Yosemite's Mist Trail hike with majestic waterfall views to get $5-million upgrade

YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK—APRIL 19, 2021—Hikers navigate the Mist Trail against of backdrop of Vernal Falls in the Yosemite Valley on April 19, 2021. Just in time for the Spring tourism season, Yosemite National Park is open at 50 percent capacity. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)
Hikers navigate the Mist Trail against the backdrop of Vernal Fall in the Yosemite Valley in 2021. (Carolyn Cole / Los Angeles Times)

Three thousand people a day visit Mist Trail, which has views of two majestic waterfalls and is arguably the most popular hike at Yosemite National Park.

Mist Trail is now going to get a $5-million upgrade.

"We're excited," said Frank Dean, president of the Yosemite Conservancy and a former ranger at Yosemite.

The nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy, which raises money for preserving and enhancing the park, announced it will be donating $17 million to Yosemite this year, with most of the money going to about 50 projects that will restore trails, assist scientific and historical research, and protect wildlife.

A total of $500,000 from this year's donation will go toward the design and planning of upgrades for Mist Trail, a roughly seven-mile round-trip hike that can take visitors to popular views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall from Yosemite Valley.

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The trail, which starts off with an easy, paved beginning, takes hikers toward views of Vernal and Nevada falls, close enough to get a spray of mist. Those who stick it out to the top of Nevada Fall can also continue the trek and hike to the iconic Half Dome.

"It's the busiest trail in Yosemite," Dean said.

The Yosemite Conservancy works with the National Park Service to identify possible upgrades to the park, and the Mist Trail is looking at possible changes, including moving the beginning of the trail to the Happy Isles Nature Center. There are also plans for upgrades at the Vernal Fall footbridge area, which is about a mile from the start of the trail and one of the trail's easiest points.

"That's a turnaround point for many people, so making that more accommodating for people is important," Dean said.

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The accommodations may include more railings and walls, as well as better signage, to get visitors better prepared for the trail.

Although it is considered one of the park's "gentlest" trails, the first paved mile of Mist Trail can give some travelers a false sense of preparedness for what can be a tricky trip.

"The trail gets more rigorous as you go up," Dean said, "so there needs to be more preparation for what's up ahead."

During some summer days, more than 4,000 people visit Mist Trail, where rangers and emergency personnel may be required to conduct rescues or tend to twisted ankles.

Taking visitors on views of Vernal and Nevada falls and winding along the Merced River, the trail lives up to its name, providing for some slippery steps along the way.

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The plan calls for more signage, improvements to the bathroom at Vernal Fall and work on the steep granite steps that follow the Vernal Fall footbridge, adding interim steps, handrails and rock walls.

The entire cost of the improvements is expected to reach about $5 million and be completed in 2025 or early 2026, Dean said. That amount has yet to be raised, but Dean said the organization is confident the Yosemite Conservancy will continue to see the support it has for the past 100 years to enhance visitors' experience at Yosemite.

The Yosemite Conservancy has donated more than $152 million throughout its 100-year partnership with the national park and funded about 800 projects since 1923, according to the organization.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.