Imagine a Yosemite National Park draped in a pristine blanket of snow, a tranquil winter wonderland waiting to be explored. This season, when the park dons its quietest demeanor, is the perfect time for an adventure. And among the many enchanting Yosemite winter hikes, one trail stands out – the Vernal Falls trail.
Of all the waterfalls that grace Yosemite National Park, Vernal Fall boasts the most picturesque route of them all.
The Journey Begins: Finding the Vernal Falls Trailhead in Yosemite
Your journey begins at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, which also happens to be shuttle stop #16. Be prepared for a snowy trail and icy patches, as winter paints the landscape with its frosty touch. The first mile is a steep ascent, so take your time, savoring the snow-covered panoramas while staying clear of the edges.
Once you’ve conquered that initial mile, you’ll arrive at the Vernal Fall footbridge. From here, you’ll get your first glimpse of the mighty Vernal Fall in all its glory, from a safe distance. This is an excellent spot to take a breather and refuel with some snacks.
From this juncture, you have a choice to make: turn back or continue along the Mist Trail, leading you directly to the summit of Vernal Fall. To reach the top, you’ll ascend a granite stairway comprising over 600 steps. The snowy and icy conditions make this climb slippery, so exercise caution. But oh, the views along those grand stairs are nothing short of breathtaking. Prepare to be misted by the waterfall; a waterproof jacket is your best friend. Once you reach the summit, you’ll be treated to a jaw-dropping view of the 317-foot Vernal Fall plummeting straight down.
Depending on the weather and trail conditions, you can opt to press on towards Nevada Falls or retrace your steps for the descent back to the trailhead. Be mindful, though – walking downhill can be challenging due to the slippery snow and ice. If you’re feeling adventurous, consider sliding down the trail on a sled or even your trusty bottom for a thrilling end to your journey.
Parking and Practical Tips for Your Vernal Falls Adventure
Parking at the trailhead is not an option, so you can park anywhere in the eastern half of Yosemite Valley and catch the shuttle to stop #16. If the shuttle isn’t operating, park at Curry Village and follow the signs to the Mist Trail, adding less than a mile to your hike.
Additional Tips and Must-Knows:
- Rest Stops: Restrooms are available at the trailhead, the first overlook across the bridge, the top of Vernal Fall, and the top of Nevada Fall.
- Fuel Up: Grab some snacks at Curry Village before hitting the trail.
- Distance Covered: The journey is 3 miles round trip to Vernal Fall or 7 miles round trip to Nevada Fall.
- Elevation Challenge: Expect a 1,000 ft elevation gain to Vernal Fall or a 1,900 ft gain to Nevada Fall.
- Furry Companions: Unfortunately, no pets are allowed on the trail.
- Ideal Time to Go: While the Mist Trail offers beauty year-round, it’s particularly magical in winter due to fewer crowds.
- Snap Away: For the best photographs, aim for afternoon light. And if you’re lucky enough to have high clouds in the sky, this spot offers an incredible sunset view.
- Essential Gear: In addition to your winter hiking attire, consider bringing trekking poles and ice cleats to navigate the icy sections of the trail.
- Leave No Trace: Always please remember to follow Leave No Trace principles to ensure our trails remain unspoiled and pristine for generations to come
Now, go embrace the winter wonderland of Yosemite National Park and embark on an unforgettable adventure to the awe-inspiring Vernal Falls. It’s a journey you’ll treasure for a lifetime.