Heavy Winter Snows Create a Waterfall Show But Slow Some Openings at Yosemite National Park

Nevada Fall (top photo) and Vernal Fall (bottom) are just two of many waterfalls in Yosemite. NPS photos.

Waterfall fans rejoice! Unusually heavy snows this past winter at Yosemite National Park have created a waterfall extravaganza—and some challenges for park crews trying to prepare roads and trails for the summer. Early season visitors should expect both outstanding viewing and photo opportunities, and delayed openings for some high country areas.

The waterfalls in Yosemite are a prime attraction for many visitors, and with good reason. Waterfall watchers will find conditions in top form this spring and early summer, and better yet, Mother Nature's show will have a longer run than usual in 2011.

A park spokesperson notes, "Yosemite’s waterfalls are spectacular, and the park is currently seeing near peak conditions. Due to the large amount of snow still in the high-country, the waterfalls are expected to last longer into the summer season than normal."

The extra water is the result of a very heavy winter snow. The May 1 snow survey, conducted by the California Department of Water Resources, reports the Merced River drainage at 199 percent of normal and the Tuolumne River drainage at 184 percent of normal. Officials say this is one of the heaviest snow falls in recent history.

A heavy snowpack is good news for both the landscape and water-hungry California, but there are tradeoffs for some park visitors—and the staff.

Road crews are working to clear the Glacier Point Road and the Tioga Road, and although progress has been made on both roads, park officials warn that late openings should be expected, especially on the Tioga Road. If you aren't familiar with those locations and are planning a visit, you can download maps of the park here.

The winter snows have also slowed placement of cables on Half Dome which are used by hikers to ascend the summit of the granite monolith. The cables will be erected when the Trail Crews have safe access to Half Dome and can perform the work, and there is currently too much snow on Half Dome and the Subdome for the cables to be put in place. It is doubtful that the cables will be ready for use by the Memorial Day weekend.

Officials caution visitors to use common sense while viewing waterfalls, river and streams. "Visitors within the park should be aware of high water level and fast moving water in the Merced River and other streams. With the increasingly warm weather, snow in the high-country continues to melt and fill the Merced River. Extreme caution is important when in proximity to any moving water."

Visitors are urged to drive slowly within the park. With the warmer weather, animals are more active and are prevalent along the roadways.

Planning a visit to Yosemite in the next several weeks? For current road updates, you can call 209/372-0200 (press 1 then 1). You'll also find information on the status of roads and other facilities on the park website.