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.
Garmin inReach Mini
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.
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My Review & Guide
How is this Different than a GPS?
Altra Lone Peak 5
For most people, the Altra Lone Peak is a solid choice that will leave your feet feeling great at the end of any hike. The feel is cushy and light, and if it had a car equivalent, this would be a Cadillac or Mercedes Sedan. The grip is great and they’re reasonably durable for this type of trail runner, which I think is better in most conditions than a hiking boot, and here’s why. The downside of this shoe is that it won’t last as long as something like the Moab 2 (see alternate footwear choices at the bottom of my gear page). I’ve been using mine for many miles and my feet always feel great. Watch my video explaining why they are a great shoe here.
Women’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Men’s Latest Prices: REI | Amazon
Black Diamond Trail Ergo Cork Trekking Poles
I’ve gone back and forth on trekking poles, but I think for most people they are a good investment. They help you dig in on the uphills, provide stability on loose downhills, act as a brace when crossing streams, and can probably poke away aggressive wildlife in a pinch. The Trail Ergo Cork poles are a good balance of light weight, durability, affordability, and ease of use. If you want something ultralight and a little more pricey, I’ve had great luck with the Black Diamond Z Poles too.
Trail Ergo Poles: REI | Amazon
Z-Poles: REI | Amazon
Here’s my complete gear list that I personally use, have tested, and recommend, updated January 2022.
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 keep the website ad and promotion free. 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.
Explore Map on CalTopoView a Printable PDF Hike MapDownload the Hike GPX File
If you try to download the GPX file and your browser adds a “.txt” or “.xml” extension to it, simply rename it as a “.gpx” file.
How Are You Going to Navigate This Hike?
If you are a hardcore hiker and/or hike in extreme conditions, I recommend getting a dedicated GPS like a GPSMAP 66sr or 66i, or a wrist-based GPS with maps like the Garmin Fenix 6. If you only hike in fair weather and a touchscreen is fine, or just want a solid tool, I highly recommend downloading the smartphone app, Gaia GPS. It’s a piece of cake to use and very powerful, just make sure your phone is in airplane mode so the battery doesn’t drain. You can also check for wildfires, weather, snow, and choose from dozens of map types with a premium membership (HikingGuy readers get a big discount here). Note that I also carry a paper map with me in case the phone dies or gets smashed.
|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.
This guide last updated on September 18, 2020. Did something change on this hike? If so, please contact me and let me know. I'll update the guide.
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