Illilouette Fall and Gorge is a challenging cross-country hike out of Yosemite Valley which leads up a steep gorge by way of bouldering to access the base of Illilouette Fall. Difficulties encountered on the hike include route finding to navigate up the gorge, dealing with difficult bouldering sections, having enough common sense to turn around if the stream level is too high to complete the hike, and being careful around the stream at all times of year. Route maps and GPS coordinates are not provided for safety reasons because this gorge is only suited for exploration by advanced hikers with excellent bypass and bouldering skills.
Let me start off with an introduction to the Yosemite Valley hikes which I am including on the site. For those who don't know me personally, I spent the better part of the 1990's hiking and backpacking throughout Yosemite National Park. We had many great trips, but eventually the crowded aspect of Yosemite Valley began wearing me down. Especially when I reached the point where I had taken around forty lifetime trips to Yosemite. As much as I loved Yosemite, I needed to find a place where there was more solitude and still an opportunity to make significant discoveries. In 1997, I traveled to Death Valley National Park for the first time, and that changed everything. I began spending less time in Yosemite and more time in Death Valley. But I returned to Yosemite in the 2000's and 2010's to see if I could possibly find the same things that I loved the most about Death Valley in Yosemite Valley -- amazing sights that were off the beaten track and solitude away from the vast crowds of tourists. And I found what I was looking for with all of the hikes that I am sharing under my Yosemite Valley exclusives. Keep in mind that all four of my hikes are quite challenging and not meant for the average hiker without route finding abilities, bypass skills, and some climbing skills.
On one trip to Yosemite, my wife and I hiked the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to the top of Illilouette Fall, and then on to Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, and Happy Isles. As I was walking across the bridge above Illilouette Fall, a hike I had always dreamed of doing came back to my mind. For many years I had been wondering if it was possible to get to the base of Illilouette Fall. After all, while hiking up from Happy Isles to the Vernal Fall bridge, a nice view of Illilouette is briefly visible from one part of the trail. Thus, the next day I dropped by the Yosemite Visitor's Center to ask about the hike. The first ranger I talked to had never even heard of Illilouette Fall. The second ranger on duty told me the hike was virtually impossible, that it could only be done by somebody with climbing equipment and experience. And for the most part, his comments were accurate, at least for the time of year when the water level in streams is high. Because I wanted to check it out for myself, the next day our group of six set out toward the bottom of Illilouette Gorge. Because of the high difficulty level of this hike, I am not going to include extensive detailed directions on how to carry out this hike. That's something that other hikers will have to figure out for themselves. But I will share a few basic details of the route we used. Our version of this cross-country hike begins just before reaching a footbridge which is located past a huge water tank. Just before we got to the first bridge, we turned right and headed into the forest. We followed the river as closely as possible, but kept a safe distance from the raging water. At times the forest was thick and we had to navigate our way through. The forest floor was covered with thick growth which we had to get used to walking on. After some time, the terrain got steeper and we began encountering large boulders which either had to be climbed or circumvented. At the 2/3 point in the hike we encountered a major obstacle which ended our hike. This obstacle was in our way because it was the spring time and the water levels in the streams were at their peak. The west side canyon wall of the mountain turns and cuts straight over to the river, blocking access to continue up the gorge. There wasn't really anything we could do about this, as the rushing water was too dangerous of a hazard, except to wait until the water level dropped down. Thus, we called off our hike and headed home disappointed. But safety always comes first. A couple of months later, we finally had a chance to get back to Yosemite to continue this hike. This time, my good friend Dave who was visiting from Nebraska joined me for the cross-country hike up Illilouette Gorge to make another attempt at reaching the base. It turned out to be way more difficult than I had anticipated to complete the final 1/3 of the hike. Most of the problems came from the never ending boulder jams which had to be climbed or bypassed. And some of them were quite intimidating, so I would personally not recommend this hike to anybody who does not have extensive bouldering experience. Adding to our problems was a thunderstorm which happened to roll into the valley during our hike, dropping rain and making the huge boulders even more slippery than they already were. But in the end, we made it. It was quite rewarding to finally set foot at the base of Illilouette Fall and have one of the most beautiful spots in Yosemite Valley all to ourselves. Without question, it was an experience I will never forget. One important word of caution. Do not attempt to climb the surrounding cliffs near Illilouette Fall in order to get out of the gorge. This is very dangerous and there is no safe way to get up to the Panorama Trail. In July of 2012, a hiker was seriously injured attempting this and acknowledged after his rescue that he "should have known better". Our hikes took place on May 18, 2008 and July 14, 2008.
This hike contains sections of climbing, a stream with potentially high water levels, and challenging bouldering with slippery conditions and may require safety ropes and equipment in order to complete the entire hike. Those without the proper training, experience, and safety gear should stop at the bend in the canyon partway up where the canyon wall turns toward the creek.
Many more photographs taken during our visit are available for viewing for this destination. To see all of them, choose one of the two options presented below. The two options are Slideshow viewing and Trip Report viewing. The Slideshow option allows for viewing larger images with an autoplay option and a full screen option (available on most browsers). This option works very well for large computer screens and tablets. The Trip Report option allows for viewing smaller pictures in a standard scroll-down format and enlarging of any panoramic photos taken during our visit. Click on the option of your choice to view all of our photos from this destination. The Slideshow format opens in a new browser window and the Trip Report format uses the same browser window for viewing.
TRIP REPORT FORMAT