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Posted by on Aug 2, 2015 | 73 comments

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.

Hike Details

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Paying attention to the flora and fauna brought some surprises.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

The view at the other direction was spectacular too.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.”

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

I proceeded to take a good look at all the little details.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

When I looked back, I was surprised to see how high we were.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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.

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

Hike to Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park, California

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:

Would you like to hike this trail?

Pin it for later?

Vernal Fall Hike, Yosemite National Park



This post is part of Wordless Wednesdays at image-in-ing, Wednesdays Wanderlust at My Brown Paper PackagesTravel Photo Thursday at Budget Travelers Sandbox , Sunday Traveler with Chasing the Donkey, Photo Friday at Pierced Wonderings,  Weekend Travel Inspiration at Reflections Enroute, The Weekly Postcard at Travel Notes and Beyond, Travel Tuesday at Bumble Bee Mum and Monday Escapes at Packing My Suitcase. Pay a visit to these wonderful blogs!

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  1. That’s a beautiful trail and the sights of the waterfall make up for all the hike! I guess it’s better to visit on a season that’s not to hot, so as to make hiking better! Yosemite has many interesting places to visit, doesn’t it?!
    Anna recently posted..Instagram {aspects} #17 – HotMy Profile

    • Anna, Yosemite has tons of magnificent sights. I was able to explore beyond the Valley and cannot wait to return. Yes, it is better to visit in spring and fall because of the nicer weather and less crowds. Plus, in spring the waterfalls are at full flown (they look very different during that time).

    • I do not consider myself a hiker neither but I knew I wanted to do this particular hike. And, it paid out because the reward was very good.

  2. Be still my beating heart! It doesn’t get any more spectacular than this, does it? Mine was just a puddle! 🙂

    • Ahh, thanks Johanna. Imagine how this waterfall will look when the flow is at its peak? I would love to see it then!

    • Your welcome. Glad you enjoyed the post.

  3. Yosemite has been in my list of places to visit. Why people kicked squirrels 🙁 – gosh, they are so cute..unbelievable! Your post is truly informative – bookmarked it and I hope I will get there sooner 🙂
    Indah Susanti recently posted..Things to see and do in Sal IslandMy Profile

    • I do not know why people were being aggressive towards the wildlife. In another place I visited, I saw people breaking stuff they were not supposed to touch. I feel like writing a post ranting about the travel abuses I have observed lately. Anyway, hope you make it to Yosemite soon.

  4. I remembered that hike and the pain, while climbing all these steps. The views were amazing, but at that time, I wasn’t that fit, so it was really painful to get there :p
    gin recently posted..The hidden Kinnell Stone CircleMy Profile

    • See you have felt the pain too! Like I said, it was not east but doable. I saw people of all ages walking towards the fall.

    • Hello Patti, thanks for stopping by. Great to know you enjoy the outdoors too. Cheers to our next hike!

  5. Thanks for sharing your awesome adventure. You took some wonderful photos. I almost felt like I was there. I’d love to try this trail before my mobility is gone. Going down the stairs without rails is the part that would freak me out the most. Good cheer!
    Take 25 to Hollister

    • You know what, to me it was less scary to go down the stairs. I think the initial fear of the area faded away after being around more than an hour. Also, I think it felt better because I knew what to expect (as opposed to when I was going up, first time hiking the trail).

  6. Thank you for linking up on Travel Tuesday.

    Your photos at the bottom of the falls give me goosebumps! What a rewarding sight!! I am also slightly acrophobic, so I can imagine breaking into cold sweat going down that stairs. But WOW, the view from there. It’s just amazing.
    Bumble Bee Mum recently posted..Mummy’s Me TimeMy Profile

    • At least the stairs weren’t wet. I think that would have been worst. But, yes, the views made it all worth.

  7. Hi Ruth – Wow, such a stunningly beautiful place. I love your photos. I want to go there now too. Thanks for highlighting this gorgeous corner of your country 🙂
    Lyndall recently posted..Some Enchanted Evening in VeniceMy Profile

    • Lyndall, it is a wonderful place. Great you can learn more about it thru this blog.

  8. What a gorgeous hike to do, despite the hard slog up those stairs at the end. This is something I would absolutely love to do! Thanks for sharing your beautiful photos with us.
    Thanks for joining in #wednesdaywanderlust
    Malinda @mybrownpaperpackages recently posted..Wednesday Wanderlust for a Ski TripMy Profile

    • Malinda, now I am pumped to do other hikes. I am already making some plans for the next long weekend that is coming the first week of September.

  9. I love the clean cut rockface that the river falls over. My husband is like yours and pushes me out of my comfort zone and I have seen many amazing things because he does that – not that I am appreciative of it at the time lol.
    budget jan recently posted..About Townsville at Strand Ephemera Townsville 2015My Profile

    • Jan, I totally get you. In my case, I plan certain things and then I am the one who wants to back up. Since my husband likes to hikes and it not that afraid of heights, he pushes me to continue.

  10. This reminds me of hiking in the Rockies – the trees, the waterfall, the mountains. And I always find that taking my time is the best way to hike!

    • I think I am more of a beach person than a mountain person. However, the scenery on this trip was so amazing that I look forward to do more mountain trips. I believe each person has a walking / hiking rhythm. That is why I tell my husband to go ahead if he wants. I do not want to hold him up and in that way I can take my time.

  11. Oh my gosh! What a BEAUTIFUL spot, and your shots are all so lovely! I love hiking, but I’m right there with you being a little bit intimidated by big treks. The trails I’m used to are almost completely FLAT! I know that hitting elevation ups the difficulty by a bunch, and since I am going to be hiking the Smokey Mountains in November, I’ve started a training regime at the gym. I want to be able to enjoy the trip without having to stop and catch my breath all the time!
    Kelly Del Valle recently posted..Key Biscayne || Low Tide ExplorationMy Profile

    • What you are doing is great! Building some resistance before the trip will help you to enjoy more. I think if you are planning a trip(even if hiking is not involved), you should start some king of exercise regime. Travel involves a lot of walking and standing.

  12. As always, incredible shots! I again kick myself for not ever making it to Yosemite when I lived so close to it. I am definitely putting it on a list for the next time we make our way west and journey to visit friends in Bishop!

    Thank you for joining us for Photo Friday again this week!
    Jen recently posted..Photo Friday – James Hill ParkMy Profile

    • Yes, Jen, you have to visit all day. But beware! There are a lot of beautiful areas to visit near Bishop. You may get sidetracked ;0)

    • Definitely, this hike needs some time. I know a lot of people who have been to the park but because of time reasons, have not walked to the waterfall. I decided to stay three days at the park to try to see as much as possible.

  13. Yosemite is such a magical place! I hope someday to spend an extend period of time there. Looking at all your beautiful pics has made my feet itch a little bit more. 😉

    • Thanks! It is great that you want to visit and stay a bit longer than usual. After coming home, I read an article about walking from camp to camp in the park (over a period of several days) and now the idea doesn’t get out of my mind. Of course, I will start with something simple.

    • Paula, I am awful with heights. I was got really scared at first (when I got that first view of the stairs) but then the fear went away (even thought there was a cliff next to me). I guess the magnitude of the waterfalls relaxes you.

  14. There’s something so satisfying about all that physical exertion when you get spectacular views like this! I’ve always wanted to go to Yosemite and even more so now. Your photos of Vernal are wonderful. Thanks for sharing on #MondayEscapes
    Ting at My Travel Monkey recently posted..Time Travel Thursdays: AntiguaMy Profile

  15. The pictures are absolutely stunning! I would love to see the wildlife there! Definitely a cool place for hiking.
    Carmen recently posted..Traveling to ParisMy Profile

    • Thanks Carmen! If you enjoy watching wildlife, this is the place for you. We saw deer, squirrels, others rodents native to the area, tons of birds and even a mountain lion.

    • That is a great way to approach things Karen. When I was a child, I never hiked or did adventurous things (my parents weren’t into those things). As an adult, I know that if I want to keep visiting certain places, I need to have to maintain a good health.

    • Well, I can understand now why this is such a popular park. Everything is amazing there!

  16. Hello Ruth, Yosemite is a beautiful park. Your photos brings back memories of my trip there. We also enjoyed the hike to the waterfalls. Amazing views and lovely photos. Enjoy your new week ahead!
    Eileen recently posted..Eileen’s Random TravelsMy Profile

    • Thanks Eileen. I will like to visit again when the waterfalls are at full flow. I think the view would be completely different.

  17. From what you are describing the hike to Vernal Fall wasn’t quite a pice of cake, Ruth. I would have done it too, though. I found myself in situations like this, when the attraction of the final destinations helps me push myself. I don’t think we ever hiked this road. In fact, it’s been so long since I’ve been in Yosemite that I can’t even remember. Good post. Thanks for joining us again for #TheWeeklyPostcard.

    • To be honest, I wanted to do other short hikes but after this one, I had enough for the trip. I think this trail would be easy for a person in the right conditions.

  18. Great post, Ruth- helpful details, awesome pictures and wonderful honesty! I actually chose similar trail last summer for similar reasons (not that fit; 1 hike choice:) and only made it to the footbridge of the Falls so I admire you for pushing further on!(our trail might have been slightly different- it had more elevation- is that possible?were there more than one trails to the footbridge of the Vernal Falls?) recently posted..Weekend in the Berkshires: 2-day itinerary (with or without the kids)My Profile

    • Victoria,there may be other trails that take you to the footbridge. Several trails meet around here. I know the route is different (longer I think) during winter. However, this is the most popular route to get to the footbridge and the fall. I realized that I do not have photos showing the more steep parts (except the stairs). Maybe that is why you do not recognize the trail.

  19. Hitting squirrels? That’s mean. Too bad you witnessed that. I think I could definitely make it to the footbridge. I was all for heading up to the next level until you mentioned the scary stairs. That view, though! That would make it worthwhile. I’ll get to Yosemite some day.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Sorrento, Italy: Where Life Gives You LemonsMy Profile

  20. Hitting squirrels? That’s mean. Too bad you witnessed that. I think I could definitely make it to the footbridge. I was all for heading up to the next level until you mentioned the scary stairs. That view, though! That would make it worthwhile. I’ll get to Yosemite some day.
    Michele {Malaysian Meanders} recently posted..Sorrento, Italy: Where Life Gives You LemonsMy Profile

    • I know hitting squirrels is so mean ;0( Not sure why some people were doing it. I knew I was I am not the only one scarred of those stairs. I can’t imagine how it would be when it is slippery and there is water mist everywhere.

  21. What a beautiful sight! We are planning on going to Yosemite in April and I would definitely be up for this but we have a three year old so won’t be able to be quite so adventurous. Well done for doing it – it was all worth it! #mondayescapes xx
    Elizabeth (Wander Mum) recently posted..10 Reasons My Daughter Loves TravelMy Profile

    • Nice to know you guys are planning a trip to the park! Believe it or not, I saw people carrying babies on the stairs area. I even saw a couple that left a stroller behind some trees and did the stairs portion of the trail with the baby in a kangaroo pouch.
      Ruth recently posted..Review: Hyatt Palm SpringsMy Profile

    • Laia, that is kind of surprising since all most of your posts are about hiking. I guess we are similar in that we can go forever on flat terrain but the altitude gain kills us.

  22. What breathtaking beauty! We were supposed to drive through Yosemite on our cross-country road trip, but the pass was closed because of snow. I’m kind of glad now because I want to be able to spend some time there instead of rushing through. Thank you for your list of helpful warnings. Hard to believe people were beating the little creatures with sticks when they are supposed to be there to enjoy nature.
    Connie Reed recently posted..Route 66: Oatman to SeligmanMy Profile

    • Connie, you definitely want some time to enjoy the park. There is a lot to see. And, you can see way more if you are up for walks and hikes.

    • Thanks Nancie. I even though about continuing to the top of the waterfall but then, realized it was too much of a push (at least for that day).

    • Ohh, so it can get dryer? I guess we had luck during our visit. The Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls were just a thin mist of water.

  23. Hey,Ruth. What a fantastic review and amazing photography. This is very helpful for those who wish to visit. It’s awesome you were able to push on. I love conquering challenges, too, and always get the reinvigorated feeling once you reach your destination amid mind-blowing natural surroundings. I bet you slept well that night, too. Next time, maybe you push ahead and do a hike along the famed John Muir Trail. That would be awesome.

    • I know that doing the John Muir Trail will be awesome. Like I mentioned I a couch potato with hiker aspirations. I hope I can have more hiking adventures in the future. Thanks for stopping by.

  24. Wow.. Those photos are awesome.. It makes me wanna visit the place. 🙂

    • Great! You should visit one day. It is a magical place.

    • Eileen, like I have mentioned to other commenters, I do not think the hike is difficult at all. It was difficult to me because I am out of shape. However, I think it doable for most people.

  25. We have been to Yosemite several times but have never gone on this trail. What a beauty! Beautiful photos and narrative, Ruth. I loved virtually hiking with you guys. I love the views you showed us here especially standing in front of the waterfall. We will need to visit again soon and make time to do this hike.
    Mary {The World Is A Book} recently posted..25 Things to do in the California Central Coast with KidsMy Profile


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