Hikes with Kids / Hiking / National Parks / Travels / Yosemite

Hike Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park with Young Kids

My kids have been hiking since they could walk, so during our first pandemic Yosemite National Park trip in July 2020 we decided to hike to the top of the breathtaking Vernal Fall along the Mist Trail. 

The Vernal Fall hike is one of the most popular hikes at Yosemite National Park for a reason. While it is extremely challenging, you will be rewarded with amazing views and refreshing water sprays along the way. 

Because of the pandemic, this is a loop hike and not an out and back. We started the hike after parking our car at Curry Village in the Yosemite Valley. Even though the park was operating at limited capacity due to COVID-19 precautions, finding parking near Happy Isles, where the hike should technically start, was still very challenging. 

View from Vernal Fall Footbridge. Rocks in foreground, waterfall in background.
View from Vernal Fall Footbridge

The first stop on our hike was at the Vernal Fall Footbridge. This is around 3/4 of a mile from the Happy Isles area. This takes you an uphill and sometimes narrow paved path with amazing views. The footbridge is great for photo ops, and you can easily fill up your water bottles and turn around here if you’re not proceeding further. There are tons of squirrels here that have been fed by visitors, so be prepared to watch your snacks because they are sneaky and aggressive. (Also, just…don’t feed them.)

Hungry squirrel at Yosemite National Park
Hungry squirrel at Yosemite National Park. Do not feed.

Next we followed the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall. The trail is well-maintained, but incredibly difficult. The hike is right beside the waterfall and takes you up hundreds of slippery stone steps. Some of them are fairly high, so we had to give our kids assistance here and there. When it is not a pandemic, this Mist Trail is an out and back, which sounds like a nightmare to me as some sections are really narrow and already hard to navigate with all hikers going in the same direction. Be prepared to get wet and bring extra socks!

Steps up the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park
Steps up the Mist Trail up to Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park
Father and son climbing large rock steps to the top of Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park.
Tricky steps on the Mist Trail

At the top of Vernal Fall there’s plenty of open space and shade for you to have a picnic away from other groups. We even saw some people soaking their feet in the cold water in sections where it was calm.

After we were done having lunch (sandwiches and fresh berries) we continued our hike up to catch the John Muir Trail that would take us back down to the bottom of the Mist Trail and the Vernal Fall footbridge to find our way back down to our vehicle.

Vernal Fall at Yosemite National Park
Vernal Fall
View of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail at Yosemite National Park
View of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail

How’d the kids do?

For reference, my children were four and six-and-a-half when we did this hike, and as I mentioned at the beginning of this post, they are pretty adept hikers. We had a few complaints of tired legs, but they were easily distracted.

If you’re doing this hike with children, I would recommend that you take a nice break at the Vernal Fall Footbridge before proceeding to the Mist Trail. There is really no way to stop for a prolonged rest until you get to the top of Vernal Fall. I would also plan on doing the loop instead of going back down the steps from the top of the fall (assuming that going back down the steps is even an option when you visit.) Those steps are very steep and treacherous, and doing them on the way up seems more manageable than on the way down. 

With the additional distance to our car, we hiked/walked 8.8 miles in about six hours with a total elevation gain of 1,565 feet. The kids were absolute troopers and I can’t wait to take them again when they’re a little bit older.

Check the Yosemite National Park Website for the latest trail closures and maps. What else do you want to know about this hike?

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