Mist Trail To Vernal Falls And Nevada Falls

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls

In This Guide
  • Video & Turn by Turn Directions for the Mist Trail
  • How to Get to the Mist Trail Trailhead
  • Everything You Need to Know To Prepare for the Hike
  • Options for 3 mile (total) hike to Vernal Falls, 6 mile (total) hike to Nevada Falls, and 7.5 mile (total) hike to Nevada Falls and Back on the John Muir Trail with Scenic Viewpoints
Total Distance6 miles (9.7 km)
Other Options 3 miles, 7.5 miles
Hike Time3-5 Hours (Total)
Difficulty (?)Hard
Total Ascent (?)2,600 feet (792m)
Highest Elevation6,020 feet (1835m)
Fees & PermitsPark Entry Fee
Dog FriendlyNo
Park Website (?)Yosemite National Park
Park Phone209-372-0200
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Considered the classic Yosemite hike, the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls lives up to its hype. The lower slopes are paved and scenic, but then you cross the Merced River and hike through the mist up 600 granite steps  to the 317-foot Vernal Falls (3 miles round-trip). You can then continue to the massive and booming 594-foot Nevada Falls (6 miles round-trip). And for a (highly recommended) loop hike back, follow the famous John Muir Trail down scenic switchbacks where you’ll get great views of Nevada Falls and Liberty Dome.

#1 Tip: Leave at sunrise to beat the crowds! Tons of people do this hike as the day wears on and it’s a much different experience when it’s just you, the waking forest, and the waterfalls.

Crowds At Yosemite
Here’s the Vernal Falls Bridge at 9am on a Monday in July. At 11am this will be like a packed New York subway car. Not fun. Do your hike early, and if you can’t make it early, go later in the afternoon.

How to Get to the Mist Trail in Yosemite

Your best bet to hike the Mist Trail is to take the (free) green park shuttle bus to the Happy Isles stop (#16) and hike from there. Happy Isles is at the far (eastern) end of Yosemite Valley, just past Curry Village. The mileage in this guide (and in the National Parks official guides) starts from there.

Use this trailhead address:
Happy Isles Shuttle Stop (#16), Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Mist Trail Parking
Here’s the Yosemite shuttle bus map. Take the bus to Happy Isles and start hiking from there. You can also park close in one of the lots if you can find a spot.

If you’d like to drive as close as you can to the trailhead, there’s a parking lot, the Yosemite Valley Parking Lot, about 0.5 miles from Happy Isles. The lot is usually closed in the peak season after the early morning; it’s commonly reserved for those hiking Half Dome or the backcountry. In the off-season it can be open. Just park and walk down the road.

And you can park around Curry Village in the public Half Dome Village Parking Lot as well. Again, just walk down the road 0.8 miles to the trailhead.

Starting The Mist Trail
Once you get to the Happy Isles shuttle stop, walk down the road, across the Happy Isles Bridge, and then right onto the trail. More in the video and turn-by-turn directions below.

Gear for the Hike

It certainly helps to do this hike with proper hiking gear if you have it. If you don’t have hiking clothes, your best bet is fitness clothes. The trail can be wet and slippery, so good hiking boots or shoes help, as do trekking poles. Be prepared to get wet too; the mist from the falls makes it seem like it’s raining out (watch the video below). I use a simple rain jacket / wind breaker.

It’s also a longer hike, so bring plenty of water (at least 1L, 2L recommended) and snacks.  There are bathrooms along the hike; I’ve noted them on the map below. If you’re hiking later in the day and aren’t experienced doing this distance, bring a headlamp or flashlight in case you take longer than you think.

La Sportiva Spire

I try a lot of hiking boots and shoes, and there are some great options out there, but the La Sportiva Spire is the best combination of comfort, protection, low-weight, and durability. They are waterproof, and the high cuff keeps debris out without the need for a gaiter. Time tested over thousands of miles. Use them with a two-layer sock system to end blisters for good.
Reviews & Lowest Prices: WomenMen

Osprey Talon

On a medium or longer hike I recommend a pack like the Osprey Talon 33 (men) or Osprey Sirrus 36 (women) which is a little bit larger. These packs are on the upper end of the (35L) daypack range, but they only weigh a small fraction more than a pack with less capacity. Having the extra space gives you more flexibility and means you don’t have to jam things in there. I use the space for things like extra layers in the winter, extra water on desert hikes, and even a tent & sleeping bag on overnights.

Garmin Inreach Mini Beacon

If you’re not familiar with the Garmin InReach technology, it allows you to send and receive text messages where you don’t have cell phone signals. You can also get weather reports and trigger an SOS to emergency responders. Even if you don’t have an emergency, sending a quick message telling a loved one that you’re okay or are running late is well worth the cost. The Mini fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing. Read my review and see the lowest prices and reviews at REI (or Amazon).

Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated August 2020.See All of My Best Gear Picks Here

No company pays me to promote or push a product, all the gear you see here is gear I use and recommend. If you click an a link and buy gear, I get a small commission that helps offset website expenses. There is no cost to you.

Mist Trail, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls Trail Maps

The trails are very well marked in Yosemite, and especially on the popular Mist Trail. That said, some sections can be tricky so make sure you study the images in the directions and watch the video. It’s not an area of Yosemite that you have to worry about getting lost in; you’ll be with tons of other people. You just want to avoid turning onto the wrong trail.

Click To View Map

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls Map Downloads

Download the Hike GPX File

View a Printable PDF Hike Map

Fenix 6 Pro

I’m a big fan of GPS watches to follow my GPX track (which I also use as a sleep, wellness, and fitness tracker) and my current watch is the Fenix 6 Pro Solar (full review here). I load my GPX tracks onto the watch to make sure I’m in the right place, and if not, the onboard topo maps allow me to navigate on the fly. It’s pricey but it has a great battery, accurate GPS, and tons of functionality. If you want something similar without the maps and big price tag, check out the Garmin Instinct which is a great buy (prices on REI and Amazon) and does a lot of the same things.

Hike Landmarks

LandmarkDistanceElevation
Happy Isles Shuttle Stop04020
Vernal Falls Bridge14400
Vernal Falls1.65000
Bridge1.95150
Bathrooms / Trail Junction 2.8 5980
Nevada Falls35930

Trail Elevation

Mist Trail Elevation
The trail is pretty much all uphill. The good news is that thousands of people of all shapes and sizes do this hike, and you can too. The steepest sections are right before Vernal Falls and the last stretch up to Nevada Falls.

3D Map

Mist Trail 3d
Here’s a good 3D view of the hike. The Mist Trail follows the Merced River up the valley. The alternate way back down on the John Muir Trail offers incredible views north and east into the heart of Yosemite.

Alternate Return On the John Muir Trail

I’ve included directions for an alternate loop back down to the start from Nevada Falls on the John Muir Trail. I highly recommend taking this way back down for several reasons.

Being Safe On the Mist Trail

Falls Warning
People die every year because they did not head warnings on signs like this. Don’t be one of them.

As Yosemite’s signature and most popular hike, the Mist Trail, as you might imagine, has its share of accidents and deaths. That doesn’t mean it’s a dangerous trail. Thousands of people hike it safely all the time. But if you don’t follow the rules, you could end up as a fatality.

Hikers On Edge Nevada Falls
These people are standing on wet granite, about 1 foot away from a fall down all 594 feet of Nevada Falls. Here’s an example of what not to do.

Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls Hike Directions

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Video Directions

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Turn by Turn Directions

Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 2
From the shuttle bus stop, continue up Happy Isles Loop Road.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 3
The Mist Trail is popular and you should see some signs confirming that you’re hiking in the right direction. Keep hiking down the road and over the Happy Isles Bridge.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 4
Once you’re over the bridge, make the hard right onto the Mist Trail.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 5
The trail splits, hike to the left.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 6
The trail is paved here and starts to climb. It will probably be a little steeper than you think.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 7
Pass this very cool sign with mileages to some of the top attractions of  Yosemite and the Sierra Nevada, including Mt Whitney, the highest point in the lower 48, which you can reach on the John Muir Trail in 211 miles from this point.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 8
The trail continues uphill, with the Merced River down to your right.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 9
After a good deal of uphill on the paved path, you’ll start to descend to the bridge.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 10
Cross over the Vernal Falls Bridge after having a look around.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 11
If you look upstream from the bridge you’ll see Vernal Falls in the distance.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 12
There are bathrooms and water refill stations here.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 13
Continue over the bridge and up along the southern bank of the river.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 14
At the intersection with the John Muir Trail (to the right), continue straight. This is the “official” start of the Mist Trail. If you take the loop trail option back down, you’ll come out from the trail on the right on your way back.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 15
There’s a cool Mist Trail sign right after the junction. If you’re hiking to Half Dome you’ll be hiking on this stretch of trail too.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 16
Soon you hike out of the trees and onto a granite path along the raging Merced River.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 17
And soon the falls will spectacularly come into view, as will the beginning of the steps. You’ll be climbing 600 wet granite steps to get to the top of Vernal Falls.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 18
Some of the narrow sections offer handrails. Please stay behind the rails and stay safe.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 19
You get a break from the mist when the trail briefly winds away from the falls.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 20
And then comes back out onto the granite cliffs for the last steep and narrow stretch to the top.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 21
This part of the trail is narrow, so take care.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 22
And soon you emerge slightly above Vernal Falls. Hike down the hills to check out the falls.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 23
Hike out to the fence where you can (safely) get to the edge of Vernal Falls.

Vernal, meaning “of spring” refers to the fact that the falls flow the most in spring when the snow melts.

Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 25
This viewpoint is pretty epic. Soak in Vernal Falls and move on.

If you want to do the 3 mile hike, simply turn around and go back the way you came from here. Be careful on the slippery steps back down.

Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 24
To continue hiking to Nevada Falls, follow the river upstream along the fence.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 26
Keep hiking straight, avoiding any unofficial trails to the water on the left, Emerald Pool. And as always, stay out of the water.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 27
There are bathrooms here to the right, otherwise continue straight.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 28
The trail twists off to the right, away from the river, and starts to climb.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 29
The climb gets rocky but is easy to follow.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 30
And you’ll start getting glimpses of Nevada Falls in the distance.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 31
When you reach the Clark Point Cutoff Trail (right), keep hiking to the left.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 32
Hike over the bridge.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 33
Then start climbing again as the trail heads up to Nevada Falls through the pine forest.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 34
When you reach this flat section, the trail continues as a hard left. You can go straight for a nice view of the falls.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 35
Here’s a view of Nevada Falls from that last flat area.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 36
Otherwise the Mist Trail continues uphill, winding away from the falls for a bit.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 37
And then it comes back out of the trees for some dramatic views.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 38
There’s one last steep stretch of switchbacks before the climbing is over for the day on the Mist Trail.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 39
At the intersection, make the hard right to continue to Nevada Falls. There are bathrooms at the junction here too. If you were hiking to Half Dome, you’d head left here.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 40
After the junction follow the trail on the right.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 41
And soon you’ll see the Nevada Falls area in front of you. Hike down and cross the bridge.
People In Water Nevada Falls
Please stay out of the water. The massive red signs telling you that the area is dangerous are real. If you slip here and get picked up by the current you have about 100 feet before you go over.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 42
The view from the bridge is breathtaking as the Merced falls almost 600 feet down the granite cliff.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 44
Look up and admire Liberty Cap, rising 1700 feet from where you are and named after the pointy Liberty Cap found on old US coins.

From here you can turn around and go back the way you came, or you can take the (slightly longer but easier) loop back down the John Muir Trail. If you are taking the John Muir Trail loop back down, follow the directions below. Otherwise just turn around and hike back down.

Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 43
Hike across the flat rock on the other side of the Nevada Falls bridge.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 45
The trail heads into the woods.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 46
And continues along the ridge where you’ll get some nice peeks into the valley. The spectacular views are coming in a minute.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 47
Go straight at the junction with the Panorama Trail.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 48
And soon you emerge for about a mile of nothing but views.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 49
As you hike down on this section, make sure you look back for some great views of Nevada Falls, where you just were.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 50
When you reach the junction, you’re at Clark Point. Make the hard left to continue down the John Muir Trail.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 51
From here you will descend down what will seem like 100s of switchbacks. Enjoy the downhill, you earned it.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 52
Continue straight down the trail as it approaches the river. The trail to the left is for mules.
Mist Trail Yosemite Directions 1
And soon you’ll rejoin the Mist Trail that you came up earlier. Make the left, continue over the Vernal Falls Bridge and back to the shuttle bus stop. That’s the hike!

Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.