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.
The 317 foot Vernal Falls are one of the many powerful waterfalls within Yosemite National Park, not visible from the main valley but reached via Mist Trail:
Starting point: Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16), Distance: 3 miles (4.8km) round trip, Strenuous; 1000ft (300m) gain, hiking time: 2 to 4 hours round trip, Notes: weather permitting; closed in winter
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