Joy with Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap in the 
background. This photo was taken from the 
John Muir Trail
Vernal and Nevada Falls
Distance: 6.9 Miles (roundtrip)
Starting Elevation:  4,040 feet
Ending Elevation: 5,920 feet
Elevation Gain: 1,880 feet
Topo Maps: Half Dome
Trailhead: Happy Isles


The Vernal and Nevada Falls trail is probably one of the most scenic trails in Yosemite.  It is also one of the most crowded (because of the many possible destinations).

This trail starts at Happy Isles, to get there you have to park at Camp Curry (stop # 1/14) and take the shuttle bus to Happy Isles (stop #16).  Once you arrive at the trailhead, you'll notice the trailhead sign stating various destinations and locations including the John Muir Trail which ends 211 miles away.

After a steep climb from the trailhead, you will reach the Vernal Falls bridge.  The bridge has a beautiful view of Vernal Falls.

Once at the bridge, you must choose either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail.  If you choose the Mist Trail, you climb a series of steep stairs (300 steps), cut 1.0 miles off the trail, and will probably get a little wet from Vernal Falls (hence the name).  If you Choose the famous John Muir Trail (JMT), your journey will not be as steep or scenic, but you do need to watch where you step as this trail is used by livestock to take those who can't hike up to Nevada Falls and Half Dome.

If you take the Mist Trail up, you will go through the top of Vernal Falls.  Some dare to swim in the cold waters above Vernal falls.  This can be very dangerous.  In August of 1999, a swimmer got caught in the heavy current, was swept over Vernal Falls, and plunged to his death.

If you take the JMT up, you are treated to some wonderful views of Nevada Falls and Liberty Cap.

When you get to the top of Nevada Falls, you can enjoy a nice lunch before heading back.


Vernal Falls as viewed from the
Vernal Falls footbridge

Trail Tips
• JMT vs. Mist Trail - If it is early in the season (up until August), you may want to avoid the Mist trail
  because it may get you wet.  On the other hand, if you go later in the season (or don't mind getting wet)
  taking the Mist Trail will save you about 1 mile of distance.  The Mist trail is also tougher on the knees.
• Start Early - This is the most popular trail in Yosemite.  If possible, start as early as possible.  Shuttles
  start running at 7:00am.

Trip References:
Schaffer, Jefferey P. 1996.  High Sierra Hiking Guide Yosemite.  Berkeley: Wilderness Press, p. 54-58 (day hike #20).

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This page last changed 7 June, 2004