When you think of Yosemite National Park the first things that may come to mind are Yosemite Valley, Mirror Lake, Vernal Falls, and Half Dome, but hidden within the northwest corner of the park is Hetch Hetchy. You can hike this peaceful part of Yosemite most of the year and the beauty never diminishes. Hetch Hetchy offers stunning views of high peaks, hidden canyons, blue lakes, and flowing waterfalls.
Prior to Europeans discovering the area in the 1850s, Hetch Hetchy Valley was inhabited by several Native American cultures, including the people of the Miwok and Paiute. Miners were attracted to the upper Tuolumne River – which included Hetch Hetchy Valley – during the California Golf Rush. These miners did not stay long as other parts of California seemed to reap bigger rewards. Ranchers soon took over the area to graze livestock for several decades. In 1964, Yosemite Valley became part of a state park, but Hetch Hetchy Valley was not part of that protection. Renowned mountaineer and naturalist, John Muir, realized the damage the livestock were having on native plants, so he vigorously fought for the protection of both Yosemite and Hetchy Hetchy Valley’s.
Although the valley was well-known for its beauty, people wanted to utilize its water supply for irrigation and municipality needs in the late 19th century. By the 1880s, San Francisco had an outdated water system, making it unreliable, so the city continuously petitioned to tap into Hetch Hetchy’s water supply. After being denied several times, a major earthquake in 1906 devastated San Francisco and a new water system was the only option. This resulted in the Hetch Hetchy Project beginning in 1914. The main product of this project was the O’Shaughnessy Dam, turning the valley into a reservoir. Construction of the dam was completed in 1938 and today the reservoir supplies drinking water to over 2 million people in the Bay Area.
Aside from the O’Shaughnessy Dam, there are more natural beauties that Hetch Hetchy has to offer. There is a moderate, five mile hike that follows the shoreline of the reservoir. The hike offers amazing views of the high peaks surrounding the reservoir, as well as Tueeulala and Wapama Falls. If you are looking for more challenging hikes, you can hike to Smith Peak or explore the Poopenaut Trail. Smith Peak is at an elevation of 7,751 feet. There are two trails to choose from, including a 13-mile and 16-mile trail. The Poopenaut Trail is a 2.5-mile trail that leads to the Tuolumne River.
Explore the beauty of Hetch Hetchy at Yosemite National Park.