I had never heard of Hetch Hetchy, but it turns out to be the Quabbin Reservoir of the West. Run by the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, the reservoir provides public drinking water to 2.4 million people through 160 miles of tunnels and pipelines. It also generates 1.7 billion kilowatt hours of energy per year through hydroelectric facilities, 20% of the city of San Francisco's requirements and equivalent to 39 million gallons of oil.
The Hetch Hetchy project was begun in 1914 with the construction of the railroad and aqueduct system, but the first water didn't reach San Francisco until 1934. The reservoir now stretches 8 miles in length, reaches depths of 306 feet, and can store up to 117 billion gallons of water, though today the water is at least 20-30 feet below normal. The O'Shaughnessy Dam holds back this massive volume of water and stands 312 feet above the lower stream bed.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is fed by the Tuolumne River as well as Tueeulala Falls, Wapama Falls, and Rancheria Falls. Hiking trails extend from the parking area above the O'Shaughnessy Dam to various areas north of the reservoir including Lake Eleanor, Laurel Lake, Lake Vernon, and Tiltill Valley. Day hiking is open to anyone who enters the park, but overnight hiking requires a special permit available at the gate near Mather.
Hetch Hetchy is located north of the western end of the Yosemite Valley. When leaving the valley take Hwy 120 rather than Hwy 140. After exiting the park, take the first right onto Evergreen Road for about 10 miles. At Mather turn right back into Yosemite National Park and follow Hetch Hetchy Road 8 miles to the reservoir.
This was probably our favorite part of the park! It offers wonderful seclusion and great trails. We only saw a handful of people the whole day there.
Twin to Yosemite Valley except not as big. There is a reservior that is now dammed by the O'Shaughnessy Dam.
For information regarding the history of Hetch Hetchy, see my 'Off the Beaten Track' tip.
Hetch Hetchy is a beautiful wild valley northwest of Yosemite Valley. John Muir called it "one of nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples," and it probably is. Now flooded by the O'Shaughnessy Dam, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir may not be quite as beautiful; but the crowds are less than Yosemite Valley. The valley has a few prominent features that are rather hard to miss; to the south is towering, spire-like Kolana Rock, and behind, Smith Peak. The round and commanding dome across the reservoir is Hetch Hetchy Dome; a little west of Hetch Hetchy Dome is the powerful and wildly beautiful Wapama Falls, and a little west of that is the tall Tueeulala Fall. Visiting earlier in the season is better than later; since Hetch Hetchy is at a somewhat lower elevation than Yosemite, temperatures are much hotter. Also, in spring and early summer, the two major waterfalls are at their peak. The reservoir is also usually fuller in spring than summer, when an ugly bathtub ring appears.
The Hetchy Hetchy project started in 1914 and took 20 years to complete. It included the dam, reservoir, pipelines, tunnels and powerhouses and was considered to be one of the most ambitious projects of its time.
About 85% of San Francisco's drinking water originates in the snow capped peaks of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and is collected in 3 reservoirs, 2 of which are in Yosemite N.P.
The water is very pure and is one of the premier drinking water systems in the U.S.
You can walk across the dam and connect with hiking trails on the other side.
The first day we spent touring the Yosemite Valley area. The second day was between visiting the Tioga Pass or Hetch Hetchy. The decision was an easy one since the Tioga Pass was still closed due to 9 ft. of snow still on the road! What a surprise for early June and high temps in the low 80's in the valley area.
So we drove to Hetch Hetchy which is about 40 miles north of the Yosemite Valley via route 120. Driving north you are in the park, out of the park then in the park again. The road is quite narrow in some locations and not as maintained once you leave the park. Traffic was very light but I wouldn't advise driving here in an overly large camper.
The scenery is mostly towering pines with a few meadows mixed in and wildflowers blooming profusely. There were fields of blue lupines mixed with yellows & whites. In the pine areas dogwood was blooming.
This is one of the least-often visited areas of the park. We were only the 7th car of the day though the gatehouse at 1PM in the afternoon. The Hetch Hetchy valley was dammed up in the early 1900's to create a reservoir for the city of San Francisco. At the time, it was described as being the second most beautiful valley in the area after Yosemite. Although one of the United States' great environmental tragedies of the 20th century, the resulting reservoir still is beautiful and worth seeing. You can still see the top few hundred feet of the Hetch Hetchy valley's cliffs and there are numerous trails leading into the backcountry from the dam.