Distance: 1.2 miles (2 km) round trip
Elevation at trailhead: 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)
Elevation Gain: 200 feet (60 meters), more or less
Why Hike to Bridalveil Fall? At 620 feet (189 meters), this cataract is short compared to Yosemite Falls, but chances are you still don't have anything like it in your neighborhood. It's famous for the mist that wafts off it when the breezes blow and which, according to the poetic, isolation-addled souls who get to name waterfalls, resembles a bridal veil. Hanging out at the base of the falls during peak runoff can be akin to taking a shower in a tornado, sans the flying cows.
Best Time to Visit: In the springtime, when the snowmelt is roaring over the falls and you'll need windshield wipers for your spectacles - sometimes from a quarter mile away.
Hiking Time: 15 - 30 minutes
Crowd Factor: As heavy as the waterflow, generally. Along with Lower Yosemite Falls, this is one place where virtually every tour bus is sure to stop, so crowds will appear in waves.
Difficulty: Easy; a 1 out of 10. There's some incline and the spray-soaked path can be slippery near the falls, but it's still a hike that almost anyone can do.
Parking: A large lot at the trailhead. It often fills up, but if you drive a few hundred meters into the valley, you'll find a trail to the falls running parallel to the road, and you can almost always find a parking spot somewhere along here, with the added bonus of having a view of El Capitan. This longer trail is probably better anyway; it crosses Bridalveil Creek and some pleasant meadows, and really, the more of Yosemite Valley you walk through, the happier you're going to be. Here are Google Street View panoramas of the turnoff to the main parking area (the white-flowered tree at left is a Mountain Dogwood) and the alternate trailhead (trail at right, El Capitan looming overhead).
Nearest Bathrooms: In the parking lot (outhouse-style, no plumbing)
Nearest Snacks: Assuming that all the cooler-laden cars in the parking lot are out of bounds, your best bet is Yosemite Village, five miles east.
Getting There: From Yosemite Valley, take Highway 41, which heads towards Wawona and the south park exit. You'll reach the Bridalveil Falls parking lot very shortly after turning onto Highway 41. See the trail map for a clearer idea.
Beware of: Slippery rocks. The mist that gives the falls their name makes footing treacherous as you approach the falls, and during peak runoff there can be nearly an inch of water flowing over parts of the trail. Steven Bumgardner's video about making the Yosemite Nature Notes Moonbows episode includes some footage of the trail at the base of the fall during high water.
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Best Views: They aren't always from the very end of the trail, which is near the base of the falls. During the spring runoff, there's so much mist whipping off the falls that the only people who'll go there are small children who've been ordered by their parents to risk their tiny, expendable lives to pose for pictures. Here are a few alternatives:
From Southside Drive: If you drive a few hundred meters past the parking lot (going east), you'll reach the El Capitan Vista, where cars will be careening off to the shoulders on either side of the road or just pulling to a stop in the middle of it. (It's marked with a pink balloon on the Bridalveil Fall trail map.) Though it's El Capitan, off to the north, that's causing all this erratic behavior, you can get good views of Bridalveil Fall here, too, and this is also where the alternate trail to the falls begins. The trick is to wander around until you find a spot where the falls aren't blocked by too many trees.
From the Tunnel View: Thanks to the tunnel view, about a mile west on Highway 41 from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot, Bridalveil Fall is Yosemite's most photographed waterfall. Can three million people a year be wrong? Of course they can! Just look at how many copies of, for instance, the single "Billy, Don't Be a Hero" got sold. They're not wrong about this, though. Bridalveil Fall from the Tunnel View is a stellar shot. The biggest issue is elbowing enough people out of the way to find one of the spots where trees aren't obstructing the scene.
From the Gates of the Valley: Here you get a view similar to the one from the tunnel view, but from a lower elevation and with the Merced River in the foreground. If the falls are your target, you may want to elevate yourself so that the trees block less of the falls. Ansel Adams, you might be inspired to learn, built a viewing platform onto the top of his SUV to solve this problem.
The Gates of the Valley are on Northside Drive, west of Bridalveil Fall. Look for the red balloon on the trail map.
From Northside Drive: This is similar to the view from Southside Drive, except that (no, really!) it's a little farther north, on the opposite side of the Merced River. The pullout here is on the bank of the Merced (look for the green ballon on the trail map), so you can fit the river into your photos if you're so inclined.
From Southside Drive
From the Tunnel View
From Gates of the Valley
From Trail's End
From Northside Drive
From the Tunnel View, Winter