Vernal Falls is one of the highlights at Yosemite Valley and a must-see at the Yosemite National Park. However, unlike Bridalveil or the Yosemite Falls, it is not visible from the valley floor. If you want to marvel at its beauty, you will have to hike the trail leading to Vernal Falls.
So, how long is the Vernal Falls hike? Getting to its top will take you three hours, plus another three hours to go down. That’s over 4 km round-trip through the Mist Trail. Along the way, you’ll pass the Vernal footbridge, which might take one and half hours to trail. Getting to the footbridge is also moderately difficult.
You can expect a challenging hike from the footbridge to get to the top of the Vernal Falls. Make sure to prepare and follow the safety tips and etiquettes. And, if you’ve never tried hiking before, this is the perfect chance to do so. The killer views and the feeling that you’ve conquered a 1000-ft elevation will be worth it.
How Long Will it Take to Hike the Trails?
There are two trails to hike to reach the top of Vernal Falls: the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail. Both offer close-up views of the largest waterfalls in the valley- Vernal and Nevada. These trails also overlook the Merced River. Moreover, both trails start with Happy Isles, where you will get off if you take the shuttle.
From Happy Isles, you’ll take the first paved mile to Vernal Footbridge. It is the busiest trail and almost entirely uphill, providing you the best views as you walk along. Hiking in springtime also gives you a glimpse of the Illilouette Fall since the water is at its peak.
Vernal Footbridge is 1.3 km away from the start of the trail. From there, you can already see Vernal Falls. You’ll need to take either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail to proceed to the top. You’ll find the junction diverging to these two 300 meters away from the footbridge as you hike to Vernal Falls.
If you want to get straight to the top of the Vernal Falls, you can take the Mist Trail. To proceed, follow the trail 800 meters up through a steep granite stairway with over 600 steps. If you choose to take this trail during spring and early summer, you can expect the steps to be slippery. It is due to the waterfall sprays, hence the name Mist Trail.
Along this trail, you can view the Vernal Falls, and you may even spot rainbows. Once you reach the top of the 317-foot waterfall, better prepare for its magnificent sight. If you take this trail further, you’ll see the Emerald Pools and the Silver Apron. These look inviting after a hot day of hiking, but swimming here is dangerous and prohibited.
When you finally decide it’s time to go back, you can choose between two routes. One is through the same trail you took to the top of the fall. The other is through John Muir Trail by proceeding to the next junction.
John Muir Trail
You can also take the John Muir Trail to get to the top of Vernal Falls. However, this route is longer than the Mist Trail as it is around 6 km long. It might be a good idea to go back through this trail, though. You’ll be able to see the Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls.
From the top of the Vernal Falls, proceed to the next junction, about 300 meters away. Hiking both trails to get to and from Vernal Falls may take more time than going through Mist Trail only. So, make sure to plan your trip accordingly.
Vernal Falls Hike 2021 Updates
Hikers cannot take Mist Trail between 9 AM to 4 PM when returning from the top. This new rule started in late spring. While this is in effect, hikers should proceed uphill to Clark Point. Then, they can take the John Muir Trail to descend. Note that the hike to Clark Point is steep, and there is no shade.
Hike to Vernal Falls on Different Seasons
Hiking to Vernal Falls is open all year. Even so, some sections might be closed while other trails remain open in winter. For instance, the lower part of the Mist Trail is closed due to rock and ice. So, to get to the top of Vernal Falls, take the John Muir trail up to Clark Point. Then, proceed to the left fork to get to Mist Trail junction. Another left turn will take you down to Vernal Falls.
Safety Tips During your Hike to Vernal Falls
You now know how long the Vernal falls hike is. Next, make sure to follow these tips and etiquette to ensure a safe and enjoyable trip.
Observe railings and warning signs
These are placed along the trails for a reason. Be vigilant when you hike to Vernal falls, especially when the trails are packed or if you’re hiking in a group.
Make sure to bring and drink plenty of water. Eating salty snacks can also help your body remain hydrated throughout your hike.
Prevent heat exhaustion
Keep proper pacing, and don’t overdo yourself. If you need to go a little slower, please do so. If the heat and exhaustion are getting to you, rest in the shade.
Bring a headlamp with extra batteries
If the Mist Trail is crowded and you’re supposed to take it to descend, go through John Muir Trail instead. However, taking this trail will take you longer to reach the trailhead. With a headlamp and extra batteries, you won’t have to worry about the dark closing in as you hike to Vernal Falls.
Do not wander off-trail
The water at Vernal Falls and the river are cold and fast. Avoid getting into the river or walking close to it. Never get into the water through the top of the waterfall, either. Additionally, do not climb on the lush cliffs and fields. Moreover, avoid taking shortcuts through switchbacks. Doing this may cause trail erosion and even injuries.
Watch out for areas with loose rock or decomposed granite and slippery steps
These typically cause knee injuries and sprained ankles during a hike to Vernal Falls. And you won’t be able to walk when that happens. So be cautious at all times. It’s also a good idea to sport some hiking shoes instead of your usual running shoes. The Moab 2 Vent Hiking Shoe from Merrell is an excellent choice for its solid grip.
Do not litter
Bring a small trash bag when you hike. No matter how long the Vernal Falls hike is, take your trash with you when you go down.
Keep your food within arm’s reach
This way, you won’t have to take an unnecessary stop-over if you need to eat or drink. Concerning this, please do not share your food with wildlife animals, no matter how cute they look. Some of them get aggressive when it comes to food.
Don’t bring pets, strollers, and bicycles
These are not allowed on the trails to ensure safety purposes when you hike to Vernal Falls.
Staying hydrated during your hike to Vernal Falls is crucial, so make sure to bring bottled water. Consider your destination to know how much water you have to bring. For example, if you plan on hiking up to Vernal Fall Footbridge only, 1 liter of water is enough. Although, you can get drinkable water once you get there.
If your end goal is to reach the top of Vernal Falls, make sure to bring at least two liters of water. If you have three to four liters with you, you can even hike to Nevada Falls. Besides Vernal Fall Footbridge, you can also get water at shuttle stop 16 near Happy Isles trailhead.
Amenities near Vernal Falls
If you’re thinking about going to the restrooms, getting to the trailhead and parking, worry not. Here’s some useful information for you.
Transportation and Parking
If you’re commuting, take the Valley Visitor Shuttle to stop 16. You can take the shuttle from 7 AM to 10 PM, operating throughout the year. From stop 16, follow the signs across the bridge to reach the trailhead.
If you’re taking a car, the closest parking lot is at Curry Village. However, it is approximately 1.6 km away from the Happy Isles trailhead. Due to this, it might be more accessible to take the visitor shuttle.
For bathroom breaks during your hike to Vernal Falls, check out the restrooms and vault toilets’ locations below:
- Shuttle Stop 16
- Vernal Falls Footbridge, accessible from May to October
- Beyond the top of Vernal Falls through Mist Trail
- At the top of Nevada Falls through Mist Trail
After learning how long the Vernal Falls hike is, you can now add this to your itinerary during your trip. Even before you reach the top, your eyes will feast on the sparkling rivers downhill and wild flowers from the trails. And, from 1,000-ft elevation, you’ll have an overview of the waterfall drizzling over the rocks and the Yosemite Valley.
Whether you’re a regular hiker or a first-timer, reaching the top of Vernal Falls is remarkable. So, follow the safety tips and etiquettes, and plan your hike carefully to Vernal Falls.