Why Restore Hetch Hetchy supports boating on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

The mission, and purpose, of Restore Hetch Hetchy has long been to return the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to its natural splendor. That will never change.


As part of the campaign for restoration, we have decided to advocate that certain human- or electric-powered boats be allowed on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. To this end, on June 21, 2019, we wrote to Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt and Mayor of San Francisco London Breed (see letter, cosigned by California Trout). We plan to follow up.

There are two principal reasons.


Photos: Erica Ruch (Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne) and Tim Connor (reservoir)

First, boating on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir would provide access and recreation benefits not currently available to park visitors. Some visitors would tour the entire Hetch Hetchy canyon by boat. Others might disembark to fish, climb, hike or picnic. Just as visitors to Yosemite Valley venture out of the valley proper to Vernal Falls, Mirror Lake, etc. visitors to Hetch Hetchy would be able to visit Rancheria Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne – even while the reservoir is in place. These are exciting opportunities.

Note also that boating on Hetch Hetchy Reservoir would also be an attractive option for those unable to hike Yosemite’s trails, including military veterans disabled while serving our country.


The boat tour at Oregon's Crater Lake National Park is spectacular. Some visitors merely tour the lake, while others go ashore on Wizard Island and catch a later boat. Crater Lake is the cleanest and clearest large body of water in the world, according to the National Park Service.

Second, visitors to Hetch Hetchy will have the opportunity to learn the whole story – that its damming was the greatest destruction ever allowed in any of our national parks, and that San Francisco can make water supply improvements so that Hetch Hetchy Valley can be restored. Some visitors might develop an affinity for keeping the reservoir, but we believe the overwhelming majority will want to see the valley beneath come to life.

When the City lobbied Congress for permission to build the dam, it committed to share Hetch Hetchy with the American people. San Francisco promised that the area would be used “for park purposes and for water supply purposes”, that there would be “no reason to exclude campers and picnickers” and that it would be “absurd” to claim otherwise.

There’s no question that exploring the Hetch Hetchy canyon by boat is a far cry from “standing waist deep in wildflowers on a sunny day in June" - as John Muir described his own experience in Hetch Hetchy Valley. It’s an experience that visitors to Yosemite will much appreciate, however, and furthermore it will draw greater attention to San Francisco’s special deal and the opportunity to return the valley to its natural splendor.

San Francisco has long received its benefits from the Raker Act. The public, however, has been shortchanged. It’s time to welcome park visitors back to Hetch Hetchy.

Until Hetch Hetchy Valley is restored, access to the Hetch Hetchy canyon should include boating on the reservoir.