Waterfalls of Hetch Hetchy, Yosemite National Park, California

Sierra Club Outings Trip # 13121A, Backpack


  • Explore beautiful, iconic Yosemite National Park
  • Visit peaceful mountain lakes
  • Enjoy a moderate first day and easy last day


  • Campground before the backpack
  • All meals
  • Group commissary gear


DatesJul 1–6, 2013
Difficulty2 (out of 5)
StaffMichael Murphy

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Trip Overview

The Trip

The beautiful Sierra awaits the prepared and the vigilant. We are that group. The trip will be conducted within the boundaries of the Yosemite National Park, north of Fresno, CA. The Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite has its own special magic. We are hiking in a mid-elevation section with occasional  views of the higher ranges to the east. We have most afternoons free to explore or just relax. The trip leader has a great love of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and takes great pride in sharing them with others. This trip is unique in that we spend time in an area not visited as much as Yosemite Valley. This is a great trip for those new to backpacking who are adventurous.


Day 1: We will meet by 4 p.m. the first day at a campsite near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Before dinner we will check packs, arrange tent-sharing, and distribute bear canisters and group gear. Please be aware that our trip itinerary is subject to change due to high water levels or other circumstances beyond our control.

Day 2: We begin our backpack at O’Shaughnessy Dam, 3,800 feet, which holds back the water of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. This is the hardest day as we climb 2,700 feet in seven miles through black oak, big-leaf maple, and pines. We’ll take our time to enjoy the views, listen for birds and get used to the hike. We will camp near a spring in a meadow.

Day 3: A short four-mile undulating hike takes us to a camp on granite slabs along Lake Vernon, 6,564 feet. You will have the afternoon free to swim, fish for rainbow trout, explore Falls Creek, read, or just soak in the views.

Day 4: After we cross Falls Creek below the outlet of Lake Vernon we climb 1,000 feet up open, polished granite to a ridgeline with wonderful views. We drop 2,000 feet to a camp at Tiltill Valley, at 5,600 feet. The day’s hike is seven miles, but we still have much of the afternoon free. There will be time to check out the Native American mortar rocks, or hopefully see deer and bear.

Day 5: A short day of three miles takes us over a 200-foot rocky divide to our camp at the banks of Rancheria Creek, at 4,600 feet. A free afternoon and short trail takes us to the top of Rancheria Falls, just upstream from camp. Fishing, splashing in the creek, or sunning on granite boulders is also encouraged.

Day 6: We return to O’Shaughnessy Dam by hiking along the north edge of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Falls Creek offers us a wet welcome as it plunges down a 2,000-foot cliff as Wapama Falls, then we pass by higher and more delicate Tueeulala Falls. Descending only 800 feet in seven miles brings us back to the dam and the end of our loop.



Getting There

The trip begins on at 4 p.m. on day one at a campground near Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The leader will attempt to assist trip members in the coordination of rides. However, it is ultimately each participant's responsibility to get to the road head.

The Bay Area airports, San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose are a four- to five-hour drive depending on traffic. The Fresno airport is about three to four hours away. Public transportation is not available to Hetch Hetchy.  Driving directions, a trip roster to help with carpooling, and campground information will be sent in future correspondence.

Accommodations and Food

Most meals are multi-course dishes, such as spaghetti, soup, vegetable, and dessert, so provisions for special dietary needs, such as vegans, cannot be accommodated. Some of the soups have a beef or chicken base.

However, you can expect a more than sufficient quantity of food. Your leaders believe in eating well, too. Gasoline stoves (provided) will be used for food preparation on the trail. Instruction will be given on the use of stoves and all other commissary equipment. Under supervision of the leader or assistant, group members will help prepare meals and clean up.

The first meal will be dinner on day one, and the last meal will be lunch on the last day.

Trip Difficulty

This trip is rated 3. The total mileage is about 28 and we average less than six miles per day. The first day is the hardest and will test those not prepared. On the last day, we will have breakfast and lunch, then expect to be to our cars by 2 p.m. The weather in the Sierra during the summer is usually wonderful, but afternoon thunderstorms may happen. We will camp near water every night. Physical conditioning is essential for this trip. We will be hiking and camping at or above 4,600 feet four of the days, climbing as high as 6,800 feet. You should already be doing some kind of regular exercise and be used to hiking with a 35- to 40-lb pack. Since this a mid-elevation backpack, expect hot afternoons and mild evenings.

Equipment and Clothing

Standard backpacking gear (well-fitting backpack, down sleeping bag, etc.) will be sufficient. Check the equipment list appearing below for suggestions. Have a tent in case of rain. The mosquitoes can be friendly in mid-July, so bring bug juice. The weather is usually warm, but can be cold at higher elevations.

Your personal gear weight limit is around 20 lbs. Be sure to leave room for central commissary items, which may weigh as much as 12–16 lbs. Your gear weight will drop to about 5 lbs. by the last day. The trip leader will provide Garcia Bear canisters, about the size of a rigid brown grocery bag, to protect our food and the local critters, as well as Katadyn Micropur chlorine tablets to treat your personal water supply. You may wish to bring a personal filter. Bring two canteens -- the one- or two-quart size will be adequate. A dish at least seven inches across, a bowl for soup, a cup, fork, spoon and knife are the only utensils you will need. A fishing license is required for those wishing to fish. A swimsuit may come in handy.

California Backpack Equipment Checklist

The following is a list of equipment generally needed on Sierra Club outings. Due to the wide variety of trips we offer, this list may not be completely suited to your trip. Your trip leader is the best source of information regarding equipment.

Required Items

  • Backpack (must have sufficient capacity for all your personal gear plus additional capacity for 12-16 lbs. of common gear, which will be the size of a Garcia can)
  • Boots (well broken-in)
  • Sleeping bag and insulating sleeping pad
  • Shelter from possible rain (tent or tarp)
  • Insulating jacket (fleece or down)
  • Rain jacket or poncho
  • Lightweight shirt, long-sleeved
  • Hiking pants or shorts
  • Thick outer socks and thin inner socks (at least one change of each)
  • Change of underwear
  • Insulating headgear (wool or fleece)
  • Hat with wide brim
  • Sunglasses with UV protection
  • Water container(s), minimum one liter capacity
  • Sierra cup (or lightweight plate and mug)
  • Lightweight spoon
  • Lightweight sharp knife
  • Insect repellant
  • Sunscreen (15+ SPF)
  • Bandanna (handkerchief)
  • 1-inch or 1.5-inch white cotton adhesive tape (Zonas or Johnson & Johnson)

Recommended Items

  • Ground cloth (sized to fit your tent or sleeping pad)
  • Rain/wind pants
  • T-shirt
  • Toiletries (biodegradable soap, toothpaste, toothbrush. Women should bring extra tampons, even if it is not the time of your regular period.)
  • Flashlight (lightweight)
  • Lightweight plastic lighter
  • Small washcloth
  • Long-sleeved wool sweater or shirt
  • Personal first-aid items (bandages, medications, tweezers, etc.)
  • Camp shoes (also used for possible water crossings)



  • Schaffer, Jeffery, Yosemite National Park.
  • Swedo, Suzanne, Hiking Yosemite National Park.
  • Richter, Robert W., The Battle Over Hetch Hetchy: America’s Most Controversial Dam and the Birth Of Modern Environmentalism.
  • Simpson, John W., Dam!: Water, Power, Politics, and Preservation in Hetch Hetchy and Yosemite National Park.


  • "A Guide to the John Muir Wilderness and Sequoia Kings Canyon Wilderness," Three map set, USDA, Forest Service, Pacific Southwest Region.
  • Tom Harrison “Hetch Hetchy” map covers the trip. (www.tomharrisonmaps.com)
  • USGS 7.5-minute series topographical maps: "Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Kibbie Lake, Lake Eleanor, and Tiltill Mountain”.  These may be ordered online from the USGS EarthExplorer site at http://store.usgs.gov/.


Our route lies entirely within public land managed by Yosemite National Park. Fortunately, most of the highest points in the High Sierra are permanently protected as congressionally designated Wilderness; for example, our trip is located in the Yosemite Wilderness.         

During our trip we will discuss the Hetch Hetchy dam and reservoir, public lands and wilderness protection, and learn about how the various land agencies do in terms of environmental stewardship. We will also learn about the Sierra Club’s storied legacy -- dating back to John Muir himself -- of efforts to preserve endangered habitat and wilderness.

Sierra Club National Outings is an equal-opportunity provider and will operate under a permit from Yosemite National Park.



For the last 25 years, Mike Murphy has worked as an educator and geographer for the Clovis Unified School District. He has led trips for groups in the High Sierra for the last 33 years, mostly taking hikers to the top of Mt. Whitney. His wife of 30 years has been on many of those trips. He has been a leader in the Sierra Club's National Outings program since 1991, leading trips to both the Sierra and the Southwest. In 2002, he participated in "American Frontiers: A Public Lands Journey," a two-month trek co-sponsored by the National Geographic Society.

Assistant Leader:

Stephen Brown

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