Related Links

Geologic background: Yosemite Valley (pdf)

Geologic trips: Bridalveil Fall El Capitan Half Dome Taft Point Yosemite Falls


Exterior Websites

National Park Service: Yosemite

USGS: Geology of Yosemite Valley Geologic Map of Yosemite NP

Yosemite Hikes: Yosemite Falls

Geologic Trip, Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Falls


Yosemite Falls are one of the main scenic attractions of Yosemite Valley. At the top of the Upper Fall, the water from Yosemite Creek descends 70 feet through a chute worn in the top of the cliff. When the water leaves the chute, it leaps clear of the cliff and descends 1,430 feet in a broad parabolic curve to the base of the Upper Fall. This is reportedly the highest leaping waterfall in the world. After collecting itself at the base of the Upper Fall, the water descends 675 feet through a chain of cascades to the top of the Lower Fall. The water then drops another 320 feet over the Lower Fall. The combined drop of the falls and cascades is 2,425 feet.


The Upper Fall, like Bridalveil Fall, is a hanging valley. During the Plio-Pleistocene uplift and west tilting of the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite Creek was unable to keep pace with the rapid downcutting of the Merced River and the creek descended into the Merced River Valley in a series of cascades. During Pleistocene glaciation, the wall of Yosemite Valley was steepened by glacial erosion. This erosion removed the most of the cascades and left the valley of Yosemite Creek hanging high above the valley floor.