Hiking to Vernal & Nevada Falls

Yosemite Vernal Falls Trailhead

Added by Kristina Zhylenkova

Take in unforgettable views of Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and the back of Half Dome. This hike can be modified: you can hike to the top of Vernal Fall or keep going to the top of Nevada Fall. The best time to visit is spring/early summer when the waterfalls are at their peak flow. 

This popular hike starts near Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The first mile of the trail is paved and almost entirely uphill. You will come to the footbridge which tends to be very crowded. About 0.2 miles beyond the footbridge, the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail diverge. Follow the Mist Trail 0.5 miles up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps directly to the top of Vernal Fall. Use caution on this part of the trail. The stairs can become dangerously slippery. Prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of waterfall spray, especially in spring and early summer. At the top of Vernal Falls, you can get breathtaking views straight down the 317 foot waterfall.

Here you can either choose to turn around and head back the way you came or you can continue up to the next junction which is about 0.2 miles and take the longer route back via the John Muir Trail or continue uphill on the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls. Continuing along the Mist Trail, you’ll hike another 1.5 miles of steep, rocky switchbacks in order to reach Nevada Fall. At the top of the trail, head right to reach the footbridge that crosses the Merced River above the waterfall.

From this point, you can either return down the Mist Trail, or continue over the bridge to the John Muir Trail for an alternate route back down. If you choose the John Muir Trail, you will enjoy views of Liberty Cap, the back of Half Dome, and a different view of Nevada Falls all in the same frame. The John Muir Trail is longer, about 4 miles one way compared to the Mist Trail, which is 2.5 miles so plan accordingly.

Pack List

  • Hiking shoes are a must (the stairs leading up to the top of Vernal Fall can be dangerously slippery when wet)
  • Rain jacket, raincoat, or a poncho (it's called the Mist Trail for a reason, you WILL get wet)
  • Day pack
  • Snack
  • Water
  • Camera
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Activities:

Hiking, Photography

Skill Level:

Beginner

Season:

Spring, Summer

Trail Type:

Out-and-Back

Distance:

7 Miles

Rating:

Features:

Family Friendly
Scenic
Waterfall

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How to Get There

about 1 month ago

Perfect Day Hike

This is a great day hike option for anyone staying in the valley. As the other reviews suggest, I would highly recommend starting early to avoid the crowds. I would recommend getting to Nevada Falls early and lounging around to eat a snack, or lunch. There is plenty to see around both falls so take your time before heading back down. I also suggest ensuring your shoes or boots have good traction.

about 1 month ago

3 months ago

Best falls in the park!

Beautiful and crowded trail. I would describe the hike to the top of Nevada as at least moderate... It's 5.4 miles roundtrip with 2,000 ft of elevation gain. For less experienced hikers, heading to the footbridge (1.6 miles with 400 ft of gain) is an easy way to see Vernal Falls. This is the most popular day hike in Yosemite.

3 months ago

4 months ago

Majestic

We hit both these falls en route to half dome. Luckily we started early and were able to enjoy the falls while it was quiet and peaceful. The falls were both flowing nicely and absolutely an amazing site. Views as you ascend along the trail just keep opening up. Later in the day on our way back through it was extremely busy, therefore very happy we had the early morning to really enjoy it.

4 months ago

5 months ago

Magic

So beautiful! The hike up to the first falls is pretty busy, but after that it thins out. There are lovely places near both falls to sit and relax - and the views of halfdome are killer.

5 months ago

7 months ago

Not overrated

Despite being one of the most popular & crowded hikes in Yosemite Valley, it is SO worth it. If you want to avoid traffic, leave Happy Isles by 8 am, and take the John Muir Trail on the way down. JMT back is the way to go. You'll get awesome views of the valley, Nevada fall, the backside of Half Dome, and Liberty Cap, and you won't run into many people until you get back to the Vernal Fall footbridge. As everyone else has stated, this hike is absolutely gorgeous, and you definitely have to do it, especially if you have dreams of completing other difficult hikes in Yosemite, like upper Yosemite falls, four mile trail, snow creek trail, half dome, and clouds rest!

7 months ago

9 months ago

Great first hike in Yosemite

This was the first hike I ever did in Yosemite. I had no intention of going the whole way up to Nevada Falls, but once you reach Vernal Falls, it's hard to turn back. I'm so glad I continued on! As the other reviews have stated, it does get busy, so plan accordingly. As such, I would suggest taking the Muir Trail on the way down - it helps avoid the jams, especially on the granite stairs.

9 months ago

10 months ago

Gorgeous

So glad we did this when we were in Yosemite. I am afraid of heights and it is certainly a little unnerving. I got to the stairs that run beside Vernal Falls before I literally couldn't breathe anymore due to fear. The water was rushing & covering the stairs in mist. Without a railing on the stairs, I felt very nervous & unstable. That said, getting to that point was exceptional and absolutely gorgeous. Wish I could have made it to Vernal Falls!

10 months ago

11 months ago

If you're hiking this in the winter I'd recommend traction like micro-spikes.

11 months ago

about 1 year ago

Me and my friends accidentally did this hike, I had a bad knee and decided I could only do a short hike but somehow we ended up on the trail for Nevada Falls. Despite limping for 80% of it the hike was spectacular, the views were breath taking, and the falls were roaring (December 2014). Definitely will do it again next time I'm in the area and not injured so I can fully enjoy it! Highly recommend.

about 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

This was a beautiful hike - definitely works out the calves when hiking up the 600 steps to vernal falls. I recommend going in the morning, to beat the crowds and the heat. Some parts of the trail are shaded, but a lot of it is not, especially during the summer, it can be very hot out. I went around 2-3pm. There were a lot of people along the trail, which calls for extra caution when going up the stairs while others are descending because in addition to a crowded stairway, the steps are steep and also slippery. Overall, this was a fun and memorable hike with spectacular views at the very top of vernal falls. I'd say this is an intermediate hike. I noticed there were also a lot of children with their parents on this trail which was cool (start em' young, right?).

over 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

Great hike! Unlike the other falls in Yosemite, Vernal & Nevada Falls carry a lot of water even during high summer. Less crowded after Vernal Falls. But be very careful when descending - the granite steps can be very slippery. Bonus: For a great cardio training try hiking/running all the way up to the top of Nevada falls as fast as possible!

over 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

The hike is pretty straight forward. Just go early in the morning to avoid the traffic.

over 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous hike! It can get strenuous at times especially climbing the rock steps but worth every burning sensation. The views are breathtaking and being so close to the waterfalls just makes you feel alive.

over 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

You won't just get wet...you WILL be SOAKED.

over 1 year ago

over 1 year ago

Probably the most classic Yosemite hike after Lower Yosemite Falls. Be prepared to deal with crowds if you go in the middle of the day. I'd definitely recommend tackling this as early as possible to potentially avoid some traffic jams on the Mist Trail.

over 1 year ago

about 2 years ago

Watch out for the squirrels they'll steal your food before you even notice! Such beautiful views!

about 2 years ago

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