Vernal Fall-Catching a Winter Water Fall

Submitted by: Deb Holcomb, Associate Director, Annual Giving & Development Operations

Though the word vernal is usually associated with spring, you will find the beauty of Vernal Fall no less diminished by the starkly beautiful ice formations which form along the sides of the fall.  

Winter offers spectacular views that are normally hidden by foliage. The Mist Trail is among the most popular trails in the Valley, and in the spring and summer can be a drenching experience. In the winter you can almost have the trail to yourself. Mist freezes in the air and frosts the sides of the Vernal Fall creating a winter wonderland even when there is no snow on the ground. The sounds of the waterfall change as you may hear sheets of ice cracking and breaking as they fall. Try visiting Vernal Fall in all four seasons to experience how the landscape changes.

Because there are fewer crowds, you may come across wildlife which is sometimes shy during the busier months. For example, on a recent trip we discovered a bear and her cub eating acorns on the lower side of the trail. While bears are less active during the winter months it is still possible to sometimes catch them foraging.

Get Started

Starting from Shuttle Stop 16 -- the Happy Isle Nature Center, cross the bridge and follow the Mist Trail 1.2 miles. The Merced River will be to your right. After 1.2 miles you’ll come to a bridge which crosses the river once again. Once it snows, the trail may be closed here because the trail gets steeper and the rocks get slick. If the trail is open and it’s safe to continue, follow the trail up to the steps. You’ll have a great view of the base of the falls, which is far different from what you’ll see other times of the year. No need to hike all the way to the top.

Tips for the trail

Use care if you decide to continue on the trail steps as the trail becomes steep and could be very slippery. To help with hiking down the steps you may want to use a hiking pole to help with your balance. It the trail seems icy, snowy or slippery, save the rest of the trail for another time of year – you’ll enjoy the views as much then, too.