Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls | Yosemite National Park
Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls| Written by Brian Callender | Photography by Julie Boyd
One of the premier hikes starting from Yosemite Valley, the hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls is a must-do when visiting the park.
An incredibly popular trail thanks to its access to Half Dome, hiking to the falls is best done in Spring or Summer when the falls are at their peak.
While we consider this to be a difficult hike, you will be rewarded for your efforts with two stunning waterfalls and fantastic views along the way.
Hiking Vernal And Nevada Falls: Hike Details
Starting Elevation: 4,023 ft.
Distance: 9.78 miles
Elevation Gain: 2,103 ft.
Hike Type: Out and back, day-hike
Difficulty Level: Difficult
Permit: None required unless you are continuing to Half Dome
Date Hiked: June 23, 2019
How to get to the Mist Trail
Driving from the South Bay, it’s easy to reach Yosemite Valley in just under four hours. Start by taking the 101 South to the 152 East, before eventually connection to the 140 East which leads you straight into the park.
The trail itself starts near Happy Isles and can be reached either via shuttle (stop #16) or by parking in nearby Curry Village. On our visit, we arrived later in the morning since we were driving in for the day, and were able to find a parking spot in the crowded lot. Note that by parking near Curry Village that you will be adding an extra mile each way to your hike. We didn’t mind this though as taking the shuttle means multiple additional stops.
Hiking the Vernal and Nevada Falls Loop
Once you have walked the mile from the trailhead or hopped off the shuttle, it’s time to get started hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls! There are bathrooms and a place to fill up water if you have not already done so, just before you get on the trail. Unlike many other hikes in the park, there are additional chances to use a restroom on along this route, which is a nice little bonus.
Ascending the Mist Trail
The first section of the trail is mostly paved which means you’ll be joined by many casual tourists who are hoping to catch a glimpse of the falls. Even with this in mind, the the hike is almost entirely uphill, so the crowds will be slow moving up to the Vernal Falls Footbridge.
At the footbridge, you can catch a decent view of Vernal Falls, but it’s even better as you continue along the trail. Here, you will find that those out for a glimpse of the falls will end their hike at this point and turn back.
There is an appropriately placed sign here, thanks to the National Park Service, reminding you of the trail conditions ahead. A trek along the Mist Trail in peak season means you will get SOAKED, so it is important to prepare accordingly.
We continued along the Mist Trail and the crowds combined with the slick, wet rock of the trail, meant that it was slow going. Julie and I brought rain jackets for this section of the hike, and saw others wearing ponchos to avoid the waterfall’s mist. Ultimately, we ended up skipping the jackets as the cool mist felt refreshing on this warm, summer day.
Top of Vernal Falls
Affectionately, and accurately known as “nature’s giant staircase” it is easy to see why the trail holds this designation. In this section, the Mist Trail was a steady climb along stone steps as we worked to make our way to the top of Vernal Falls.
Once atop the falls, the crowds of people had spread out to relax, enjoy some sun, and take in the views. We snacked on a bar, took some photos, and then continued to our lunch destination at the top of Nevada Falls.
Top of Nevada Falls
With so many hikers stopping at the top of Vernal Falls, the next portion of the hike felt relatively secluded, and it was a nice change of pace from what we had just witnessed. Here, the trail switchbacks its way up the side of Nevada Falls rather relentlessly, but its dry conditions and low crowds made this section much more enjoyable.
The trail eventually flattens out at the top of the falls and it’s incredible to see how far you have come as you look down into the valley.
After soaking in the scenery for a few minutes, we grabbed a spot in the shade and enjoyed picture-perfect views of Liberty Cap and the sound of water rushing over Nevada Falls. There was ample space to spread out, so even though there were plenty of other hikers here, we never felt too crowded while we ate.
Descending the John Muir Trail
Before long, it was time to get back on the trail and head down to the car. We opted to take the John Muir Trail down, which makes hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls a loop. The John Muir Trail was substantially less crowded than the Mist Trail. Honestly, Julie and I couldn’t imagine going back down the slick Mist Trail considering how busy it was coming up. And if there were any doubt in our minds, they were quickly dispelled by that postcard worthy shots of Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls that immediately captured our hearts as we descended.
Along the way, we chatted with a group of hikers who had just completed Half Dome, and I was immediately reminded how much I am looking forward to tackling that hike in the future.
The trail switchbacks its way down before eventually connecting back up with the Mist Trail at the Vernal Falls Footbridge. By this time of the afternoon, the trail was arguably more busy that on our way up, and we zig-zagged our way past the crowds to the parking lot.
Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls is a great adventure in Yosemite National Park, and we couldn’t have had better conditions! I can’t wait to come back and do this trail all the way to Half Dome in the future!
Have you gone hiking to Vernal and Nevada Falls, or Half Dome? Let us know in the comments!