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Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park, is both a stunning natural attraction and a site of significant historical and environmental controversy. Originally a deep, glacier-carved valley similar in appearance to Yosemite Valley, Hetch Hetchy was transformed into a reservoir in the early 20th century to provide water and hydroelectric power to the San Francisco Bay Area.

Overview of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Location: Hetch Hetchy is situated about 40 miles (64 km) from Yosemite Valley and is accessible via the Hetch Hetchy Road.

Primary Use: The reservoir is a crucial source of drinking water for over two million people in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it also generates hydroelectric power.

Key Features of Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Natural Beauty

  • Despite its transformation, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir retains a compelling beauty, with towering granite cliffs and waterfalls, including Tueeulala and Wapama Falls.


  • The area offers several hiking trails, such as those leading to Wapama Falls and Rancheria Falls. These trails provide spectacular views of the reservoir and surrounding wilderness areas.

Environmental and Historical Controversy

  • The damming of the Hetch Hetchy Valley in 1913 was highly controversial, spearheaded by the city of San Francisco after the 1906 earthquake and subsequent fires highlighted the city’s need for a reliable water supply. The decision to create the reservoir was opposed by many, including John Muir, who founded the Sierra Club. Muir and others argued that the valley should be preserved for its natural beauty and public enjoyment, making it one of the first major environmental battles in the United States.

Activities at Hetch Hetchy Reservoir


  • Popular hiking trails around Hetch Hetchy include the trek to Wapama Falls, which is about 5 miles round trip and offers close views of the powerful cascades, especially in the spring.


  • The dramatic landscapes of Hetch Hetchy, with its high cliffs and waterfalls, make it a wonderful destination for photographers.

Wildlife Viewing

  • The area is less crowded than other parts of Yosemite, offering better chances for wildlife viewing, including birds, deer, and occasionally bears.

Visiting Tips

Access Restrictions

  • Unlike other parts of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy has more limited visiting hours and is generally only accessible during daylight hours to ensure the security of the reservoir. Check the latest conditions and opening times before visiting.

Seasonal Variations

  • The best time to visit Hetch Hetchy is in the spring and early summer when the waterfalls are at their most spectacular due to snowmelt. However, the area can be hot in the summer and sometimes inaccessible in winter due to road closures from snow.

Prepare for Hikes

  • If planning to hike, ensure you carry plenty of water, wear appropriate footwear, and be prepared for changing weather conditions, which can shift rapidly in the Sierra Nevada.

Respect the Environment

  • Given its role as a primary water source, it is particularly important to practice Leave No Trace principles in the Hetch Hetchy area to maintain the quality of the water and the surrounding ecosystem.


Hetch Hetchy Reservoir stands out not only for its utilitarian role but also as a testament to the ongoing dialogue between human needs and environmental preservation. A visit to Hetch Hetchy offers unique insights into the complexities of managing natural resources, the history of environmentalism, and the enduring beauty of Yosemite’s less-traveled regions. Whether you are there for the hiking, the history, or the panoramic views, Hetch Hetchy is a poignant reminder of nature’s resilience and the impact of human decisions on the natural world.

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