Fresh, clear, crisp mountain water is all you need when visiting Yosemite. Or is it? Many people come to Yosemite National Park in search of natural wonders.
They’ll find pristine mountain streams fed by snowmelt, peaks towering above the land, cascading waterfalls, and floral valleys abundant with wildlife. With all this natural beauty, you might consider literally drinking it in. But can you drink from the streams at Yosemite? Let’s find out that and more.
About Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park encompasses 1,200 square miles. You’ll come across a land of cascading waterfalls, deep valleys, wide-open meadows, giant sequoias, and a seemingly never-ending wilderness.
Sitting in the west-central region of Northern California in the Sierra Nevadas, Yosemite National Park is a highly sought-after escape from the everyday world. It’s over 200 miles from San Francisco and less than 100 miles from Fresno, making it a reasonably easy escape.
Escape has been possible since Yosemite became a U.S. National Park on October 1, 1890. However, the idea of protecting the land’s natural beauty was much older. On June 30, 1864, President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Land Grant, giving official protection to wild land for the first time in our nation’s history.
John Muir, writer and outdoor activist helped transition Yosemite from protected land to the country’s third official national park. Today, volunteers, Park Rangers, and the Federal government work to conserve its natural beauty alongside human history.
What to Do at Yosemite
When you embark on an adventure to Yosemite, you’re witnessing history. You can play outdoors with stunning scenery and pay a visit to the Yosemite Museum Gallery for its many exhibits. It gives an insight into the history of the people who lived there and the region. A trip there is well worth your time.
When the beauty of its many waterfalls draws you out, you can hike, camp, and wander to your heart’s content. You’ll find over 750 miles of trails to explore, including the world-famous thru-hikes of the John Muir and the Pacific Crest Trails. Both run through Yosemite within the Sierra Nevadas.
If backcountry camping and thru-hiking aren’t quite your thing, there are many day hikes, campgrounds, and other lodging opportunities to welcome you home at the end of the day.
Pro Tip: Spend the night at one of these 11 Free Yosemite Camping Spots You’ll Love.
What Are the Two Main Rivers in Yosemite?
Whether you’re a backpacker, day hiker, tent camper, or RVer, take the time to explore the pristine waters that make up Yosemite National Park. The two main rivers are tributaries of the San Joaquin River basin and are the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers.
The Tuolumne River begins in the high Sierras on the park’s eastern side. It continues into the Stanislaus National Forest, meandering through Tuolumne Meadows and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne.
The Merced River begins its route at over 8,000 feet in the Sierra Nevadas and winds through 145 miles of scenic lands into the San Joaquin Valley. Both rivers are “Wild and Scenic Rivers” as they traverse through rugged and stunning mountainous terrain within Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada mountain chain.
Can You Drink From the Streams at Yosemite?
Many freshwater mountain streams come from these massive rivers cascading through the park. You can often find many of these streams alongside the hiking trails.
Because of their freshwater origins and clear waters, you might be tempted to grab a cool, refreshing drink from the natural waters in Yosemite. Don’t. No matter how clean a mountain stream might appear, there could be microscopic organisms waiting for you to take a drink.
Perhaps they’re not waiting for an unsuspecting human, but there are organisms in the water that can wreak havoc on your digestive system if you drink water from a stream without filtering or treating it.
One of the most well-known creatures possibly lurking in stream water is the microscopic parasite Giardia duodenalis or Giardia. If it infects you, this parasite will reside in the intestines. You can pass it on via contact from feces. This is another reason to wash your hands, even in the backcountry.
Another common parasite in mountain streams is Cryptosporidium or Crypto. People can pass down Crypto the same way as Giardia. Both will commonly result in diarrhea, gut cramps, and dehydration.
With Crypto, the infection will generally pass within one to two weeks without medication or treatment. With Giardia, however, there are medications to help, and it could take up to four to six weeks to rid your body of the parasite.
The best way to avoid unwanted guests joining you on your hiking adventures is to bring water filters. Using a water filter or other ways to purify water from a stream goes a long way in keeping you healthy and happy and not in need of a backcountry rescue.
Is There Anywhere to Swim in Yosemite?
You may not want to drink the water, but you can swim in it. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Lake Eleanor Reservoir are places where you can jump in for a refreshing swim to cool off in the heat of the summer. However, you are at an elevation, and these waters aren’t warm.
Other popular places for a dip in the waters in Yosemite include the Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River and the Emerald Pool and Silver Apron above Vernal Fall. We can’t forget one of the most gorgeous places to experience the cool refreshing waters, the Merced River. With several sandy beaches along its 145-mile route through Yosemite, there’ll be no lack of scenery.
What Are the Three Largest Waterfalls in Yosemite?
While you may not spend your time swimming in most of the waterfalls in Yosemite, taking in the views of the three largest ones is worth any drive or hike to get there. The best time to see them is when the snow melts, creating a more powerful force of the water rushing over the cliff edges. Spring is the peak time for the waterfall season.
The three largest waterfalls are Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Falls, and Ribbon Falls. Yosemite Falls, at 2425 feet, is the tallest of the waterfalls in Yosemite and the fifth tallest in the world. It has three waterfalls: Upper Yosemite, The Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite. You can catch views from several vantage points around the park, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you’re up for a strenuous hike, you can even hike to the top.
Sentinel Falls isn’t too far behind in second place at 2,000 feet. On the south side of Yosemite Valley, it has several smaller waterfalls, with its highest counterpart being 500 feet. For prime viewing, head to Southside Drive or Leidig Meadow. You’ll also catch a glimpse of it if you’re hiking the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail.
Ribbon Fall measures 1,612 feet and is easy to spot when driving into Yosemite Valley. Since you’ll pass the turnoff for Bridalveil Fall on your way, you can stop and take in the view of this 620-foot beauty.
Pro Tip: Unsure if a visit to Yosemite is right for you? These are 5 Reasons to Avoid Yosemite National Park.
Is Yosemite Worth Visiting?
Yosemite has waterfalls, rivers, mountain peaks, valleys, campgrounds, lodges, scenic drives, and hiking trails. Over 1,000 square miles of natural wonders combined seamlessly with artificial conveniences.
Yosemite Valley sits at around 4,000 feet, and the high mountain terrain hits over 8,000 feet. You can meander around lodges and low country trails or test your mountaineering skills on a multi-day backpacking trek across some of the highest peaks in the U.S. National Parks system. With this many opportunities to explore a diverse terrain, Yosemite is worth a visit.
Do you bring water filtration devices on your adventures? Tell us what you use in the comments!
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