Rancheria Falls
Rancheria Falls

When you think about backpacking in Yosemite, you generally think of the summer months. The high country isn’t clear of snow until June at the earliest, and backcountry travel during the fall to spring months requires snow skills and gear.  Although I enjoy all kinds of outdoor activities in any kind of weather, my favorite is backpacking in the Sierra high country. So, naturally, I spend most of fall through spring longing for the summer months.

Fortunately, the western side of Yosemite offers an early-season option to satisfy those high country cravings long before the road through Tioga Pass is clear of snow. Beautiful hiking complete with waterfalls, wildflowers, polished granite, and mountains can be found in Hetch Hetchy, once a twin to Yosemite Valley, now a reservoir supplying the San Francisco area (I won’t get into THAT can of worms).

Wapama Falls
Wapama Falls

Since the Hetch Hetchy valley itself is covered in water and the high country is still covered in snow, trail options are limited early in the season. The trail to Rancheria Falls, which contours along the walls of the Valley, is a perfect option for a spring hike. Depending on snowcover, you can continue further into the higher terrain, or simply make an out and back hike to the falls.

It is approximately six miles to Rancheria Falls from the trailhead, making it a simple overnight outing or a longer dayhike. I did this hike recently as an overnight and pairing it with a summit of LeConte Point to increase the difficulty a bit.  Although this summit is only at about 6400 ft, LeConte Point is a prominent peak overlooking the reservoir and Rancheria Creek. It is sun-exposed so there is little snow accumulation, making it a perfect early season scramble.

Rancheria Falls is a very busy early-season backpacking destination and you’ll be sharing it with many other people. This is not a destination for solitude, but some exploration and persistence can find you a campsite away from the crowds. Permits are required as is proper food storage (bear canister).

View from LeConte Point
View from LeConte Point

Climbing LeConte Point

From Rancheria Falls camp, continue across the bridge by the falls and head up the switchbacks. Either take the trail all the way to the top and then follow the ridge cross-country to the summit. You will have to bushwhack through some manzanita and pick your way through rocky terrain. The approach to the point is an easy class 2 if the proper route is chosen. There is some fun scrambling that can be found in the piles of rocks if you wish to challenge yourself a bit more.

Optionally, you can cut off the trail early and up a slope to the ridge. This is a slightly easier route since it eliminates the unnecessary distance and manzanita-bushwhacking that you will do if you stay on the trail all the way to the ridge. In the track below, I followed the trail to the ridge on the way up, but then took the shortcut on the way down. It helps to have a GPS that displays your track on a map – that’s how I realized I was so close to the trail and was able to find the shortcut on the way down.

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  1. kirsten

    Great pics! We ended up here last weekend too, as the late snow was still covering 25% or so of high country trails and Frog Creek waters were too high – so we bailed on our Laurel and Vernon Lake loop route we’d planned and stayed at Rancheria two nights with a nice day trip up to shin-deep-in-water Tiltill Valley and some granite scrambling to overlooks there and above Rancheria too. Minimal bugs, amazing waterfalls and flowers just starting to come in like you say. Photos on my blog sometime this week. Spent the last day of the week in the Valley and a friend showed me the abandoned route to Sierra Point with views of 5 waterfalls and no one there for the two hours we hung out and painted the scene/lunched. Really great. Look forward to reading your next post!

  2. kirsten

    also – we scored the same dry view-rich camp site you did, but there was WAY more water in the falls due to the recent storms and a week more of snowmelt. Wapoma was coming over the bridge so we had to wade there in sections.

    What are you shooting on? your photo quality is fabulous!

  3. Calipidder Listing Owner

    Thanks! I was using a Panasonic LX3 on this trip – great backpacking camera.

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