Monday, December 2, 2013

Connecting trails at Yosemite National Park head past El Capitan, two major waterfalls

Bridalveil Fall from the Yosemite Valley West Loop

Loop offers views
of several famous
Yosemite sites

Day hikers can see some of western Yosemite Valley’s most famous sites – including Bridalveil Fall, Merced River, Ribbon Fall, El Capitan, and Cathedral Rocks – on a loop of connecting trails.

The Yosemite Valley West Loop, consisting of four trails, forms a 4.95-mile circuit. To begin the loop, park in the Bridalveil Fall lot north of the waterfall on Southside Drive.

From the lot, head west, crossing Southside Drive below Bridalveil Fall. Water falls 617 feet from the mountain lip into the valley. When the wind blows, the water often appears to be tumbling sideways; in autumn and during droughts, sometimes the lower volume of water doesn’t seem to reach the ground.

The trail next crosses channels of Bridalveil Creek that flow into the Merced River; the walkway then follows the latter’s shoreline. Flowing from its headwaters in the high country over Nevada and Vernal Falls at the valley’s east end, the Merced’s current is swift in the section of the national park.

Next the trail crosses the Bridalveil Moraine. The soil and rock here were left by a glacier at the end of the last ice age.

Where the Merced and the trail curve away from one another, what’s between is the Bridalveil Meadow. This is the western-most of several small open areas in Yosemite Valley, much of which is covered in evergreens.

As trail and river rejoin, a number of springs can be found in the wooded area.

Arch bridge built in 1920s
At about 1.1 miles from the parking lot, the trail crosses the Merced River via the Pohono Bridge and then it crosses Northside Drive to the valley’s northern wall. Master masons hand built the 80-foot long arch bridge during the 1920s.

The trail then heads roughly east into Yosemite Valley. This section of Yosemite is known as Valley View, because it offers an impressive vista looking up the valley, offering grand perspectives of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and the Merced River.

As the trail skirts the base of a mountain that peaks at 7763 feet, you’ll come alongside Black Spring. Restrooms also are along the way.

Clearing this mountain, the trail closes on Ribbon Fall and El Capitan to the northeast. Ribbon Fall is North America’s highest single-drop waterfall at 1612 feet; It flows off the cliff side to the west of the granite monolith El Capitan, which peaks out at 7569 feet. The trail goes over Ribbon Creek, which flows from Ribbon Fall.

Coming to Northside Drive, cross the road and follow the trail south between the asphalt and the Merced River. You’ll head over the Merced via El Capitan Bridge, which offers spectacular views of the monolith to the north. Southwest of the bridge is El Capitan Meadow.

Cathedral Rocks
Continuing on the trail, to the left/east is Cathedral Beach Picnic Area with picnic tables and restrooms. This marks a good place to rest and enjoy a snack.

The trial next crosses Southside Drive with Cathedral Rocks looming before it. This collection of cliffs, buttresses and pinnacles looks a lot like what they’re named for – a cathedral – particularly the Cathedral Spires formation.

At the next trail junction, turn right/east. This is the last leg of the trail and brings you to the parking lot. If you’ve still got some energy, add a brief hike of about 600 feet (one way) to see Bridalveil Fall up close.

Find out about trail guidebooks available in the Hittin’ the Trail series.