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Yosemite Falls is made up of three sections: Upper Yosemite Fall, the middle cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. From the viewing area near the base of the lower fall, where water spills onto boulders before flowing toward the Merced River, you can feel the power of snowmelt surging down granite, see rainbows dance in the spray, and, on frigid mornings, look for the frazil ice that forms when mist freezes and floats downstream.

For a long time, the approach to Lower Yosemite Fall was in poor condition. An overcrowded, polluting parking lot, dilapidated trails, and unbecoming viewing area created an experience ill-suited to the iconic falls.

The situation needed to change … and it did! In the late 1990s and early 2000s, our donors funded a massive, multiyear effort to restore the area around Lower Yosemite Fall. The project, which was completed in collaboration with the National Park Service and renowned Bay Area landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, combined much-needed ecological restoration work with new trails and facilities designed to improve the experience of visiting the famous waterfall.

Throughout the project, crews adhered to strict safeguards to preserve natural and cultural resources, from completing archeological assessments to ensure no historical artifacts would be disturbed during construction, to vacuuming up granite dust to protect air and water quality.

By the time the project wrapped up in 2005, park crews had:

  • Improved the trail system near the base of the fall, including by adding an accessible trail, building boardwalks over sensitive habitat and reconstructing bridges.
  • Removed the asphalt parking lot and planted native vegetation in its place.
  • Restored habitat throughout the 52-acre project area.
  • Built new visitor facilities, including restrooms, a picnic area and a shuttle bus stop.
  • Installed educational exhibits, maps and signs to help people learn about and navigate the area.

Today, visitors from around the world enjoy the results of the restoration as they approach and admire Lower Yosemite Fall.


Lou Summerfield

Branch Chief of Roads & Trails, Yosemite National Park

Project Notes

Before Yosemite Conservancy's grant to restore Lower Yosemite Fall, it was basically becoming a wasteland. Through generous donations, we were able to design and construct pathways that blended in with this amazing natural scenery. Without them, it would have become a dirt parking lot.