THE MIST TRAIL (Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, John Muir Trail)

Trail Information Photos 1 2 3 4 5

approaching Vernal Fall along the Mist Trail (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2010 Joe Braun Photography

A Beautiful Must-Do Yosemite Hike:

The Mist Trail is one of the amazing quintessential hikes in Yosemite National Park. Starting at the Happy Isles Trailhead, the ingeniously-constructed trail ascends out of Yosemite Valley, working its way up the narrowing gorge of the Merced River. Along the way, hikers enjoy close-up views of two of Yosemite's iconic waterfalls: Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. During the high-flow early summer months, the Mist Trail earns its name, often drenching hikers from all of the spray coming from the falls. For the return hike, the alternative John Muir Trail offers a drier and more gradual descent with sweeping views of the Nevada Falls pantheon.

Fairly strenuous to strenuous day hike
Happy Isles Trailhead (Shuttle Stop 16 along the Yosemite Valley shuttle system)
Time Required:
3-6 hours
5.5 miles round trip up Mist Trail and back down John Muir Trail (1.4 miles to top of Vernal Fall, 1.2 miles more to top of Nevada Fall)
Elevation Change:
2000-ft elevation gain (Happy Isles Trailhead: 4000', Top of Vernal Fall: 5050', Top of Nevada Fall: 6000')
Year-round. Spring is the most dramatic time for waterfall viewing; during winter, the section under Vernal Fall is typically closed.

WARNING: This hike passes many beautiful spots along the Merced River, including several areas that look like inviting swimming holes. Absolutely do NOT get in the water! Over the years, many people have died getting in what they thought was calm water only to get swept away by the current. Going over Vernal Fall or Nevada Fall would be a horrible way to die.

map icon linking to large map Map for the Mist Trail
(Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, John Muir Trail)

Getting to the Trailhead:

The Happy Isles Trailhead is located in the southeastern corner of Yosemite Valley, roughly a mile east of Curry Village (Half Dome Village). Yosemite Valley shuttle stop 16 provides easy access. If you are driving, a hikers parking lot is located just east of Curry Village (Half Dome Village), but like all parking lots in Yosemite Valley, the spots get taken up very early in the day.

Mist along the Mist Trail as we approach Vernal Fall (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

Hiking the Mist Trail:

From the Happy Isles Trailhead, follow the paved trail south as it begins its ascent up the narrowing gorge that surrounds the Merced River. At .9 miles is the first hikers' bridge and this spot makes a good turn-around point for casual hikers who just want a short stroll. From the center of the bridge, you can see Vernal Fall far in the distance if you look carefully. A water fountain and bathrooms are on the far side of the bridge.

Continuing up the gorge now on the right (south) side, the trail gets more strenuous with many granite steps making their way up the steep slopes in front of Vernal Fall. During spring runoff, this part of the trail is thrilling as spray from the powerful fall makes everything wet and slippery; there is a reason they call it the Mist Trail! (While you will typically remain dry during the low-flow late summer and autumn months, be prepared to get wet during spring and early summer.)

Just past the spray zone, the steps get even steeper as the ingenious trail heads into an alcove before making its final ascent to the top of the fall. While your legs may burn from the strenuous climb, the view at the top of Vernal Fall will be worth it! Casual hikers may want to consider turning around at this point.

a hikers bridge crosses the Merced River with Liberty Cap in the background (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

Above Vernal Fall, the trail continues along the banks of the river as the majestic Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick peaks can now be seen in the distance. A second hiker's bridge crosses back over to the left (north) side of the river as the trail wanders up through a lovely forested section. Then with Nevada Fall in view, the trail makes its final big push up several switchbacks that ascend the boulderfield under Liberty Cap.

Just as you think your legs can't do it any more, the trail will top out. Turn right (south) at the trail junction to head towards the top of Nevada Fall. (The trail to the east heads to Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome.)

As you approach the hikers' bridge over Nevada Fall, look for a short spur trail on the north side of the river that takes you to a nice overlook just next to the fall. The granite formations on the south side of the Nevada Fall hiker's bridge also makes for a great place to relax and take in the views. Of course, be careful near the edges and do not get in the water!

For your return hike back down to Happy Isles, you could retrace your steps, or you could take the alternate John Muir Trail back down. While the Mist Trail gives the close-up waterfall views, the John Muir Trail was chiseled out of the high granite cliffs to offer wonderful panoramic landscape views. (This trail is mostly dry although some years, seasonal waterfalls can make things a bit more interesting.) Follow the trail back down to the junction with the Mist Trail and then retrace your steps to Happy Isles.

the view of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail (Yosemite National Park) -- © 2017 Joe Braun Photography

Winter Route Alternative:

While this hike is doable in winter, the section of trail under Vernal Fall may be closed due to treacherous icy conditions and the alternative connector trail between Clark Point and the second hiker's bridge may be used instead. (Orange "winter route" labels on the trail junction markers indicate the way.)

Joe's Spin:

The Mist Trail is the epitome of awesome Yosemite hiking scenery, offering up amazing waterfall views from the ingeniously constructed trail as it wanders through the granite wonderland. But as this hike is probably on everybody's "Top 10 Amazing Hikes" list, be prepared to share the trail with many other people; this one is understandably popular!

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