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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.
The trail up to Vernal falls was very nice and you can tell they keep up with it. It was a hard hike to the bridge which is just a view of the falls and the incline was pretty much straight up the entire time. But it was completely worth it and you can take all the time in the world to get there. I did not think I would want to keep going to the top of the falls but I surprised myself and my husband by saying lets keep going! Once we got to the falls I decided I would stay towards the bottom and he can keep going to the top. There are about 1000 stairs to the top. I found myself a great place to watch him climb up the stairs and I could see all the way to the bottom of the falls, it was beautiful. My husband took about 30 min to go to the top, take pictures and back to where I was sitting. It was a great hike with a great view. We went in September and the fall was almost to a trickle so I am sure towards the beginning of the summer it was absolutely stunning when it is flowing hard!
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.