Mist Trail to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls
|In This Guide|
|Total Distance||6 miles (9.7 km)|
|Other Options||3 miles, 7.5 miles|
|Hike Time||3-5 Hours (Total)|
|Total Ascent (?)||2,600 feet (792m)|
|Highest Elevation||6,020 feet (1835m)|
|Fees & Permits||Park Entry Fee|
|Alerts & Closures (?)||Yosemite National Park|
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.
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
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.
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.
My Goto Hiking Footwear: La Sportiva Wildcat
If you hike a lot or just want the best (but not the most durable) hiking footwear, the Wildcat trail runner is your best move. It’s fast and light on trails, the sole gives me good grip off-trail or scrambling, and they dry quickly.
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Best All-Around Day Pack: Osprey Talon
I try so many backpacks and I can usually find something I love about all of them. But no matter how many I try, I always find that I come back to the Osprey Talon 33 (or for women, the Osprey Sirrus 36). It’s just the right balance between everything. You save weight because there is no frame, but the vented and padded back holds its shape, giving it a pseudo-frame. It’s big enough for long day hikes or overnighters, but when I don’t fill it on a shorter hike, it’s still nice and light. It’s got a sleeve for a hydration bladder and side pockets for Smartwater bottles. I’ve been using (and beating) the same one since 2017 and it’s still going strong.
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Stay Safe Out of Cell Phone Range
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 Garmin InReach Mini (REI | Amazon | My Review) fits in your palm and weighs next to nothing.
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated October 2020.
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.
Download the Hike GPX FileView a Printable PDF Hike Map
How are you going to navigate this hike?
To start, you should always have a paper map and compass. And it helps to print this guide out or save it on your phone. I highly recommend a GPS as well. I use the Garmin Fenix 6 smart GPS watch ( REI | Amazon | My Review) with maps (or the more affordable Garmin Instinct). You can also use most smartphones. Check out my navigation recommendations and resources on my top gear picks page for options at all budget levels.
|Happy Isles Shuttle Stop||0||4020|
|Vernal Falls Bridge||1||4400|
|Bathrooms / Trail Junction||2.8||5980|
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.
- You won’t beat up your knees going down the granite stairs.
- It’s safer to descend on the John Muir Trail. There are no places to potentially slip on a wet granite step and fall.
- You won’t have to walk against crowds coming up the Mist Trail.
- The trail is not nearly as crowded as the Mist Trail.
- You’ll get incredible views of Nevada Falls, Liberty Dome, and the back of Half Dome.
Being Safe On the Mist Trail
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.
- Don’t go into, wade in, or go right next to the water. Think about what would happen if you were to slip into the river. How slick is the granite? Would you be able to stop? People fall into the water, slip, get swept away, and die here. It’s real.
- Heed all the warning signs.
- If the trail is crowded, hug the inside of the trail and let others pass on the outside.
- If you are passing, let others know before you pass, and do so very carefully. If you don’t feel like you can pass safely on a section of the trail, stay behind and pass in a better section.
- In the winter the trail can be closed due to falling ice. Heed all trail closures or detours.
- I wouldn’t do this hike with small children.
Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls Hike Directions
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Turn by Turn Directions
Vernal, meaning “of spring” refers to the fact that the falls flow the most in spring when the snow melts.
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.
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.
Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.