A Complete Yosemite Mist Trail Guide To Hike Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall
The Mist Trail hike to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall is the most popular trail in Yosemite National Park. This guide shows you what to expect on the Mist Trail.
In 2023 there are trail work on the Mist Trail so it will be closed Monday to Friday from September 2nd to November 2. You can still hike the Mist Trail on Saturdays, Sundays and holidays.
You can still access Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall during Mist Trail closure via the John Muir Trail and Clark Point cutoff trail.
Spanning over a thousand square miles of the wilderness in the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park is a realm of natural wonder and a hiker’s heaven.
This Yosemite hiking guide will show you all you need to know about the Mist Trail, why it’s so popular, what you can see on the Mist Trail and other logistic questions you may have.
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What Can You See on the Mist Trail?
The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Yosemite National Park for good reasons. It is part of the Half Dome Trail so those who are doing the Half Dome hike (permit required) can hike on the Mist Trail as the first part of their Half Dome adventure.
The Mist Trail itself has a few different sections, which means people of all physical abilities can walk as much or as little as they want and still see something.
The 3 most famous stops on the Mist Trail include:
- The footbridge to see Vernal Falls for those with small children that cannot hike further
- Vernal Fall where you can hike very close to the fall or go above the fall <Yellow Trail>
- Nevada Fall for those who want to go above a much taller waterfall <Pink Trail>
The Mist Trail hiking map above shows you the different sections of the hike.
You can either go back down the way you came up (which I do not recommend) or hike down the John Muir Trail via Clark Point (red trail) for a different scenery and easier downhill hike.
In the winter you will have a different route to hike to Vernal Falls and Nevada Fall, more on that later.
How Hard Is the Mist Trail in Yosemite? How Long Does It Take to Hike the Mist Trail?
Since there are different sections of the Mist Trail, you can decide how much you want to hike! But here are some general stats for the Mist Trail so you can see how long the trail is.
Mist Trail to Vernal Falls Footbridge
Hike Distance: 0.9 miles from the Mist Trail & John Muir Trail Trailhead one way
Elevation Gain: 433 ft elevation gain
Time it takes: <30 minutes one way
Difficulty: Short but steep uphill. Most families with small children stop here
Mist Trail to Vernal Fall
Hike Distance: 1.2 miles one way (2.4 miles round trip)
Elevation Gain: 900-1000 ft elevation gain (depends on who you ask)
Time it takes: 1-1.5 hour one way
Difficulty: Moderate since it’s short but very steep. Most families with older children stop here
Mist Trail to Nevada Fall
Hike Distance: 2.6 miles one way (5.3 miles round trip if you go the same way down; ~6 miles if you go down John Muir Trail)
Elevation Gain: 2000-2200 ft elevation gain (depends on who you ask)
Time it takes: 2-3 hours one way
Difficulty: Difficult, very steep
Note the stats above are from the Mist Trail & John Muir Trailhead to the various waterfalls. As you can see, from Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall is about 1 mile (one way) over 1000+ feet elevation gain, so this is the steepest portion of the hike.
Overall, on average it takes 5-6 hours to hike to Nevada Falls and come back down.
Should You Hike Down John Muir Trail After Nevada Fall?
If you end up hiking to Nevada Fall (the higher of the 2 waterfalls), you have the option to come back down the same way or go down the John Muir Trail.
Why wouldn’t you go back down the Mist Trail? The Mist Trail is known for its famous staircase next to Vernal Falls, which is usually wet due to the spray from Vernal Fall (during specific months). The trail between Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall is mostly made up of stone steps, with some quite slanted.
I always hate going down slanted steps or wet steps (yes even more than the strenuous uphill), so if you want to minimize slipping then you would not want to go back down the Mist Trail the same way.
Instead, you should consider going down the John Muir Trail after Nevada Fall as it is more gentle and less likely to slip. You also get a really nice view of Nevada Fall and the other side of Half Dome during the first part of this trail down.
If you only hike up to Vernal Fall then you have to go back down the stairs you came up from.
When is the Best Time to Hike the Mist Trail in Yosemite?
People hike the Mist Trail to see the waterfalls, so you want to do this hike when there is water in the waterfalls, otherwise it really is a waste of effort.
So when is there water at Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall? In general, late spring to early summer (April to early July) is the best time to hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall because the waterfalls are at their peak flow due to snowmelt.
During April to early July you will see these falls raging with intense mist over the trail (hence the name Mist Trail). The bad thing is that you will get really wet and the trail will be slippery (more reason why you should not hike down the same way).
The summer months of July and August are ok months to hike the Mist Trail but you can expect less water at the waterfalls. However we got super lucky that there was still a lot of water in both waterfalls when we hiked the Mist Trail at the end of August. Usually it’s not like this from what I heard.
The fall months of September and October have great weather but you might not see much water in the waterfalls. If there is no water then this hike is not worth it.
Can You Hike the Mist Trail in the Winter?
You can hike to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall during the winter months but on a modified trail.
You cannot access the Mist Trail from the footbridge to Vernal Fall due to falling ice and icy steps, which are hazardous and dangerous.
To access Vernal Fall in the winter, you need to hike up the John Muir trail from the Footbridge via Clark Point then follow the fork to the left (right side is shut) to access the top of Vernal Fall. You won’t be able to hike next to the fall on the famous steps.
You can then follow the regular trail up to Nevada Fall. But you won’t be able to come back down the John Muir Trail from Nevada Fall like what I suggested above, you will need to go back down the same way you came.
Where is the Mist Trail Trailhead?
The Mist Trail and John Muir Trail share the same trailhead, located near Curry Village.
If you are planning to take the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle, you will need to get off stop 16 Happy Isles/ Mist Trail stop.
If you are driving, you will need to park at the Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking lot near Curry Village.
Regardless of whether you park in the parking lot or take the shuttle, you still need to walk quite a bit (up to a mile) to the actual trailhead.
Parking Situation at the Vernal Fall/ Nevada Fall Trailhead
The Mist Trail is the most popular trail at Yosemite National Park so you can expect a lot of people and a lot of cars there, especially on the weekend.
As mentioned above, you can try to park in the Yosemite Valley Trailhead Parking lot but if you go later in the day (or even around 10am), it is highly likely the parking lot will be full.
There is parking on the side of the street leading up to the shuttle stop no.16, but you actually cannot park too close to the trailhead as the road is closed.
We parked near the campground on Happy Isles Lp Road and had to walk about a mile to the actual trailhead.
If parking is too difficult, it’s probably best to park in any parking lots in the Yosemite Valley (doesn’t have to be Curry Village) and just take the free shuttle bus.
What to Expect On the Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Hike via Mist Trail?
The route we took was Trailhead -> footbridge -> Vernal Fall -> Nevada Fall -> John Muir Trail -> Footbridge -> Trailhead. This blog is based on the route we took and our own experience hiking the Mist Trail.
Trailhead to Vernal Fall Footbridge (1 mile, uphill)
The trail starts wide and flat. There is a public bathroom at the beginning of the trail. The river is running on the right side as you walk towards the official trailhead.
Soon this flat and wide trail ends and you will start going uphill. As you continue on the trail you will see a wooden sign that says Mist Trail.
You will walk past big boulders on your way to the footbridge and you can still see the river on your right, but just a lot lower so you can really see how much elevation you’ve gained.
The footbridge comes to view after about 20 minutes when you start to doubt whether you made the right decision to hike up this “family friendly” trail. It gets steep really fast!
Take a breather on the footbridge, enjoy the cascading waterfall and the view of Vernal Fall nestled in the hills.
There is another bathroom at the footbridge, this one is much cleaner than the one at the trailhead.
Footbridge to Vernal Fall (0.5 miles, very steep)
After leaving the footbridge for about 5 minutes, there is a trail sign pointing to Nevada Fall (the taller fall), which is about 1.6 miles away.
As expected, this portion of the trail is very steep uphill, and after another 10 minutes you will reach the base of the iconic stone steps leading up to Vernal Fall.
This is probably the best portion of the Mist Trail in my opinion; you are greeted by the raging Vernal Fall on your left side as you continue up the stairs.
If you are hiking during the late spring and early summer months, the raging waterfall will have intense mist all over the trail from this point on, until you reach the top of the Vernal Fall.
There are a few photo opportunities along the stairs but make sure you don’t go off course just for photos.
The stairs last about 10 to 15 minutes until you go past the fall. There are another 10 minutes of stair climbing until you reach the very top of Vernal Fall.
At the top of Vernal Fall you will find a lot of railings near the waterfall to prevent you from falling. DO NOT go over the railings or get into the water!
Vernal Fall to Nevada Fall (1 mile, 1000+ feet elevation gain)
You can take a break and have some snacks along the riverbank and the emerald pool past Vernal Fall into the woods. There are signs all over the place that prohibit swimming in the river.
There is a bathroom near the woods on top of Vernal Fall.
The trail to Nevada Fall is rocky and steep uphill. Shortly after you start climbing you will see an intersection. Go left at the intersection as the other way goes to Glacier Point.
Most of the trail to Nevada Fall is exposed with no shade on rocky steps. There is a footbridge with a view of the waterfall as well.
After the footbridge you will alternate between dirt trails, steps and hiking in the woods. After another 10 minutes you will come to an open area with the view of Nevada Fall on the right. This viewpoint is not as good but at least you can see the waterfall now!
As you continue the forested trail, be careful of roots and rocks on the ground. The trail starts to get steep and you will see the waterfall on your right side as you climb up.
The trail is now exposed, very rocky and very steep. It takes about 20-30 minutes to climb up to the top and just as you wonder when this ordeal will end you will see a junction with a trail sign.
If you follow the sign to the left you will be going up to Half Dome. You want to follow the sign to the right to Nevada Fall which is only 0.2 miles away. This is also where the bathroom is. After this you won’t find a bathroom until you are back at the Vernal Falls Footbridge.
This portion of the hike is pretty much flat, and soon you come to the footbridge above the fall. It is pretty cool to see the force of water rushing down Nevada Fall below your feet.
There is a viewpoint with railing on the right side of the fall that lets you get really close to the waterfall. The entire area above the waterfall on the left side is where most people take a break and take photos.
There is no railing above Nevada Fall in most areas, so be very careful how close you want to get to the edge for a photo. I saw someone literally sitting on the rock above the waterfall which seemed pretty dangerous and reckless to me.
Nevada Fall to Vernal Fall Footbridge Via John Muir Trail (3.4 miles, downhill)
From the top of the Nevada Fall, continue walking to go towards the woods. Soon you will see a sign that says you are 3.3 miles to the Yosemite Valley.
The trail is mostly continuous downhill. The first part of the trail wraps around the mountain and you can have a great view of Nevada Fall and the other side of Half Dome on the right as you hike down.
This part can be a little wet and I saw other people slip a few times, so be careful as you hike down.
You can continue down this trail until you reach Clark Point. This is pretty much the last chance you have to see Nevada Fall and Half Dome together. Clark Point is still about 2.3 miles from the trailhead even though you probably feel like you’ve walked for more than a mile already.
The second part of John Muir trail is a few long switchbacks in the woods.
At the end of the switchbacks you will see a split, with the right side saying “Foot trail only”. This is the trail you want to take and it will take you back down to the Vernal Fall footbridge, the first footbridge on the Mist Trail. There is a bathroom there.
If you had started hiking the Mist Trail early in the morning, by now this area would be super crowded with families and other hikers.
After the footbridge you just hike all the way downhill on the same trail you hiked up early in the morning.
What to Pack For the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall
Whether you plan to only hike to Vernal Fall or venture all the way to Nevada Fall, you need to be prepared for the Mist Fall. This list shows you the essential things you need to pack to hike to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.
- Water and snack: you should have at least 2L of water and some snack with you since it’s a long hike.
How Dangerous is the Mist Trail?
The Mist Trail (especially Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall) gets a bad rep because they seem to appear in the news a lot. There is usually at least one death at Vernal Fall every year.
I’m here to tell you that the Mist Trail is not dangerous although there is a chance of slipping since the trail is wet, but it’s not really a big deal.
As long as you don’t do anything stupid, like trying to get into the water, stand too close to the edge or climb over the railing for a photo then you will be safe.
Is Nevada Fall at Yosemite Worth It?
Since Nevada Fall is quite a steep climb, you may wonder if it’s worth going.
If the water level is high at Nevada Fall then it’s definitely worth hiking to. You don’t often get a chance to have a raging waterfall right below your feet.
But if there isn’t too much water in the fall, then you certainly should not waste your energy to go to Nevada Fall.
Also, if you don’t want to go down the stone steps at Vernal Fall then you have to hike up to Nevada Fall and go down the John Muir trail. This is what motivated me to go up to Nevada Fall despite the elevation gain.
Other Yosemite National Park Articles
Read my other Yosemite National Park blog posts to plan your perfect trip:
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