We hiked the "Mist Trail" in June 2010 and it was about a four hour round trip. We only walked up to Vernal Falls, which is the first set of falls and then took the top route back down again to the valley.
The walk itself can be quite steep at the beginning, as we only started off at about 10:30, it was also rather crowed with other hikers. There are various places of interest along the way and I suppose it is up to you to decide to walk the whole route or just go as far as you want to and then head back again.
It starts uphill, which didn't go down well with Nicola, and the first stop off is the bridge at the bottom of the falls.
Next is was off to the top of Vernal Falls, but don't forget to head off the track to get a good picture. It was as we took some pictures below that we noticed some hikers coming down from the falls and they were drenched. We didn't have any wet weather gear with us at the time, so we took our chances.
As you get closer and closer to the falls the wetter and wetter you get. I go as far as saying that the final climb up the steps was like climbing in a full on shower.
Saying that though, as soon as we reached the top the sun dried us off as we took a rest, had some water, ate some trail nuts and enjoyed the glorious views.
We decided not to take another shower and so took the alternative route back down to the valley. This involved an up hill route to Clarke Point and then down again on the John Muir Trail. In contrast to the way up, the way down on this route was far away from the crowds, even to an extent that we were actually glad to bump into someone coming the other way, just to confirm that we were headed in the right direction. Fortunately, we were and so made it down to the valley in time for the 15:00 Bear Stroll.
The Mist Trail leads to the top of Nevada Falls. At the top of Nevada Falls, you can soak your feet in the water and relax in the sun. Just don't try to go for a swim or you may find yourself going over the almost 2000 foot drop!
The Mist Trail starts at the Happy Isles Trailhead. We parked at Curry Villiage and walked 10 minutes up to the trailhead. The crowded trail rises above the river until the bridge below Vernal Falls. The trail then splits into the Mist trail running along the river to the top of Vernal Falls, and the John Muir trail which goes up the hill straight to Nevada Falls (and by straight I mean via a bunch of switchbacks). The split is not marked well and its easy to take the wrong path. They both get you to Nevada Falls, though.
This trail starts from Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16). The trail goes for about 1.5 miles to the top of Vernal Falls and then continues for about 1.3 miles to the top of Nevada Falls.
A fairly popular trail, it can get very crowded during the late spring and summer months. Flocks of tourists experience first hand of how this trail got its name. You can get a great view of the falls from the footbridge. The last half a mile of the trail is strenuous. This is where the trail got its name from. As you climb well over 600 steep granite steps, you're greeted with the mist of Merced River. As the river falls from the edge, it sprays water all over hikers. It can get very wet especially during the summer months where the water flow is the hardest. This portion of the hike is closed during winter. The steps get really icy and slippery.
Hang on, hang tight, and enjoy the view as you climb. Soon enough you'll be on top of Vernal Falls. If that's not enough for you and you have plenty of energy left in you, climb up for another 1.3 miles to the top of Nevada Falls. The second portion of the trail up to Nevada Falls is quieter since most of the tourist hikers track back down the steps after they reach the top of Vernal Falls.
If you hike up Vernal Falls, and decide that you just haven't had enough yet, continue up Nevada Falls. Somewhat taller than Vernal Falls, it poses a still greater challenge. The view is even more magnificent. By the time you return, you'll be aching.
Less well-known than Yosemite or Bridal Veil Falls, Vernal Falls is no less beautiful. In spring, it produces rainbows. The hike to the top is tough, but well worth it. You'll know you've had quite a hike.
We had good intentions trying to hike to Mist Trail. It started off great until the first sprinkle fell. We thought not much of it and that the rain would pass especially since the sky didn't look that bad. He kept hiking up the steep trail for about 20 more mintues.
We started to get concerned when there were hordes of people heading down the mountain in our opposite direction. That's when we turned around also, never to see Mist Trail.
The hike down was quite scary with deafening claps of thunder and skies that just opened up relentlessly.
From the top of Vernal Fall, the Mist Trail begins to climb, passing the Silver Apron and Emerald Pool, a somewhat dangerous place where a few people have drowned; but the Merced River is very rapid there, so there's really no reason for you to enter the river. Soon afterwards, you get your first glimpse of Nevada Fall as the Mist Trail crosses the Merced River on a footbridge. The trail ascends gently for a while to the base of the cliff that Nevada Falll drops down; from there, a few hundred grueling steps lead uphill. This stretch of trail allows you great views of Nevada Fall. This hike is somewhat torturous on a hot and sunny day, since it is totally unshaded and built into a granite face. The trail climbs into a small cleft between Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls and finally reaches the top; there you'll find a trail junction. The left fork takes you to Little Yosemite Valley and eventually the top of Half Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Mt. Whitney, and other destinations; tje right fork leads 0.2 miles to the top of Nevada Fall. Take the right fork, which remains level and descends a little to the top of Nevada Fall, 3 miles from the trailhead.
I have done the Mist Trail twice, and while it is crowded, dizzying, and a little bit scary, it is one of the most beautiful hikes you will ever take. The trail goes up, up and up, to misty Vernal Falls and dramatic Nevada Falls. More adventurous people can continue on for another 12 miles to Half Dome, the egg-shaped mountain visible in the distance throughout the hike. A portion of the hike follows a skinny, slippery stone staircase alongside Vernal Falls, so people who suffer from vertigo should avoid this section. Be aware that you have only two choices for your return trip: backtrack, or take the much-longer John Muir trail.
An easy enough hike this, the Mist Trail. Amazing scenery, but lots of other hikers. Not much mist in September though, as the various Falls are not in full flow. We hiked up to the top of Vernal Fall, and to the Emerald Pool. People were sliding down the Silver Apron, a shelf of rock down which the ice-cold waters charge, but while it is safe enough in dryest September, people have died there doing it, and I would not recommend it.
We never went as far as Nevada Fall, but we could see it. Don't burn yourself out!
If you choose to do the hike to Vernal Falls, chances are you will reach it via the Mist Trail. If the waterfall is flowing, be prepared to get wet! The last portion of the hike is all stairs that you must climb to get to the top of the waterfall. They are extremely wet and slippery. As a result, you will be wet and slippery. Hang on, watch your step, and enjoy the view.
We parked our car at Curry Village and walked toward the Happy Isle Nature Center. From there, it's less than a mile to the first bridge that gives you great views of Vernal Falls. Another steep half a mile through the mist (literally in May and early June) and you'll be at the top of the falls.
It was pretty hot the day we were here in early June (something like 85 degrees), so it felt great to get soaking wet as we walked near the falls.
When we reached the top, we met up with a friendly couple from the Washington D.C. area and decided to continue on with them to the Nevada Falls another couple miles up the trail. It was great. There was hardly anyone else on the upper part of the trail and when we arrived at Nevada Falls, there was a rainbow waiting to greet us.
The aptly named Mist Trail begins just beyond the footbridge downstream from Vernal Falls. The closer you get to the waterfall, the greater the volume of water you must spit out of your mouth. Men often go topless on this trail, and ladies tend to wear darker t-shirts since they leave other garments at their camp. Whatever clothing you wear will generally become thoroughly soaked. The rocks become more slippery and the staircase much steeper near the falls. Please watch your footing, and the rainbows that develop in the mist.
Beyond Vernal Falls the trail levels out and offers great shots of Emerald Pool and Silver Apron. DO NOT SWIM IN THE RIVER!! Many people are swept over the falls every year. The trail crosses the river and soon starts another steep climb up several rocky switchbacks. Watch your step here as loose gravel can make footing tricky. At the top of the switchbacks, the trail splits. Head left for a set of restrooms and also to hike to Little Yosemite Valley or to the top of Half Dome or Clouds Rest. Go right to reach the brink of the Nevada Falls. Return the way you came but be very careful! An easier way down is by way of the John Muir trail. You won't get wet this way either.
They don't call this the Mist Trail for nothing. During spring runoff be sure to bring either your bathing suit or raingear because you will get soaked! If you don't want to get wet and are happy with a distant view, hike the moderately steep route to the Vernal Falls bridge. If you're brave, continue on! After rounding a bend the spray hits you and stays on you through most of the 300+ steps you have to climb to the top of Vernal Falls. This trail is the most popular trail in the park so you will have plenty of company!