Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite national park, ca
Distance: 5.5 miles roundtrip (out and back)
Elevation Gain: 200 feet
Seasonality: March - October (click here for season restrictions)
Trailhead: Rancheria Falls Trailhead
Parking: Park at the Hetch Hetchy Backpacker's Camp. The Hetch Hetchy entrance gate closes at 9 pm daily in the summer and earlier in the winter, so be sure to leave before then to avoid being gated in.
Facilities: Flush toilets and potable water available at the Backpacker's Camp, no potable water on the trail.
Difficulty: Easy to moderate
Hetch Hetchy is the hidden gem of Yosemite National Park and is really worth visiting despite the extra time it takes to get there. In spring, two fantastic waterfalls plummet over thousand-foot granite cliffs. On the way to Wapama Falls, you cross over O'Shaughnessy Dam, walk through a tunnel in the side of a mountain and along the shores of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. You will also pass Tueeulala Falls on your way. Hetch Hetchy’s relatively low elevation provides for one of the longest hiking seasons in Yosemite, and the varied trails include something for everyone. You'll likely see some backpackers along your way, since backpackers with a wilderness permit will set up camp near Rancheria Falls. Otherwise, the trail is pretty quiet and allows you to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite without the typical crowds.
Trip Planner Details:
This hike is located in Hetch Hetchy in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park. There is no shuttle service to this part of the park, so if you're already in Yosemite Valley, you will need to take Big Oak Flat Road and temporarily leave the park to re-enter via Evergreen Road in Mather.
The town of Mather is open during the summer and offers a general store, restrooms and a ranger station. Don't rely on these amenities being open. Be sure you pack enough food for your day trip. Approximately one mile from Mather, you will reach the Hetch Hetchy entrance gate closes at 9 pm daily in the summer and earlier in the winter, so be sure to leave before then to avoid being gated in.
There are several ways to get to Hetch Hetchy and Google Maps recommends you go up through Merced and Highway 120 for a more direct and shorter route. However, some of the roads are narrow and are on the sides of cliffs with a steep drop-down. And you can get lost easily with the many side roads that intersect these roads. Going through Yosemite via Highway 41 and Yosemite Valley may add a little bit more time (depending on traffic), but it will be a much easier drive.
There is a park entrance fee of $35 to enter Yosemite National Park. For more information about what else you can do in the park, visit the Yosemite National Park website.
When You Do Your Research:
The trail is fairly straightforward and it's unlikely you'll get turned around. The only tricky part of the trip will be the drive, but if you follow the Yosemite Valley route, you shouldn't have any problems. You'll get a chance to stand on top of O’Shaughnessy Dam which was completed in 1938. Today the 117-billion-gallon reservoir supplies drinking water to 2.4 million Bay Area residents and hydro-electric power generated by two plants downstream. Prior to the dam being built, Hetch Hetchy Valley rivaled the Yosemite Valley with sprawling meadows and dramatic views of the granite cliffs. In 1870, Muir called Hetch Hetchy Valley “a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite.”
Tips From One Who Hiked It:
Make sure you pack some food for your trip up to Hetch Hetchy. It is pretty remote and the facilities in Mather are usually only open in the summer. Make sure to hit the road early to avoid traffic in Yosemite Valley and have your turn-by-turn directions printed for easy reference. But overall, the hike and the views are worth every minute of drive time.