Hiking to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite
Hiking to Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite is a great day hike for those looking for an adventure in the park. This is a popular hike offering incredible close up views of both falls. These two breathtaking waterfalls can be combined in a long day hike or as a part of a longer backpacking trip to Half Dome. For a day trip, either hike to the falls out and back via the Mist Trail, or combine with the John Muir Trail for a 6.5-mile loop. These hikes are strenuous so make sure you are prepared physically and carry enough water, snacks and other necessities before heading out on the trail.
To get to the trailhead, take the shuttle bus to stop number 16 for Happy Isles. The shuttle bus runs year-round from 7am until 10pm. There is no parking at the trailhead, so if you choose to drive you can park at Curry Village less than one mile down the road from the trailhead. Unlike most trails in Yosemite, restrooms and pit toilets are available along the hike. Restrooms are available at the trailhead and the Vernal Falls footbridge. Pit toilets are available at the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
From the trailhead, the first 0.8 miles of the hike is paved until the Vernal Falls footbridge. This section of trail is uphill and busy. Go 0.2 miles past the footbridge and the trail splits. Here you can choose to take the Mist Trail which takes you alongside the falls for close up views, but is steep, rocky and wet. Or you can take the John Muir Trail which is longer, but gives you different views and is a more gradual climb.
If you choose to take the Mist Trail, you will be rewarded with excellent views of both waterfalls. From the bottom of Vernal Falls, the Mist Trail takes you up 600 steps than can be slippery and misty. Use caution when hiking the Mist Trail as ankle and knee injuries are common on this trail. Once at the top of Vernal Falls you can look down the 317 foot water fall to the bottom.
From the top of Vernal Falls you can again choose either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail. The Mist Trail is 1.5 miles of steep rocky switchbacks to the top of Nevada Falls. This trail offers great photo opportunities of the falls and the surrounding valley. Once at the top, hike to the footbridge across the Merced River for stunning views looking down the 594 foot waterfall. Please be careful to obey all guardrails and stay on trails. The rocks here can be very slippery when wet.
Once at the top of Nevada Falls you have two options to get back to the trailhead at Happy Isles. You can hike back down the Mist Trail which is 2.5 miles to the trailhead. Keep in mind going this way that you will be descending steep, rocky switchbacks and competing with the uphill traffic. The other way is to take the John Muir Trail which is 4 miles back to the trailhead. Although this way is longer, it’s a much easier descent and you will be passing less uphill traffic.
The best time to see the falls is in the spring or summer. This is when peak runoff occurs and the waterfalls are flowing at their highest capacity. As you get into late summer and fall, water slows down and the falls are not quite as powerful. This can have its advantages since the Mist Trail will be drier due to less spray from the falls. If you plan to visit in the winter, keep in mind that some trails will be closed. The Mist Trail is closed from the bottom to the top of Vernal Falls due to dangerous rock and ice falls. Past Vernal Falls, the John Muir Trail is closed in winter due to treacherous icy conditions. Have Fun! Semper Prorsum!