Vernal Falls Hike: The Disneyland of Yosemite

If you can only handle one hike at Yosemite, this is the hike for you. It’s short, it’s beautiful, and everyone has to see Vernal Falls at least once. At just 3 miles roundtrip for this out-and-back hike, it’s a lot of bang-for-your-buck. Unfortunately, everyone else seems to know this too, making this the crowded must-do hike for all tourists. During waterfall season, we saw plenty of PSR’s (Potential Search and Rescues) with their flip-flops and cotton t-shirts, we saw families with children of all ages, and we even saw those that were older and wiser walking this hike with their canes and an attitude of “it ain’t no thang”. If you’re looking for what everyone else is looking for, this hike is for you. If you’re looking for peace and serenity in the great outdoors, steer clear of this Disneyland of a hike.

The free in-park shuttle took us directly to the trailhead and we got off the shuttle with everybody else to check out what the big fuss was about. The trail is very well-maintained and wide to accommodate the crowds. We walked alongside the creek on a paved road at a gradual ascent. Every once in a while there was a steeper climb, totaling 1000 feet in elevation gain to get to the top of the falls.

After a ways of uphill climbing on the paved path, we came to a bridge. The bridge was lovely with gushing water flowing down the mountain. It is said that more people die on the Mist Trail than almost anywhere else in Yosemite. Once you see the currents flowing beneath the bridge, you’ll understand why.

Past the bridge, the path becomes muddier, rockier, and definitively more wet. Here, we pulled the rain jackets and gloves out of our packs and prepared for the worst. At the base of Vernal Falls, I tried to snap a few pictures before the camera got drenched, but it’s very tough to do during waterfall season. If you can handle the cold, hang out for a few minutes. This was one of the prettiest scenes in Yosemite - with the gushing full waterfall hitting the rocks below, sending mist everywhere, and a rainbow to prove its magical status.

After Closet Granola waited rather impatiently for me to finish taking my pictures, we climbed the rest of the way up the Falls. It’s very slippery and wet, so we took it rather slow and used the rails to ascend. On the final ascent, the path is only wide enough to handle one person, so there were times when we were plastered against the side of the mountain as we waited for someone coming the other direction to pass.

At the top of the climb, we looked down the falls into the valley below. It’s a very different perspective up there! We brought a picnic and ate up there (with the crowds). Beware of the squirrels…they’re aggressive and hungry and not afraid of you.

After lunch, we decided to call it a day and hiked back down rather than going all the way to Nevada Falls. My knee couldn’t take any more hiking after the beating it took on the Upper Yosemite Falls Hike the previous day. This may mean that we’ll never see Nevada Falls since it’s unlikely that we can deal with the Disneyland crowds on this hike again.

Overall Rating: Hiking Boots for traction on wet rocks and water proof protection against the falls, Trailblazers for difficulty

Rating system:

  • Heels: So easy you can hike it in heels
  • Flip-flops: Too long or hard to hike in heels, but flat flip-flops would work
  • Pumas: A nice stroll not much harder than walking in the city
  • Trailblazers: If you want to be nice to your feet on this hike, they’ll need some more serious protection and support.
  • Hiking boots: Pull out the ugly shoes and summon your closet granola. This hike is going to kick your ass.

Tip #1: A rainjacket is a must. They call this the Mist Trail, but a more apt name would be the Drenched Trail. I recommend the Marmot PreCip Rain Jacket.

Tip #2: If your knees are hurting (like mine were), the return trip can seem like an eternity in hell. Bring trekking poles. You’ll thank me later.

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