Yosemite NP – Hetch Hetchy 26 miles long loop day hike
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
Hetch Hetchy section of Yosemite National Park.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The nearest gas
station is located on highway 120, 4.4 miles east of the junction of highway
120 with Evergreen Rd.
another gas station inside the Yosemite Park highway 120, 7.8 miles east of the
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
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.
Hetch Hetchy is part of Yosemite National Park, but the
entrance is separate from the rest of the park roads.
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
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.
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.
[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.
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.
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.
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.
walk you will reach a large pine forest grove, here is the main campground
location in this area.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
After 2 miles
of hiking Beehive Meadow Trail, you will reach back the lake trail.
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
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.