stretch of nearly two miles before it started to climb again.

Pywiack_Cascade_003_06042004 - Looking across a calm and reflective pond on the trail leading to a view of the Pywiack Cascade
Looking across a calm and reflective pond on the trail leading to a view of the Pywiack Cascade

From here the trail started to present views of Tenaya Canyon, an unnamed ephemeral cascade, and ultimately a partial view of Pywiack Cascade.

Unfortunately, the official trail only afforded us views of about a half to two-thirds of the waterfall as a granite hill (possibly Mt Watkins) sat in the way between our vantage point and the cascade itself.

In order to overcome this visual obstacle, we continued further west along the trail.

Then, we went on a short scramble for better views between trees.

I’m sure it might have been possible to climb up the nearby Mt Watkins for an unobstructed view straight down at the impressive cascade. However, we didn’t actually do that so we’re not sure if this truly was the case or not.

Pywiack_Cascade_009_06042004 - Looking towards an ephemeral cascade as we skirted the head of Tenaya Canyon
Looking towards an ephemeral cascade as we skirted the head of Tenaya Canyon

This was the turnaround point for us, but we could have extended the hike by continuing further to the Snow Creek Trail.

If we didn’t arrange for a shuttle to make it a one-way point-to-point hike, then that might push the limits of what we’d be willing to do as an out-and-back hike in a day.

The Snow Creek Trail ultimately would descend into Tenaya Canyon and join up with the Mirror Lake Loop for a total loss of 4,000ft in elevation over a distance of about 11 miles one-way.

Distant Viewpoints of the Pywiack Cascade

If you’re not up for a 6-mile return hike to see the Pywiack Cascade, there are a handful of vantage points where you might spot part of this waterfall if you’re observant.

Glacier_Point_019_06022011 - Pywiack Cascade and Cloud's Rest as seen from Glacier Point
Pywiack Cascade and Cloud’s Rest as seen from Glacier Point

Perhaps the most obvious lookout spot would be at Glacier Point (signpost G11), where we were able to look deep into Tenaya Canyon beyond Half Dome and spot this cascade in the distance.

In order to photograph the waterfall, we needed a telephoto lens to bring it up closer to our field of view.

Alternately, we were also spotted a similar view of Pywiack Cascade on the summit of Sentinel Dome (trailhead at signpost G8).

Since this viewpoint was a bit further than Glacier Point, it wasn’t the most obvious place to spot it.

Plus, an even more powerful telephoto lens would be required to photograph it without the waterfall being a small dot in the picture.

Half_Dome_049_06072003 - Pywiack Cascade seen from the Half Dome hike
Pywiack Cascade seen from the Half Dome hike

Finally, we were able to get perhaps the closest views of Pywiack Cascade from the south side of Tenaya Canyon by doing the Half Dome hike.

Unfortunately, getting to where we started to see the waterfall was about 6 or 7 miles into the gruelling hike (just before we started to make the last stretch of climbing onto the Half Dome saddle).

But since the Half Dome hike was much more grueling than the hike we’ve suggested earlier to see the cascade, it might not be worth your while if the cascade was the sole purpose for doing the longer hike.

For details on the Half Dome hike, see the Snow Creek Falls page.

Authorities

Pywiack Cascade resides in Yosemite National Park near Yosemite Village in Mariposa 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.

Glacier_Point_005_06022011 - Looking towards Pywiack Cascade from Glacier Point during our June 2011 visit
Half_Dome_048_06072003 - Pywiack Cascade as seen from the Half Dome Trail during our epic hike in June 2003
Olmstead_Point_002_06042004 - Glacial Erratics and Jeffrey Pine Trees arranged like a work of art at Olmstead Point during our June 2004 visit
Olmstead_Point_015_06042004 - Distant view of Tenaya Lake and surrounding granite formations from Olmstead Point as we checked this place out before hiking to Pywiack Cascade
Olmstead_Point_021_06042004 - Before doing the Pywiack Cascade hike, we went on this trail towards an overlook for a different view of Half Dome's saddle side during our June 2004 visit
Olmstead_Point_025_06042004 - Context of a marmot laying out on the granite with Half Dome looming in the background as seen from Olmstead Point during our June 2004 visit
Pywiack_Cascade_046_06042004 - Rocks lined up to define the trail on the granite as we left Olmstead Point and headed towards a view of the Pywiack Cascade in June 2004
Pywiack_Cascade_001_06042004 - Mom following the thoughtfully-placed rocks to mark the trail leading towards the Snow Creek Trail from Olmstead Point en route to a view of Pywiack Cascade in June 2004
Pywiack_Cascade_002_06042004 - Continuing along the thoughtfully-placed rocks to continue on the trail towards the Pywiack Cascade view in June 2004
Pywiack_Cascade_006_06042004 - Calm, reflective ponds along the trail
Pywiack_Cascade_008_06042004 - The trail to the Pywiack Cascade view narrowed and started to climb briefly as it started to get more exposed to the sun during our June 2004 hike
Pywiack_Cascade_012_06042004 - Mom on the trail overlooking Tenaya Canyon somewhere near the ephemeral cascade en route to the Pywiack Cascade view in June 2004
Pywiack_Cascade_013_06042004 - The thin, ephemeral waterfall spilling into the upper sections of Tenaya Canyon seen en route to Pywiack Cascade's view during our June 2004 visit
Pywiack_Cascade_024_06042004 - Contextual look at the Pywiack Cascade as seen during our June 2004 visit
Pywiack_Cascade_026_06042004 - More zoomed in look at the Pywiack Cascade from our turnaround point in the June 2004 hike
Pywiack_Cascade_044_06042004 - Mom headed back to the trailhead at Olmstead Point amidst the granite wilderness in June 2004
Pywiack_Cascade_045_06042004 - These ponds along the Pywiack Cascade Trail had a real mirror like quality to them as we passed by them again on our way back to Olmstead Point in June 2004

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We’ll describe the directions to our favored starting point at Olmstead Point from Mammoth Lakes.

This is a Summer only route since the Tioga Road needs to be snow-free and free from avalanche danger to be open to the public.

Basically, we go east on Route 203 to the Hwy 395, then take Hwy 395 north for about 30 minutes or so in the direction of Lee Vining.

Before reaching town, we turned left onto Route 120 (Tioga Road) and climbed up the steep and rugged road to Tioga Pass.

About another half-hour’s drive or so would lead us beyond Tenaya Lake and towards Olmstead Point, which has a well-established pullout area.

Driving to Mammoth Lakes from Los Angeles typically takes roughly 5 hours without traffic (via the Hwy 14 and Hwy 395).

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Tagged with: tenaya canyon, mariposa, yosemite, tioga, olmstead, snow creek, lee vining, sierra, california, waterfall, slide falls, glacier point, sentinel dome, half dome



Visitor Comments:

Pywiack Cascade hiking accident fatal to Tahoe doctor October 16, 2008 12:38 am by Brian J. Bermingham - There were two missing hikers in Yosemite one morning in 1970 and the rangers requested several of the more or less permanent rock climbers in Camp 4 to participate in search parties. My party was sent down a very steep, very brushy gully from the vicinity of the Tioga Road to the base of Pywiack… ...Read More

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Visitor Reviews of this Waterfall:

Elusive Pywiack May 25, 2013 6:11 pm by Daryl Jamgotchian - Yep, Pywiack is an elusive falls, tucked in fold in a canyon and viewable from narrow angles. I once did a one day trek from Tenaya Lake to Yosemite Valley. We chose to go when the water was low. The swimming hole at the bottom of Pywiack was just splendid. This hike is not for… ...Read More

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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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