Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park
Despite being steep, often wet, and sometimes dangerous, the Mist Trail is Yosemite’s hallmark hike, with breathtaking views of the valley and two waterfalls. Be warned, though, that it’s called the Mist Trail for a reason: Much of the thigh-burning hike is cut into stone alongside Vernal Fall and, depending on how much water is flowing (especially in the spring), the steps will be very slippery and you’ll get soaked. Bring rain gear and climb carefully. At the top of Vernal Fall (about 1.5 miles from the valley floor), you’ll find the Emerald Pool, which can look very inviting for a dip but, in fact, has extremely cold water and lethally strong currents—obey the signs and do not swim. Above the pool, a bridge will take you up to the other side and, eventually, to Nevada Fall. You can return the same way or, better yet, connect at Nevada Fall to the John Muir Trail, which is slightly longer but much gentler on the knees coming down. It also offers an incredible look back at Nevada Fall and the back side of Half Dome.
Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall
The hike to Vernal Fall is three miles (4.8k). This sounds easy and “totally doable” but, I am warning you now, most of the trail is on a 60˚ angle. It’s a killer. Ten minutes into it my calf muscles were stabbing me with little needles begging for a rest. Luckily, there are a few places to catch your breath. The first is the bridge overlook. This is your last chance to use a proper toilet and refill water bottles. You’ll get a glimpse of Vernal Fall here and consider heading back down the trail. The hike does get harder from this point but a cute overweight squirrel will encourage you by mouthing, “keep on going, lazy”. You will laugh, feel recharged and continue on. The misty part of the Mist Trail begins just after the bridge overlook. By this point any and all forms of water are welcome. Don’t underestimate how much mist will actually spray at you though. We had our camera in hand and, almost, regretted it later. You’ll come face-to-face with the gorgeous Vernal Fall at this point. It will feel like if you lean in hard enough or make a jump for it, you could touch it. You want to see the waterfall from over top. The railing along the viewing platform will be littered with people. Wait your turn but definitely push in there. You’ll also find a lot of open space to sit, enjoy a snack and talk to more squirrels.
Hike the Mist Trail
Do yourself a favor. Get to Yosemite ASAP and hike the Mist Trail. It’s magical and powerful. If you want to avoid the crowds and are up for a strenuous hike with fabulous views, I recommend the 4 Mile Trail.