Explore the most popular backpacking trails near Groveland with hand-curated trail maps and driving directions as well as detailed reviews and photos from hikers, campers and nature lovers like you.

on Preston Falls Trail

hiking
4 days ago

This is one other amazing trail to hike. You hike along the bank of the vibrant river and its very refreshing.I had been on a mid spring sunny day when the weather was around 70F. I had started to hike by 1030 hrs and found it highly draining and had got dehydrated by the time i got back, may be I am used to hiking a lot during fall and winter and had still not acclimatized to the spring weather. My suggestion is to hike during dusk or dawn so that you will to get enjoy the hike thoroughly. It took 0430 hrs for me to hike this 8.9 mile hike.
Note on the travel direction: after you cross the vehicle bridge in the cherry lake road while driving from Highway 120, please turn to the right towards the cottages. There is no sign board directing to the trail head and mostly you will tend to get lost. from there it is just a 3/4 mile to the trail head and it is called as Stanislaus National Forest Trail Head.

clockwise May 19 2018, 3 days 2 nights. Camped at Vernon lake and Rancheria (considered Tiltill but limited sites and unlimited mosquitoes).

In the early season, this is as good as any Yosemite backcountry hike (lakes, waterfalls, views, variety of ecosystems and vegetation)
+ and
no crowding (walked up for permit, saw fewer than 10 people when away from lower trail along the reservoir).

In later season I can imagine the dust and heat and aridity might change the balance and drop a star.

It may distract from your enjoyment if you think about the history of Hetch Hetchy reservoir. Consider the info from online and national park service as well as from San Francisco department of water that is on the placards.

Prep suggestions:
* we liked clockwise, not only to get elevation out of the way early, but facing into nice view coming back down to Hetch Hetchy :
* be ready for wearying uphill and downhill out of and then back in to Hetch Hetchy Valley
* check if you will need to wade thru Tiltill Valley (water above boot line and no way around, for approx 20 yards each side of the valley). Soft soil and grass meant barefoot was fine for most of our group.
* fair amount of bogs and rock hopping and downed trees changed our time calculus.

Highlights:
* great campsites + no fire restriction
* water at Wapama falls is enough to get wet walking across the bridge but not enough to close the trail
* wildflowers!! (So so many and so many species, especially at lower elevations)
* Tiltill Valley = spectacular in a peaceful way, well worth seeing (think baby Yosemite or tiny pre flood Hetch Hetchy)
* Vernon lake, especially from the ridge above the lake (toward Tiltill/Rancheria)

Note on mileage: Trails illustrated is 25, not counting unavoidable .5 each way from parking to the dam and variable to get from junction to actual camping at Vernon (.3 each way, but could be more). My gps said 27.5. I would use 25+ for planning assumption, not the 23 from AllTrails (sorry guys!)
Final note that the backcountry office says 28 miles, but I believe that is the trails illustrated 25 plus 3 miles optional extra around laurel lake.

Good early season trip. It was clear the trail crew hadn’t made their rounds...many down trees and overgrown sections.

Did the loop counterclockwise staying at Vernon night one. Very pretty lake with better campsites in the eastern side.

Lingering snow near Mt Gibson. Tiltill Valley is beautiful but bogged out requiring forging the meadow through calf deep water which was much funnier in the car ride home than it was while we were doing it.

The trail from Tiltil Valley to Rancheria Falls is pretty exposed and overgrown. All the sites at Rancheria we’re either taken or to too close for comfort so we ended up heading for the car.

The bridges at Wapama Falls were fun to cross and a nice mid-day soaking.

backpacking
1 month ago

The Dece Scouts headed to Preston Falls for an early season backpacking trip. The weather was supposed to be horrible. We started the hike in the rain, walking along the very high and flowing river. The rain died down after an hour or so, and by the evening it was clear skies. Lots of trees down on the trail, and parts were flooded, but all in all, a great hike.

hiking
4 months ago

A fantastic day hike on a very mild Jan 2. Beautiful river with pools and rapids. We were the only two people on the trail. We didn’t start until noon so only got to large pool and falls about 3.5 miles in and came out to finish by dark. Will definitely come again to have more time.

backpacking
5 months ago

Backpacked out to the falls with the dog weekend of 12/16 -12/17: his first backpacking overnight and this was a nice introduction on a pretty gentle trail. Trail was mostly clear, but especially in the last mile the path was covered in downed trees, branches and debris from a previous fire. Pup is about 20 pounds so I had to carry him for a lot of this final stretch as it was such a mess.

It was very quiet-- one other truck when I arrived but otherwise not a single person on the trail the whole 24 hours. Beautiful hike, and the waterfall at the end makes for a beautiful rest at the end. No snow or ice yet, just some frost in the shadowed areas of the canyon.

I put the coordinates from alltrails in Google Maps and it took me most of the way there: it ended on the switchback road down to the canyon. At the bottom of the switchbacks, turn right and drive past the dam and water plant all the way to the end (it looks like it might lead to a back lot for the plant at one point) and you'll get to the large trailhead parking lot.

backpacking
5 months ago

We had a great time backpacking here the weekend of December 2nd 2017. This time of year it is hard to find a sutible place to go backpacking with my wife and 6 year old son. I was drawn to this place for it's low elevation, paved road access and close proximity to my home in the bay area. We were rewarded with a beautiful hike. We found a really nice camp spot about halfway. I really wanted to push on to the falls but my son was getting tired and the sun was soon to set. The natural beauty was abundant. This is a hidden gem that has been cast in the shadow of and often overlooked by Yosemite's grandeur.

This was my first experience in Yosemite, and we chose this trail because we'd heard there was less traffic and we were looking for true wilderness and not many people. We'd originally planned to go up on Moraine Ridge and down into the Jack Main Canyon, but because of the still high levels of snow there in mid-to-late June, the rangers recommended against it. They also warned that we may not be able to cross Falls Creek because of the amount of snowmelt. The switchbacks were hard and gruelling in 90 degree heat, but I made it and am proud of that (at 58 and not backpacking in almost 40 years, that is saying something). We hiked toward Beehive Meadow which was nothing but mosquito-filled because of all the wetness on the trail. But arriving at Lake Vernon, we were thrilled. The granite surrounding the area, the lovely lake, the camping areas, the side trails, the wildflowers, the wildlife... all quite wonderful. I fell in love with this backcountry, for sure. So beautiful, so peaceful. We were not able to make the loop because of the raging water covering the footbridge at Falls Creek, but we spent a couple nights here before heading back down. I definitely want to do this trail again, but go onto the Ridge and the Canyon too, in a season and year when the snows aren't so prolific.

backpacking
8 months ago

Awesome trail! I loved the views and the peacefulness. I defiantly recommend doing this trail.

8 months ago

Just did this Loop first week of September, Took us three days up and two day back....Great veiws, Tons of wild life...Amazing trip one to remember..

This trail was not my favorite. It felt grueling and very hot, with little pay off. The lake access is limited due to vegetation. However, the granite surrounding scenery was pretty impressive. It wasn't recommended by the rangers to cross Falls Creek because the water level is much higher than normal, therefore we could not complete the entire loop. That may have changed my rating. Going to just Lake Vernon and back from Hetch Hetchy was not worth the heat and work.

hiking
10 months ago

All in all, a great hike! The river was flowing today, and it was truly beautiful! My friend and I completed the hike in about 4 hours. Here's my advice though... Wear long pants! The trail is pretty easy to follow, but not very well maintained. I was in shorts today, and was definitely feeling the pain of branches and brush on my legs. Be aware of poison oak! There seems to be a ton of it around the trail. Bring lots of water! It gets long and hot, and easy to drink lots of water.

backpacking
11 months ago

It was a pretty nice place for a day hike. I went in April after heavy rains so there was a marsh about 3 miles into the hike. The falls were an ok scenery but wasn't worth getting feet wet. I recommend going in the warmer months of the year. The camping is not that great only a small handful of spots to pitch a tent. Everything else is just overgrow or wet. There was definitely a lot of wood to burn though. It's a nice day hike but I wouldn't recommend for overnight camping.

hiking
Friday, May 26, 2017

We did this hike last Sunday. We drove in on Cherry Lake Rd from 120 – paved road sometimes narrow for dually truck but OK. Great hike very little elevation change and with the Tuolumne River running full bore it is breathtaking. We were wondering when we got to the falls where we should go. We were bouldering around the water’s edge to a flat rock in from of the falls. Great view but wondered if we should not have been above the falls. I think because of the river level the path was not clear. It was pretty wet through the large meadow and several paths could be seen. Hard to find the correct one. Would be good to have a tree marker on either side to show direction you should be going. We would recommend this hike to anyone. The only thing, there is lots of poison oak – long pants are a must and long shirt was required for at least half the hike.

hiking
Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The trail was hard to follow at times because it seemed minimally maintained. Only encountered two other groups of hikers the whole day. NOTE: Some of the trail is flooded right now (May 2017) and requires getting your feet VERY wet and possibly mosquito bitten to make it all the way to the falls. That said, powered through and found the falls delightful. They're short but loud and impressive, and there's nice space to sprawl and recover for the trek back.

hiking
Monday, March 20, 2017

According to a sign at the turn in, this hike is in a day use area that closes at 5 (with locked gate). After a 2 hour drive, I had to turn around b/c we got a late start and I didn't want to be locked in.

backpacking
Thursday, February 16, 2017

It has been years since i have been on this trail and my scout troop is thinking about backpacking to the Falls. I do have a few questions and i hope that someone may have the answer. Is there a place along the trail that we can fit about 30 people? Has anyone fished this? Is it any good and is it barbless? Not sure if you can answer this particular post but any help would be greatly appreciated. thanks in advance

Sunday, November 06, 2016

Pretty scenery, easy hike, and trail well marked! Will definitely go again! Be sure to get your directions from Alltrails!

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Great hike, great weather. Wish I would have brought the fishing gear. As per last post driving directions per my phone not good. If coming up 120 from down the hill take a left on Cherry Lake Road, follow it all the way to the bottom of the ravine they'll be a sign that says Kirkwood Power House to the right. Go right and keep following pavement all the way to the end of the road, about a half mile. You'll see the sign for Stanislaus National Forest Trailhead with an obvious turn around, parking area and a bathroom there. Enjoy, We did!

hiking
Monday, October 10, 2016

The entrance to this hike is super tricky... No one in Yosemite knows about it. Make sure you take Cherry Lake Road. From Yosemite/Hetch Hetchy, you take that all the way down to the trailhead at the bottom of the valley (20 min drive from the Mather Camp). The trailhead is actually called "Stanislaus National Forest Trailhead" and is not correct on Google if you search Preston Falls (but the directions are correct using the AllTrails app/map). When you are ready to head back, you go to the top of the road and turn right at the stop sign to get to Hwy 120. Just print out the map using All Trails before you get there bc there's no reception out there. I've posted a picture of the Trailhead sign so you'll know when you've reached the right place.

Trail itself was great, runs along the river mostly, moderate is accurate. You will have some flies in your face for the first half hour or so which is annoying. We went early October and it was still quite warm but not busy at all. By that time, the falls are supposedly dried up but the trail itself is still beautiful to hike. 40 percent shade, 60 percent in the sun. The trail itself must be more than 8.5 miles out/back bc we reached 4.3 and were definitely not at the end. Maybe it's 9-10 miles total. I'll post a picture as well of the "mini falls". I would suggest stopping there and turning around because after that point we spent 45 minutes walking through low weeds and scratchy branches which scratched up our legs (had shorts on) and was irritating to walk through. After that point, it seemed that not many people continued since the way wasn't very clear (branches weren't cut back).

There are some places to get in the water as well as mini "beaches" with sand!!!

Monday, May 30, 2016

just did this hike today, beautiful!! so many places to pull off and fish, rest.. the waterfall was worth the hike!

hiking
Tuesday, May 26, 2015

This was a great hike with great views. The area was burnt in 2013 but is recovering great. Went on Memorial day and was not crowded at all.

hiking
Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Hiked this one several times. Nice parking area with restrooms. Heading east on Hwy 120 about 10 or 15 miles past Groveland, you will finally see a sign that says San Jose Camp, Cherry Lake Road. The road winds down to the river then go right where it "T"s off. You will see the living facilities of the Hetch Hetchy employees and then the parking area and trail head. The trail follows the Tuolumne River and is mostly flat and east to follow. BONUS INFORMATION: If you turn left at the "T" instead of right, you will head toward the power station. There is a bridge with room to park and another trail head that runs for miles in the opposite direction. Either way, it's a nice place to check out. The only problem is that it's way out there so you need to get an early start to get there in time to get your miles in. Also; wild Bay Leaves everywhere, so bring a baggie and fill it up.

hiking
Thursday, October 24, 2013

Beautiful trail!! Deffinately check it out :)

hiking
Thursday, November 01, 2012

Awesome awesome awesome one of my favorite hikes all time !!!!!!

hiking
Sunday, July 22, 2012

Preston Falls is a smallish falls in the Tuolumne River just outside Hetch Hetchy. The hike is moderate with undulating hills and goes along the river, so there's always a water presence. There's a shady, level area perfect for a picnic when you reach the falls. Dangle your feet and cool off then head back. A very pleasant hike accessible between Groveland and the Highway 120 entrance to Yosemite National Park

hiking
22 days ago

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