Tueeulala Fall (when it’s flowing) is probably the first waterfall you’ll notice as you approach the parking area for Hetch Hetchy. This tall, plunging waterfall together with Wapama Falls complements Kolana Rock and the Hetch Hetchy Valley panorama in much the same way that Bridalveil Fall complements El Capitan and the Yosemite Valley panorama.
Although this waterfall is reported to be 840ft tall, there seems to be some discrepancy in either its reported height or in the reported height of Wapama Falls, which is listed at 1341ft even though they both look like they’re practically falling from the same cliff! Nonetheless, Tueeulala Fall does have a taller freefall of the two since Wapama Falls is really broken up into a series of shorter – albeit powerful – falls.
We’ve visited Hetch Hetchy numerous times, and over the years, we’ve come to learn that this waterfall typically had a rather short and enigmatic season for flow.The very first time we visited this waterfall in June 2002, it was flowing vigorously (causing flooding on the Wapama Falls trail). In all the other years since, it was rare to see this waterfall flow appreciably in late May or June (a time when I’d expect this waterfall to be at its best). Indeed, I’ve seen it dry up or trickling by April on a year when its flow peaked in March (in 2004). Then, on our early June 2011 visit (a year with unusually high snowpack at 200% of average), this waterfall was wispy as apparently we had shown up too early by a couple of weeks. Moreover, we showed up in April 2005 (another heavy snowpack year) and this waterfall was almost dry while the rest of Hetch Hetchy had already run through its snowpack.
So given the above observations, it really bothered me why this waterfall behaved as inconsistently as it did while most of the other waterfalls in the park were pretty predictable. So in light of our observations, the following is my best theory on how we could experience flooding in early June 2002 and then never see this condition again despite a couple of years of record snowpack…
For starters, two things must work in succession. First, there has to be snow (either from high snow pack accumulations or from accumulation in a late-season storm). Second, while the snow is still present in the drainages responsible for both Tueeulala and Wapama Falls, there must be hot weather to ensure the snow melts rapidly. This would quickly release the water locked up in the snow pack thereby increasing its volume and rate of flow (while also rapidly depleting the snow pack thereby keeping its flow season short). So to make a long story short, both events (i.e. presence of snow then hot weather) must occur immediately in succession. Otherwise, Tueeulala Falls would remain either wispy or non-existent. One thing that does seem to be consistent about this waterfall is that its flow would last no more than two months or so, but this two month window depends completely on when the last snow has fallen, which we’ve observed could be finished as early as April or as late as July.
Finally, one thing this waterfall can do for you is that it can tell you whether the trail to Wapama Falls is flooded or not. If you see it flowing as well as you see in the photo at the top of this page, then it’s a pretty safe bet that the trail will be flooded (and possibly dangerous as some parts of the quick-flowing stream may run over the trail between the footbridges beneath Wapama Falls). However, if you see this waterfall having wispy or non-existent flow, then it’s unlikely that the trail will be flooded and dangerous.
If you’re just going to this waterfall, you’re looking at a roughly 4-mile round trip hike. However, if you’ve already made it to the base of Tueeulala Fall, you mind as well visit Wapama Falls as well (just another 1/2-mile further). I’ve put the trail description (including the first 2 miles that the two waterfalls have in common) on the Wapama Falls page.
The trailhead for this waterfall is shared with Wapama Falls and Rancheria Falls. Check out the Wapama Falls page for driving directions as well as a trail description (which encompasses the route you’d be taking for this waterfall).
For context, Tueeulala Falls is in the Hetch Hetchy section of northwest Yosemite National Park. It would take us around 1.5 hours to drive here from Yosemite Valley, which itself would take us around 6 hours to drive there from Los Angeles. From San Francisco, it would take us around 4 hours to go straight to Hetch Hetchy.
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