Among Yosemite National Park’s iconic sights that can be hiked without an overnight is Vernal Fall. The 2.4-mile round trip Mist Trail leads to the 317-foot Yosemite Valley waterfall.
Spring and early summer marks the best time to visit Vernal Fall as more water tumbles down it. Be forewarned that with the higher amount of water also comes larger crowds. Also, you almost certainly will get wet in spring and early summer once at the fall’s base, so rain gear is a must.
To reach the trailhead, take the Yosemite Valley shuttle to Stop No. 16. Pass the restrooms and cross the bridge over the Merced River, pick up the trail on the river’s north/east side.
Young children may have difficulty with this the trail as the elevation climbs 1000 feet over 1.2 miles. This is a trail best reserved for families with teenagers or those who can lug children up the mountainside in a child carrier.
The trail goes roughly south then bends east at Sierra Point. Grizzly Peak, which tops out at 6,222 feet, is to the left.
In about 0.6 miles, the trail again crosses the Merced, offering the first of many fantastic views of Vernal Fall. Restrooms also are located there.
To that point, the trail’s elevation gain is fairly easy for kids to handle. The rest of the way up, however, consists of stairs cut into a cliffside and is steep.
Be aware that the stone stairs near the waterfall can be slippery. Another set of restrooms are located here as well.
Vernal Fall sits at an 5044 feet elevation. The water falls all year long, though by the end of summer, once the snowmelt is gone, the volume is low with the river often splitting into multiple threads instead of being a curtain of water. Liberty Cap at 7016 feet and to its left, Mt. Broderick at 6706 feet, tower over the falls.
Despite the temptation, don’t take a dip into the water at the fall’s base. The current is very strong. In fact, Mist Trail is the deadliest of Yosemite’s trails – mainly because people jump into the water for a swim or to cool off.
The trail continues on to the top of Nevada Fall, but at 6.4-miles round trip, this is an extremely long hike for most families, especially given that you’ll have to gain another 900 feet in elevation.
Turning around at Vernal Fall, hike back down into Yosemite Valley. You’ll be treated to great views as the Merced flows down the mountainside.