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Vernal and Nevada Falls – Autumn Hiking in Yosemite

In October, my husband and I took a six-day trip to Yosemite. I’ll cover the hikes we did in this series of blogs.

At 9 am my husband and I began our hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite Valley. I still felt tired from the hikes to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, so I wasn’t promising I’d make it to Nevada Fall, but I said I’d give it a shot.

The Mist Trail

Our plan was to take the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall, then cut over to the John Muir Trail via Clark Point, and go from there to Nevada Fall. The trailhead is located at the Happy Isles Parking lot. There was plenty of parking, but that’s because we were there in October. Spring and summer is a different story.

Our hike began moderately, with a gradual climb to the Merced River Bridge. It was cold but I quickly shed layers.

Still tired from the day before . . standing on the Merced River Bridge.

The hike to Vernal Fall is only 1.2 miles, but the last .3 is an absolute killer. 600 stone steps, most of them very deep steps!

This .3 to Vernal Fall was one of the hardest things I’ve ever hiked! 600 steps up!

I rested a lot, but so did a lot of other people. At least I didn’t have to deal with the mist–notorious in summer for drenching hikers. The weather was cool and calm, and there were great views of Vernal Fall along the way.

Because we had a lot of rain and snow this last winter, Vernal Fall’s 2023 Autumn flow is still impressive.

Finally, I reached the top of Vernal Fall; the stairs seemed endless!

Me reaching the top of Vernal Fall.

Vernal Fall

Carefully I walked to the iron railing to take some photos looking down on Vernal Fall. The fall seemed smaller from the top, which it was, being an Autumn flow.

Looking down from the top of Vernal Fall.

Look at my shadow on the above photo. See the railing? While I was taking photos, my husband observed an idiot climb over the railing behind me to take a “better” photo. He heard the man say, “a little sketch,” before getting back on the other side. I’M SO GLAD I DIDN’T SEE THAT! One of the things I hate about going to National Parks is that you always see idiots doing stupid, life-threatening things.

Where the river falls – Vernal Fall.

Then hours later, we looked down on Vernal Fall and saw another guy standing on the wrong side of the railing. He was leaning against it, casually looking at his map, while his buddy stood next to him on the other side of the rail. Now, there was no reason for that jerk to be standing on the wrong side, perusing his map, except to show off.  Every year, people die in National Parks doing stupid things. I don’t want to witness one of those deaths, thank you very much!

OK. Just had vent a little. Back to the hike.

I love this view of the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall. We came up this!

We walked upriver a bit to a deceptively calm area called Emerald Pool. We sat on some logs on the bank to eat our picnic lunch and watched fat squirrels eat acorns, the breeze rifling through the trees, and the river flowing by. Beautiful.

Emerald Pool above Vernal Fall. Don’t even think about swimming here!

Nevada Fall

I was beat, but still determined to try for Nevada Fall. We hiked away from the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail via Clark Point, also known as the “Winter Trail.” The way was longer, but supposedly easier to get to the top of Nevada Fall.

The hike seemed endless, but I did it! 1.8 miles from the top of Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall.  Along the way, there were good views looking down on Vernal Fall.

Looking down on Vernal Fall from the John Muir Trail.
Hiking to Nevada Fall from Vernal Fall along the “Winter Route.”
Approaching Nevada Fall from the trail with me whining, “when will we get there??”

It was totally worth the struggle to get to the top of Nevada Fall. There is a small bridge crossing over the river where you get great views of the valley. To look down on the fall however, you walk beyond the bridge over smooth boulders, then down some steps to a protective railing.

Being on top of the fall is amazing. Still, I only looked down for less than a minute before retreating back up the stairs and boulders to safety. I didn’t even get a picture! Luckily, my husband did.

Looking down at Nevada Fall, photo by Bill Gough

Eager to get upstream to find a place to rest, I found a great spot with a calm area off to the side. While my husband napped, I soaked my feet in the ice-cold water and looked around. There were a couple of guys nearby also napping, so I was careful not to disturb them. However, when they woke up, one of them began playing music on his phone. I asked him if he could turn it down so I could hear the waterfall. He did, but the other guy looked at me and said, “Wow.” I ignored him. What a jerk – we are there to take in nature and listen to the falls, not be forced to listen to someone else’s choice of music! Use earbuds people!

Above Nevada Fall
My ice-cold foot bath above Nevada Fall.
Bill’s napping place.

The Hike Down

The thing about hiking uphill is, you can get really tired, but you still have to come down. We returned via the John Muir Trail all the way to where it joins the Mist Trail below the 600 steps. The hike down seemed endless. My legs were like noodles, so every once in a while I would stop to “take a little inventory.” I’d pay attention to how my legs felt and make sure they were ready for the next step. I had good reason to be cautious, because last June I fell while hiking downhill and got a concussion. But this hike went great–9.5 miles total–and I made it safely back to the trailhead at Happy Isles parking lot.

A great view of Liberty Cap next to Nevada Fall.
A little Autumn color on the hike down from Nevada Fall.

Quest For A Hamburger

After the hike we began my quest for a hamburger (Bill would have been happy with anything). A young man working at the Ahwahnee (no hamburgers) directed us to the Mountain Room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge. He said it was just a “ten minute walk” from there. Well, after ten minutes of walking with no restaurant in site, I googled it and saw that it was actually a 25 minute walk! THAT was a big “NO.” So we trudged back to the car and drove there.

The host at the Mountain Room said we’d have to wait an hour, but seeing my fallen face and hearing me complain about being “so tired,” he took pity on my and found us a little table with a great picture window.

We each ordered a draft beer, roasted brussel sprouts, and Wagyu hamburgers with smoked cheddar cheese and arugula on brioche buns. They were to.die.for. Best hamburgers I’ve ever had. I wish I’d gotten a photo, but I did get the brussel sprouts. I hope some of you can check out the Mountain Room and try their hamburgers one day!

Best Brussel Sprouts at the Mountain Room after the hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

The Drive Back

After dinner, we walked back to our car and looked up at the stars. We could see the Milky Way! Then we drove the long road back to the Wawona. It seemed endless because Bill was driving slowly on the windy road and I was nervous about hitting an animal. We passed several “Speeding Kills Bears” signs. They place one at every spot where a bear was killed by a speeding motorist–for the current year. Please slow down, people!

So the theme of the day was endless: endless hike up to Vernal Fall, endless hike up to Nevada Fall, endless hike back down to the Happy Isles parking lot, endless quest for a hamburger, and finally the endless drive back to the Wawona. But what an awesome day! So totally worth it.







  1. Tish Tish

    We so enjoyed another great story about your adventures. Love the photos. Larry wants to know if that Restaurant has veggie burgers. Glad you had a good meal after that arduous hike. Food never taste better than when you’re exhausted. Cheers Tish.

    • KarenGough KarenGough

      Thanks Tish! And yes, I believe it did have veggie burgers!😁

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