hiking hetch hetchy
hetch hetchy trail
Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: To Wapama Falls is 4 miles round trip; to Rancheria Falls is 13 miles round trip with 800- foot elevation gain.
Terrain: North wall of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
Highlights: What's left of an impressive valley, dominated by an eight-mile long reservoir, and magnificent waterfalls.
Degree of Difficulty: Moderate to strenuous.
For More Information: Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; tel. (209) 372-1000.
Hetch Hetchy Valley became an eight-mile-long reservoir in the early 1930's when O'Shaughnessy Dam was completed and the waters of the Tuolumne river impounded. Yet, we can still today imagine how the pre-dam valley appeared while hiking along its northern wall. Even with its floor flooded, the valley is something to behold.
Hetch Hetchy's Wapama Falls spills 1,200 feet over a granite precipice. The falls are spawned by Falls Creek, a tributary of the Tuolumne River. At the end of the hike is tiny Rancheria Falls, providing a little water music for an inspiringly situated trail camp.
Linking the waterfalls is a path along the north side of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. It's a fairly low elevation pathway and, therefore, makes an enticing early season Sierra jaunt. In the spring, Hetch Hetchy's falls are at their most vigorous.
Directions to trail head: From California 120, a mile west of Big Oak Flat entrance station, take the Hetch Hetchy turnoff and follow Evergreen Road, then Hetch Hetchy Road 16 miles to its end at the parking lot above O'Shaughnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.
The hike: Proceed across the dam, reading en route the interpretive plaques detailing the dimensions of the dam and reservoir. Look to the north side of the canyon to view Hetch Hetchy Dome and Wapama Falls.
Travel through a 500-foot-long tunnel, emerging to join an old road that leads over gray pine-dotted slopes.
A mile out, you'll reach a junction and head right (east) as the road gives way to a footpath. In another half mile, pass by seasonal Tueeulala Falls and in another half mile spot Wapama Falls, soon reached by winding trail.
With the falls roaring in your ears, cross a couple branches of Fall Creek on a series of wood and steel bridges, then climb oak-covered (and poison oak--watch out) slopes.
About four miles out, the trail levels, crosses a footbridge over a creek at five miles, then climbs past some inviting swimming holes and water slides located along the creek. At the six-mile mark, reach a junction with a connector trail that leads to a Ponderosa pine and incense cedar-shaded campsite located below Rancheria Falls.
Stick with the main trail for another half mile to reach a bridge over Rancheria Creek that's located just above the falls. Enjoy the inspiring vista before retracing your steps back to the trail head.
The Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park is Day Use only and lacks any camping facilties. However, nearby campgrounds can be found at the following:
For detailed information about hiking in Hetch Hetchy, together with a map, see the book: High Sierra Hiking Guide: Hetch Hetchy by Ron Felzer from Wilderness Press.
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