Falling for the falls: Mist trail Yosemite

DeeDee, a fellow hiker,ahead of me on the trail. Vernal falls is in the shadow to the left.

The Mist trail is a great pick for a day hike in the Yosemite valley area. While the trailhead is paved and was somewhat crowded, even at relatively early hours (in part because it links up to the immensely popular Half dome trailhead) it is well worth the effort to keep heading on up the trail and allow the crowds to thin out. The views only get better as you climb.

There are several sections of switchbacks and stairs to climb along the way. The trail both follows and crosses the Merced river as it climbs from the valley floor. I can only imagine how much effort went into creating the trail and how much continues to go in to it in maintenance.

We began early to avoid large number of hikers on the trail but even shortly after the park gates were officially open, it was difficult to find parking and we walked from the campground to the trail head.

As we followed the trail, the crowds began to thin some at the first footbridge and then a turn in the trail which affords a view of Illilouette gorge and sometimes the falls of the same name. The view of the falls was not ideal, but it is still a pretty view. If you plan on taking pictures of this area, you might want to come early or late as the midday sun can washout the light colored stone cliffs and rocky faced of the gorge.

The trail continues upward with the ground beginning to fall away steeply on the right. The path is wide and still paved with asphalt at this point. But that eventually gives way to dirt and rock and stone steps.

You cross the Merced River on another footbridge which provides a view of Vernal falls. It’s not a great angle and at the time of our visit, somewhat obscured by trees. To really see a view of the falls worthy to hold a place in memory you must continue along and upward on steps. The mist from the falls covers the trail here making it a little slippery if you don’t pay attention. That’s where the trail gets its name from.

If you are lucky and arrive at the falls on a clear day and the sun is just right, you might get a rainbow like we did.

Myself and guide Richard heading up the trail at Vernal falls, one of several waterfall views visible along the Mist trail.

The steps follow the right side of the watercourse and gorge wall. This is a spot for lots of good pictures. The mist becomes so thick at times it is almost like a fog. The steps lead up and you get a continued view of the falls right up to the cliff it falls over. We spent a good bit of time here just enjoying the beauty of the falls and getting some good pictures to capture the almost magical rainbow.

The trail continues to climb up the cliff face and allows a view from the top of the falls down into the cut gorge below. The water above the fall can be fast and strong, and, therefore, dangerous. It’s the section above the falls where people are hurt or even die so — needless to say — exercise caution near the water.

Just upstream from the falls is a section called the white apron and here the water is often white as it slides quickly over the solid rock bed of the river. White apron is a good description. And again it’s a good place to snap a picture or two while you watch your step.

The steps below the falls looked like something out of Middle Earth, and, in terms of being photogenic, this spot certainly is. So take your time and enjoy.

Another shot of DeeDee taking on the myriad of steps at Vernal falls.

If you continue on to Nevada Falls (which I heartily recommend), the views only get better. The view into the valley and of those falls are spectacular. Keep in mind that you will be doing more climbing and following switchbacks among large boulders and walking over uneven ground covered in tree roots stones. The more effort you put in the greater the reward on this trail.

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