Saturday, March 30, 2013

Great day hike trail for kids: Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite National Park

Waterfall drops 620 feet over cliffside

Bridalveil Fall marks one of the park’s most recognizable and popular features, and for good reason. The falls drops 620 feet – the height of a 62-story building – on Yosemite Valley’s southern wall, between Cathedral Rocks and the Leaning Tower. When wind blows the waterfall’s mist sideways, it resembles a bridal veil.

Though hardly as high as Yosemite Fall, Bridalveil is the highest waterfall in the national park that flows year-round. Fed by melting snow, a shaded drainage keeps Bridalveil Creek constantly flowing, even in dry years.

Kids will love watching the falls, getting wet from its mist, spotting rainbows in it, running across multiple bridges, and scampering over boulders at the fall’s base.

To reach the fall, from the South Entrance head up Wawona Road into Yosemite Valley. If just arriving in Yosemite after a long drive, this hike is a great place to get out and stretch your legs. Select the westernmost parking lot, as this allows you to cross in front of the falls and then take the brief walk to the vista point. The trailhead is at the parking lot’s east end.

Snowy white water
A short trail largely parallels the road, crossing Bridalveil Creek and a pleasant meadow. Along the way, Bridalveil cascades over the precipice’s edge. Glaciers during the last ice age carved out the valley, leaving the incredible, sheer granite walls that the water glides down.

Upon joining the trail leading directly to the vista point, the path widens. Though paved, it is not fully handicap accessible, though a wheelchair can traverse it with strong assistance. A slight incline in this 0.2 mile section results in a 100-foot elevation gain.

The vista point sits at the fall’s base with a boulder field between the two. The water appears snowy white. Wind often blows the falls and mist sideways, giving it the appearance of a lacy veil – hence the name, Bridalveil Fall.

The best time of time to see the falls is late afternoon, between 4-5 p.m., on sunny days. A rainbow will appear, and as the wind shifts the falls and mist, the water shimmers in an array of changing colors. Stick around for sunset, and the falls and granite walls glow orange.

Seasonal changes
Which season to visit the fall depends on what your kids will enjoy more: a spectacular spray or scrambling over the boulders near the fall’s base.

If the former, you’ll want to visit Yosemite in late May and June when snowmelt raises water levels to their highest. The thundering fall creates its own microweather, so you’ll need to don raingear and protect your camera if it’s not waterproof. Sometimes the fall’s “rainstorm” can be felt up to a quarter mile away. Following winters of heavy precipitation in the Sierras, the asphalt trail leading to the base even will overflow with water. By August, when the weather is warmer, the amount of water heading over the falls drops, but it’s still incredible.

Regardless of which season you select, expect traffic to be heavy around Bridalveil Fall, not to mention the rest of the park.

From the vista point, you can continue walking toward the waterfalls for about 200 feet. A trail branches from this, closing on Bridal Veil as you pass through maple, oaks, cedar, and bay trees. Three stone bridges cross streams flowing from the fall’s base, and the trail then turns back toward the parking lot, leading to a view of the famous El Capitan across the valley floor.

Be careful of scampering over the boulders, as they are slippery when wet. On dry days, especially in August and September, this usually isn’t a problem. Also be forewarned that some of the rocks have sharp edges, so you’ll want to wear good hiking boots.

Avoid the boulders in winter, however, as ice covers most of them and often the trail as well.

Learn about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.