Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy 26 miles long loop day hike


What? :

This is a 26 miles long loop hike that start at the Hetch Hetchy dam, follow the trail along the lake, passing Wapama Falls. After the lake section the trail climb north to the high wilderness mountains area and heading to Lake Vernon. From Lake Vernon the trail is heading back south, pass near Laurel Lake and from there it is all downhill to Hetch Hetchy Lake and my hike starting point.


This hike is a long strenuous 25-miles loop hike with almost 6,000 ft of elevation gain but you will be reworded by waterfalls, lakes, and remote wilderness landscapes with relatively few other hikers.

At a hot summer day, it took me 12 hours to complete this hike.


Doing this 26-mile-long hike as a day-hike is not for everyone, most peoples are doing this hike as a 2- or 3-days hike



Where? :

Located in Hetch Hetchy section of Yosemite National Park.

Google Map Link




When? :

The best time to visit here is at spring when the waterfall are flowing with water.

Summer can be relatively hot (due to the relatively low elevation), at late fall when upper sections of the park are close to access this area of the park is still open because the snow comes late here.

At winter this trail is covered with deep snow.



Due note 1: Start your hike early; it can become very hot mid-day in the summer. Many sections of the trail are exposed, receiving little to no shade.


Due note 2: Avoid becoming dehydrated or experiencing heat exhaustion. Drink plenty and drink often; pace yourself; rest in the shade; eat salty snacks. You can find running water along this hike in lakes or streams, treat the water by filtering them or use iodine.


Due note 3: I did this hike counterclockwise, walking along the lake, climbing up the mountains to Lake Vernon. From there I hikes back down to Hetch Hetchy. But you can do it clockwise. My main reason for this direction was that because of the high-water level in Wapama Falls I was not sure if I can safely pass the wooden bridge so I want to do this at the beginning of the hike. Another reason was that I want to have the long downhill section at the end of the hike and not to walk 2 hours along the lake when I’m already tired.

If you hike clockwise, you will start early in the morning with the long climb up the mountains so it better to do this when you are fresh, and it is not so hot.


Due note 4: Because I did this hike as a day-hike I parked my car near the dam. If you are doing this hike as multi-day you will need to park your car at the overnight parking.


Due note 5: Most peoples are doing this hike as a 2- or 3-days hike. For that you must have Yosemite wilderness hiking permit.


Due note 6: The 6 miles out and back hike from the dam to Wapama Falls is very popular, relatively flat, and not strenuous. Do expect many other hikers along this trail section.


Due note 7: Doing this 26-mile-long hike as a day-hike is not for everyone. Know your limits, walk slowly going up and carefully going down and drink a lot of water.


Due note 8: Hiking poles are highly recommended both to help in the climb and to provide stability when walking down.


Due note 9: This road has seasonal hours corresponding roughly with daylight hours; during summer 2022 the road will be open from 8 am to 5 pm.

See website for up-to-date information:




Due note 10: Dogs and other pets are prohibited on all trails and on the dam. Dogs are only allowed in the parking area, and they must be always leashed.


Due note 11: There is no service or visitor center in this section of the park.


Due note 12: Swimming and boating are prohibited in Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.


Due note 13: There are restrooms at the upper parking lot and near the road before the dam.


Due note 14: Although less crowded compared to Yosemite Valley you won't be alone here, since the Wapama Falls trail is the main attraction in this park section and most visitors hiking this trail, but it is not overcrowded.


Due note 15: The Wapama Falls footbridge can be close at early spring when waterfall water levels are too high, this only happened years with a lot of snowfall and hot early spring.


Due note 16: This is exposed trail without any shade, carry plenty of water and use sunscreen.


Due note 17: during the hike I suffer from mosquitoes at sections near standing water. Bring mosquito repellent with you and have mosquito net hat with you. Long sleeves and pants are preferred.



My thoughts:

This is one of the longest and most challenging day hikes I did in Yosemite, it was the length, the climb and the hot summer day with 102f degrees. I started walking 6 am in the morning and ended it at 6 pm afternoon.

I like this hike because it cover different landscapes, from walking near Hetch Hetchy, climbing up to the mountain wilderness and visiting alpine lakes.

I hikes here during July 2023, after the year with max snow levels and at that time it was supper bloom in the high valleys.



Gas Stations:

The nearest gas station is located on highway 120, 4.4 miles east of the junction of highway 120 with Evergreen Rd.

There is another gas station inside the Yosemite Park highway 120, 7.8 miles east of the park entrance.


Nearby Hotels:

At the small place called Mather you can find few hotels (Evergreen Lodge cabins or Rush Creek Lodge) and lodges and here you can also find small General Store to buy food.

There is the new lodge on highway 120 and Evergreen: Rush Creek Lodge and Spa at Yosemite

You can also find many hotels and restaurants at the small town of Groveland.



Driving directions:

Hetch Hetchy is part of Yosemite National Park, but the entrance is separate from the rest of the park roads.


Coming on highway 120 from the West:

A half an hour’s drive east from Groveland via Highway 120 you will reach a clearly mark exit to your left into Evergreen Road (just after the new “Rush Creek Lodge and Spa at Yosemite” and just before getting into Yosemite NP north entrance).

You will drive down on all the way until you will reach a T junction at. Here turn right onto Hetch Hetchy Rd. and after 2.6 miles you will entering Yosemite National Park pay station. Drive slowly the next 8 miles where the road plunging into the deep canyon of the Tuolumne River, from some viewing point along the road you can see far below you the impressive O’Shaughnessy Dam concrete structure.


Coming on highway 120 from Yosemite National Park:

Pass and exit the Yosemite Park north entrance and after a short 1.2 mile drive you will see a clear turn to your right.

Follow the above instructions to Yosemite Hetch Hetchy section.




Near the end of the road, you will drive into one lane section, pass the building on your right, and drive down to the dam, here you will find plenty of parking spots along the right side of the road.

If there aren’t any available parking spots here, you need follow the loop back up and find parking at the junction or at the backpacking parking lot.




The Hike:


This is link to my hike at Alltrails:


[in all trail it say 24.5 miles but according my gps it was 26 miles long]



I started the hike from the parking lot near the dam, it was 6 am, just at sunrise.

The Hetch Hetchy lake was completely full.

Water overflow the safe overpass side-dam and they also release additional water from the dam pipes.


I walk over the dam, cross it to it remote side and pass through the large man-made tunnel to the other side of the cliff rock.

From here the hike follows the reservoir with moderate up and downhill hiking.

After 1 mile you will reach the trail junction that climb up the cliffs to your left (we will finish the loop from coming down from this trail), keep walking straight.


The trail finds it way along the cliff base, here you may pass a wet rocky section.

After 1.9 mil you will pass at the foot base of the 800 ft Tueeulala Falls that are flowing only at springtime.

After 2.5 miles from the starting point, you will reach the Wapama Falls Wooden Bridge. 

From the bridge you have a safe way to cross the stream and excellent up-close view of the lowest section of Wapama Falls.

You can’t see from this location the top cascade section of the falls; this section is located high in the mountains above you.


During peak spring flows, the thundering waterfall can wash over the bridge making it dangerous to cross.

I did this hike during July 2023, the waterfalls had high water flow level and the bridge got covered by strong splash of water and waves of drops.

I got completely wet crossing the few bridges crossing the base of the waterfall.


From here the trail flow the granite cliffs and climb away from the lake level.


After 5.2 miles from the starting point the trail leave the lake, climb up and get into a side creek. Up until this section I did not see anyone else but now I start to see few backpackers’ hikers that spend the night near Rancheria Falls doing their way back to the dam.


6 miles from the starting point and after passing a short iron bridge over Tiltill Creek (that had a lot of water) and additional climb away from the lake you will reach a high viewpoint that overlooking Rancheria Falls and cascade.


This section of Rancheria River flow down few large waterfalls and granite plates cascades.

You can walk down to the river.

I had a long day ahead of me, so I keep walking without going to the river.

After short walk you will reach a large pine forest grove, here is the main campground location in this area.


After the forest the trail climb up in the open and 6.2 miles from the start you will reach a trail junction.

If you walk right, you will reach the river and Rancheria Falls, I hiked left in the direction up the mountain.

This was a strenuous climb; the trail start to climb the steep granite mountain by a long series of switchbacks. This section is exposed to the sun, and at 9 am it was already hot.

At sum point the trail start to climb more moderately and take the direction of the creek. In the creek I manage to have some shaded from the scorching sun and after 2 miles from the trail junction I pass a small pond to my right and then the trail descend into the relatively large Tiltill Vally. This valley is about 1 mile long east to west and less than a quarter of a mile wide.

Although it was mid-summer, because of the late snow melt, the valley was green and all the flowers where blooming with many butterflies flying around, it was a nice view.

The mosquitoes where also having a lot of fun at this trail section.

The trail cross the valley and for most of the sections it was dry but for few sections I had to walk where my feet got into the mad ankle level. In the middle of the valley crossing, you will pass a trail junction, keep heading straight.

Near the end of the valley crossing, I had to pass a short knee level deep water section, nothing dipper than that.

After reaching the other side of the valley the trail turn left and following the valley boarder but in the forest. After less than a half of a mile you will cross Tiltill creek that had a lot of water.

From here start the second lag of the “big” climb of the hike.

The trail heading up and west in a series of switchbacks.

It was just before noon, and it was hoot.

I took the climb slow and made a lot of short rests.

From the Tiltill creek crossing it is 3.2 miles of steep climb and after that you will get into less steep section, cross few meadows for another mile and a half.

From this point it is all downhill to Lake Vernon. The landscape changed dramatically into exposed granite mountain dotted with spars trees and the large valley of Falls Creek is open below you.

As you hike down the lake view reveal to your right and after 1.5 miles from the descent start you will reach the wooden bridge that is crossing the lake outlet river. The river is flowing down the valley and feeding Wapama Falls.


It was already 2 pm when I reach the bridge, after hiking 16.3 miles for 8 hours.

I took a 30-minute rest stop, eating, drinking a lot of water, and taking a good rest.


From here I start to walk again, the trail cross the valley and after short hike you will reach a trail junction, here you need to take left.

The trail cross the open granite landscape and then it climb moderately the ridge, this section is covered with large trees.


2 miles from the lake bridge crossing you will reach the high point and a trail junction. If you turn right, you will head up east.


Side hike story:

I hiked that trail direction few years ago (July 2019) and I remember it as one of the most challenging hikes I did. It was after a year with a lot of snowfall. The Fall Creek River water level was very high and flooded all the narrow valleys along it way. I was the only one there, and I had to cross long trail sections where the water level was up to bellybutton deep and I was afraid to fall into holes in the ground.

At the end of that day, I found that I will not be able to cross Fall Creek River to the other side in any crossing, the water were just too high and running to strong.

I hiked all the way to the next crossing, near Wilma Lake and also here it was impossible to cross. I stay for the night there and hike back the following day.

During my 2022 fall hike I came to the same crossing spot, and it was easy to cross it even without getting my feet wet.


Continue with my hike:

At the trail junction I keep going straight and down.

At this section the trail pass in the forest where you have meadows on both sides of the trail, after 1.3 mile you will reach the trail junction leading right to Laurel Lake.

Keep hiking 1.5 mile down the slow-going mountains, midway you will see another trail heading to the right.

Right after passing near a large marsh pond the trail start with, it steep descend, this is exactly 21 miles from the hike starting point. You still have additional 5 miles to hike but all are downhill.

The first section of the hike cross a pine forest section.

After 2 miles of steep descending, you will reach the trail junction connecting with the steep switchbacks section of Beehive Meadow Trail.

The trail start descending into Hetch Hetchy reservoir and as you are going down the lake view open up.

After 2 miles of hiking Beehive Meadow Trail, you will reach back the lake trail.

Keep heading for about 1 mile and you will reach the tunnel, pass it to the dam and you will be back in the hike starting point.




It was tough strenuous one day hike but rewording, a lot of interesting scenery along the hike.

The large Hetch Hetchy reservoir view from many directions, the raging water of Wapama Falls crossing, Rancheria Falls, climbing up to Tiltill Valley and it flower bloom, lake Vernon and the large wilderness surrounding Mt Gibson.

Overall, it was 26 miles long hike with 5,900 ft of elevation gain, and it took me total 12 hours start to finish.



Additional Pictures: