The Mist Trail Rises above Yosemite Valley as you Hike to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall.

Part of the You Can Learn Travel series.
By Ken Brown
Editor, You Can Learn Series
August 19, 2007

One of the most interesting day hikes we experienced was the Mist Trail.

The Mist Trail hike leads you up to Vernal Fall and you can continue on up to Nevada Fall. It is a beautiful hike covering over 2.8 miles in one direction (up) and it ascends 1900 feet. It is a strenuous hike and a very popular hike, so expect crowds.

When you first cross the bridge over the Merced River you enter a magical world. The sounds of rushing water. The sun coming up behind you as you gaze up the mountain at the Giant's Staircase. You can hear Vernal Fall from the bridge, but trust me, it gets better as you go up the trail.

The Mist Trail gets it's name from the water coming down off the side of the mountain and hitting the granite walls. As it hits the granite rocks, the water bounces off and explodes into a million particles of water. This causes a mist to form around the falls. It also creates cool rainbows in the morning sunshine.

As you approach Vernal Fall the trail meanders next to the river rushing down the mountain. In some places you are so close to the falls the trail becomes wet with moisture. On hot days this is a welcome relief. On cold days you might find yourself chilly from the moisture.

It is a long and strenuous hike. Be prepared to take many breaks as you ascend to Vernal Fall. In some places the Mist Trail becomes a little crowded. Take it easy as not everyone may be in as good shape as you are. Wait a bit and you will be able to pass them in just a moment or two. If you are coming down the trail make way for the people who are coming up. On hot days, be sure and bring some extra water with you.

You begin the hike by taking the park's free shuttle to Happy Isles. I recommend you start early in the day as the hike is quite popular and can become crowded. Walk over the bridge that crosses the Merced River after you get off the shuttle. To your right you will see the trailhead.

Ascend 1000 Feet to Vernal Fall

The early part of the trail isn't that bad. Small switchbacks keep you going up with interesting scenery as you ascend 1000 feet to Vernal Fall. Remember to look at the scenery around you as you go up. Check out Illilouette Fall as it cascades down a sheer granite rock face. As you ascend up the The Mist Trail look for Sentinel Dome in the direction of Glacier Point. The trail is paved during this first section and I even saw a family pushing a stroller up the path. (I wouldn't recommend it though.) Admire the granite walls all about you. After you have travelled 300 feet look again. The walls and sun will have changed and will give you a completely different look.

Click on Mist Trail photo to see larger photo.

The Mist Trail is a paved gentle incline in the early stages of the hike in Yosemite National Park
The Mist Trail is a paved gentle incline in the early stages of the hike in Yosemite National Park


Click to see larger photo.

The Vernal Bridge is a good resting point on Mist Trail hike in Yosemite National Park
The Vernal Bridge is a good resting point on Mist Trail hike in Yosemite National Park

Your first big stop will be 7 tenths of a mile into your hike. You reach the Vernal Fall foot bridge. You get some nice views up the Giant Staircase toward Vernal Falls. This is a great stopping point for a lot of people. You have ascended 400 feet by this point. There is a toilet just past the bridge. Many people will stop for water. It is a great place to pull out the camera. Have someone take a picture of your group standing on the bridge with the scenery behind you.

The Mist Trail Becomes Rugged

After this point the Mist Trail becomes more rugged. You are walking on a small path right next to the river as it cascades down the mountain. The mist forming from the cascading water will make the path a little moist. (Hence the name Mist Trail.) Be careful you don't slip. Wear good shoes that grip. Here is the point where you begin to stop often to rest and to get some great photos. Look for rainbows in the mist. Others in your group may not hear you from the sounds of the rushing water. Remember to look up, soon the falls will come into view.
Click on Mist Trail photo to see larger photo.

The Mist Trail becomes rugged after the Vernal Bridge
The Mist Trail becomes rugged after the Vernal Bridge


Click to see larger photo.

The Vernal Fall is well worth the hike up the Mist Trail
The Vernal Fall is well worth the hike up the Mist Trail

Once you see the Vernal Falls you will say the trip was worth it. The Merced River pounds and roars over the granite and falls 317 feet to the granite boulders below. The huge boulders were left by glaciers as they carved out the valley below. Stop and take pictures of the falls as you ascend the final hundred yards. You get some great views and it is very impressive.

Once you have reached the top look around you. The granite rocks are all around. You can see the Merced River pool just above the falls. This is a great place to rest. Eat a little snack, fruit, peanut butter crackers or trail mix. Drink the water you brought with you. Please DO NOT feed the squirrels or birds. Not even a little bit. Yes, that one morsel is not good for them.

Continue Up The Giant's Staircase

You may at this point choose to continue up the Giant's Staircase to see the Silver Apron and to get a close up view of Nevada Fall. The trail is rather difficult to find. Go just a little ways away from the river and falls and start hiking along the river. Soon you will see the trail. We followed someone. It was not clear to us where to go. Keep your eyes open for the Silver Apron. You will cross the River on a bridge as you ascend to Nevada Fall.

If you choose not to continue on up to Nevada Fall, begin to go down the way you came up, but look for the signs that point you to the John Muir Trail. It is drier and not as steep. This trail is a horse or mule trail so your shoes will get dusty, but if you have bad knees like I do it will be an easier walk down. I think it will be more walking (longer) and you travel in the forested area away from the crowd. You will finish the John Muir trail at the Vernal Bridge crossing.

As you travel down the John Muir trail you will meet up with hikers who plan to stay on the mountain overnight. It is fun to see all the different footwear hikers wear. Some have on good strong hiking boots. But, don't be surprised to see hikers wearing flip flops. I was totally amazed. Some of the back packs on the smaller women appear to weigh more than they weigh. If you are planning on staying overnight, maybe with the intent of going for an ascent of Half Dome the next day, the John Muir trail is a better way to get you and your stuff up the mountain. It is less crowded and not as steep with many switchbacks.
Click on photo.

The Vernal Bridge is a great resting point on the way down
Take a break at the Vernal Bridge for one last look at Vernal Fall as you descend.


Click to see larger photo.

The Silver Apron along the Giant's Staircase
The Silver Apron just above Vernal Fall

Getting to Vernal Fall will take you between 1 hour and 2 hours if you are stopping to take photos and see the sites. We are good hikers with long legs. We did rest a lot. Many people passed us as we ascended.

See and hear the power of Vernal Fall in this 15 second video.

See the Mist Trail in action, click link for video. The video can be viewed with Real Player.

These photos were taken in early June after a relatively dry winter. If you choose to go late in the summer the waterfalls will have less water flowing over them. The grandeur may be lost. Some of the Yosemite water falls completely dry up during the late summer and early fall months.

The Mist Trail is fun, rugged, tiring, exhilirating and fantastic. The Merced River and glaciers have carved out a wonderful day hike with beauty that will stay with you forever.

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