In the heart of Yosemite Valley, two of the most majestic waterfalls in the country roar through the trees. The epic Mist Trail winds alongside the river while it climbs up hundreds of granite steps to the top of each waterfall. The best part? Getting soaked in the spray that thunders up from the ground as the river pounds the rocks below.
We were drenched because of the mist from Vernal Fall and we loved it! Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are huge, booming waterfalls that showcase the majesty of Yosemite National Park. You can hike as far on the trail as you are able and still have a great experience, but I certainly suggest finding out for yourself why this trail is called the Mist Trail!
What You Need to Know
The Mist Trail is paved for the first mile and is overflowing with people anxious to catch a glimpse of a boisterous waterfall. After 0.8 miles of hiking alongside the beautiful Merced River, you will reach a footbridge with views of the spectacular Vernal Fall. This footbridge area also has a seasonal drinking fountain and restroom.
The Mist Trail is one of the coolest trails I have ever hiked. Seriously! Not only is it beautiful, but it offers a truly unique experience you won’t get anywhere else.
If you want to ditch most of the crowds, continue following the Mist Trail up the hundreds of granite steps in front of you. The steep granite stairway scares a lot of people off, but this is the cool part of the hike!
A few people that I know didn’t enjoy this trail as much as I did because of the crowds and the noticeable lack of preparedness of many hikers. While the trail was busy and we did encounter several people in flip-flops carrying no water, I tried not to let it detract from my experience of hiking in the mist of a huge waterfall!
As you hike on the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall, expect to get drenched! We were covered from head to toe with waterfall spray! The granite staircase itself is very wet and slippery so be sure to have shoes with good traction and watch your footing. As far as kids are concerned, I think most kids would be okay on this part of the trail as long as they are wearing appropriate footwear and they don’t mind a lot of water spraying their face.
When you reach the top of Vernal Fall, catch your breath while gazing over the brink of the waterfall and the powerful river below. The guard rail at the top of the Fall feels dangerously close to the edge and provides a spectacular encounter with Vernal Fall.
If you are feeling up to it, continue on along the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Fall. You will pass the sparkling Emerald Pool with dramatic views of the unique granite domes in the distance. Although it may look inviting, be aware that there is no swimming in this area because of intensely strong currents in the water.
After passing the Emerald Pool you will come upon the Silver Apron. Although it’s hard to snap a photo of it, the Silver Apron is a perfectly polished chute of water that looks like an awesome natural waterslide. It is one of my favorite stops along the trail because I’ve never seen anything like it! Curb the temptation to jump in the water and slide through the rocks because the currents could sweep you right over the waterfall.
Just past the Silver Apron, the trail enters a beautiful pine forest with picturesque granite domes peeking through the trees.
The Merced River is the river responsible for the spectacular Vernal and Nevada Falls. For the highest flow and most powerful waterfalls, consider hiking this trail in the spring or early summer. The Mist Trail is closed during the winter because of icy and snowy conditions, so check with the Visitor Center to make sure the trail is open and clear of ice before attempted it in the spring. These pictures were taken on our hike in early June and the conditions were perfect!
Continue along the Mist Trail to get a gorgeous view of Nevada Fall. From here, prepare to make one final climb up some steep switchbacks and granite steps to reach the top!
Technically, the Mist Trail ends at the top of Nevada Fall where it meets up with the trail to Half Dome and the John Muir Trail. Some connecting trails await you at the top of Nevada Fall, but I recommend returning the way you came if you haven’t pre-planned an alternate route.
If you want an amazing photo of Nevada Fall with Half Dome and the Liberty Cap in the background, consider hiking about a half mile from the top of the fall along the John Muir Trail.
The Mist Trail to the Vernal Fall Footbridge is 1.6 miles roundtrip, the trail to the top of Vernal Fall is 3 miles roundtrip, and the trail to the top of Nevada Fall is 6.8 miles roundtrip. The total elevation gain to the top of Nevada Fall is 1,900 feet, making this trail moderately strenuous (especially because of all the staircases).
After hiking the Mist Trail, I strongly suggest heading to Washburn Point along the Glacier Point Road. From here, you will truly appreciate the grandeur of Vernal and Nevada Falls and the hard work you exerted to get there!
For directions to Washburn Point and other great places to visit in Yosemite, click here.
To get to the trailhead for Vernal Fall, please DO NOT try to drive around. You will be miserable and there is no parking lot at the trailhead anyway. Take the shuttle and get off at the Happy Isles Nature Center, stop 16.
We parked at stop 11, the Sentinel Bridge, and just left our car there all day so we could take the shuttle. It worked out great!