Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite National Park, California, USA



We enjoyed a great hike this last May long weekend. We climbed 2000 feet in elevation to see the top of two waterfalls at Yosemite National Park: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

View from Vernal Falls Footbridge on the Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park, CA

View from the Footbridge below Vernal Falls on Mist Trail

View of Vernal Falls from the granite steps on the Mist Trail

Misty view of Vernal Falls from granite steps on the Mist Trail


Our first stop was the Vernal Falls Footbridge, a little ways downstream from the bottom of the falls. After waiting a few minutes we got our photo opportunity over the thundering waters rushing beneath us with Vernal Falls in the distant background. I had warned my kids about the dangers of waterfalls and the deaths that have occurred to innocent waders. A sign at the beginning of the Footbridge drove my point home for my boys. The first mile or so was very busy, as we hiked on the Mist Trail, up the 600 or so wet granite steps meandering along the hillside parallel to the rushing waters of Vernal Falls. There was quite a lot of foot traffic despite the steep incline. I noticed that some hikers were making their way down on these slippery granite steps. I am glad we chose to go up these granite steps and not down. It seems a lot easier to slip, the steps are high and there is a lot more head-on traffic on the narrow steps for those going down. The Mist Trail was an experience I won't forget…. We were soaked by the time we got to the top (rain gear recommended) but it was totally worth it! It reminded me for a boat ride I took a long time ago at Niagara Falls called the Maid of the Mist.

View of Vernal Falls from the wet granite step on the Mist Trail

View of Vernal Falls from the wet granite step on the Mist Trail, busy trail

View from the top of Vernal Falls, Yosemite

View from the top of Vernal Falls, Yosemite


We took a break at the top of Vernal Falls on the huge slabs of granite, enjoying the view we had earned.   My husband and son stood in line for their photo opportunity at the corner closest to the top of the Falls.  Unfortunately, as with most waterfalls the view is best on the journey to the top. Once at the very top, the view is of rushing waters though made sweeter by the soaking effort.

View from Nevada Falls Footbridge

View from Nevada Falls Footbridge, falls in distance

At the bottom of Nevada Falls

At the bottom of Nevada Falls


After a quick snack break, we pressed on to our next Falls, Nevada Falls. The Merced River flows over cliffs at Nevada Falls before making its way down to pass over the cliffs of Vernal Falls. Nevada Falls is around 600 feet high, Vernal Falls about 300 feet high. Before long, we got to the Footbridge at the foot of Nevada Falls. Foot traffic here was considerably less. That hike continued partly into shaded trails, then out again onto steep granite steps, this time not wet. It's amazing how close the waterfalls feel when on the granite steps, as the thundering waters rushed before us.

Granite Steps towards Nevada Falls, dry this time

View of Nevada Falls from the granite Steps on the Mist Trail, dry this time

Shaded granite steps of the Mist Trail towards Nevada Falls

Shaded granite steps of the Mist Trail towards Nevada Falls


We made a few stops on this part of the hike both to enjoy the views of granite domes overlooking the granite-lined Canyon below and to catch our breath. This part of the hike was our hardest, as we approached the 2000 foot elevation change in the 2.5 miles we hiked from trailhead. 0.2 miles got us to the top of Nevada Falls from the top of the Mist Trail. The top was covered in large slippery slabs of granite. We took the Footbridge going over the falls and enjoyed a quick view of rushing waters. Thunders started sounding and we hurried through to get off the large granite slab that cover most of the top of Nevada Falls.

View from the top of Nevada Falls

View from the top of Nevada Falls


We took the John Muir Trail on the way down. This trail is a little longer than the Mist Trail, less steep, but still downhill. Initially, the trail took us along a bench that gave us amazing views of Nevada Falls beside three huge granite domes overlooking a granite-walled canyon.

View of Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome from John Muir Trail

View of Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome from John Muir Trail


A short walk from the top we came across a wall of rocks with water flowing over it onto our trail - a sort of weeping wall. My kids were happy to walk through this water to cool off. On our way down, we spotted another two-part waterfall in the distance, far down in the Canyon. Sheer vertical walls of granite greeted us at almost every corner.  The stairs here were slippery, mostly granite covered with a fine sand.  My kids fell on their bottoms a couple of times before deciding to take us up on our offer to hold their hands.

View of the granite-walled canyon from John Muir Trail

View of the granite-walled canyon from John Muir Trail

View of Half Dome from John Muir Trail

View of Half Dome from John Muir Trail

Distant Falls View from John Muir Trail

Distant Falls View from John Muir Trail

We hiked a total of 10 miles that day, starting our walk from the parking lot near Half Dome Village, up the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls then down John Muir Trail, and back to the car. It took us a total of 5 hours for the entire 10 miles.

I woke up around 4:45 that morning to pack up our picnic lunch and put together some snacks. We were in the car and on our way by 5:30am. We arrived at Yosemite National Park at around 9am. Only 5 cars were ahead of us at the Entrance gate. We circled the parking lot at shuttle stop #14 a couple times, and found one after some effort. We intended to take the shuttle, but after seeing one shuttle go past us because it was too full, and about 15 people ahead of us in the bus stop line, we decided to walk the 1-1.5 miles to our trailhead.

All in all, despite the traffic, early wake up call and big crowds, the hike up the Mist Trail was definitely worth the trouble! It was a challenging hike for us, with three kids in tow, but it is one that I highly recommend if you are able to.


Practical Information (as of May 2016)

Entrance fee: $30 per vehicle, Free with National Parks Annual Pass

Features: Views of two tall rushing waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, getting soaked by Vernal Falls (via Mist Trail), Views of granite-walled canyon, Granite domes, weeping granite wall


Drive towards Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village), closest parking to Vernal Falls Trailhead is at Stop #15. Take shuttle to Shuttle Stop #16 -Happy Isles Shuttle or walk the mile or so to the Trailhead.

Hikes we did:

Mist Trail up to Nevada Falls: 2.7miles (rain gear recommended) (2000 ft elevation gain)

John Muir Trail down from Nevada Falls: 4 miles 

 Amenities: restrooms (flush) at bottom and top (vault) of Vernal Falls, water fill-up station at bottom of Vernal Falls


Warning: The safety of these adventures are dependent on a variety of factors including but not limited to: terrain, weather, wildlife, hiker skill level, human error, and other foreseen and unforeseen circumstances. Although care has been taken to ensure the accuracy of the information provided at the time of publication, we do not assume any liability for the accuracy and completeness of the information provided.  As such, we will not be held responsible for any harm, injury, and/or loss that may result. Your personal judgement on the safety of each adventure is required at all times. Please use your own discretion and be safe.


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