Staircase Falls is another one of the officially named ephemeral waterfalls in Yosemite National Park (with Horsetail Falls and its firefall effect being the most famous of the ephemerals).
I believe it got its name from the way its watercourse steps down a series of granite ledges. Given its short-lived nature, it was quite easy to overlook this waterfall, and we happened to do just that when we first starting our concerted effort at waterfall hunting in Yosemite back in 2002. In fact, we didn’t start to notice this waterfall until the next year on a pair of subsequent visits to the park. I found it rather ironic that given its rather conspicuous position right behind Curry Village that this waterfall was so easy to miss, but then again, it maybe difficult to spot this falls due to the precise timing that’s required.
So what exactly is this timing?
Well in my experience, I managed to see it flow fairly well as early as March and as late as late early June. It really all depends on the snow pack and the extent of the snowmelt (which depends on how quickly the weather warms up to melt the snow in its small drainage). Even though May is a fairly safe month to be near the peak snowmelt season, we’ve been to Yosemite on numerous years where the falls had already ended its show by then. I’d say the longevity of the falls on an average snowpack year is probably 2 or 3 weeks tops, but if the snowpack is big, then it might last longer than that.
Since this waterfall steps its way down the granite cliffs behind Curry Village, you might be able to spot it through the trees from there. However, to improve your view (i.e. without the trees getting in the way), walk out to Stoneman Meadow, which is that meadow you see right before the road turns right to go into the car park for Curry Village.
There’s a boardwalk traversing the meadow, and it’s from that boardwalk that you can look back towards Curry Village and see the full extent of this waterfall.
Curry Village sat on the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. To get there from Los Angeles, our preferred route would be to drive on the I-5 north. After descending into the Grapevine (some 2 hours from home), we then take the Hwy 99 through Central Valley towards Fresno. Then, we hop onto the Hwy 41 at Fresno which leads us to the southern entrance of Yosemite National Park via Oakhurst. Continuing on Hwy 41 (now Wawona Road), we then take this for the next 60-90 minutes (passing through Wawona) all the way into Yosemite Valley and eventually to Curry Village.
Overall, this drive would take roughly 6 hours or more depending on traffic.
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