Chasing Waterfalls? Head to Yosemite

Don’t stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to—recent snowmelt is fueling spectacular falls

Yosemite Waterfall
It's peak waterfall season in Yosemite National Park—and epic snowmelt means it's better than ever. Yosemite National Park

“Nature is ever at work building and pulling down, creating and destroying, keeping everything whirling and flowing,” wrote John Muir in 1901. The famous naturalist knew Yosemite and the Sierras intimately, and cared about the area’s magnificent views and rushing waterfalls so much that he helped establish Yosemite National Park. But in recent years, much of the water he so loved dried up with California’s extended drought.

Mother Nature may not be reliable, but it turns out she still has a few surprises up her sleeve. As NBC’s Joe Rosato Jr. reports, the park’s spectacular waterfalls are back and better than ever.

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As of April, the park’s snowpack was 170 percent of normal, thanks to massive winter storms that dumped some of the largest amounts of snow ever recorded on the Sierras. And as it melts, it’s producing quite the show.

Yosemite’s waterfalls—including Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Falls—are drawing huge numbers of tourists, Rosato reports. But the well-known falls aren’t the only lure to the park: Once parched areas have suddenly sprouted unnamed, smaller waterfalls of their own.

There’s a downside to all of that natural glory. Rivers throughout the Sierra Nevada mountain range are becoming swollen and dangerous. As the Los Angeles Times’ Veronica Rocha reports, multiple deaths have already occurred in several parks and officials are asking visitors to use common sense and caution and keep out of the chilly waters. And with peak runoff season expected to last through June, the risk is sure to continue.

As the snow continues to melt, visitors should expect to find a mixture of conditions on trails in the park. Downed trees, snow fields, and water runoff are just a few common things you’ll come across; these pictures taken along the Panorama Trail showcase just that…along with a very full Illillouette Fall! #Yosemite #NationalPark #IllillouetteFall #Panorama

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Last week, the Merced River, which runs through Yosemite National Park, reached peak flood. Humans weren’t the only ones at risk: As Brianna Calix reports for the Merced Sun Star, about 30 cows were stranded on an island in the river for months due to the rushing waters. After being fed with hay bales dropped from helicopters, Calix reports, they finally saved themselves and walked to safety.

If you're heading to Yosemite to see the spectacular sights for yourself, stay safe. Park officials tell Rosato that the falls are nowhere near their peak. Even rivers and streams that look calm can hold dangers, including hypothermia, strong currents and other hazards. It may be beautiful, but nature’s whirling, flowing work holds real dangers for water lovers.

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