A little back story about the Vernal Falls hike route
Before being named Vernal Falls in Yosemite, the locals of the area referred to this incredible waterfall as Yan-o-pah. This Native American word roughly translates to little cloud’ but was renamed the latter in 1851. This majestic waterfall has a total drop of 317 feet from the top to the bottom. The more water there is during the year makes the roar of this waterfall deafening at times.
One of the most deceiving dangers to this waterfall is a unique still water zone at the very top. Just before the water cascades over the top edge, it collects in a place called the Emerald Pool. The green color often comes from the moss that grows on the rocks under the water making them very slippery. Since 1924, there have been 13 reported and documented deaths from people who entered the emerald pool.
As calm as the water may look, it goes to show any curious hiker the extreme dangers they can encounter. As you can expect, Vernal Falls trail is certainly one for your bucket list. As much as you might think this is an all-access trail, this is for healthy individuals only. Here is the essential information you should know beforehand.
Vernal Falls Hike
Difficulty- Intended for moderate hikers
How to get there- Take the trailhead from Curry Village
Distance- A total round trip of 3 miles to Vernal Falls and back
Planning a trip to Yosemite to see this iconic waterfall is best in the spring. The amount of water coming from the Merced River is higher from May through June. This starts to weaken at the lowest point around October. The satisfying part of seeing Vernal Falls is that it never stops throughout the year. No matter what time you plan to go, expect to see crowds along this trail all throughout the day.
Now, this isn’t the only highlight along this trail. This is known to Yosemite locals as the Mist trails. They are exciting for tourists since the proximity of the trail usually gets a generous amount of waterfall mist. It’s one of the few waterfalls that you can’t see directly from the valley. This makes it a big-ticket exclusive for many who travel to the park. The mist trail begins at the Happy Isles Nature Center.
From there you can see the trail is marked clearly and this will take you up the John Muir Trail. This trail forks off to a separate trail nicknamed the Mist Trail’ and will take you up to the falls. The John Muir trail takes a different path that gives a different view of Vernal Falls. Now, the mist trail takes you up to the base of the falls which is pretty impressive. Along the trail, you’ll encounter soft sand, gravel, and rocks that you navigate over.
From that point, you can continue up the mist trail and it will take you to the very top. The total length of the trail to the top is 1.5 miles, so the total distance covered is 3 miles in all. With all of the hard work that it takes to get to the top of Vernal Falls, it’s well worth the patience. Not that the trail is hard to climb, you just need to be patient with others. These are others who are on the trail as well.
What to expect with your hike at Yosemite
Some ground rules will help ensure your safety. Most of these rules are common sense but for the sake of preventing a catastrophic accident, these are lifesavers. The last thing you want to remember about your trip to Yosemite is being airlifted from an accident. These are the top rules you should observe while climbing Vernal Falls.
· This trail is moderate but you do need to watch your step or you could be injured easily.
· Don’t be careless near the Emerald pool, it’s way too dangerous to risk getting in.
· This trail does require the correct hiking gear for climbing over rocks and loose gravel.
· As scenic as this trail is, small children need to be supervised so they don’t get hurt.
· Along the trail you’ll get misted from the waterfall, so you need to bring waterproof items.
· Cameras especially need to have a waterproof rating of IP66 to withstand the wet conditions
· Be careful and mindful of others walking on the trail returning from the top of the falls.
Items that will be helpful to take with you
· Hiking shoes
Regular walking shoes aren’t going to cut it when you hike to Vernal Falls trail. It’s an absolute must to have hiking shoes that have excellent grip. This trail is an engineering wonder by all means, but this is still close to water, mist, and slippery surfaces. There is also loose gravel, sand, and loose soil that can be reason enough for losing your footing. The recommended type of hiking shoe or boot should have sizable grip for climbing over rocks.
As long as these shoes are meant for climbing on uneven surfaces or around loose material, they will serve you well. If you are curious what a good hiking shoe includes, here is a good example: Recommended hiking boots for Vernal Falls
· Portable raincoat or poncho
Along the trail, there are areas where you will get more than a fair amount of waterfall mist. At times this mist is nearly as heavy as light rainfall so your clothes will get soaked in a matter of minutes. To avoid this you should bring along a portable raincoat or plastic poncho. Even a good hat will keep your hair from getting too wet along the way. This is recommended because the mist will cover your glasses very quickly.
Not being able to see is also a danger if eyeglasses are misted-over due to water spray. Have a cloth handy to clean them when this happens so you don’t misstep along the slippery path. Raincoats are recommended on colder days where the cold weather can soak you further, making the trek less enjoyable. Cold weather in Yosemite is not uncommon in the spring. Here is a good example: Recommended rain jacket for Vernal Falls
· Walking sticks
While you aren’t hiking up the side of Mount Everest, a good pair of walking sticks can be handy. These are meant for those who are not as agile or unsure of their ability to navigate lose ground. These sticks should be the kind that are telescopic and can be adjusted as you need. Being portable is also a good idea when you want to store them inside a backpack. One of the best sellers of trekking sticks is found here:
Amazon's Top Selling Walking Stick
· Bring a backpack to store important stuff
One of the most important things you need to bring is a backpack that can store items meant for safety. A first-aid kit is a perfect example, one that can patch-up scrapes and little cuts if you happen to slip. Drinking water and little energy snacks are recommended so you revitalize your energy along the way. Even though this trail is moderate, you will be climbing a total of 1000 feet to reach the top.
Most people don’t realize this amount of energy can make you feel pretty tired after climbing 1.5 miles upward. Staying hydrated with water is a must so bring plenty of drinking water as well. If you have filtering siphons, you can take the water from the Merced River. I don’t recommend drinking the water without having it filtered first. For some people, the taste of this water is worth the trip up the falls.
If all your equipment fits in a lightweight backpack, you’re already sufficiently prepared. Another good tip is to bring Ziplock bags with dry clothes if you do end up getting soaked by the waterfall mist. Here is a good example: Recommended backpack for Vernal Falls.
Summing up the hike
Yosemite is one of the greatest adventures you’ll ever experience in your lifetime. But for the average adventurist, you must respect nature for all of its’ twists and turns. I cannot repeat enough that safety is going to be an active part of climbing Vernal Falls at every turn. When you combine a couple of natural dangers including polished granite and water vapor is a lethal combo.
Whenever possible, it’s common sense that you should assist others who are struggling. There are always going to be people who underestimate the climb and expect that accidents can happen. It won’t be uncommon to see a park ranger somewhere on the trail asking questions on reports they’ve recently heard. The worst cases are reports that someone has been swept away by fast-moving water.
Bring the appropriate supplies with you for this hiking trip. Much like all the dangers that you may encounter at Vernal Falls in Yosemite, Each trail in the park presents unique precautions. After reading about your hike to Vernal Falls in this review, you’ll want to be prepared before you plan your trip.