Last summer, on the last weekend in June, I had the opportunity to visit Yosemite National Park with Girls Who Hike Central Coast! You’ll remember that my last visit to Yosemite didn’t exactly go as planned (thanks to drenching rain, a destroyed tent, and a forgotten suitcase), so I jumped at the chance for a sunny weekend in the Valley. This trip was mostly dedicated to hiking, and I was able to check two hikes off of my list that I hadn’t previously done before.
DAY 1: ARRIVAL
I left Los Angeles around 5:30pm on Friday night. Other than a little bit of traffic in the San Fernando Valley, the drive was smooth-sailing, and I got to the campground around 11pm.
We stayed at Wawona Campground on this trip. Wawona Campground is located one mile north of Wawona on the 41. It is about 26 miles south of the Valley, but takes about an hour to get there due to how windy the road is. Be sure to take this drive into consideration if you are trying to get to the Valley by a certain time!
Other than being far away from the Valley, the campground was perfect! Located right on the South Fork of the Merced River, Wawona had plenty of room, gracious tree cover, and was well-maintained. The sites were equipped with bear boxes, dumpsters, and clean bathrooms, and were spaced out pretty well, so you didn’t feel like you were camping on top of your neighbors. I would definitely stay there again!
DAY 2: UPPER YOSEMITE FALLS AND EAGLE PEAK
Day Hike to Upper Yosemite Falls and Eagle Peak
On our first (and only, I suppose) full day in Yosemite, we hiked to Eagle Peak via the Upper Yosemite Falls trail. The trail to Eagle Peak follows the trail to Upper Yosemite Falls for the first three and a half miles before turning west for an additional three miles to the peak. In total, the hike is approximately thirteen miles long.
The trail begins in Camp 4. The first mile or so consists of long, shaded switchbacks. You gain elevation quickly, and although there isn’t much of a view here, you’ll be glad to have gained this elevation in the shade. Keep in mind though that the trailhead is on the valley floor – even though this part of the trail is shaded, it still warms up very easily! I would highly recommend starting this trail early in the day.
Once you’ve climbed about one thousand feet in a little over a mile, you come to Columbia Rock, and the views of the valley finally open up! Other than Eagle Peak itself, this may be the best view of Half Dome over the whole hike. This viewpoint has plenty of room to take a break, stretch out, and enjoy views of the valley while you eat your mid-hike snack. If you are looking for a much shorter hike, Columbia Rock is the perfect place to turn around and head back to the trailhead.
For the next half mile, the trail becomes much more gradual – and at one points, loses elevation! You are treated to gorgeous views of Upper Yosemite Falls. Don’t be afraid to hop on and off of some of the little side trails to the north – these give some of the best, most unobstructed views of the falls and the valley below. This is also the only place that you will be able to see Upper, Middle, and Lower Yosemite Falls all at once!
You’ll eventually come to the base of Upper Yosemite Falls (kind of). From here, the trail leaves the falls and turns into short, steep, and exposed switchbacks. This was definitely the hardest part of the trail for me. My suggestion? Put your head down, bust out the switchbacks, and take breaks when you need to. Remember that once you are done with these switchbacks, you’ll be at the top of Upper Yosemite Falls and can catch your breath in the shade for as long as you want!
When we arrived at Upper Yosemite Falls, we took a nice forty-five minute long break before continuing to push to Eagle Peak. We saved checking out the Yosemite Falls viewpoint until we came back down. Keep in mind that it is about 2 tenths of a mile to the viewpoint, so if you think you’ll be too tired by the time you are heading back from Eagle Peak, visit now! You really can’t miss standing on top of Yosemite Falls – one of the world’s tallest waterfalls!
From here, the trail becomes much more gradual than the switchbacks preempting it. You’ve already gained most of your elevation, and the hike becomes a pleasant dirt trail under the trees. You’ll cross a few streams and have to log-hop across some muddy portions of the trail if you hike early in the summer season. This part of the hike is also much less crowded, and allows you to experience absolute solitude in one of the most popular national parks in the United States.
With only a half mile left to Eagle Peak, the trail finally starts to gain some serious elevation, but after the switchbacks up to Upper Yosemite Falls, this gain will feel very tame. You’ll start to see boulder piles to the left of the trail that look like they might be Eagle Peak, but continue along the trail until you can’t get any higher. You’ve officially arrived at Eagle Peak and, hands down, the best view of Half Dome in the entire valley.
We did this hike as a dayhike, but this would be an incredible overnight trip. There were plenty of protected campsites around the peak that would give you the best sunset and sunrise views you might ever experience. Backpacking Eagle Peak is definitely on my bucket list!
Once you’ve thoroughly enjoyed the view from Eagle Peak, follow your footsteps back to Upper Yosemite Falls. Once we were back at the viewpoint, I was already exhausted, but I couldn’t NOT go see the falls, so I dropped my bag and checked out the view. Although you really couldn’t see the falls that well (since you were on top of them), the view is INSANE. So cool to get a birds eye view of the falls thundering down to the valley below.
The last three miles of the hike were probably the hardest three miles I’ve ever hiked in my life. We were losing sunlight (and fast), and pure exhaustion was taking over. We lost elevation quickly, but the valley seemed to be a million miles away. I’ve only ever almost passed out from pain once in my life, and I specifically remember my hands getting numb immediately before. On the last ten minutes of that hike, I had that exact same feeling and I was legit nervous that I was going to pass out from sheer exhaustion. Fortunately, we finally arrived at Camp 4 and I was able to sit down and eat a few bites of a sandwich before the rest of the group caught up to us. It probably took me about 30 seconds to fall asleep in the car on the way back to the campground. That hike took it OUT of me!!
Although the hike to Eagle Peak is very difficult, I would recommend it in a heartbeat. The view from Eagle Peak is absolutely UNREAL, and everyone should experience it on at least one of their trips to Yosemite!
DAY 3: NEVADA FALLS VIA THE MIST TRAIL
Day Hike to Nevada Fall via the Mist Trail
Although I was absolutely BEAT from the hike to Eagle Peak the day before, I decided to hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail on the way up and the John Muir Trail back down. I was super excited to see Nevada and Vernal Falls, as the trailhead is the official start of the John Muir Trail! If you’ve read my blogs about the John Muir Trail, you know that I was unable to get permits for the JMT from the Valley and had to start from Tuolumne Meadows, 21 miles from its official start. This trail follows the first 3.5 miles of the JMT, and it was so cool to visit a new part of a trail that felt like home.
The closest parking lot to the Happy Isles trailhead is at Half Dome Village, about a half a mile away from the trailhead. There is a nice walking path from the parking lot to the trailhead, so if you aren’t worried about adding an additional mile onto your hike, I would suggest just walking it. If you don’t want to add the mileage, you can take the shuttle from the Village to the trailhead. Just keep in mind that during the summer months, the shuttle gets extremely crowded!
The first mile or so of the trail, up to the bottom of Vernal Fall, is paved and ADA-friendly (ish). It was actually surprisingly difficult for a paved trail. The elevation fluctuated pretty drastically – like a roller coaster! I was huffing and puffing very early on. The trail follows the north side of the Merced River until you hit the bottom of Vernal Fall and cross over onto the south side.
Once you cross over to the south side of the Merced River, you have two options: hike up to the top of Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail or leave Vernal Fall and hike the John Muir Trail to Nevada Fall. I elected to hike up the Mist Trail. If you aren’t interested in getting wet, I would suggest not taking this trail. The mist coming off of Vernal Falls during the summer is absolutely drenching and absolutely relentless. Like many other hikers, I brought along a cheap poncho, as I didn’t want to have wet clothes for the rest of the day.
The Mist Trail up and around Vernal Fall is so beautiful!! Because of all of the mist, the area stays super green and no matter which way you view the falls from, there always seems to be a rainbow surrounding it! At one point, you start to hike up in a cave-like bowl, and I swear I wasn’t in Yosemite anymore – it seriously looked like I had hiked to Hawaii. Take your time hiking up to Vernal Fall, as the trail stays pretty slippery from the mist, but also because the area is just so beautiful!
Once you reach the top of Vernal Fall, there is plenty of room to stretch out across granite rock and dry out. Many people end their hike here – if you are wanting a shorter hike, this would be a good spot to turn around. I elected to continue onto Nevada Fall.
The hike continues through the forest and away from the river. It is significantly less crowded here, and I found myself alone for the majority of this section. It just so happened, however, that right as I caught up to a family of five, another hiker coming from the opposite direction told us all, “There is a bear up there.” Now, if you are relatively new to my blog, you’ll know that I am a total wimp when it comes to hiking alone. I was already feeling a little on edge from hiking by myself in the Sierra, only to hear the father of the family say to me, “Not what you want to hear when you are hiking in Yosemite alone.” You hit it right on the head, bro. Fortunately, I convinced the family to let me hike with them for 5 minutes (basically by saying, “Yeah, I’m going to walk with you for five minutes.”), and no bear was to be found. Almost immediately, we arrived at the bottom of Nevada Fall, and I bid my new family goodbye.
From the base of Nevada Fall, it is kind of hard to see the waterfall. You can hear it, but the angle of the rock makes it a little awkward for sightseeing. You immediately begin ascending a set of tight switchbacks to the north of the falls, and man, they are STEEP. It was probably the first time that I was grateful for hiking alone, because after my hike the day before, I was exhausted and out of breath the entire time. Those were some of the slowest switchbacks I’ve probably ever hiked.
Eventually, I arrived at the top of Nevada Fall, and the view was absolutely gorgeous!! Sentinel Dome stood loud and proud, and the falls were raging. Like the top of Vernal Fall, there was plenty of granite to lay out on and enjoy the area. I chose a spot right atop of the falls and had lunch with the squirrels. It was absolutely perfect. I was a little surprised though – for how alone I was during the hike, the top of the falls was packed!
Once I started hiking down the John Muir Trail to finish the loop, I was treated to panoramic views of Nevada Fall. In addition, at this time of the year, there were also seasonal spring runoff drenching the trail. It felt like I was walking through a shower! Although I had my poncho readily available, the water felt good in the sun, and it wasn’t enough to make me uncomfortably wet. It was beyond refreshing.
The John Muir Trail continued down in long switchbacks until it met up with the trail at the bottom of Vernal Fall. From there, you follow the same path that you took to begin the hike back down to the trailhead.
The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley, and for good reason. If you only have time for one hike during your time in the Valley, I would absolutely recommend hiking the Mist Trail Loop. I’m so bummed that it took me multiple trips to the Valley for me to finally hike it – don’t make my mistake! Hike the Mist Trail next time you visit Yosemite!
Overall, another great trip to Yosemite. While this trip was all about getting big miles in, if you are looking to experience Bridalveil Fall, Tunnel View, lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel Dining Room, or Lower Yosemite Falls, be sure to check out my blog all about our winter trip to the park.