Hiking Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park
This hike offered one of the best views of our Yosemite trip from a small section of the John Muir Trail looking back at Nevada Falls.
Hike Date: August 13, 2021
|0 mi||0 mi||Start at Mist Trail and John Muir Trailhead|
|1.8 mi||1.8 mi||Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls|
|1.3 mi||3.1 mi||Mist Trail to John Muir Trail|
|0.2 mi||3.3 mi||John Muir Trail to the top of Nevada Falls|
|2.6 mi||5.9 mi||John Muir Trail down to Mist Trail|
|0.6 mi||6.5 mi||Mist Trail back to trailhead|
The National Park Service offers some other hiking route options on their Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall Trails page. The Yosemite Valley Hiking Map may also be useful for your planning.
Getting a Yosemite Valley Campsite
Staying at Upper Pines Campground gave us the opportunity to hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls right from our campsite. That said, getting a site at Upper Pines was not easy! Booking a campsite in Yosemite Valley (Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines) is incredibly competitive. Campsites become available 5 months in advance starting on the 15th of that month at 7am Pacific time. Sounds confusing right? Luckily, the National Park Service made a convenient chart to clarify this on their Yosemite Camping Reservations page. We logged in and snagged a campsite right away before they were all reserved in a matter of minutes.
Mist Trail to Vernal Falls
At about 8:30 am, we walked towards the end of Upper Pines Campground where the volunteers stayed and took a little shortcut through the woods towards Mist Trail to start the hike. The beginning of Mist Trail was a paved walkway with a mild but fairly constant incline. We crossed a bridge where there were water stations to fill up and Yosemite employees seated to answer any questions. From there, the trail turned left and we started climbing up steep sets of rock stairs to the top of Vernal Falls.
During our climb up, we had complete, unobstructed views of Vernal Falls. There were many places to stop and take pictures and videos along the way, or just stop to rest and catch your breath.
The last stretch of rock stairs is carved into a pretty sheer cliff with guard rails to stop you from falling off. At the top of the falls, there is a wide open ledge, hemmed in by railings for safety, to lounge and enjoy the views.
Continuing to Nevada Falls
The vast majority of visitors stop at the top of Vernal Falls, but we continued up the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. We left the crowds behind and along with just a few other hikers, we continued on the trail. After we crossed a small bridge, we entered a short wooded section and soon caught our first glimpse of Vernal Falls. Since there was a severe drought in California, the falls were not as strong as we expected, but the water was still flowing.
Once we emerged from that wooded section, we encountered a set of switchback stairs built carefully into the side of the mountain. At the end of the switchbacks, we came to a major trail intersection where we turned right and quickly found ourselves at the top of Nevada Falls. We crossed a bridge over the flowing stream and sat in a large open area with great views of the surrounding landscape.
Descending the John Muir Trail
After resting a bit and enjoying our time at the high point of this hike, we continued down the trail to take the John Muir Trail (JMT) back down. This turned out to be a great decision as it quickly brought us to a cliffside section that provided one of the best views of our whole trip. Gazing to our right, we could see the switchback route we just hiked along with Vernal Falls and the back of Half Dome. The scenery and the experience were both absolutely stunning.
The JMT descends via switchbacks on a path that was once paved, but is now in disrepair. It seems like the park service decided it shouldn’t be paved anymore so they just let it go. That’s just fine, as we’re not the biggest fans of paved trails, but it did make for some slippery footing with lots of loose sand atop the remnant asphalt patches. We made it back down to the Mist Trail right by the first large bridge and walked out the last stretch of paved path back to our campsite.
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