Hike: Wapama Falls & Rancheria Falls
Where: Yosemite National Park
Trailhead: O’Shaughnessy Dam
Duration: 5.5 hours
Length: 13 miles out and back
Gear: Icebreaker Tech T Lite, Triple Aught Design Artemis Hoodie, REI Sahara pants, Outdoor Research Essence Leggings, JepPaks pack, Black Diamond Ultra Distance trekking poles, and Salewa Alp Trainer Mid GTX boots
Cost of Parking: Free
Hetch Hetchy Valley was once a mirror image of Yosemite Valley; now it’s a reservoir providing millions of San Francisco Bay Area residents like myself water. Despite this, Yosemite’s counterpart is still a wondrous sight to behold, and lacking in the millions of visitors Yosemite Valley receives.
Multi-day backpacking trips to Yosemite National Park’s northernmost wilderness give you access to glacial lakes, or you can opt for day hikes near the reservoir. Going into Thanksgiving, my original plan was to do a four day backpacking trip in this area, but unforeseen wrenches thrown into plans a little bit of weather thwarted those original plans. Instead of completely scrapping the idea of Hetch Hetchy, I ended up setting off on a solo hike to Rancheria Falls while the boyfriend was stuck working on Black Friday.
The trailhead begins at O’Shaughnessy Dam which is waaay down off of Evergreen Road about 2 miles before the Yosemite National Park entrance gate. You’ll need to pay at the Hetch Hetchy gate or show your receipt before continuing a ways down some twisty, narrow roads to reach the dam. If you’re planning on doing some overnights, let the park ranger know so you are issued the correct pass.
The route out to Wapama Falls & Rancheria Falls is straight forward. You have seriously done something wrong if you get lost. The trail crosses the dam, goes through the tunnel, and follows the northern border of the reservoir. There is one junction before Wapama Falls, but it is well signed. It seems like most people don’t make it to, or past, Wapama Falls, so if you’re continuing beyond, expect a good amount of solitude. I only saw four other people heading out to Rancheria, two of whom turned around before even reaching those falls. You’ll hear Rancheria Falls before you see it cascading down beneath you. At the time I hiked, someone had built cairns to the best viewpoint off the trail. I continued a little further past, but ended up going a little off trail to check out the falls up close and personal.
Currently, Tueeulala Falls is dry. Wapama and Rancheria Falls are still sights to behold, though not with their usual majestic splendor.
The gate to Hetch Hetchy closes at 5pm during the off-season, so you and your car will need to be out of the area or risk getting towed. And obligatory disclosure: flowing water can be a dangerous and deadly thing. Wapama Falls in high snowpack years can be very powerful, washing away bridges and carrying people to their doom. Be smart, and err on the side of caution. You can always come back later.