Hike 2.4 miles roundtrip and gain 1,000 vertical feet on the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall; going on to Nevada Fall brings the total mileage to 5.4 and 2,000 feet of elevation. Start early to avoid crowds.
More importantly, watch your children closely since the path can get slippery when it is wet. And don’t go near the water. The current is deceptively strong, even in what looks like still pools of water. A number of fatalities have occurred when children and adults have waded into the water on this trail.
Mist Trail Trailhead
The beginning of the Mist Trail is in Yosemite Valley near the Happy Isles Nature Center at shuttle stop 16. Stop at the snack shop for an ice cream treat or cool beverage, but don’t make the mistake of thinking your 16 oz. soda will be enough for the hike. Make sure you have a bottle or two of water for the trail. Then head across the bridge over the Merced River to find the trailhead. Both the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail share the path for the first mile.
Mist Trail Bridge
At the 0.8-mile mark, you get your first glimpse of Vernal Fall at the Vernal Fall Bridge. It’s a popular spot to take photos, so you may have to wait a bit to jockey into position for a long-distance waterfall photo or a selfie. After the bridge is a welcome water-filling station and a privy.
Stone Steps Leading to Top of Vernal Fall
As you approach Vernal Fall, the wide stone steps with occasional metal pipe railings give you a sturdy path up the wet and misty canyon edge. The final ascent to the top of the water requires navigating over slippery boulders on a steep hillside, not for those afraid of heights.
Not ready to head back? Continue on another two miles to view Nevada Falls. A short distance after the waterfall, you rejoin the John Muir Trail, so you can head back with a different view.