Waterwheel Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Trail

HARD 3 reviews
#61 of 132 trails in

Waterwheel Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne Trail is a 56.6 mile out and back trail located near Tuolumne Meadows, CA that features a waterfall and is only recommended for very experienced adventurers. The trail is primarily used for hiking and backpacking and is accessible from July until July.

56.6 miles 10360 feet Out & Back






wild flowers


over grown


no dogs

Small Parking Lot at White Wolf. Once a day backpack shuttle from valley to Tuolumne Meadows stops at White Wolf allowingreturn to car.

6 months ago

A great way to experience Yosemite NP without the crowds!

From Tuolumne Meadows, this hike is mostly downhill and passes Glen Aulin, following the Tuolumne River past Waterwheel Falls. You'll also get an amazing view of Hetch Hetchy reservoir from the high ground above the river inlet where peregrine falcon nest on the cliffs below.

As a three day hike, you'll have plenty of time to experience the various waterfalls and swim in some natural pools. Though most of the trail is downhill, the exit to White Wolf has a small uphill climb. You can also stretch this hike over to Yosemite Falls and back into the valley!

2 years ago

This was an amazing hike! Definitely in my top 5, along with the hike in to Glen Aulin. Many people miss this hike because they are just hiking from one high sierra camp to the next. This is a must!!! It was all downhill to Waterwheel Falls, which made the way back all uphill. The best part of the hike was to California Falls (not too downhill). These falls were amazing! I probably stayed at these falls too long which made me tired for the rest of the hike. Le Conte falls and Waterwheel were awesome but I was pretty tired at this point, and somewhat stumbling. Waterwheel was cool but it was a low water day and the "wheel" wasn't as huge as it could have been. It was an awesome hike, I'd like to do it again when I wasn't so tired. I stopped at the top of Waterwheel and rock scrambled for good pics. To get to the bottom of Waterwheel you have to go down some good switchbacks. I really wanted to, but was too tired. I definitely need to another time. I met a few back packers that planned on camping at Waterwheel or before then. One guy was coming up from White Wolf headed to Tuolumne, that would be all up hill.

6 years ago

My 14 year old son and I started out at White Wolf and the trail descended 4,000 feet in 9 miles, where we entered Pate Valley. This part of the trail was tough on my dawgs, but my son handled it with energy to spare. We camped across the river from the well-used sites and enjoyed a nice swimming pool and few skeeters. The next way we made our way up the river and humped the Muir Gorge--we saw very few people in this section--and after a strenuous 7.5 miles, we set camp with the Cathedral Creek falls all to ourselves. The site we chose was shaded, pretty, but since this was a late winter and the area surrounding the trail was very wet, we had to contend with a flurry of mosquitoes. Fortunately, just a few steps outside our wooded canopy, there was a comfortable granite shelf to spend the afternoon and evening enjoying the river and canyon change colors. Laying next to the river, my son and I watched the sun set, the crescent moon rise, and the stars emerge from the dusk. Our third day of hiking took us up the river and allowed us a perfect vantage point to all the named falls. It was a steep climb the whole day to get to Glen Aulin, but the life-list sights made it easy. We must have spent 40 minutes at the top of Waterwheel Falls, bathing in the cold Tuolumne water, sharing a salami, and making rapid-fire use of the shutter, capturing the alpine scenery from every angle. Glen Aulin is a well-used campground--for those who are backpacking and for those who day hike in for the luxury of the High Sierra Camp. It was also a haven for the most aggressive and ingenious mosquitoes. Everyone talks about how smart the Yosemite bears are, but ha! Glen Aulin must be where mosquitoes earn doctorates in guerilla warfare. It didn't matter that we were wearing hiking pants and long-sleeved shirts, they found their way into the small nooks and crannies of exposed skin. Still, the camp's unnamed water fall was beautiful and my son experienced hail for the first time during a late afternoon thunderstorm. In the morning, we hiked the last stretch of the trail into Tuolumne Meadows, ending at the grill. We climbed the last 1,000 feet in the first mile or so and then the trail mellows out, like the river. At times, it was hard to believe we were trekking along the same river. I heard birds sing the first time in four days because we had left the roar of white water behind. We enjoyed our burgers and Heather, a trail running angel we had run into our first day and our last day, was kind enough to offer us a ride back to our car parked in White Wolf. I am so glad we decided upon this trail when we were deciding what to do this summer before my son entered high school.