The Mist Trail: Deadly Beauty

Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park

The Mist Trail at Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful hikes I’ve done. It is a steep climb up the Merced River gorge toward Vernal Fall, and even higher beyond that to visit Nevada Fall, and upper Yosemite Valley beyond that. It was a welcome hike on a warm, late Spring day, as the mist really does come off Vernal Fall so much so that it creates a rainbow in the afternoon sun. It will drench you if the water flow is particularly heavy, as it can be in the Spring. After climbing straight uphill for a mile and a half in the sun, it feels incredible.

The hike to Vernal Fall (3 mi (4.8 km) round-trip) starts from the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop. From the Vernal Fall footbridge onwards the trail offers excellent views of the 317-foot (97 m) high Vernal Fall. There is a nice park service outhouse at the bridge. Past that, the trail becomes steep, wet, and slippery as you hike up granite steps to the top of the waterfall.

Once you arrive at the top, you can walk over to the rushing Merced River and look down as it goes over the edge and creates Vernal Fall. There is a rudimentary fence barricading hikers from wading in the Merced River, as it is rushing by rather powerfully, and the granite bed on which it flows is extremely slick from eons of erosion. You are warned by signage on every occasion NOT to wade in the river, as it could result in death.

Inexplicably, more than a dozen people have died in the last decade by wading in the river above Vernal Fall. Doesn’t the specter of going over a 317-foot waterfall to most assuredly die terrify these people? How about traumatizing some poor kid on vacation, who helplessly watches as you go over the edge? Apparently, that does not enter the mind of someone who chooses to ignore the scary death signs and go wading, as these people did in 2011. These areas above the fall on the river are known by deceptively benign names, like Silver Apron and Emerald Pool. Don’t be fooled. Stay out of the water and don’t ruin someone else’s hike, let alone your own.

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