Vernal Falls are at the East end of the valley and getting to them is more of a hike than to Bridalveil and Yosemite Falls. The hike up (and there is a grade) is enjoyable as you walk near the river most of the time, with plenty of chances to sit and put your feet in the river or just watch the rapids.
When you get to the part where you can see the falls, the view is stunning. You can scramble closer to the falls through the misty trail and can get to the top of the falls and beyond quite easily.
The hike to Vernal Falls seemed to be one of the more popular hikes in Yosemite. Standing at the top (5,044ft) was a definite challenge. When you see the sign that tells you it's only 2.3 miles, you think to yourself, "of course, I can hike 2 miles". They fail to mention the altitude, the steepness of many parts of it, and the fact that you will get a shower as you near the top. Time of year and snowfall determine just how wet you will get! We hiked on a sunny day and soon dried off to enjoy the beautiful views, and a picnic at the top. It is a strenuous (but not impossible) hike for those not in shape. Be prepared, and bring plenty of water.
The first big attraction along the Mist Trail is Vernal Falls. It's a short uphill climb to the Vernal Fall footbridge where you'll have great views of the waterfall. In the high season, expect crowds. The water will be at its peak in spring and early summer so if you continue along the path just to the right of the falls, expect to get wet! They don't call this the Mist Trail for nothin'! It's so steep at this point, that there are steps built into the stone in order to help you navigate the path. The views from the top are great. If you have the energy, I would definitely suggest continuing on to . . . my next tip.
Actually I should put this tip under Warnings and Dangers. But when I look at myself, I often look mostly at the Must See section.
Yosemite is filled with spectacular waterfalls. Mostly around Yosemite Valley. (e.g. Yosemite Falls (upper and lower combined) are the second-highest waterfall in the world.)
Bear in mind that all the spectacular waterfalls here turn dry during the summer. So if you are really into waterfalls, you better come here before the second half of July or so. I do not know exactly when they turn dry, but when we were there mid-September, hardly any water could be seen. Compare the pic to the left with the one in the next tip.
This also goes for MIRROR LAKE; no lake, no mirror, just a pool.
The trail that takes hikers to Vernal Fall is appropriately called the Mist Trail. On its last portion - before getting to the top of the Vernal Fall - the trail passes in front of the 320ft tall fall which sprays the trail with a fine mist that will most likely get you all wet in no time. The first time you can see Vernal Fall is on a bridge lookout and you can stop there if you don't want to get wet, but that will be a pity.
Vernal Falls is a lovely wide waterfall with gushing proportions in Springtime and early summer. The hike is pretty mild and not too far. You'll be pleased when you get there, Vernal Falls is absolutely lovely. The great thing about this hike, is that for just 1.5 miles of hiking you get rewarded with the most beautiful waterfall Yosemite has to offer. Pack a picnic lunch and get hiking! If you keep on hiking, you'll reach Nevada Falls, which is also beautiful.
*** One thing, I would not recommend either of these hikes in winter. The hiking path can get very slippery with ice, and very dangerous.
These waterfalls roar with snow-melt suring spring and this is an excellent 6 mile round trip which will suit most walkers from beginner to veteran.
During my visit in August the falls were still impressive and the view beyond towards Liberty Cap is just amazing - there is a picture in my travelogue.
To get to the falls start at the Curry Village parking lot and walk down the road at the lot's southeast corner. After a half-mile's hile you will get to Happy Isles. Follow signs across the river to the start of the Mist Trail.
There is a reason it is called the Mist Trail. Springtime hikers will get soaked by the spray of Vernal Falls, just make sure you have a way to keep your camera equipment dry.
This shot was taken from just off the main trail up to Vernal Falls. This is one of the more popular walks yet it is still not packed with people.
Be good - take plenty of water and don't leave any rubbish anywhere!
In the spring, there is a lot of water in Yosemite. In the late summer, not so much. Seeing the waterfalls is something that needs to be done early in the season and Vernal Falls is a pretty good hike. You can go up the bridge and see the Falls or you can go the whole way up TO them and beyond. You'll encounter people, but it's not as bad as the "commercial" area of the Valley.
The water collected in the pools behind the falls is calm, silent, almost still--but in just another few feet or even inches the water will plummet 317 feet to the rocks below and eventually form the Merced River that meanders through Yosemite Valley.
When you reach the top of Vernal Falls you can look over the edge and see the snaking trail that you just climbed for the past hour or so. The elevation gain from the trailhead at Happy Isles to the top of Vernal Falls is about 1200 feet. A moderately strenous exercise.
(If you enlarge the photo you should be able to see people on the trail.)
One of the most popular trails in Yosemite is the Mist Trail which takes the hiker to the top of Vernal Falls. In the springtime the falls is a torrent and the spray of the falls easily reaches the trail making it moist and slippery--hence the name Mist Trail. By October, however, the falls has slowed to a trickle and the Mist Trail is dry as a bone. Vernal Falls itself is 317 feet tall--a respectable waterfall and the star attraction of any park other than Yosemite.
At 5,044 feet, Vernal Fall is about 1 mile (bottom) or 2 miles (top) round trip from Happy Isles. To those who hike up the Mist Trail, this is the first major stop. The photo was taken in late summer 2001. The water was not strong. Its thin curtain hung over the cliff into the bottom pond where a few adventurous youngsters swam.
Once the trail begins a constant stair-step, you'll know you're close. Waterfalls tend to lose their impact and perspective when viewed from above the actual dropoff, but on the way up, the shadows and rainbows that develop in this canyon are remarkable. As I said, I doubt there is a wider curtain of any waterfall in the park.
From stop #19 Happy Isles on the shuttle loop, hikers can ascend the trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. For overall setting, few falls in the park can top Vernal Falls, which is probably the widest curtain of any falls in the park. At 317 feet, with distant Liberty Cap trying to witness the spectacle, the view is best witnessed while the sun is at your back.
You'll note the distant leap of Illilouette Falls to your right midway through your hike to the footbridge below Vernal Falls.