Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Enjoy hike to Yosemite’s iconic Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall. Photo courtesy NPS.
Topo map, Mist Trail.
This trail summary originally appeared in Seattle Backpackers Magazine.

Among Yosemite National Park’s iconic sights that can be day hiked to is Vernal Fall. The 2.4-miles round trip Mist Trail leads to the 317-foot Yosemite Valley waterfall.

Spring and early summer marks the best time to visit Vernal Fall as more water tumbles down it. Be forewarned that with the higher amount of water also comes larger crowds. Also, you almost certainly will get wet in spring and early summer once at the fall’s base, so rain gear is a must.

To reach the trailhead, take the Yosemite Valley shuttle to Stop No. 16. Pass the restrooms and cross the bridge over the Merced River, pick up the trail on the river’s north/east side.

Young children may have difficulty with the trail as the elevation climbs 1000 feet over 1.2 miles. This is a trail best reserved for families with teenagers or those who can lug children up the mountainside in a child carrier.

Vernal Fall ahead
The trail goes roughly south then bends east at Sierra Point. Grizzly Peak, which tops out at 6,222 feet, is to the left.

In about 0.6 miles, the trail again crosses the Merced, offering the first of many fantastic views of Vernal Fall. Restrooms also are located there.

Until that overlook, the trail’s elevation gain is fairly easy for kids to handle. The rest of the way up, however, consists of stairs cut into a cliffside and is steep.

Be aware that the stone stairs near the waterfall can be slippery. Another set of restrooms are located there as well.

No river dips
Vernal Fall sits at an 5044 feet elevation. The water flows all year long, though by the end of summer, once the snowmelt is gone, the volume is low with the river often splitting into multiple threads instead of as a curtain of water. Liberty Cap at 7016 feet and to its left, Mt. Broderick at 6706 feet, tower over the falls.

Despite the temptation, don’t take a dip into the water at the fall’s base. The current is very strong. In fact, Mist Trail is the deadliest of Yosemite’s trails – mainly because people jump into the water for a swim or to cool off.

The trail continues on to the top of Nevada Fall, but at 6.4-miles round trip, this is an extremely long hike for most families, especially given that you’ll have to gain another 900 feet in elevation.

Turning around at Vernal Fall, hike back into Yosemite Valley. You’ll be treated to great views as the Merced flows down the mountainside.

Learn about other great national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.