Thursday, August 11, 2011

Hiking to Vernal and Nevada Falls Along the Famous Mist Trail and John Muir Trail

Vernal Falls (above) and Nevada Falls (below) are two of Yosemite National Parks best waterfalls. However, they're not easy to get to. The hike to the Vernal Falls bridge isn't long, but it's very steep. We saw several people turn around and decide it wasn't worth it.

We, however, absolutely loved this hike. Yes, it was one of the more difficult hikes I've done, but the views were absolutely spectacular! We actually had to get up very early so we could finish the hike before we had to checkout of our campsite at noon. Our guidebook told us to expect 4-7 hours to complete the hike up and back to both falls. Since we took a lot of pictures and took a few rest breaks during some of the steepest parts, I was impressed that we made it in only 4 hours and 6 minutes. I'm glad to know that my hiking pace is considered fast by some standards!

The hike to the Vernal Falls bridge is less than a mile long, well paved, and easy to follow, but it is also very, very steep. There weren't many people on the trail when we started at around 6:30AM, but on our way back we had several people asking us how much further it was since they weren't in the best shape and were already exhausted. Most Yosemite hikes are pretty long and intense, so I could understand why a lot of people would assume that such a short hike would also be easy. It's not easy at all. That short distance is pretty much straight uphill. Fortunately the views are really lovely. The first thing you see is Illilouette Falls (pictured above) all the way across the valley. This falls is every bit as beautiful and intense as the more famous falls we saw on this hike, but we weren't ever able to get a view of it. The only hike that passes close to Illilouette Falls is the Panorama trail, and that was still closed for the season due to lingering snow.

After our first significant climb we made it to the Vernal Falls bridge. But there was no way we were stopping there! This is where you have to join the Mist Trail if you want to hike up to the top of Vernal Falls.

It's a tough hike up a ton of stairs (we actually said it should be called "Stairmaster Falls), but it's definitely worth it since the view of the falls is so much better as you get closer to it. But it's not called the Mist Trail without good reason. We had to make garbage bag ponchos in order to stay dry while we hiked, and even then we still got pretty wet. Fortunately the sun came out soon after we'd finished and we had the rest of our hike to Nevada Falls to dry us off.

Before we came to the park, I'd looked up these waterfalls and learned that many people have died from being swept over the falls. This scared me a bit that the trail might not be very safe, but the truth is that you'll be perfectly alright as long as you stick to the trail. You can see me climbing the stairs on the right of this pic above, and it's obvious that I'm nowhere near falling down into the water. It may be wet, but you're unlikely to slip since it's well paved and there's a fence put up to protect you whenever you get near the edge. I can't promise as much for those foolish enough to stray off the trail just to get a slightly better picture.

And after our second grueling climb we made it to the top!

The river flowing from Nevada Falls to Vernal Falls is pretty awesome! It almost looks like a series of natural water slides. It reminded us of our hike to Marten, Otter, and Big Creek Falls that we'd done a few weeks earlier. It may look fun, but it's not even close to safe. No swimming signs are marked everywhere along with "warning" and "danger" signs. Unfortunately, that's not enough to deter some people. Several people this year alone have died from being swept over the falls.

I can definitely see the temptation, but rivers are often much stronger than they appear.

This river could almost be classified as a series of smaller rock slide waterfalls.

You can certainly see that potential in the picture above. If I'd just randomly posted that on facebook, you'd think it was a waterfall, not a river.

We still had another difficult climb up several switchbacks, but the views were getting more and more beautiful as we climbed higher.

We detoured down a side path to see Nevada Falls before we'd reached the top.

I loved the constant rainbow created by the crashing water. This year was particularly good for waterfalls thanks to a hard winter creating extra snow melt.

I thought it was pretty here, but the views were even better once we'd cross the bridge at the top and came down the other side.

This is the view from the bridge at the top of the falls.

The rock behind Oscar is what we would have had to continue hiking to get to Half Dome. We weren't able to do that hike since the cables weren't up yet, but we'd like to come back and do it someday.

It was wonderful to finally be able to reach the descending part of our hike. 3 grueling climbs made this park of the hike especially pleasant.

And the beautiful views didn't hurt either!

Finally we got a view of Nevada Falls in all of its glory! There are even several smaller falls coming down off the side of the mountain.

I loved this shot of Nevada Falls with the mountain in the background.

We finally met an additional person on our hike. It'd been pretty deserted up to this point. The lady who was kind enough to take this picture for us had started about the time that we did but chose to make the loop from Vernal Falls bridge going in the opposite direction. I guess she didn't want to get wet on the Mist Trail until after it was sunny. I personally had opted to do the stairs first and the switchbacks later since downhill stairs take a harder toll on my knees than uphill stairs or downhill switchbacks.

It's pretty distant, but you could even see Yosemite Falls from this hike.

We kept taking picture after picture while we descended the mountain. I didn't want to stop looking at the waterfall.

But luckily the scenery that surrounded us was also very pretty. All in all this hike was exhausting but worth every minute and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.

Haven't had enough pretty pictures of Yosemite? Click on next post to see our stunning views from Glacier Point Road.

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