Wapama Falls

Yosemite National Park / Hetch Hetchy, California, USA

About Wapama Falls


Hiking Distance: 4.8 miles round trip
Suggested Time: 2 hours

Date first visited: 2002-05-31
Date last visited: 2011-06-04

Waterfall Latitude: 37.96707
Waterfall Longitude: -119.76539

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Wapama Falls is the feature waterfall of the Hetch Hetchy area.

With its consistently strong flow, reported height of 1,341ft, and surrounding granite formations, I tend to think of this waterfall as the Hetch Hetchy version of Bridalveil Fall (more or less).

Hetch_Hetchy_050_06042011 - Looking directly up at Wapama Falls
Looking directly up at Wapama Falls

If you get a chance to see old photos of Hetch Hetchy Valley before it got flooded from the O’Shaughnessy Dam in 1911, it looks hauntingly similar to that of Yosemite Valley!

The difference is you have Kolana Rock taking the place of El Capitan, and you have Wapama Falls taking the place of Bridalveil Fall (though it flows with similar vigor and flash as that of Yosemite Falls).

Flooded Footbridges at Wapama Falls

What we tend to think about most when it comes to this waterfall is the flooded conditions we encountered on our very first visit here at the very end of May in 2002.

It was a situation when the rushing waters from the waterfall actually spilled over the footbridges and granite steps near its base.

Hetch_Hetchy_009_scanned_05312002 - Looking across the flooded bridges beneath Wapama Falls during our very first time here at the end of May 2002
Looking across the flooded bridges beneath Wapama Falls during our very first time here at the end of May 2002

However, we had never seen the waterfall do that again on our subsequent visits.

I have a theory about why that’s the case and how we can use Tueeulala Falls as a proxy to tell us what the trail conditions would be before setting out on the hike.

You can read about this on the Tueeulala Falls page, which I won’t reproduce on this page.

Wapama Falls Trail Description – from the dam to Tueeulala Fall

The trail to get right in front of Wapama Falls is said to be 5 miles round trip without much significant elevation gain (though there were some slight undulating sections).

Hetch_Hetchy_006_05312002 - Looking downstream into the rugged Poopenaut Valley, which might have been drier as a result of the O'Shaughnessy Dam's impact
Looking downstream into the rugged Poopenaut Valley, which might have been drier as a result of the O’Shaughnessy Dam’s impact

However, with Hetch Hetchy Valley being lower in elevation than Yosemite Valley, there were times when it got well into the 90s here, especially considering that most of the trail lacked shade.

So wearing a hat, bringing lots of water, and putting on sunscreen was definitely a must on this trail.

From the parking area by the O’Shaughnessy Dam (see directions below), we walked across the dam where we could see the panorama of Hetch Hetchy Valley looking east and the ruggedly dry Poopenaut Valley looking west.

At the end of the dam, we then entered a long, dark, and drippy tunnel, which provided some relief from the heat on a hot day.

Hetch_Hetchy_dam_005_04242004 - The tunnel at the far end of the O'Shaugnessy Dam
The tunnel at the far end of the O’Shaugnessy Dam

Even though the tunnel was dark, there was enough daylight on both ends that we could still see where we were going while also avoiding some of the larger puddles (so we didn’t need a flashlight on our visits).

Once out the other end of the tunnel, we then followed a trail that followed above the northern shores of the reservoir.

At no time was the reservoir accessible due to the steep dropoffs leading into the water with no way to get back up.

Even if we had an opportunity to get into the reservoir, it would be prohibited anyways since it was San Francisco’s drinking water.

Hetch_Hetchy_013_06042011 - Julie on the Wapama Falls Trail beyond the dam tunnel as the path skirted the northern shores of the reservoir
Julie on the Wapama Falls Trail beyond the dam tunnel as the path skirted the northern shores of the reservoir

The trail was pretty straightforward to follow as one trail junction about a mile into the hike was also well-signed (we kept right).

Beyond the junction, the trail surface became more dominated by granite (which can be slippery in rain) as it also crossed a stream or two.

These crossings may require some some nifty rock hopping under high water conditions.

Around this time, we also noticed a disjointed waterfall that sometimes may have better flow than Tueeulala Falls.

Hetch_Hetchy_022_06042011 - Looking up at an intermediate waterfall creating minor stream crossings on the Wapama Falls Trail. The National Geographic Topo! Map actually mislabeled this one as the Tueeulala Fall
Looking up at an intermediate waterfall creating minor stream crossings on the Wapama Falls Trail. The National Geographic Topo! Map actually mislabeled this one as the Tueeulala Fall

In fact, our Topo! map even mislabeled this particular waterfall as Tueeulala Falls.

Anyways, it turned out that the outflow of this waterfall was also responsible for those stream crossings mentioned above.

So if we saw this waterfall in high flow, we knew the stream crossing would be a bit trickier.

Beyond the crossing, the trail meandered a bit more amongst a mix of granite and dirt.

Hetch_Hetchy_042_06042011 - Context of the Wapama Falls Trail with Kolana Rock and the reservoir in the background under a rainy day in June 2011
Context of the Wapama Falls Trail with Kolana Rock and the reservoir in the background under a rainy day in June 2011

As a result of this barren stretch, we managed to get views across the valley without the vegetation obstructions.

In fact, throughout the entire stretch of hiking up to this point, we gained different perspectives of Kolana Rock looming across the reservoir as well as the inundated valley itself.

Finally after about 2 miles from the trailhead, we started to get underneath Tueeulala Fall.

Wapama Falls Trail Description – the final stretch to Wapama Falls

There was a footbridge at the base of Tueeulala Fall where we could gaze up at the falls which may or may not be impressive depending on its flow.

Hetch_Hetchy_002_scanned_05312002 - Looking up at Tueeulala Fall in high flow, which produced flooded conditions on the trail just past its footbridge
Looking up at Tueeulala Fall in high flow, which produced flooded conditions on the trail just past its footbridge

When it was flowing well, the stretch of trail beyond the footbridge was flooded enough to wet our socks as water would flow into the top of our hiking boots.

However, in all the times we did this hike, we encountered the flood only once.

The rest of the time, the trail remained dry and free of issues.

The trail briefly undulated before making a longer descent across a section of talus that culminated in some granite steps with part of Wapama Falls starting to come into view.

Hetch_Hetchy_027_06042011 - Context of Julie descending this loose rock section on the way down to the footbridges before Wapama Falls
Context of Julie descending this loose rock section on the way down to the footbridges before Wapama Falls

After about a 1/4-mile past the base of Tueeulala Fall, we were at the first footbridge beneath Wapama Falls.

Under flooded conditions, this section of the trail was completely covered in mist with some of the stream crossing over both the bridges and the drop-off exposed granite trail in between some of the bridges.

Again, we only encountered the flooded conditions once in all the times we’ve done this trail so usually traversing these footbridges was no big deal.

As for seeing Wapama Falls, the first footbridge gave us the most direct view looking right up to the top of the multi-tiered twisting waterfall.

Hetch_Hetchy_007_scanned_05312002 - Looking up at part of Wapama Falls in high flow
Looking up at part of Wapama Falls in high flow

However, this side also tended to be the mistiest side so taking photos from here was tricky, especially in high flow.

As we went further along the trail, the top part of the waterfall started to disappear.

However, then we were able to see other parts of the falls as its stream seemed to break up and fan out over the many giant boulders and gullies above the footbridges.

Once we got to the end of the last footbridge, we were able to look back at both Tueeulala Falls and Wapama Falls together.

Wapama_Falls_002_05312002 - Looking back across the footbridges and the base of Wapama Falls with Tueeulala Falls flowing well when this picture was taken at the end of May 2002
Looking back across the footbridges and the base of Wapama Falls with Tueeulala Falls flowing well when this picture was taken at the end of May 2002

In flood, the mist from Wapama Falls actually covered the view of Tueeulala Falls!

And when we looked towards Kolana Rock and the rest of Hetch Hetchy Valley, we started to see more of the back of the valley that we weren’t able to see from the dam.

This marked the turnaround point for our out-and-back hike to Wapama Falls (we were roughly 2.5 miles from the trailhead at this point).

However, we could’ve kept going beyond the footbridges towards Rancheria Falls and more of Hetch Hetchy’s backcountry.

To see what the continuation of this trail was like, see the Rancheria Falls page.

Authorities

Wapama Falls resides in Yosemite National Park near Groveland in Tuolumne 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.

Hetch_Hetchy_004_06042011 - The panorama from the O'Shaughnessy Dam during an unusually dreary June weekend in 2011
Hetch_Hetchy_007_06042011 - Julie going through the tunnel on our June 2011 visit to Wapama Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_008_06042011 - Looking towards Kolana Rock after having left the tunnel and continued towards Wapama Falls during our June 2011 hike
Hetch_Hetchy_009_06042011 - Zoomed in on some thin waterfalls near the base of Kolana Rock seen during our June 2011 hike to Wapama Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_012_06042011 - During our June 2011 visit to Wapama Falls, we noticed these unusual trees that looked like Nature spray-painted their trunks a waxy dark brown
Hetch_Hetchy_016_06042011 - Trail continues to provide views of the Hetch Hetchy panorama
Hetch_Hetchy_014_06042011 - Julie passing by this familiar waterfall alongside the hike to Wapama Falls during our June 2011 visit
Hetch_Hetchy_016_06042011 - Julie passing through a more granite-exposed section of the Wapama Falls Trail with nice views towards Kolana Rock and the head of the reservoir along the way during our June 2011 hike
Hetch_Hetchy_024_06042011 - Julie continuing to skirt around puddles and muddy spots during our June 2011 hike to Wapama Falls under rainy weather
Hetch_Hetchy_025_06042011 - Julie on the Wapama Falls Trail getting closer to Tueeulala Falls looking wispy in June 2011
Hetch_Hetchy_028_06042011 - Looking up towards the top of Wapama Falls from further along the footbridges in early June 2011
Hetch_Hetchy_034_06042011 - Looking back at the footbridges and both the Wapama Falls and Tueeulala Fall under more average conditions during our June 2011 visit
Hetch_Hetchy_040_06042011 - Heading back from the Wapama Falls footbridges after having had our fill of Wapama Falls during our June 2011 visit
Hetch_Hetchy_006_04302005 - Looking across the reservoir held up by the O'Shaughnessy Dam in April 2005 where it seemed like Tueeulala Fall was actually flowing worse than the unnamed falls to the far left
Hetch_Hetchy_004_04302005 - Another look at the trio of waterfalls at Hetch Hetchy Valley in late April 2005
Hetch_Hetchy_012_04302005 - Looking along the southern shoreline of the reservoir at Hetch Hetchy Valley towards Kolana Rock in late April 2005
Hetch_Hetchy_014_04302005 - Mom checking out Hetch Hetchy and the trio of waterfalls including Wapama Falls during a quick drive-by in late April 2005
Hetch_Hetchy_dam_001_04242004 - Approaching the tunnel on the far end of the O'Shaughnessy Dam
Hetch_Hetchy_dam_006_04242004 - Looking in the distance towards the bottom of Wapama Falls during our Rancheria Falls hike in April 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_hike_015_04242004 - Around the moisture of Wapama Falls, we noticed this red lizard or salamander nearby during our April 2004 hike to Rancheria Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_hike_023_04242004 - Looking up towards the top of Wapama Falls in decent flow during our Rancheria Falls hike in April 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_hike_036_04242004 - Looking towards a couple of the main drops of Wapama Falls during our Rancheria Falls hike in April 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_hike_068_04242004 - Looking back towards the bottom of Wapama Falls from the continuation of the trail towards Rancheria Falls during our April 2004 hike
Hetch_Hetchy_010_03192004 - The panorama from the O'Shaughnessy Dam as seen in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_013_03192004 - The Wapama Falls Trail passed by this small but attractive cascade during our March 2004 visit
Hetch_Hetchy_016_03192004 - Angled view of some unnamed cascade that sometimes flowed better than Tueeulala Falls as seen in our hike to Wapama Falls in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_020_03192004 - Looking up towards the intermediate waterfall that seemed to be doing better than Tueeulala Fall during our March 2004 hike to Wapama Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_022_03192004 - Looking up towards Tueeulala Fall during our March 2004 hike to Wapama Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_025_03192004 - Looking up towards the top of Wapama Falls as seen during our March 2004 hike
Hetch_Hetchy_027_03192004 - Another partial look up at the Wapama Falls as seen during our hike in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_032_03192004 - Wapama Falls and the footbridges as seen during our visit in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_034_03192004 - Looking up at Wapama Falls towards the end of the first footbridge during our visit in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_040_03192004 - Looking towards the end of the Wapama Falls footbridges during our visit in March 2004
Hetch_Hetchy_050_03192004 - Looking at the panorama from the O'Shaughnessy Dam at the end of our March 2004 hike to Wapama Falls
Hetch_Hetchy_001_scanned_05312002 - The panorama from the O'Shaughnessy Dam during a very hot and sunny day at the end of May 2002. Notice the high flow on Tueeulala Falls. This would be a factor in the hike later on this day
Hetch_Hetchy_001_05312002 - Looking across the reservoir from the O'Shaughnessy Dam towards Tueeulala Fall and Wapama Falls both with healthy flows at the end of May 2002
Hetch_Hetchy_002_05312002 - Looking down at some water being released from the O'Shaughnessy Dam during our visit at the end of May 2002
Hetch_Hetchy_003_05312002 - Contextual look at the Tueeulala Fall and Wapama Falls as seen from the O'Shaughnessy Dam during our visit at the end of May 2002
Hetch_Hetchy_007_05312002 - Looking towards Kolana Rock and the reservoir fronted by a tree as we hiked the Wapama Falls Trail during our visit at the end of May 2002
Hetch_Hetchy_008_scanned_05312002 - This was the cleanest photo that I could get of Wapama Falls from right under it at the end of May 2002
Wapama_Falls_004_05312002 - Looking back across the heavy mist from Wapama Falls almost fogging out the drop from Tueeulala Fall during our end of May 2002 visit

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Wapama Falls sits in Hetch Hetchy, which is in the remote northwest corner of Yosemite National Park.

We generally drive up to Yosemite Valley from Los Angeles before getting up to Hetch Hetchy so we’ll describe this route first.

It typically takes us about 6 hours to make the drive from Los Angeles to Yosemite Valley.

We normally go from Los Angeles to Fresno via the I-5 and Hwy 99, then through Oakhurst and Wawona via the Hwy 41.

Once in Yosemite Valley, we’d drive west towards the Big Oak Flat Road where the Hwy 120 and Hwy 140 junction.

Then, we’d drive uphill on the Hwy 140 towards the Big Oak Flat Entrance (the Northwest Entrance), where we’d leave the park.

From the Big Oak Flat Entrance on the Big Oak Flat Road (Route 120), we’d shortly have to turn right at the signed turnoff for Mather and the Evergreen Road.

Then, we’d follow Evergreen Road for 7.5 miles to its junction with Hetch Hetchy Road in Mather.

Turning right onto Hetch Hetchy Road, we’d follow it to the parking lot by the O’Shaughnessy Dam after about seven miles.

On the way, we’d have passed through another entrance fee station.

Hetch_Hetchy_001_06042011 - The parking lot at the O'Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley
The parking lot at the O’Shaughnessy Dam at Hetch Hetchy Valley

The two-lane road was a bit narrow in places so we had to drive slowly.

Eventually, we’d reach a parking lot next to the dam.

The drive from Yosemite Valley to the parking lot at the O’Shaughnessy Dam took us less than 90 minutes.

From San Francisco, we’d drive east towards Pleasanton, then continue east on the I-205 towards the Hwy 120 passing through Groveland and eventually through the town of Mather. Once we were east of Mather, we’d follow the road to the O’Shaugnessy Dam as described above. Overall, this drive would take around 4 hours without traffic.

Right to left sweep of the panorama from O'Shaugnessy Dam (taken in June 2011)


Right to left sweep of the panorama around Wapama Falls as well as Wapama Falls itself


Another right to left sweep of Wapama Falls but this is from further along the footbridge


L-shaped sweep from the start of the footbridges showcasing the panorama at the base of the falls before sweeping up to the highest part of the falls that you can see from this vantage point


Sweep from the O'Shaughnessy Dam of the inundated Hetch Hetchy Valley including both Tueeulala Falls and Wapama Falls in full flow (taken back in June 2002)

Tagged with: hetch hetchy, tuolumne county, evergreen, big oak flat, shaughnessy, yosemite, california, waterfall, sierra



Visitor Comments:

Wapama Falls September 20, 2016 11:16 pm by Clark Jeppesen - I have seen your top 10 list and it is hard to debate the choices. That being said, I would take Wapama Falls over a number of the Yosemite Falls including Bridalveil Falls I would put it near the top of the list. So what does Yosemite Falls (and others) have that Wapama doesn't have.… ...Read More
Spectacular Fall April 7, 2009 6:30 pm by Michael Greene - This waterfall is not to be missed. One of my very faves anywhere! I've been to it twice - both in May during high snow melt in '06 & '07. During those times - the footbridge seems so long and you most likely will get wet. Looking up - it is almost impossible to see… ...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.
Read More About Johnny | A Guide to New Zealand Waterfalls.