Chasing Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite: A Natural Wonder

Yosemite National Park is home to numerous natural wonders, with an array of cascading waterfalls being one of the main attractions for visitors.

waterwheel falls in yosemite

Among these is the mesmerizing Waterwheel Falls, a hidden gem located in the northern region of the park. If you’re looking for a break from the crowds and want to experience the peace and tranquility of nature, this waterfall is a must-visit. In this article, we’ll guide you through everything you need to know about the Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite.


Waterwheel Falls is nestled in the Tuolumne River watershed of Yosemite National Park. It is situated between Glen Aulin and Tuolumne Meadows and can be reached via a 6.5-mile hiking trail that starts from the Lembert Dome parking lot. The trail is moderately strenuous and takes around 2-3 hours of hiking to reach the waterfall. If you’re planning to take a shuttle, the Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle Service stops at the trailhead.


A good place where you can park your car near the Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite is The Lembert Dome, this parking lot is a popular spot and it’s recommended to arrive early to secure a parking spot. If the lot is full, you can park at Tuolumne Meadows and take the shuttle to the trailhead.

What to do at the Waterwheel Falls 

The Waterwheel Falls trail offers a stunning scenic view of the Yosemite backcountry. The trail passes through tranquil meadows, crystal clear streams, and dense forests. The waterfall itself is a spectacle to witness, with water cascading down the granite rocks, creating a unique waterwheel effect. At the base of the falls, you can relax, have a picnic, or dip your toes in the cool water.

What to expect

The trail to Waterwheel Falls presents varying levels of difficulty, with some steep sections and rocky terrain. Wear sturdy shoes and bring plenty of water and snacks. If you’re planning to swim, remember that the water can be cold and swift, so exercise caution. The falls can be crowded during peak season, so plan accordingly.

waterwheel falls yosemite

Wildlife you can encounter

Waterwheel Falls is a great spot for birdwatching, with rare bird species like the hermit thrush, black-backed woodpecker, and varied thrush being commonly spotted in the area. Other animals like marmots, squirrels, and deer can also be encountered at the falls. Remember to not disturb or feed any wildlife.

What to bring

Besides hiking essentials like water, snacks, and sturdy shoes bring a camera with good quality to capture the beauty of Waterwheel Falls. If you’re planning to swim or have a picnic, pack swimwear, blankets, and a first aid kit. Additionally, don’t forget to wear sunscreen and a hat to protect yourself from the sun.

FAQs about the Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite

Can I go camping near the Waterwheel Falls? 

Gladly, it is possible to go camping near the Waterwheel Falls. However, it’s important to note that the area is subject to Yosemite National Park’s wilderness permit system. This means you’ll need to secure a wilderness permit before your trip, which can be obtained from the park’s website or visitor center. Be sure to follow Leave No Trace principles and all park regulations to minimize your impact on the environment. Keep in mind that campfires are generally not allowed, and food storage must comply with the park’s bear-proof regulations.

What is the best time to visit the falls?

The best time to visit Waterwheel Falls is during late spring or early summer, typically from May to June. This is when the snow from the high country begins to melt and feeds the Tuolumne River, causing the falls to be at their most spectacular. The weather during this time is usually favorable for hiking, with mild temperatures and clear skies. However, always check local weather forecasts and trail conditions before planning your trip, as mountain weather can be unpredictable.

Is it safe to swim in the pool beneath the falls?

While the pool beneath Waterwheel Falls can look tempting, particularly after a long hike, it’s important to approach with caution. The water can be quite cold, even in the warmer months, and the current can be stronger than it appears, especially after heavy rainfall or during the peak snowmelt period. Always assess the conditions and your own swimming capabilities before deciding to swim. It’s also vital to note that there are no lifeguards on duty in this area, so you swim at your own risk. We suggest bringing a friend and always letting someone know where you are for safety measures.

yosemite waterwheel falls


The Waterwheel Falls in Yosemite is a hidden gem that offers a stunning natural spectacle, away from the crowds of the main park. It’s a bit of a hike to get there, but the trail is doable for all levels of hikers. The beauty of the waterfall and surrounding scenery make the effort all worth it. Remember to come prepared, follow park rules, and leave no trace. Experience the magic of Waterwheel Falls and immerse yourself in the natural beauty of Yosemite National Park.

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