Hiking through the mist of Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail Photo: DNC P&R at Yosemite
One of the most popular trails in the park, the Mist Trail passes two of Yosemite’s famous waterfalls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. In the spring this trail earns its name when it comes close enough to the waterfall to douse hikers with spray. Bring a rain-coat and prepare to get wet! Also, keep your eyes open for rainbows (spraybows) when the sun hits the mist at just the right angle. If the water seems chilly, the open granite slope at the top of Vernal Fall is a great place to soak in the sun and dry out a little.
The round-trip hike to the top of Nevada Fall is 7 miles with roughly 2000 feet of elevation gain, but the great thing about this hike is that there are so many ‘destination’ views on the way that there is an out-and-back hike along this trail for almost anyone. By the time you’ve reached the first views of Vernal Fall from the footbridge (~0.8 miles from the trail head), you’ll have already passed views of Illillouette Fall and Yosemite Falls. Continuing on, the top of Vernal Fall is 1.5 miles in, with spectacular misty views of the waterfall in between. Plus, of course, those with permits, might continue on to the summit of Half Dome.
A note of caution: all too often this trail is the scene of accidents involving wet rocks and slopes leading down to the river. In high-water years, the water polishes the granite banks of the river, making them unexpectedly slippery, and the power of the water catches many by surprise. Be safe. Stay on the trail, and out of the water.
Lower Yosemite Fall and Upper Yosemite Fall
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from the Lower Falls Trail Photo: Chris Falkenstein|DNC P&R at Yosemite
Lower Yosemite Fall is a 1.1 mile loop across from Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. It follows a paved trail, perfect for strollers, to a bridge at the base of lower Yosemite Fall. In spring, when the water fall is at its largest, mist from the Lower Fall blows out over the bridge, leaving hikers feeling like they are on the bow of the Maid of the Mist. (Another favorite for those looking for a quick, and relatively easy walk is Bridalveil Fall. A short, paved half-mile walk from the parking area brings you to the base of this waterfall. Again, expect spray in the spring.)
Upper Yosemite Fall Trail is not a continuation of the Lower Fall loop. Instead, this (7.2 mile round-trip) trail starts behind the Camp 4 Campground, and climbs steadily to Columbia Point which provides a birds-eye view of Yosemite Valley. Then, the trail contours around to reveal incredible views of the upper fall, and middle cascade. Continue up to the rim, and keep your eyes open for a steep, exposed stair that leads down to a viewing area. If you’re still feeling adventurous, continue a short distance on to Yosemite Point for even better views of Half Dome and the valley below.
Mirror Lake/Meadow – Snow Creek Trail
Mount Watkins reflected in Mirror Lake Photo Kenny Karst|DNC P&R at Yosemite
A relatively flat one-mile hike from bus stop #17, Mirror Lake packs a lot of scenery into a short walk. Not only is it located below the iconic Half Dome, but during the spring months, the meadow fills with water to form a shallow lake reflecting the near-by cliffs, including Mount Watkins. When the dogwoods bloom in late April and May, their showy white blossoms decorate the banks of the river as well.
Those interested in a longer adventure might be interested in continuing up the Snow Creek Trail, which is one of the quietest trails leading up out of Yosemite Valley. The trail is steep – like all trails that climb up out of Yosemite Valley – and is bathed in sunshine. That makes it warm going during the summer months, and a perfect early-season hike when the temperatures are still cooler. Enjoy the hike as an out-and-back after finding a scenic sunny spot for lunch. The super-fit might consider extending their trip to Indian Rock (5.8 miles past Mirror Lake), or North Dome (9.3 miles past Mirror Lake). A 14+ mile loop descending the Upper Yosemite Valley Fall trail to the Valley floor is also an option.
Cascades on the Chilnualna Falls Trail Photo: Theresa Ho
Yosemite Valley doesn’t hold the monopoly on great spring hiking. The Chilnualna Falls trail in Wawona is 8.2 miles round-trip, and relatively steep, but rewards hikers early on with views of roaring cascades, and a variety of wildflowers along the trail.
With a starting elevation of about 4000 feet, this trail warms up early in the year, and can provide great hiking even when there is still snow at higher elevations. It begins by following Chilnualna Creek for about a half mile, and then cuts back and forth through the forest allowing scenic glimpses of the Wawona area.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Hiking in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias Photo: DNC P&R at Yosemite
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a must-visit destination in any season. A visit to the most massive trees on Earth, trees that were already ancient when the Roman Empire fell just shouldn’t be missed.
There is an interpretive sign that says that Giant Sequoias need a lot of water. You may not be able to see that evidence if you visit in summer or autumn, but a spring hike through the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias quickly illustrates that point. Sequoias seem to thrive in low places where water collects or runs.
The Mariposa Grove Road opened early this year, giving those of us who can visit in the spring a larger window to explore in relative quiet. From the Mariposa Grove Parking Lot, you can visit the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel tree in the Lower Grove in just over a mile (2.2 miles round trip) of walking, passing many other notable trees along the way. However, if you have the energy, be sure to visit the Upper Grove as well. The collection of sequoias close to the nature center, although un-named, is simply incomparable. The walk to the upper grove is about 5-6 miles round trip.
Bonus: Hite Cove
Poppies and Goldfields on the trail to Hite Cove Photo: Theresa Ho
Hite Cove isn’t really in Yosemite National Park, but the wildflower display there is so spectacular in the spring time, that we’re going to include it here anyway. The trailhead is located off of Hwy 140 near Savage’s Trading post, and the hike is about 8.4 miles round trip to Hite Cove, which was once a mining town and where you can still see old mining equipment and foundations. However, the fields of wildflowers that the area is famous for, begin within the first few hundred feet.