Hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite

There are numerous hikes you can take in Yosemite National Park. We were there only for a couple of days during our great road trip through west USA. For this reason we chose to do the iconic Mist Trail, Yosemite’s signature hike. It will lead you to not just one, but two magnificent waterfalls with fabulous views scattered all along the trip.

The trailhead is located at Happy Isles (shuttle stop 16).  To get there you can park your car in Curry Village and take the free shuttle. However, we decided to walk the 1.6 kilometers to the start of the trail.

Mist Trail part I: Vernal Fall

The first part of the trail is a well-paved path alongside the beautiful Merced River, but it is a bit crowded with people wanting to get a glimpse of the first majestic waterfall, the Vernal Fall. After one kilometer we reach the footbridge over the Mercer River with a spectacular view of the Vernal Fall. A drinking fountain and restrooms are also located here.

The first glimpse of the astonishing falls

We continue the trail for another kilometer until we hit the impressive granite stairway carved into the canyon wall leading to the top of Vernal Fall. This is the most exciting part of the trail! Here we also discover how the Mist Trail got its name. The spray from the waterfall will get you soaking wet, whilst going up the hundreds of granite steps. A nice refreshment during this strenuous uphill climb.

This part of the trail can get very crowded, and the obvious lack of preparedness of some people can be a bit frustrating. You will see people on flip-flops going down the slippery wet steps, holding on to anything they can find because the fear (of heights) got the better of them. Our advice: Come prepared, and do not underestimate this part of the hike.

Lots of traffic on the beautiful granite stairway

The stairs are pretty steep too..

... but the view is A-MA-ZING!

After we reach the top of the Vernal Fall we take a moment to catch our breath and enjoy the amazing view looking down the waterfall.

Mist Trail part II: Nevada Fall

From this point, you have 3 options on how to proceed your hike. You can head back the way you came, or you can return to the trailhead by taking a longer route via the John Muir Trail. But, if you’re up for it, you can also continue the Mist Trail to the top of the amazing Nevada Fall, with the extra bonus that the trail will be far less crowded from this point on. We chose the last option of course!

Standing on the edge (don't worry, there's a railing)

The next kilometer leads us through a beautiful pine forest along the Merced River. Here you have a perfect view of the Nevada Fall. We keep walking through the forest until we run into a set of steep and rocky switchbacks that will take us up to the top of the 180 meters long Nevada Fall. The view that you get from these switchbacks is absolutely magnificent and is well worth the climb. At the top of the fall, we take again some time to rest and enjoy the beautiful view over the Yosemite Valley.

Nevada Fall. Wow!

Keep your food close. The wildlife at the top are sneaky little thieves

Now it’s time for the trip back. Again you can return back down the way you came which is about 4 kilometers. But we choose to go via the John Muir Trail, which is a bit longer, about 6.5 kilometers. A good choice, because it offers a stunning view of Nevada Fall with the Liberty Cap and the back of the Half Dome in the background. The remainder of this trail is a peaceful and easy descent through a shady forest back to the footbridge where the trail started.

What a view!


Distance: The Mist Trail to the top of the Vernal Fall is 2.8 kilometers, and back via the John Muir Trail is around 6 kilometers. The Mist Trail to the top of the Nevada Fall is 5.3 kilometers, and back via the John Muir Trail is around 12 kilometers.
Elevation change: The elevation at the trailhead is 1.2 kilometers. The top of the Vernal Fall is at an elevation of 1.5 kilometers. The top of the Nevada Fall is 1.8 kilometers. So for the full trip a total elevation change of 600 meters.
Difficulty: National Park Services rates the trail as strenuous
Trailhead: Happy Isles shuttle stop
Weather: The water level in the Merced River is depending on the seasons. For the highest flow and most powerful waterfalls, we recommend hiking this trail in the spring or early in the summer, when the winter snow is melting. In the winter the Mist Trail is closed because of icy conditions.


  • Bring plenty of water, especially in the summer it can get very hot.
  • Wear appropriate hiking shoes with lots of traction; no sneakers, Converse or flip-flops!
  • Start this hike early in the day to avoid the crowds and the midday heat
  • Do not swim or wade in the river. The river looks much less dangerous than it actually is. In fact, the current can be too strong to overcome, and it can sweep you right over the waterfall.
  • For more information about the route, click here.

Have you hiked to the Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall? If so, let me know in the comments below!

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