About this Trail
This hike has the most reward for your effort of any hike in Yosemite, and is pretty hard to beat anywhere. It has fabulous views almost from the beginning as you cross the Merced River over a wooden bridge and look directly up at Vernal Falls, which is arguably Yosemite's most dramatic waterfall. Vernal Falls thunders 317 feet to the Merced River and granite boulders below. At the right times of year (late April at least) it is possible to see a complete rainbow (360 degrees, apart from the shadow of ones feet) in the mist just below the falls late in the day.
The trail continues up the side of the waterfall, the final portion of which is 600 steps hewn from the surrounding rock. Most of the year you will get wet from the spray...in the spring you can become completely drenched, depending on the year's rainfall. The trail ends at the top of Vernal Falls. The video below was shot at the top of the falls in July 2009.
You can return by retracing your steps or go back to the valley floor via the John Muir Trail, from which you will have one of the best views in all of Yosemite: Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and the less famous back side of Half Dome.
You can take a longer return by continuing up the Mist trail to the top of Nevada Falls, where you will meet the John Muir Trail, which you can follow back to the wooden bridge and the trailhead.
Directions to Trailhead (or put-in on water trails)
Trail begins at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16). No private cars are allowed in the parking area but the shuttle bus is free.
Notes on Difficulty Rating
Moderate...the final climb up the steps is steep but short. Steps can be slippery.