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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

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!

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

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.

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?).

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!

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

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)