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Vernal & Nevada Falls via Happy Isles

Yosemite Valley, California

4.6/5
based on 20 reviews

Details

Distance

7.23 miles

Elevation Gain

2815 ft

Route Type

Out-and-Back

Description

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.

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Features

Photography
Hiking
Family Friendly
Scenic
Waterfall

Reviews

Love love love this hike. The waterfalls are gorgeous.

Epic hike. Leave early in the morning to ditch the crowds. I would recommend a rain jacket to stay dry because you will get absolutely drenched. Also maybe a waterproof bag. I would say it’s decently strenuous but you can stop and turn back whenever you want. Although, it’s worth it to go all the way to the top.

Love every moment of it not to bad of Hike

At this time I was interning with the NPS and my friend (now ranger) had just finished another NPS program! It was awesome to take in all the beauty of one of the countries most beautiful and historical parks. This was my first time in Yosemite and even though we had planned to do a different hike, we were so happy to have done this hike! It was definitely incredibly crowded, but once you past Vernal Falls, a good chunk of the crowd dies down. The only downside to going on such crowded days is seeing the amount of people hiking off trail, stepping on plants, and feeding wild animals (this was clearly my first time in a NP on a busy summer day.) At one point, we were hanging out in the shade past Vernal and what most likely seemed to be a bobcat jumped out from a tree and snagged a squirrel. A mom didn't react too well to that, but hey keep feeding the animals and it may come for you next. Oh, but hiking up to Nevada was torture and beautiful at the same time! The moment we were climbing the switchbacks and the Nevada Falls stood right in front of our face and totally refreshing and motivating.

I haven't done too many longer hikes in Yosemite aside from this one so I don't have a lot to compare it to, but I personally thought this hike was amazing and well worth the crowded trail (definitely start early if you want to enjoy the hike up to Nevada Falls). The part of the trail where it's basically rock steps near Vernal Falls was slammed with people when we were there, probably because I stopped too many times to take photos coming up, but it's still worth every minute. Definitely take the JMT on the way down.

I've been hiking this trail since I was 6 years old with my family. Still each year when I visit Yosemite, it's a must-do. Great adventure post, thanks!

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.

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.

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.

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!

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Half Dome via the Mist Trail

Thru-Hike the John Muir Trail

Little Yosemite Valley Campsite and Half Dome

Snow Creek Trail

Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls in Yosemite NP

Hike to Yosemite's Mirror Lake