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!
Once you reach the first waterfalls along the John Meir trail you will find a fantastic view of Liberty Cap.
You can continue along the trail up to the next set of waterfalls and I'm sure the views will continue to be just as breathtaking.
In summer the small lake is a great place to cool off in - so take a dip, but wear a pair of tennis shoes or something and take heed of the warnings where not to swim.
Well worth the effort!
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.
From the Mist Trail/High Sierra Loop/John Muir Trail Trailhead, you can hike just 1.5 miles round trip to a view of Vernal Fall. From the shuttle bus stop at Happy Isles, follow the trail along the north bank of the Merced River. The trail soon passes the large "High Sierra Loop Trail" sign and then begins to climb steeply. You'll pass an interpretive sign about rock slides and talus along the way. After climbing for a few minutes, the trail reaches a good view of Yosemite Falls; a bit farther on, you'll get you're first glimpses of Illilouette Falls, hidden in its deep gorge. The views of the falls get better and better as the trail keeps ascending; then the fall will disappear from your view as you descend to the Vernal Fall footbridge over the Merced River. On the bridge, you'll see Vernal Fall in the distance with Liberty Cap rising behind it. At the bridge, you'll find drinking water as well as restrooms. Expect plenty of people.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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.
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