Half Dome: Nevada Falls and Little Yosemite Valley

You can read part one of our trip up half dome here.

The two trails up Half Dome split at the top of Vernal Falls. The Mist trail takes a short detour to the top of Nevada Falls (adding a little distance on to the journey), whereas the John Muir trail is a more direct route. We never want to miss anything (especially as it takes so much effort to climb Half Dome!) so each time we have taken the Mist Trail.

It’s about a 2 mile hike from Vernal Falls to Nevada Falls, characterised by switchbacks and some rocky pathways through a forest area. The sunlight weaving through the trees and the light reflecting off the water at the bottom of Vernal Falls created beautiful little rainbows in the mist.

The top of Nevada Falls is a beautiful place to sit and chill, having gained an extra 1000ft above Vernal Falls, taking us to a total height of 6000ft above sea level. On our first trip, this was as far as we got. We’d set off far too late in the day and didn’t really want to hike in the dark, so we chose to stop at Nevada Falls, spend some time exploring and then headed back down the trail.

One of my best memories of that particular trip was taking off our shoes and socks and paddling in the calm water of the Merced River before the waterfall. It was a perfect way to refresh ourselves after the steep climb!

Our subsequent trips have seen us hiking much further up the trail. Leaving Nevada Falls behind, Little Yosemite Valley is a much flatter part of the hike. Surrounded by trees, it offers some welcome shade from the blistering heat. I loved the surroundings here; the sounds of the forest and the smell of the trees. The scent was almost overwhelming and it makes me think of adventure every time I smell it. This was a stunning walk with glimpses of Half Dome through the trees.

Little Yosemite Campground was a big milestone for me – I hadn’t expected to make it that far!! If I was to do the trail again, I would definitely consider camping at this campground to acclimatise to the altitude and rest up before attempting the climb to the top of Half Dome.

The Mountains are calling and I must go

– John Muir

What a difference a month makes

How Mirror Lake in Yosemite Changes in Just Two Months

We often struggle with picking where to go on our holidays. Holiday time is so precious and if you don’t get that many days off, you have to make the most of them when you do. So we usually spend ages looking at where to go and what to see when we get there.

Often the ‘when’ of our trips can be pretty set in advance – usually when the flight prices are cheaper or working around particular seasons (e.g. avoiding rainy seasons). One thing that it’s easy to forget to consider is the differences that a couple of weeks can make to your experience of a destination.

A good example of this is our trip to Mirror Lake in Yosemite. We’ve been there on a couple of occasions but the last time we visited, we went slightly earlier in the year – there wasn’t too much of a difference, we are talking a visit in early June rather than late July. The difference in scenery, however, was astounding.


This is Wandering Beeb’s photo of Mirror Lake, or more accurately, Mirror Meadow on our first trip. Green lush grass and trees with lots of boulders and sand filled the valley.

ML 3

The visit in late July saw stunning scenery, the centre of which was a field, surrounded by Yosemite’s recognisable granite cliffs. It was a lush setting, with huge boulders dotted throughout the area and sand drifts marking the uneven ground. Mirror Lake (or Mirror Meadow as it’s sometimes known due to the lack of water) is around a 1-3 hour round-trip, starting at shuttle stop number 17. The lake is a hangover from the glacial lake which once filled most of Yosemite Valley, standing at 4000ft elevation. Standing in the middle of the meadow, the cliffs surrounded us, building cut-outs in the blue sky.


Jumping forward to our visit to the same spot in early June a couple of years later and the place was unrecognisable in comparison! The same granite cliff faces surrounded us but this time, there was no meadow to stand in. Instead we stood on the edge of a serene lake, silent and glass-like. It was hard to believe that the small number of weeks had made such a difference.


Mirror Lake in early June – the water was full and still, creating the perfect reflection. We has stood here a few years earlier in the July when it was a dry meadow.

The still lake reflecting the granite cliffs. It was dizzying to look down on the reflection without seeing any disturbance in the water.

The trail around the lake is a really nice walk, lined with little cairns. These piles of balanced rock had filled one part of the trail, creating an interesting spectacle. Cairns have been used throughout history for a range of different reasons, often marking buried resources, graves or trailheads. The ones at Mirror Lake don’t seem to serve this purpose and raise an interesting debate on how people view them. Some say they see them as a temporary art piece, an example of humans making their mark in an environmentally friendly(ish) way. Others say they are a form of graffiti, disrupting natural placement of stones and making a mark on nature that shouldn’t be there. Little stone cairns dotted around the trail at Mirror Lake in Yosemite. Historically used to make trail heads, resources or burial sites, these ones don’t seem to hold any purpose. Some say these are an eyesore, a type of graffiti, others see them as temporary art work.

Little stone cairns dotted around the trail at Mirror Lake in Yosemite. Historically used to make trail heads, resources or burial sites, these ones don’t seem to hold any purpose. Some say these are an eyesore, a type of graffiti, others see them as temporary art work.

Much less organised than the cairns were the huge rocks dotted around the lake. Standing on one of the larger boulders, the stillness of the water perfectly reflected Half Dome and we quickly set down our day packs to whip out our cameras to capture the image. The dual image of the rocks above us and their inverted view below was dizzying but beautiful, the images we captured failing to do it justice.

Wandering Beeb at Mirror Lake, silhouetted against the huge granite cliffs of Yosemite.


Have you been to Mirror Lake? When is the best time of year to visit? What’s your take on the cairns – are they temporary art or graffiti?