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Waterfall Lovers, This Is Your Year: California’s Snows to Bring Gushers Worth Traveling For

Two years ago, California’s rivers ran so dry that outdoor tour companies that depend on the state’s waterways had to close shop in midsummer

But in 2024, the cyclical weather pattern known as El Niño has unleashed a bounty of precipitation on the Golden State. Storms in early March dumped as much as 10 feet of snow on the Sierra Nevada mountain range, pushing statewide snowpack levels to 104% above normal. In the region of the northern Sierras around Lake Tahoe, snowpack is now 111% above normal. 

The national drought map maintained by the National Integrated Drought Information System currently shows that drought conditions have been banished from almost every square mile of California. Instead, perilously dry conditions have shifted east to breadbasket states like Iowa and Nebraska

This spring, when that California snowpack melts, what came down will continue to flow lower, into tourist territory. In 2024, the state’s many epic waterfalls will roar more boisterously than they have in years.

At the start of the year, the surface of Lake Mead, the reservoir on the Nevada-Arizona border that’s fed by snowmelt and held back by the Hoover Dam, measured 1,068 feet above sea level, just 161 feet below full. Since then, the lake has added 8 feet of depth—and the snows haven’t even entered the annual seasonal melt yet.

The wet trend began last year, when snowmelt in the West was so extreme that Yosemite National Park had to close for portions of April and May to wait out the flooding. A year ago, snowpack reached levels that haven’t been seen since the 1980s, when the state’s tracking system was introduced.

In 2024, the heavy snowfall in the mountains of central California has been bounteous enough to promise getting the state’s iconic waterfalls gushing again during what had been their peak flow months of May and June.

Consequently, 2024 will be another banner year for waterfall lovers. Yosemite is renowned for its collection of some of the tallest and most famous waterfalls on the planet, including Bridalveil Fall, Sentinel Falls, Vernal Fall, Wapama Falls, and the namesake Yosemite Falls (pictured above), where millions of gallons of water plummet thousands of feet down sheer granite cliffs to the grassy fields of the Yosemite Valley. 

More world-class national preserves, Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks, are located just south of Yosemite. Waterfalls and streams there are fed by the same mountain systems.  

When snowmelt is high, countless “new” or rarely seen waterfalls can develop along trails and in the backcountry of national parks. The melt will also boost the many California rivers used for whitewater rafting and kayaking.

The best time to witness California’s roaring waterfalls will be May and June. This year the spectacle will likely extend into July.

The copious rain has been refilling dried-out lake beds across the state, sometimes to the chagrin of people who developed the land that Mother Nature sometimes likes to use as retention ponds.

In February, California’s increased precipitation temporarily reawakened a rarely seen lake in the infamously dry desert of Death Valley National Park, delighting kayakers

Still, the rules at national parks have recently changed—you can no longer show up unannounced at the gates of Yosemite to view the gushers. You’ll need a reservation this year on many dates between April 13 and October 27 (here’s how to get a reservation for Yosemite).

Also make sure to heed the posted instructions of park rangers. Trails that go very close to waterfalls may be closed if the flow threatens safety. There will always be ample spots to take photographs from a safe distance. Whatever you do, don’t so much as dip a toe in the rivers that feed the falls. Tourists regularly misjudge the slipperiness of the rocks and the power of the current and are sometimes swept over the edge.

Even if you can’t get to Yosemite this year, at least you can check out the webcam fixed on Yosemite Falls, the highest cascade in the park at 2,425 feet (739 m).