Standing at 317 ft (96 m) tall and is among the most powerful waterfalls in Yosemite. But, unlike Yosemite Falls or Bridalveil Fall, Vernal cannot be viewed from the valley floor by car – to see this beautiful Yosemite landmark, you’ll have to go adventuring on one of Yosemite’s trails. Covered in waterfall mist and dotted with natural rock stairs, the views of Vernal Fall are worth the journey.
For an up-close view of the waterfall, you have a few hiking options. The most straightforward route is along a well-marked path that begins near the Happy Isles Nature Center – the Mist Trail. Named because of the waterfalls mists that greet hikers, the Mist Trail is a hike studded with beautiful views of both the Vernal and Nevada Falls.
To access the trail, you can take a free shuttle bus to Happy Isles Nature Center (shuttle stop 16) or walk there from Curry Village. From there, follow the trailhead to the Vernal Fall footbridge (about 1 mile) for views of the waters of the fall cascading to the bottom or continue on to the top of the waterfall to gaze right down the fall itself.
Just a short walk up the trail from the top of Vernal Fall is the Emerald Pool, a small lake with emerald-green waters – and if you follow the trail even further, you’ll be able to hike to the top of Nevada Fall, a second hidden wonder of Yosemite.
The Mist Trail is a great option if you want to wander a picturesque trail through the mist of Vernal Fall.
In the winter, the lower part of the trail to Vernal Fall generally remains open and you can walk a mile to the Vernal Fall Footbridge and enjoy a beautiful view from the base of the falls. However, the steep stairs next to the waterfall become icy and hazardous, so that section of the trail closes, and hikers can enjoy views of Vernal Fall from the John Muir Trail instead.
Another option for experiencing Vernal Fall is on the Panorama Trail hike. Meander downhill from Glacier Point until you connect with the Mist Trail and walk alongside both Nevada and Vernal Falls on your way down to the valley.
*Warning to hikers* The water of Vernal Fall is very fast and cold. Never enter the water either at the top of the waterfall or anywhere along the trail – and watch out for the edge of the river and slippery steps and rocks along the way.
The best time of year for seeing Vernal Fall at peak flow is late April to early May, but this waterfall runs year-round.
There are several different lengths of trails visitors can take to see views of Vernal Fall, and how long each will take depends on how fast you hike. The 1.5 mile hike to the Vernal Fall Footbridge usually takes one to one and a half hours. For the 2.4 mile hike to the top of the Vernal Fall count on roughly 3 hours. The full hike along the Mist Trail to the top of the Nevada Falls often takes 5-6 hours.
The hike along the Mist Trail to the Vernal Fall Footbridge is short, so it’s accessible to many levels of hikers. The trail is steep, but you can take your time, and rest and enjoy the views along the way. The hikes to the top of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are both strenuous, as the hikes involve climbing rock stairs and large increases in elevation.
Vernal Fall is located along Yosemite National Park’s Merced River, close to where the Merced River joins with Tenaya Creek and downstream from Nevada Falls.
No. Swimming and wading in Vernal Fall or the rivers and pools along the way is not only prohibited due to the cold temperatures of Vernal Fall’s water and the fast current of the river, it is also the site of many fatalities.