Vernal Falls Trail

Difficulty
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Moderate
Duration
This reflects the estimated time the majority of users will take on this trail. If you are slower, add time to the top-end figure. If you are fast, then you may complete this route faster than this time range.
2-3h
Distance
This reflects the return distance of this route as measured by the GPS file.
6.4 km
Elevation
This reflects the total elevation gained throughout this route as measured by the GPS file. This includes all ascents and descents, and is higher than what is quoted in most route guides, which simply measure the distance between the starting-point and high-point of the route.
390 m
User Ratings
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Directions to Trailhead

The Vernal Falls Trail is an incredible adventure in the Yosemite National Park. Ascend over 600 granite steps through the mist of the cascades that surge into Yosemite Valley. This epic hike along one of the most powerful waterfalls in the park is unlike no other, and we cannot recommend it enough!

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Route Description for Vernal Falls Trail

Climb through the refreshing mist along the Vernal Falls Trail. Hiking this trail is a stimulating and concentration-demanding experience. The vertiginous climb up the bounding cliffs is exhausting, so be prepared for a butt-burner! Hikers should be aware that the steps up to the falls can be extremely slippery, especially in the spring when the cascades surge, so mind your footing and take your time. Additionally, the path is narrow and single-track in sections, so keep an eye out for passers-by. Once you reach the top of the falls, you will notice the inviting waters of the Emerald Pool. Though tempting, it is extremely dangerous and illegal to swim in this water. Note: Yosemite National Park charges an entrance fee, refer to the NPS website for more information.

Is there anyone who doesn’t like waterfall expeditions? We didn’t think so! You can’t go wrong with a waterfall hike, and the Vernal Falls Trail delivers an epic experience. Though not the tallest waterfall in Yosemite National Park, Vernal Falls may be the most powerful. Surging year-round, even those escaping the crowds in the off-season will likely be rewarded with sights of the cascades. If you are seeking an immersive adventure, then visit in the spring and you will be drenched by the mist of the refreshing waters. Don’t forget to bring your camera, you’ll want to snap some photos of the mesmerizing falls.

Setting out from the Mist Trailhead off Happy Isles Loop Road, track south along the John Muir Trail through Yosemite Valley. Wandering along the banks of the Merced River, you will soon reach a footbridge over the river which grants distant views of the cascades above. Here you will find bathrooms, but should take note that they are closed in the winter months. Continue hiking this path and you will eventually reach the Mist Trail, which is where the fun begins. Throw on a rain poncho and protect your electronics, because you are likely going to get wet! As you begin to wander east along the Mist Trail the path will climb more intensely. Soon, you will begin to ascend the famous granite staircase revealing an epic view of the cascades.

Take plenty of photos along the way, but be mindful of passers-by on the slippery steps. As you near the top of the falls the staircase becomes single-track and uneven, but don’t worry, it is bounded by a fence. Carefully ascend the terrain to the top of Vernal Falls, where you will be rewarded with vertigo-inducing views of the surging cascades, Yosemite Valley, and the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Revel in the scenery and continue trekking up to Emerald Pool, admiring the inviting waters from a distance as swimming has proven extremely dangerous. When you are through appreciating the panoramas, carefully retrace your footing down the path back to the trailhead.

Trail Highlights

Vernal Falls

Vernal Falls is a 317 ft waterfall that surges in Yosemite National Park. Located on the Merced River, the waters of Vernal Falls are downstream of Nevada Falls. Unlike Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls tends to flow year-round, providing awe-inspiring views for those who head out to Yosemite in the off-season. Additionally, Vernal Falls cannot be seen from Yosemite Valley, instead, adventurers will have to hike into the wilderness or head over to Glacier Point overlook.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is the Vernal Falls Hike difficult?

The Vernal Falls Trail is a moderate-difficult hike. There are several steps and steep sections of terrain, but it is manageable by most.

How many steps are there to climb along the Vernal Falls Trail?

There are 600 steps up to the top of Vernal Falls.

Does Vernal Falls flow year-round?

Yes, Vernal Falls cascade year-round, though in the late summer the flow lessens.

Insider Hints for Vernal Falls Trail

  • Bring a poncho and throw your electronics in a plastic bag when the cascades are surging
  • When trekking in the winter months a pair of microspikes is necessary
  • Charge your camera, the scenery is unparalleled
  • Don’t swim in Emerald Pool, though inviting it is illegal and extremely dangerous

Getting to the Vernal Falls Trail Trailhead

The Vernal Falls Hike departs from the Mist Trailhead off Happy Isles Loop Road.

Route Information

  • Backcountry Campground

    No

  • When to do

    May-November

  • Pets allowed

    No

  • Family friendly

    Older Children only

  • Route Signage

    Good

  • Crowd Levels

    Extreme

  • Route Type

    Out and back

Vernal Falls Trail Elevation Graph

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