The Mist Trail is an incredibly popular and heavily trafficked trail in Yosemite National Park, California. This trail is one of the park’s most crowded hikes due to its internal views of Yosemite Valley and stunning overlooks of Vernal and Nevada waterfalls. During the snow melt months in spring and summer, mist from the Vernal waterfall routinely makes a portion of the trail feel as if you’re getting rained on.
Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail
The Mist Trail features two incredibly beautiful landmarks of Yosemite National Park: Vernal and Nevada falls. The park also has a nice close view of Liberty Cap (a smaller dome that sits next to Half Dome) and the backside of the more popular, Half Dome. The ease of access is one of the things that make this trail so popular. The trail is paved up until the Vernal fall viewpoint. The trail itself also features two restrooms along the route. Both Vernal and Nevada falls are incredible sights. Many people stop just at the top of Vernal fall to take in the view of the fall and have a lunch. However, it is worth the short distance up to the Nevada fall to take in the beauty of the Merced River falling down the ledge and into Yosemite Valley.
I’ve hiked this trail in both Spring during the peak snowmelt season and during the mid-fall when water runoff is at its lowest. While both times of year are beautiful, nothing compares to the Spring when the waterfalls are at their peak. When I hiked this trail the complete loop ended up being nine miles. This is longer than most posted routes because the trail takes you past Nevada Falls along the John Muir Trail and back down to the trailhead. .
Keep in mind, you don’t need to complete the whole trail in order to view some of the magnificent sites that this trail offers. For those not as familiar to hiking or think they may not be up for the whole trail, consider some of the other viewing points mentioned below in the trail details.
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- Overall Difficulty: 65% 65%
- Overall Views: 100% 100%
Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail Quick Facts:
- Elevation: 6,137 feet.
- Elevation Gain: 2,431 feet.
- Estimated Distance: 6.4 miles.
- My Actual Distance: 9.1 miles
- Estimated Time: 4-6 hours.
- My Time: 4:11 hours.
Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail Directions:
Open in maps. Cost is admission to Yosemite National Park. An America The Beautiful pass will also work. Access to the trailhead is very easy and near shuttle stop #16.. There is a parking lot at the base of the trailhead. However, this parking lot fills up very early in the morning due to the popularity of the trail and amount of campsites nearby. There is some street parking near the first parking lot if it’s full. About a half mile down from the first parking lot, there is another one. Spring and summer are the busiest times of year. Winter months may require chains for driving.
Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail Pictures:
Who Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail Is For:
Novice Hikers: Certain aspects of this trail can be difficult. The elevation gain for those with medical problems or difficulties walking up or down inclines could be troublesome. Many people turn around after the Vernal fall viewpoint and even more so after the top of Vernal fall. To get to Nevada fall from Vernal fall, the trail takes you through a series of switchbacks with a moderate incline. Still, if you’re in any amount of regular shape and even if you’re not incredibly active, this could be a trail that you could complete. It will just be on the difficult end.
Advanced Hikers: This is a bucket list type of trail just because of the iconic views. The hike is relatively easy for anyone with any hiking or workout experience but the crowds might get on your nerves during the busy season.
Expert Hikers: This is an easy hike but you’ll long for other views in the park away from crowds that offer more solitude.
It’s always a good idea to be aware of what type of hiking level you’re at.
Best Time Of Year To Hike Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail:
I’ve done this hike twice and in two completely opposite times of the year. The first time I did this hike was on November 1st. Winter hadn’t kicked in yet and the snowmelt and runoff from the spring was long gone. The Merced River was nothing but a trickle that was running down the canyon and through Vernal and Nevada falls. The second time I did this hike was in the middle of May after an average winter in terms of amount of snowfall. The amount of water gushing through the Merced River was astonishing.
The late spring and early summer months while peak snowmelt is high is the best time to see the waterfalls but that’s not to say that this trail isn’t nice to hike during off times. I’d love to see this trail during the winter with snow on the ground. The November hike was nice because of the thinner crowds. Spring was nice because of the actual mist on the Mist Trail. Winter months can make certain portions of the trail impassable due to ice and snow. Summer months can be hot so plan accordingly. Some parts of the trail are made of granite rocks and can be slippery when wet. Weather can be unpredictable any time of the year so always be aware of weather conditions.
Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail Conditions:
The trail is incredibly great condition. In fact, the lower portion of the Mist Trail isn’t much of a trail because it’s paved up until the Vernal Fall viewpoint. From the Vernal Fall viewpoint, the trail continues on pavement for a while until it turns to dirt and granite steps. This is where the real fun begins. When Vernal Fall is at it’s peak, the mist from the waterfall sprays up against the trail making it feel like a steady mist/rain. If the winds are blowing the water against the back of the canyon wall, the mist could leave you completely drenched. I got by with a water resistant jacket and was unscathed. My fiance’ who did the hike a year prior got drenched with just a water resistant jacket because of the way the winds were blowing the mist.
I want to use a word of caution here: granite rocks are incredibly slippery when wet so although this is a relatively safe trail, please use caution and watch your step when going up the wet part of the trail. Most accidents and deaths that happen occur when people wander off the trail and get too close to the river and slip and fall in.
After the mist portion of the trail, it continues on granite steps up to the top of Vernal Fall. There is one portion of the trail that is narrow and only really passable for one person at a time. Please be courteous to those going up. This part of the trail is lined with a metal handrail to use for those where slippery narrow surfaces and heights make people nervous. Once at the top of the waterfall, the there is a viewing point at the Vernal Fall overlook and a large granite slab that is popular for picnicking. Do not go over the rails at the overlook – people have died doing this.
Vernal fall continues along the Merced River through the meadows until you get near the ledge of Nevada fall. Once here the trail transitions to granite step switchbacks until the top. At the top of the switchbacks the trail crosses paths with the John Muir Trail and there is a restroom located here. There is another viewing point at the top of Nevada fall. Again, do not go over the railing here. The top of Nevada fall is heavily traveled but less populated than Vernal fall.
From the top of Nevada fall there are a couple of different ways to return to the trailhead. You can return the way you came up or you can come back down through the John Muir Trail or the winter route. The latter makes the trail longer but is more interesting as it makes a portion of the trail a loop instead of an out and back.
Coming down the John Muir Trail or the winter route is a series of switchbacks made up of mostly dirt and granite trails. Both trails will drop you off just shortly above the Vernal fall viewing point.
Most of the trail is not exposed to the sun until the higher elevations of the trail near Nevada fall. Rain, snow, or ice can make portions of the trail dangerous or impassable. Be aware of weather conditions. Weather can change suddenly in this area throughout the year. Dress appropriately for seasonal temperatures and conditions.