Fall, 2009 and Spring, 2013
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, third tallest in the United States (Hawaii has two that are taller), the 20th tallest in the world, not counting underwater falls.
I had not heard of underwater waterfalls, but they occurs when waters of very different temperatures meet in the sea, for instance the 11,500 foot Denmark Strait Cataract, located between Greenland and Iceland, which is formed by the difference in temperature between the ultra-cold Arctic waters of the Greenland Sea meeting those of the slightly warmer Irminger Sea. Molecules in the cold water are less active and take up less space than those in warm water, so they are packed together more tightly, making cold water denser. When the cold water meets the warm water, it slides right down through it.
Between its upper falls, middle cascades and lower falls, Yosemite drops 2,245 feet. It is one of 22 named waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Creek originates at Grant Lakes, and meanders several miles before plunging 1,430 feet to create Upper Yosemite Falls. From there the water flows through the Middle Cascades, a series of five smaller plunges, dropping another 675 feet to the Lower Falls, which drops a further 320 feet. Yosemite Creek then continues its trek to the Merced River. Although only 13 miles in length, this creek creates one of the most spectacular sights in Yosemite National Park.
The Ahwahneechee People occupied the Yosemite Valley for at least 1,000 years, and signs of their presence are found throughout the park. They called the waterfall “Cholock” (“the fall”) and believed that the plunge pool at its base was inhabited by the spirits of several witches, called the Poloti. Legend describes a woman going to fetch a pail of water from the pool, and drawing it out full of snakes. Later that night, the spirits caused her house to be sucked into the pool by a powerful wind, taking the woman and her newborn baby with it.
It’s almost impossible to see the cascades unless you take the Yosemite Falls trail. The full hike is a 7.2 mile round trip to the top, and can be treacherous with the mist from the falls, but you can take a shorter 2 mile round trip hike to Columbia Rock for some fabulous views of the park.
The flow is dramatically different in the spring than in the fall. Most of the water comes from snow melt from the Sierra Nevada Mountains. In the spring, the flow averages about 300 cubic feet of water per second; in the fall that drops to one cubic foot per second. In particularly dry summers, the falls can dry up entirely.
We’ve been privileged to see Yosemite Falls at peak flow as well as low flow. Our first visit was in the fall of 2009, but even with the lower flow, we were pretty impressed.
Had we seen them in full flow in the spring, we might not have been so impressed. Our second visit was in the spring of 2013.
In conclusion, any time of year is a good time to visit Yosemite.