Mist Trail to Nevada Falls Loop









Distance Comments: 

Distance assumes you hike up the Mist Trail (2.5 miles) and down the JMT (3.5 miles). 5 miles if you do the Mist Trail RT

Distance in Miles: 

6.00 miles

Trip Type: 



Happy Isles

Trailhead Elevation: 


Elevation Gain/Loss: 


Elevation Min/Max: 



This is a well-marked superhighway. The standard visitor map is enough.


Rough and steep (4 out of 5)


The Mist Trail splits off from the John Muir Trail (JMT) and takes you past some of the finest waterfall scenery in Yosemite, taking in Vernal Fall from up close and misty (prepare to get wet in the spring and early summer), past Emerald Pool, up by Nevada Fall and rejoins the JMT at a pleasant open area with sunny slabs for lunching on. Descend by the JMT for a different view of Nevada Fall. The price of admission to this fantastic scenery? Rubbing elbows with the untold hordes hiking for the same destination. This is no place to go for solitude in the summer.


Take the free shuttle to the Happy Isles stop or just walk the extra half mile or so from Curry Village.  From there you will follow the John Muir Trail (henceforth JMT) for 0.8 miles to the Vernal Fall footbridge and your first view of Vernal Fall.  From here you leave the JMT and head up the Mist Trail proper, which follows closely along the Merced River (while the JMT takes a less steep path to the top of Nevada Fall).  From the footbridge to the top of Vernal Fall is only about a half mile, but the climb is up steep granite steps.  In the spring and early summer, it will be like hiking in a downpour due to the mist from which the trail gets its name.

The Vernal Fall lookout is about 1000 feet above your starting point and is usually crowded with hikers having lunch and relaxing.  From there it's a short walk up to Emerald Pool which, depending on the season, may be a rushing torrent or a calm pleasant pool.  Watch out here and keep tabs on your children.  The rocks are quite polished and this has been the scene of many accidents.  In the summer of 2005, a hiker walked out into the water a bit to fill his water bottle, slipped and got caught in the deceptively strong current, and was swept over the falls.  Remember, you are only a couple of hundred feet from Vernal Fall and it is never safe to swim here.

From Emerald Pool, you cross a footbridge to get you over the Merced and then meander a short ways through the woods until you get a view of Nevada Fall.  The trail stays a bit further away from the water and is not as steep as it is at Vernal Fall, but you get nice views nevertheless.  At the top of the trail, there are composting toilets which you should definitely use in a high-traffic area like this.  From here, take a right back toward the Merced and be sure to enjoy a moment at the Nevada Fall lookout.  Because Nevada Fall is not truly vertical and the lookout sticks out a bit from the lip, this is probably the park's most beautiful view of a waterfall from the top. Not to be missed. 

To round out your day, hike down the John Muir Trail which will provide you with outstanding views back at Nevada Fall on the upper part and a somewhat gentler, more knee-friendly descent.

Runner's Notes: 

The stairs on the Mist Trail are about as rough as it gets in terms of trail running. Steep with big steps, as far as I know, even the guys who are in the running for the Half Dome record walk significant portions of this. That said, there are flat spots to recover and it's not too bad. Slightly easier than running the Yosemite Falls Trail in my opinion.


Merced River and the Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls area

I'm a 4+ year resident of Yosemite Valley. The summer of '05 was really bad for deaths in Yosemite. The fast water around Nevada and Vernal Falls is VERY unforgiving - don't get stupid like two people did this last summer.

One person was really hot after coming up the trail to Vernal Falls. He decided to cool off and also take some photos while standing IN the river. He slipped once, got up, slipped again - then went OVER Vernal Falls. They didn't recover his body for WEEKS.

Enjoy the Valley and all the magic that is Yosemite National Park - just be careful! Thanks

the deaths in yosmite

About the deaths in yosemite... I read that book "Death in Yosemite" and it is really educational! I mean it really opens your eyes to all the things that can happen in an instant... Its a very good book and if youre a Yosemite freak its worth the read!

Vernal Falls claims latest victims

As previous comments state...don't be stupid, be safe. Now mid-summer 2011 with the waters running heavier than usual 3 hikers have been swept over Vernal Falls. After hopping the barrier to pose for photographs 1 fell in prompting another to follow to "save" the other until all 3 went over the falls. No bodies have been found as of July 23, 2011. Professional search and rescue divers won't even enter the waters right now. Nature is beautiful but can be deceiving and unforgiving so be careful.



Sad - people underestimate

Sad - people underestimate the force of this water, the slipperiness of the rocks, the speed with which things happen.

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