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In Search of Little Nellie Falls

August 16, 2023

Moto Blog

In Search of Little Nellie Falls

In Search of Little Nellie Falls


It was mid-June, and the weather was perfect. Linda had taken a trip back to South Carolina to visit some of our dear friends who had recently moved out there so, I was a bachelor for 7 days which meant a lot of eating out and looking for ways to pass the time.


The Plan

I received a text earlier in the week from my friend Joe wanting to head out on an exploratory mission and try and find Little Nellie Falls which is inside of Yosemite National Park. However, Joe wanted to search for it from the West side just Northwest of Mariposa, and we’d be mostly all off-road.


We meet in Oakhurst early on Saturday, June 17th (Father’s Day Weekend), with me, Joe, and our other riding buddy, Marty. Except for only a few hotter weeks, it sure was nice to be blessed with cooler weather all the way up to July. That Saturday was no exception, and the morning was brisk and refreshing. Joe had mapped out the ride and sent the Garmin .gpx file over to my Garmin Zumo XT via Bluetooth.


Hwy 49 Canyons

We headed out on Highway 49 through Mariposa and onwards past Bear Valley to the canyons. The views are remarkable there and you briefly feel as if you’ve been transported out of the Central Valley and into a different place entirely. I wish I was a better motorcycle rider and could hit those canyon switchbacks with a bit more speed but for me, slow and steady wins the race. About halfway through the canyon, we peeled off onto a rocky dirt road and headed up into the hills. That is, after passing a series of cattle gates. I got off my bike and held the first two open for Joe and Marty.


The double-track dirt road quickly ascended and very shortly we were treated with an incredible view down below to the Northwest and the scenery seemed to quickly make way to more of an alpine forest landscape with pine trees and thicker brush. With as much rain as we had this year, everything was alive with different shades of vibrant green. From this point forward, we’d be watching our GPS screens very carefully so as not to get lost.


Adventure Bikes

The double-track road we were traversing changed frequently from an easily navigated fire road to steep, rocky, rutted and then back to the fire road. There were frequent water crossings which were a lot of fun. The KTM 890 Adventure R is purpose-built for exactly this type of terrain. It lived up to the Adventure in its namesake as that was exactly what we were doing, adventuring.

About halfway, we encountered a small waterfall and stopped to take a rest, eat a snack and take some pictures. We briefly mused as to whether this could be Little Nellie but after consulting the GPS tracks, realized it was still quite a distance off. So, with that, we continued the adventure and continued up the trail.

Fun Keith

Further on up the trail, we encountered an interesting nomadic-looking guy named Keith out riding by himself. He pulled out a cigar and I knew I had to capture the moment and get a pic of him. He was a very colorful and interesting guy and I wouldn’t be surprised to read a piece on him one day in some outdoor adventure magazine. After a short conversation, Marty later nicknamed him “Fun Keith” after the “Fun Bobby” character on Friends and Keith to this day is now known simply as Fun Keith when we reminisce on that encounter.

We asked Fun Keith if he knew where Little Nellie Falls was, and he said we were within a mile of it. He instructed us to keep on the path and we’d run right into it. We headed onwards and this ended up being the steepest, most rutted-out area of the trail. It’s always an active experience riding a 470-pound adventure bike down (or up) the trail when it gets that rough. I’m learning though, if I keep the bike moving, it’s "almost" all good. If not, it gets tipped to one side or the other and then one of the guys needs to stop to help you pick it up. It’s all part of the experience.


We made our way down and there it was, Little Nellie Falls. We had finally made it and it was flowing fast and beautiful. We stopped and took it in and enjoyed the moment. We were also now officially inside Yosemite National Park.


We Finally Made It: Check out this 1-minute Video of the Falls!

The road out from that point forward was easy, densely forested and beautiful. When the thick trees on either side eventually gave way, we were treated to a view of the park that was just epic and we had to stop to get some pictures before heading on.

The Views

We came out onto Big Oak Flat Road and slowly began the steep descent down into Yosemite Valley on the far North side. The view was truly hard to describe. We had inadvertently timed that ride at the same time many places on the valley floor were flooding, and the waterfalls were epic. I’ve never seen anything like it. There was water everywhere. It was cascading down and forming waterfalls in places that didn’t normally have waterfalls. Marty, Joe, and I were chatting back in forth over our Cardo PackTalk Edge intercoms in disbelief as we took in the view. Perhaps it was but a glimpse of what heaven will be like. All I know is I feel so blessed to have seen that in person. It may have just been a once-in-a-lifetime view.


The traffic in Yosemite and the valley floor was intense that Father’s Day Weekend and we discussed our best options for getting out of there. We decided that exiting through Highway 140 was probably going to be the quickest route based on the level of traffic. This was a time it was great to be on a motorcycle. As we approached the first bridge and stop sign, we traversed past a good 20 or so stopped cars right on up to the front of the line and waited for traffic to open up our way on the one-way bridge. When it finally did, we passed a good mile’s worth of cars backed up and waiting to get into the park and it was close to 3:30 pm that day. Those folks must have really wanted in as they were in for one heck of a wait.


We made our way back to Oakhurst and grabbed a quick bite at El Cids for an early dinner. The waitress told us she had heard the cars were backed up on Highway 41 all the way to Fish Camp waiting to get into the park. I think we made the right call leaving via 140!


Questions? Reach out to Todd at [email protected]

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