The trail is rather steep but well worth the walk. Lots of people take this hike and the trail is crowded. You reach a bridge and there are great views of the falls. Go about another half mile, and you can get up to the top of the falls, however the last part is narrow and would be really hard on the knees coming down on big rock steps...since I didn't have a walking stick, I turned around before going to the top.
The 317 foot Vernal Falls is one of the most heavily flowing of the park's waterfalls though by mid-summer it is reduced to two smaller bands. While you can hike directly to this incredible sight, there are great views of it from the Panorama Trail as well.
The actual hike to the falls is via the John Muir or Mist Trails and you can make a loop of the two though the latter is closed in winter due to slippery conditions. Depending on how you tackle it, you're looking at 3 miles and a 1000 feet of elevation. It will take about three hours if you want to get right to the top and be prepared for some tricky footing and lots of spray on the Mist Trail which is very appropriately named!
As we surveyed the vista from Glacier Point, we could see a dynamic landscape highlighted by frothing, dancing waterfalls.
The rapidly flowing Nevada and Vernal Falls can both be clearly seen. Although it's July, both of these falls still have vital, healthy flows issuing from their heights!
NEVADA FALLS is 594 feet tall and has a dependable year round flow, which peaks in late May. It sits above Vernal Falls in an area referred to as the "giant staircase".
VERNAL FALLS flows all year, but from mid to late summer it can form two or three separate falls as the supply of water lessens. It's 317 feet high.
Please enlarge the photo to see these shimmery cascades.
A great hike. Moderate difficulty. Should take an average person 4-5 hours round trip including time to stop and snap LOTS of pictures. We went on a warm day but the spray from the falls was refreshingly cool. I can imagine on a cooler day it may make the top half of the hike a bit uncomfortable. It would still be worth it though. The hike circuit winds away from the falls for the trek down. That portion is dry but no less visually spectacular.
The top of the falls is about 3 miles round trip via Mist Trail. The last half mile of the trail is the most challenging and yet rewarding part. With a lot of waterfalls spray especially during the spring and early summer months, rainbows appear all over the falls. This is how the name Mist Trail comes from.
As you hike up Mist Trail, just before the footbridge, you can get a glimpse of Illilouette Falls to the right. The view will disappear as you get closer to the bridge and past the bridge. The first view of Vernal Falls you get at the footbridge. This is where it's time to go to the bathroom and restock on drinking water. Once you pass the bridge, it's the ascend to the top via over 600 steps of steep granite steps. The trail ascends 1000 feet. This part of the trail is closed during winter.
At the top of the falls, you can enjoy the view as the water falls from the edge. Emerald Pool and Silver Apron are on top as well. It gets really crowded at the top with tourists during summer months. If you have the energy continue on the Mist Trail for another 1.3 miles to the top of Nevada Falls.
Vernal Falls is one of the easy hiking destinations of Yosemite Valley, located just 1.5 miles from Happy Isles and the far end of Upper Pines Campground where we camped. From Happy Isles, the trail is very well marked. At the .8 mile point you will cross a bridge over the Merced River offering a view of the falls about a half mile in the distance. Just past the bridge, The Mist Trail branches off and takes you straight to the falls through the mist at the base of the falls. Unfortunately this trail is closed in winter. We took the much longer detour over Clark Point on the John Muir Trail, making it 3 miles to the falls from Happy Isles rather than just 1.5 miles via the Mist Trail. The hike from Happy Isles to Vernal Falls has about a 1000 foot rise in elevation. From the top of Vernal Falls, it is just another 1.3 miles to the top of Nevada Falls, but the trail is very steep and relatively difficult due to the unstable footing.
Vernal Falls has a 317 foot drop, making it one of the smaller falls in Yosemite, but it has a wide, powerful path over the rocky cliff, making it more spectacular than some of the others which seem to be not much more than a trickle. Originally called Yanopa by the local Indians, Lafayette Bunnell, coined the name Vernal Falls in 1851.
Here is some video I shot of the falls in April 2007: http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=2022390933
Easy hike to what some say is one of the most beautiful falls in the world. If you're in any sort of decent shape, take the stairs to the top, too. It's well worth it. But please, DON'T FEED THE SQUIRRELS.
It's a 3-mile round trip hike with a elevation gain of 1000 feet to the top of Vernal Fall from Yosemite Valley. The view from the top of the fall isn't quite as beautiful as the view from the Mist Trail; there really isn't much of a view of the falls as really just the brink of the falls. Railings lead from the trail downhill to the brink, where you can see the Merced River free-fall 317 feet. Vernal Fall is probably the most graceful of all the Yosemite waterfalls; it lacks the power of either Yosemite or Nevada Falls, though. The top will be crowded.
When I was at the top of the falls, I was annoyed by people doing things like dropping appples into the Merced River so it would rush over the falls. While you're here, please respect both the natural features and other visitors; don't do anything stupid.
Past Photographer's Point, the Mist Trail soon leaves the forest and becomes a staircase on a rocky slope facing Vernal Fall. This is perhaps the best part of the Mist Trail; from here to about the top of Vernal Fall, you'll be consistently showered with the mist of the fall. As you keep walking, the view just keeps getting better; expect to get completely wet (this includes your camera, and anything you have in your daypack or backpack. After hiking this section, I found out my Lonely Planet hiking guide was soaked... if you have some things you wouldn't want to get wet, either don't pack them, or put them in something waterproof). The trail passes through a rock tunnel and then gets even wetter (if possible). I came during June of a particularly snowy year; coming later in summer, you'll probably find the flow of the fall reduced, and get alot less wet. The mist will be comfortable, since the Mist Trail at this point will be climbing steeply up a rock staircase (There are at least 500 or something steps).
From the Vernal Fall Footbridge, the Mist Trail/John Muir Trail continues for about 1/10 of a mile to a fork where the two trails split. The John Muir Trail leads to the top of Nevada Fall; the Mist Trail reaches the top of Nevada Fall via Vernal Fall. A sign at the trail junction incorrectly says "Top of Vernal Fall: 0.3 miles"; it's actually a little over 1/2 mile. From there, the trail ascends along the swollen and rapid-filled Merced River about 0.2 miles to the famous Photographer's Rock. The short spur trail that leads to the rock isn't signed; you'll have to look out for the giant rock on the side of the Merced River. Chances are, though, that there will be plenty of people there, so you'll know where to go. Near the point, there's a small sign with a John Muir quote, and another sign warning of slippery rocks. Venture out on the rock itself, and you'll find what's probably the best overall view of Vernal Fall. Liberty Cap looms behind the waterfall, and the Merced River is framed by trees as it splashes downstream towards Yosemite Valley.
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