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Vernal & Nevada Falls via Happy Isles

Yosemite Valley, California

based on 21 reviews



7.23 miles

Elevation Gain

2815 ft

Route Type



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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Vernal & Nevada Falls via Happy Isles Reviews

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!

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.

Leave No Trace

Always practice Leave No Trace ethics on your adventures and follow local regulations. Please explore responsibly!


Half Dome via the Mist Trail

Thru-Hike the John Muir Trail

Snow Creek Trail

Mirror Lake

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls

Hike to Hidden Falls (aka Tenaya Creek Falls)