Yosemite National Park: Vernal Fall Hike
As many people with a serious case of wanderlust, I devour travel related magazines, websites and newspapers articles on a constant basis.
I am always looking for that next place I want to visit.
Once in a while, I bump into a place that gets me really excited. Then, when I start researching the details, I discover a hard truth: that beautiful and awesome place is located 5 to 10 miles from a trailhead somewhere in the world.
I must confess I am not the most athletic or fit person in the world. Since getting my latest job, I have gotten less and less exercise due to the different pressures I have to face.
Even though that is my current reality, I have always enjoyed the outdoors. Most of my trips include the “walk / hike” element in one way or another.
During my visit to Yosemite National Park, I was decided to do at least one decent hike. Based on research, I chose to do part of the Mist Trail to the base of the Vernal Fall.
The Mist Trail has been called nature’s giant staircase. The hike affords incredible views of Vernal and Nevada Falls (here they are from Glacier Point), two of the most powerful waterfalls in the park.
It is called “mist trail” because the spray of the falls (during spring and early summer) will totally soak you.
There are different stages to the trail. It is 0.8 miles (one way, 400 ft elevation gain, moderate) to the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Another steep 0.5 miles will take you to the top of the fall (600 ft elevation gain, strenuous). If you are up to the challenge, an additional 1.5 will take you to Nevada Fall (1000 ft elevation gain, strenuous).
Some people continue walking towards Half Dome or merge into the John Muir Trail.
Hiking to the Footbridge
The trailhead is located in the Happy Isles area. Since this is one of the most popular hikes in the Valley, expect to be surrounded by a lot of people (especially if it is summer).
The first few meters of the trail are flat and wide. The Merced River (which flows thru the falls) brings a sense of coolness at the beginning of the adventure.
At one point the trail forks. This is the beginning of the ascent. From that point, is all up to the footbridge.
The trail is mostly shaded and surrounded by big boulders, fallen logs and small water streams.
Once some elevation is gained, you can see that you are surrounded by granite. In fact, you are in a canyon formed by the river.
Paying attention to the flora and fauna brought some surprises.
My husband even saw a yellow and black snake. Thankfully, I didn’t see it.
Now, this is going to be confession time. The uphill hike wasn’t easy for me. I huffed, puffed and stopped like a million times. It wasn’t simple to find a spot to rest when there are hundreds of people going up at the same time.
But, I breathed and took my time. I was enjoying all the beauty around me.
That is why I felt relieved when we reached the footbridge. From here, I got my first sight of the fall.
The view at the other direction was spectacular too.
Hiking to the Base of the Fall
I rested for a little bit and my husband pushed me to get closer to the fall. I kept going. Things got a little bit easier in terms of steepness. After several steps, I heard a loud thunder sound. It was the waterfall hitting the rocks. That was the push I needed.
After making a curve, I started to see the top of the fall. People were just praising the scene. All I could hear was: “OMG guys! This is so cool” or “There it is. We made it.”
The trail turned into stairs. And, I mean stairs next to cliff, no handrail, no nothing. Well, I freaked out a little bit (I am not that in love with heights) but kept pushing. At least, the stairs weren’t wet because we visited during low flow season.
For some reason, all the fear and tiredness disappeared when I was able to stand in front of the falls.
I proceeded to take a good look at all the little details.
We decided to get off trail to a green area located to the right of the fall. I am not sure if this is possible during high flow season. The area is full of big boulders and mud. People picnic and stand over the rocks.
When I looked back, I was surprised to see how high we were.
It is not that difficult to get close to the fall. The water kept changing its pattern due to the wind. That is why we got soaked. The mist felt so great on that hot day. Plus, it felt so surreal to be so close to this nature sight. You feel so small when you are in front of such great power.
We stayed a little bit more than an hour around the waterfall. And, no, we didn’t make it to the top. I have to admit I was a bit tire after scrambling around the rocks. Maybe next time I will aim to get higher.
The walk back went smooth except for some burn in the calves. Ohh, but we were on such a high mood after standing next to that fall. I can say it was the highlight of the trip. After many week, we are still talking about the experience.
Things to take into consideration
- Wear the appropriate clothes and shoes. Protect yourself from the sun.
- Use the restroom and eat something before starting the hike.
- Take enough water and snacks.
- There is a food cart (hot dogs, sandwiches, ice cream, etc.) at the trailhead. You can eat something there before or after the walk but I will go prepared.
- There are restrooms and potable water at the footbridge.
- Pay attention to the trail when it turns into stairs. As I mentioned, there is nothing protecting you from a fall (except in one area). A lot of people were paying attention to their phones and cameras. It is not cool to bump into people who are stopping out of the blue because they are not paying attention.
- If you are hiking with kids, please, take care of them. Again, I saw parents taking pictures while their kids felt lost standing in a narrow path next to a cliff.
- We got off trail because, as I mentioned, we visited during low flow season. Please take your precautions and use your judgment in determining if this is a safe activity depending the time of the year you are visiting. The area next to the fall is tricky and slippery. I fell two times.
- Do not get into the water streams. This is DANGEROUS.
- Protect (and do not feed) wildlife. I saw people kicking or hitting (with a stick) squirrels. I do not think this is acceptable behavior.
- The trailhead parking lot fills fast in summer. You can park in another area of the Valley and take the shuttle to the trailhead. We found a parking space not that far from the lot but we had to walk about 1.5 miles to the trailhead. Take this into consideration when you are planning your daily hikes.
- For more details about the trail here: http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/vernalnevadatrail.htm
Would you like to hike this trail?
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