Yosemite National Park Winter Hikes – Vernal Falls

by Basak Prince
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Vernal Fall, Yosemite National Park

If you are looking for a winter hike, explore Yosemite National Park doing winter since the park turns into a winter wonderland. It is the park’s quietest season, and the snow-covered scenery is beautiful. Here is one of the best Yosemite National Park Winter Hikes; Vernal Falls.

Of Yosemite National Park’s many waterfalls, Vernal Fall has the most scenic route of all.

Yosemite National Park Winter Hikes -  Vernal Fall
Vernal Fall, Close Up Detail, Yosemite National Park

How do I get to the Vernal Falls trailhead in Yosemite National Park?

The trailhead starts at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. It is also shuttle stop #16. Depending on the weather conditions, the paved trail most likely to be covered in snow and most areas of the trail will be very icy. The first mile of the trail will be very uphill so take your time. Enjoy the epic scenery covered in snow and try to stay away from the edges.

After the one-mile uphill, you will reach the Vernal Fall footbridge. From this viewpoint, you can view the roaring Vernal Fall from a distance. This will be a good time to rest and fuel up on snacks.

From this point on you can either turn back or follow the Mist Trail that proceeds directly to the top of Vernal Fall. In order to reach to the top of the Vernal Fall you need climb up a granite stairway of over 600 steps. This climb will be very slippery since it will be covered in snow and ice. Therefore be very cautious when climbing. The scenery along the grand stairs is breathtaking. Be aware that mostly likely you will be sprayed from the waterfall. Make sure that you have a waterproof jacket on. When you reach the top you can view the spectacular 317-foot Vernal Fall straight down.

Depending on the weather and trail conditions you can continue up towards Nevada Falls. Or head back the way you came up and start your descent back to the trailhead.

Please note that walking down the trail will not be easy since the snow and ice will make the trail very slippery. Therefore, you will require good amount of energy to go down. Also, if you are up for it, you can also slide down the trail on a sled or on your bottom that will make a fun ending.

Where should I park to get to the Vernal Falls trailhead in Yosemite National Park?

Since there is not parking available at the trailhead, you can park anywhere in the  eastern half of Yosemite Valley and take the shuttle stop to #16. If the shuttle is not running, park at Curry Village and follow the signs to Mist Trail. This will add less than one mile to your hike.

Tips + Things You Should Know

Bathrooms: In addition to the bathrooms at the trailhead, there are bathrooms across the bridge at the first overlook, and at the top of Vernal Fall, and at the top of Nevada Fall.

Food/Snacks: You can grab snacks in Curry Village.

Distance: 3 Miles round trip to Vernal Fall, 7 miles round trip to Nevada Fall.

Elevation Gain: 1,000 ft elevation to Vernal Fall, 1,900 ft to Nevada Fall.

Dogs: Sorry, no pets are allowed on the trail.

Best time to go: The Mist trail is gorgeous any time of the year, I enjoy it most during winter because of lesser crowds.

Photography Tips: Afternoon light is the best time to take pictures. Also, this location has the best sunset view if there are high clouds in the sky.

Essential gear to consider: In addition to your winter hiking clothing gear, consider having trekking poles and ice cleats to help you navigate through the icy parts of the trail.

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