Visiting Beautiful Yosemite – Vernal and Nevada Falls

Yosemite is one of our favorite places to visit. Saving Yosemite as a place all can enjoy dates back to 1864 when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. On October 1st, 1890, Yosemite was declared a national park.  It’s because of people like John Muir, Teddy Roosevelt, and the many who lovingly tended to the land long before that we get to enjoy this place in all its splendor.

Ironically, even though I was born and raised in California, my first time visiting Yosemite was after we’d moved to Arizona.  It’s a late romance for me.  I love everything, everything about the place except for the traffic.  I look down the valley and wonder how the Native Americans lived, what the first explorers saw, and how the early visitors camped. Mark camped there for the first time as a 6th grader with a hiking group. They hiked to Half Dome Base Camp for the night, and then made their way to the top of Half Dome the next day.  He tells the story of laying down at the top with their heads over the edge watching the rock climbers come up the face.

Our most recent trip was an empty nest adventure in May 2016.  California was coming off a really wet winter, and we timed our trip just right.  The waterfalls were amazing!  We were also treated to several new ones flowing over the edge.  I can’t imagine the amount of water pooling way up there.

Upper Pines Campground

We stayed at the Upper Pines Campground which we like because it has sites large enough for our 40-footer. Even though it’s toward the back of the valley, we find it to be a great jumping off point.  It’s within walking distance to Curry Village and the Vernal Falls trail head.  Bike trails are plentiful; we like to bike our way around the valley.  The valley floor is so congested and parking spaces are a premium; it’s just easier for us to get around either by walking or riding.  The added plus is we then work off any ice cream we eat! If you bike around the main valley floor, by all means, you get ice cream.  Or an extra beer, or a Cosmopolitan on the patio of the Ahwhanee Lodge.

This trip was a typical trip for us: action packed from start to finish.  Upper Pines is dry camping with strict generator hours.  We’d set the alarm for 7 a.m. and run the generator for two hours until 9 a.m. before heading out for our day.

Vernal Falls Trail

Our first day we set out to the Vernal Falls Trail.  We heard the roar of the water sooner and much louder than on previous trips. Oooh, we were going to get wet on the mist trail after we crossed the bridge!  Good thing we had our bright yellow ponchos I’d saved from our Disney World trip in 1999!  Guess I should have thrown in the blue ones from our Maid of the Mist ride at Niagara Falls instead.  They are a little less noticeable from far away.  Oh well.

Most people seem to stop their hike at the bridge.  Don’t get me wrong; it’s truly a beautiful spot.  Look up and you’ll see tons of water cascading over giant boulders as it travels under the bridge and continues on, crashing down and reshaping the landscape on its way.  But there is so much more beauty to discover as you continue on the trail.

As we continued, we hiked with two girls in their 20’s; they had passed us when we stopped and then we’d pass them when they rested.  The hike from the bridge to the top of Vernal Falls can be a wet one.  Climbing the stairs along the edge is half the fun, especially with a little mist to cool you off.   Since this was mid-May during peak water, we got more than a little mist.  We pulled out the ponchos and made our way up the side.  It’s a giant stair-stepper and I should have counted how many steps it was.  It’s not a super hard hike though, and I think almost anyone could do it.  Although the mist was cold, it wasn’t so cold that our teeth were chattering. And, thanks to the ponchos, we weren’t soaked to the skin.

We stopped at the top of Vernal Falls with 100 of our new friends to take in the view.  Last time we were up there it was July and the water flow was much lower.  The water formed these emerald green pools before flowing over the edge.  This time, however, it was one giant pool.  Not even a pool really, just a larger body of water that slowed before going over as a giant waterfall.  Nobody dared swim in the water on this day.

Nevada Falls

We continued on to the top of Nevada Falls.  This part was all new to me.  While we walked, Mark told me all about his trip in 6th grade.  They had a thunderstorm the night they stayed at Half Dome Base Camp.  He swears the lightning was right next to his tent.  

He also told me about “the snake under the rock” incident.  Mark hates snakes. Hates, hates, hates them. On his 6th grade trip, they stopped at the top of Nevada Falls for lunch and he sat on this giant flat rock.  As he’s telling me the story, I’m thinking, “Hmm, we’re stopping for lunch at the top of Nevada Falls…”

He went on to describe how they all finished their lunch. he’d packed up his backpack, and just as he stood up, he heard it.  There was a snake under the rock he just sat on for 20 minutes!  I’m thinking, “We have to find that rock!” I want to find that rock and have him sit on it now. (Of course, only after he inspects it for snakes. Surely that guy is not still curled up under the rock waiting for him.)

This part of the hike was steeper with a lot of switchbacks.  I was getting a little discouraged by thinking I was holding him up, but he was a champ and lied through his teeth that this was the pace he would be walking even without me.  I could hear the water but still couldn’t see it. How much farther could it be?  We turned the corner on what I thought was yet another set of switchbacks and viola!  There it was: we’d reach the top of the falls.  Yeah! Good thing, too, because I was hungry.

We walked around and found a place to sit for lunch.  We waved to the girls we’d hiked with and opened our packs for the feast of PB&J, oranges, Oreos, and water.  Then came the familiar sound of a beer bottle being opened.  Mark sat up straight and looked around for the sound.  It was the two girls, our new hiking friends.  Mark told them it was genius because a super cold beer in this setting was PERFECT.  They raised their beers while we raised our water, which paled in comparison.  

We were up there a while taking it all in.  It’s mostly rock at the top, and the water has carved a rather deep gully before it falls over the edge.  There are many places to walk along with an area that juts out off to one side of the falls.  I could have stood there all day watching the water go over.  It was mesmerizing.

Then he saw it: the snake rock.  His rock. “Hey, go sit on it and I’ll take your picture,” I said. It took some coaxing and inspecting, but he sat down for a picture.  I had to be fast because I knew he wouldn’t sit there long.

And after that…Time to go back down. We went around on the dual-use hike/horse trail that took us back to the bridge portion of the Vernal Falls Hike. Grand total was 6.7 miles.  Not a bad day.  The cold beer back at camp tasted great.

Meet the Family
I’m Maureen Milne, F44681. I’m a mom of two (now grown-up!) boys, ages 26 and 24. My husband, Mark, and I have been married 30 years. We are an adventurous family; our friends call us “X-Games.”  We are avid hikers, cyclists, and skiers (both snow and water). Mark does triathlons and we run in 4-5 races a year.  We’ve been RVing together since we were teenagers in 1984.  I’m a three-year thyroid cancer survivor, which has given me a new perspective on life.  I share our RVing adventures on my blog, M&M Hit The Road. I also post stories and pictures on Facebook and Instagram.

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