Paiute Lake Waterfalls. Photo: Roberta McIntosh
The sound and scene of flowing water, particularly when it’s falling over a rocky cliff or cascading down a rocky chute, instills a sense of wonder and peace. The waterfalls of the Eastern Sierra may not be the biggest or highest, but they are in one of the most scenic parts of our country and the most photographed region in California.
We’ve created an extensive guide to show where each of the noteworthy falls is located and how best to see, photograph, and get near them. Some of our beautiful falls can be seen from vista points along mountain roads that will take you well into the alpine and sub-alpine regions of the Sierra Nevada. Many more can only be seen from hiking trails within our national forest and wilderness areas. That means a visit to a wild and scenic waterfall in the Sierra Nevada is an extraordinary experience.
Most waterfalls are only accessible or viewable during the warmer months and spring is primetime for waterfall adventures. A late summer or autumn adventure can still offer spectacular views of waterfalls. Late blooming wildflowers or the changing colors of autumn leaves nearby a perennial tumbling waterfall is magical. And … we even have a few that are quite remarkable during winter! You can find out about these in our extensive waterfall guide here.
A recent study in the United Kingdom, conducted by The University of Derby and The Wildlife Trusts, found that increased and sustained connections to nature significantly improved people’s health, happiness, and pro-nature behaviors. A visit to one or more of the waterfalls in our big backyard will surely result in improved mood, reduced anxiety, and restore attention capacity and mental fatigue. Trips to see backcountry waterfalls will provide good exercise and optimize time spent on earth.
The Sierra Nevada is a mighty mountain range in central and eastern California that runs for 400 miles, north-to-south, and about 70 miles, east-to-west. It rises to well over 9,000 ft all along its crest and has over 120 peaks above 13,000 ft. This immense range is the ‘water trap’ for California. The region receives up to 80 inches of precipitation annually, most of in the form of snow in winter. In the warm months the snow melts and water flows into innumerable glacial lakes and continues down canyons into more lakes and creeks. There is a constant supply of water year-round. The escarpment in the Eastern Sierra rises steeply and dramatically and the staircase of glacial lakes and streams produce countless waterfalls and cascades. Many of these are notable and worthy of the effort to see them.
Our guide is set up to show where each of the noteworthy falls is located and how best to see, photograph, and get near them. The list is compiled showing the proximity of each falls from the nearest town along scenic US Highway 395 from Lone Pine to Lee Vining. A trip to an Eastern Sierra waterfall can be a solitary experience, a romantic getaway, or a family, fun adventure. It all depends on what you or your group need and want. A quick drive up to a viewing site can be an easy and delightful side trip on a long journey. A lengthy hike or overnight camping trip may require some experience and planning.
Remember that the weather in the Eastern Sierra is always unpredictable and mountainous terrain makes it even less stable. Summer can produce fast developing thunderstorms and occasional flash flooding. Temperatures can differ significantly during the day between lower elevation valleys and higher elevation canyons and crests – even in summer. Always use caution when hiking in the Sierra Nevada, any time of year, and especially near water and waterfalls. All swift water and waterfalls are inherently dangerous. Be very aware of wet, slippery rocks and keep at a safe distance from rushing water, steep drops, and cliffs. Always tell someone where you are going and when you expect to be back.
For the best Eastern Sierra waterfall experience study our guide and come see us at the Bishop Visitor Center at 690 N. Main St. in Bishop or call ahead on (760) 873-8405. Our knowledgeable and friendly staff can provide maps, advice, and information on what would be the best adventure for you and your crew.