Longer than expected
Valley Floor Loop
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Distance: 8.00 Miles
Duration: 4 hours, 39 minutes
Coppertone and I decided on a flat hike to day to wrap up our week. A guided hike out of Yosemite Village opened our eyes to some of the sights one could see from a less glamorous trail such as this one.
We started off with a short hike to see Bridalveil Falls since we started at the trailhead there. Then it was off to complete a reported 4.6 mile loop in the western section of Yosemite Valley.
Things started off great as got several great views of El Capitan. The trail paralleled the busy road for a bit before retreating closer to the river, giving the hike a bit more solitude. The path would undulate towards and away from the road multiple times during the day.
The water coming off of Bridalveil Falls fork into several streams, each of which needed to be crossed without the aid of a bridge. For our fall visit this was not too much trouble but we can imagine things may be a bit trickier in the spring when flows are more robust.
Passing along the path of the Merced River afforded us yet more views of El Capitan and the hike was starting to look really good.
The turning point, figuratively and literally came at the Pohono Bridge. Once the trail turned back to the east there were fewer vistas (at least for now) and much more persistent gnats (or whatever bug was in the air).
Things improved a bit when we made to back far enough east to be near the base of El Capitan. The gnats started to thin and we enjoyed stopping for a moment here and there to watch the mountain climbers scaling the sheer walls.
We didn't do the entire loop and cut the route off at Devil's Elbow and crossing the river on the El Capitan Bridge. We should have continued through the Cathedral Picnic Area to rejoin the loop on the southern side of the valley, but our guidebook gave some other instruction that involved following the road some more and using what must have been a maverick trail to get back onto the loop.
Turning west again we started back on the loop heading to Bridalveil Falls. Though not as famous, the cliffs on this end of the valley are also in high demand by climbers and we go closer looks at the teams as they worked their way up vertical routes. The hiking here is perhaps the best in our hike as the trail undulates through rocky terrain though the trail itself is not that difficult.
After about 8 miles we finally get back to the Bridalveil Falls area. This turned out to be a lot more than the 4.6 advertised in two guidebooks. Yes, our GPS could have been having a bad day accuracy-wise, but we encountered two ladies on the trail going in the opposite direction we were so we stopped and talked during the second intercept. They too seemed to think the trail longer than advertised. Well, at least it wasn't overly hilly at the same time!
Giant trees and large crowds
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Distance: 2.67 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Mariposa Grove is one of the most popular trails in the park. Coppertone and I got there early enough to walk the paths in relative solitude, one of the benefits from staying in nearby Fish Camp. But it was not too long before busload after busload of visitors arrived to fill up the paths. A large group of schoolkids pierced the earlier quietness with shreeks and hollars.
The Sequoia grove has undergone an extensive transformation recently with car choked roads of cars replaced with boardwalk trails and lots of informational signage. We never visited the area prior to the transformation, but we're convinced that things must have been improved dramatically.
We overheard the radio of park employee yesterday that reported a bear sighting at the grove, but we saw no sign of it today.
We kept our hike short here both due to threatening rain that never fell, but also due to tired legs from our hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls yesterday. We did the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail which provided us views of several of the important named trees in the grove included the California Tunnel Tree and the imposing Grizzly Giant.
The start of the trail from the trailhead is a boardwalk path (almost certainly ADA compliant) studded with information signage. Once the trail gets to the Fallen Monarch conditions get slightly more difficult with a bit of elevation gain, but nothing in this loop would be considered challenging.By the time the trail gets to some of the other named trees the path is well worn compacted dirt.
After the California Tunnel Tree the trail becomes far less regimented. Up to that point the trail is boardwalk with railings or a well marked path with barriers on either side keeping people on the trail. The rest of the loop is easy to follow, but the "guard rails" are all gone. Thankfully people staid on the trail anyway, but the lack of barriers does mean you get a bit closer to the Sequoias than in earlier segments.
The real swinging bridge
Wawona Swinging Bridge Trail
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Distance: 2.38 Miles
Duration: 1 hour, 14 minutes
We'd seen a sign in Yosemite Valley about a "swinging bridge" that we were told was inaccurate. Turns out that bridge no longer swings.This one, though. This one is the real deal.
Since we were in the area, having just finished our Marisposa Grove hike and the threat of rain seemed to be going away we decided to drive deeper into Wawona and look for this trail. A large parking area was largely barren of cars and we would soon be the only people on the trail in short order,
The trail follows the South Fork of the Merced River, not to be confused with the North Fork that runs through Yosemite Valley. After perhaps a half mile at most the famous bridge appeared. It's not much to look at but it features two important characteristics. First, it crosses the river and second it does indeed swing.
We stopped for lunch on the opposite bank and listed to water rushing downstream. We saw one couple come to visit the bridge then turn back and then we really didn't see anyone else until we neared the trailhead on our way back later in the day. Of all the trails we hiked all week in Yosemite, this one strangely felt more isolated than any of the others.
The trail continues in the direction of the trailhead but on this opposite bank and we decided to see how far it would go. The terrain here is relatively flat and not terribly difficult. One has to admit that it's not the most picturesque part of the park. There were numerous piles of logs and brush that were collected for a prescribed burn dotting the landscape and it's obvious there had already been some fire through part of the terrain in the past.
On this opposite shore the gnats, or whatever they were, were fairly annoying. We strangely hadn't encountered them from the trailhead to the bridge. The time of year one visits certainly factors into one's experience here.
The trail ended at a dirt road with a few houses, the edge of North Wawona. We doubled from whence we came and headed back to our rental.
Signature hike in Yosemite National Park
Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls Trail
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Distance: 10.40 Miles
Duration: 6 hours, 24 minutes
Coppertone and I figured this would be one of the longer hikes we'd partake on this trip, but it turned out to be longer than expected. We're not quite sure where the mileage in the guidebooks comes from.
The trail leading up to the Vernal Falls bridge is steep, but paved, which makes for easier going. Still, we found many folks stopped by the side of the trail even at this early a juncture stopping to catch their breath. Truth be told, we stopped a couple of times ourselves.
The view from the Vernal Falls bridge is worth the outing itself.
From this point on the trail starts to get rougher and tougher. Along the Mist Trail (a moniker not as apt during the dryer fall months) the terrain turns to steps. Lots and lots of steps. While stopping for your breath you can enjoy eve changing viewpoints of Vernal Falls as it gets closer and closer.
The last segment of trail to get to the top of Vernal Falls was a narrow passageway with a rock wall on one side and a metal railing on the other. The width here is barely enough (and often not) for two people to pass each other. Emptying out on top a solid rock surface lets people spread out and get a closer look at the falls as they tumble down.
Just a bit upstream we found a great spot next to the water to stop for lunch and rest.
Continuing uphill we marhed on to Nevada Falls and encountered yet more steps. The steps here are a bit more chaotic and non-uniform that those leading up to Vernal Falls. The path seems to be set in a large rockfall, just rocks and boulders everywhere. These segments really drained us of energy.
Once out of the rockfall trail the path meets up with the John Muir Trail and things turn up a bit easier. From here it's a bit of a downslope to get to the top of Nevada Falls, where again a solid rock surface allows the large number of lingering hikers to spread out a bit and soak up the Sun and views.
A small bridge crosses the Merced River that feeds the falls and several NPS workers were in the process of repairing some of the rock mortared to the bases of the bridge.
The John Muir Trail continues to descend from there, hugging a sheer rock face with an impressive safety rock wall on the opposite side. Be sure to look back for more views of Nevada Falls as you descend.