Hiking to Vernal & Nevada Falls

Vernal Falls Trailhead

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
Show More
RT Distance 7 Miles
Activities Photography, Hiking
Skill Level Beginner
Season Spring, Summer
Trail Type Out-and-Back
Features
Family Friendly
Scenic
Waterfall

Reviews

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Overall rating: 

Iconic Hike

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.

Beautiful Day Hike

Love every moment of it not to bad of Hike

Love your park as is!

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.


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