Ribbon Falls

Yosemite National Park, California, USA

About Ribbon Falls


Hiking Distance: roadside
Suggested Time:

Date first visited: 1999-09-04
Date last visited: 2017-06-16

Waterfall Latitude: 37.72968
Waterfall Longitude: -119.64497

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Ribbon Falls (or Ribbon Fall as some people call it) is that slender waterfall opposite Yosemite Valley from Bridalveil Fall.

I get the feeling that for this reason it’s often overlooked or unnoticed by most visitors, which is a testament to the incredible beauty of this area.

Yosemite_Valley_121_06032011 - Ribbon Falls
Ribbon Falls

I once even made the mistake of thinking it was Yosemite Falls on my first trip here with Julie on Memorial Day in 1999.

Hey, you gotta learn from your mistakes in order to grow, right? 🙂

At 1,612ft, this towering, free-falling waterfall is said to be amongst the highest free-leaping waterfalls in the United States.

Not only that, but it’s easily seen from the road alongside El Capitan from the Southside Drive.

Bridalveil_Fall_17_014_06162017 - Ribbon Falls
Ribbon Falls

So you don’t even have to do much physical work to experience it.

Why is Ribbon Falls easily overlooked?

You’d think that with such a gaudy height and accessibility, Ribbon Falls would get a little more attention and love than it currently gets.

However, in Yosemite National Park, it’s hard for a waterfall like this to stand out.

This is especially the case in Yosemite Valley as there are so many beautiful waterfalls all packed in close proximity to each other!

Ribbon_Falls_004_04232004 - Context of Ribbon Falls with El Capitan and the Southside Drive, which were opposite Bridalveil Fall and the Three Brothers
Context of Ribbon Falls with El Capitan and the Southside Drive, which were opposite Bridalveil Fall and the Three Brothers

Further inhibiting its notoriety is that it is a seasonal waterfall.

Generally, its snow-fed watershed depletes by mid Summer.

However, we’ve seen high snow pack years where it remained flowing pretty deep into late June and even July.

Conversely, we’ve seen it in low snow pack years where it was almost a trickle by June.

Are there other ways to experience Ribbon Falls?

Yosemite_Valley_099_06032011 - Broad wide angle view of Valley View where you can glimpse Ribbon Falls along with Bridalveil Fall
Broad wide angle view of Valley View where you can glimpse Ribbon Falls along with Bridalveil Fall

Although we were able to view Ribbon Falls from a distance along the Southside Drive, to my knowledge, there is no formal trail leading to its base.

Now with that said, I did see a very interesting photo from its base in a once out of print Yosemite book, but I suspect the photographer did some off-trail scrambling and hiking to attain that view.

In addition to the roadside views along the Southside Drive, you can also get a partial look at it from the famed Valley View Lookout along the Northside Drive.

Finally, we’ve found that Ribbon Falls was best seen between the late morning and early afternoon.

Bridalveil_Fall_17_020_06162017 - Bridalveil Fall split by shadows in the late afternoon
Bridalveil Fall split by shadows in the late afternoon

That’s because the entire drop of the falls would get the benefit of direct sunlight.

Shadows tend to split the falls if you come too early and especially later in the Summer afternoons when the sun is even further north on the horizon.

That said, if the skies are overcast, then the sun’s positioning wouldn’t matter as much since the lighting would be evenly distributed.

Authorities

Ribbon 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.

Bridalveil_Fall_17_007_06162017 - Here's an example of checking out Ribbon Falls too late in the day as shadows started creeping up the falls thereby making it appear shorter than it really is
Yosemite_Valley_099_06032011 - More recent Valley View Lookout photo in wide angle
Valley_View_wide_001_04232004 - Valley View Lookout in wide angle during a visit in April 2004. Notice Ribbon Falls in this photograph?
Ribbon_Falls_002_05302002 - Ribbon Falls seen from the Southside Drive in late May 2002
Ribbon_Falls_003_05302002 - More contextual view of Ribbon Falls in late May 2002
Ribbon_Falls_004_05302002 - Ribbon Falls together with El Capitan during our visit in late May 2002

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Ribbon Falls sits opposite the mouth of Yosemite Valley from Bridalveil Fall.

To get to Yosemite Valley from Los Angeles, we tend to drive north on the I-5, then take the Hwy 99 through Central Valley to Fresno.

Then, we follow the Hwy 41 through towns like Coarsegold, Oakhurst, Fish Camp, etc. through the Yosemite South Entrance before continuing along the Hwy 41 all the way to Yosemite Valley.

This drive would typically take us in the neighborhood of 6 hours depending on traffic and where in LA we were driving from.

Once in the valley, in our minds, the best spot to view the Ribbon Falls is from the Southside Drive near signpost V14.

There are real long pullouts on both sides of the one-way road here so there’s ample space to pull over and walk around to get the most unobstructed view possible.

We were also able to photograph both El Capitan and the waterfall together from this spot.

In addition, it’s also possible to see this waterfall from the base of Bridalveil Fall (at the end of the walk leaving the parking at signpost W1 or a slightly longer walk from signpost V14).

All you have to do is turn around with your back facing Bridalveil Fall and look across the valley.

Finally, we were also able to see part of the falls from the Valley View Lookout (signpost V11 on the Northside Drive).

However, we needed a wide angle lens in order to capture both Bridalveil Fall and Ribbon Falls together in one photograph.

Bottom up sweep of the falls then zooming out to show its context with El Cap


Left to right sweep starting with Ribbon Falls then sweeping up from the bottom to the top of Bridalveil Fall

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Tagged with: oakhurst, el portal, mariposa, yosemite, yosemite valley, sierra, california, waterfall, fresno, modesto, merced



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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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