We relied on shuttle bus transportation all day, catching the very first bus of the day at 7:00 AM at the Half Dome Village stop. The bus brought us a short distance down the road to the Mist Trail trailhead at Happy Isles Nature Center (which was also still closed for the season!).
Today’s main activity would be an out-and-back hike to Vernal Fall, though the Mist Trail continues on to Nevada Fall and eventually joins the John Muir Trail that leads all the way to the cables ascending Half Dome. We figured that plan was just a bit too ambitious to complete with the boys!
Immediately, it was clear that the hike would be busier than yesterday’s trail of solitude. The first half hour was pretty desolate but we passed others pretty regularly for the rest of the morning including several school groups on the hike back.
While crowds on an easily-accessible valley trail were expected, the paved path was not. Apparently, it’s common to pave the most traveled paths at the most popular national parks, but walking on pavement simply isn’t hiking for us. We love the dirt in our boots and obstacles in the trail, although we understand the purpose of paving these highly-trafficked paths.
The smooth pavement surface and constant uphill direction, gaining 400 feet over the course of nearly a mile, produced whining from the peanut gallery. Though the elevation gain was 100 feet LESS than the Artist Point hike the day before, it certainly felt like more due to the difference in trail surface. Jasper stopped often, but we used several of his rest periods to work on Junior Ranger booklet pages.
Surface issues and child reluctance aside, the views all along the trail are breathtaking, meandering beside the Merced River through jagged granite cliffs with snow still visible on the peaks.
Illilouette Fall in the distance
We crossed the footbridge from which we could see Vernal Fall for the first time, peeking around evergreens in the distance, and Jasper was done. Fortunately, Gavin was still excited to hike ahead so we left Jeff and Jasper behind not long after the footbridge to continue on to the closer falls viewpoint.
We stopped just short of the final cliff staircase to the top of the falls since it was quite wet and slippery with no guardrails … and we didn’t want to get soaked! Only afterward did I learned that there are 600 steps, many more than are initially visible! Knowing we’d just be turning back at the top anyway, we enjoyed the view from the base and then turned around to meet up with Jeff and Jasper again.
And this is where we turned back!
Jasper and Jeff built a nature shelter for Ranger Beth while Gavin and I hiked closer to the falls.
The return hike was nearly all downhill and much easier. We were back at the trailhead by 10:30. The three-mile round trip pretty much completed the boys’ hiking quota for the day so we headed back to the village.
A shuttle bus took us to the Visitor Center where we sought an activity to complete one of the Junior Ranger Program requirements. The ranger suggested the Indian Museum next door so we quickly headed over to learn about the history of the valley before the settlers arrived.
We took a lunch break at the Village Grill and bought a few souvenirs at the store, my usual magnet and more postcards for Jeff to continue his “choose your own adventure” series for “lucky” recipients.
Gavin had one remaining page to complete at the nearby Yosemite cemetery. This particular activity selection was a no-brainer as the daughter of a genealogist who has spent her fair share of vacation time researching family headstones in cemeteries!
We returned to the Visitor Center where the boys handed in their completed booklets and took the oath. Yosemite was the only park on this trip that split the boys into different Junior Ranger programs. Kids through age 6 like Jasper completed the Little Cubs booklet while Gavin worked through the Junior Ranger activities and filled one trash bag, which he diligently collected throughout our adventures on these two days. Both received not only badges, which are wood rather than the usual plastic, but also a patch (for Gavin) and button (for Jasper).
We stayed to watch both park videos and browse the wildlife and geological history displays before returning to our cabin to rest as drizzles started falling. It had been another lovely afternoon, a little warmer than the day before with temperatures in the 60s until the clouds started rolling in.
We kept seeing these beautiful dark blue and black jays, quite different than east coast blue jays, and Visitor Center displays finally taught us that they are Steller’s Jays.
After seeing the Tunnel View in the morning when the low sun doesn’t fully illuminate the valley, I’d been wanting to return to the Tunnel View at a later time in the day and we decided to drive out again when the rain clouds seemed to be breaking. By the time we reached the parking lot, the view wasn’t completely clear as Half Dome was shrouded in clouds, but the clouds produced beautiful imagery.
Back at Half Dome Village, we ate dinner at the Pizza Deck again and brought cookies back to the cabin for an evening treat. The rest of our last evening at Yosemite was spent resting and packing up for the next day’s departure to the coast.