The Mist Trail is one of Yosemite’s signature hikes. But there are a few things to know before you go. So I pulled together a list of tips for hiking the Mist Trail, whether you’re just heading to Vernal Falls or planning to trek all the way to the top of Nevada Falls.
The Mist Trail is a strenuous hike that offers incredible up-close views of two of Yosemite’s most famous waterfalls, as well as beautiful views of the valley and Merced River.
Before you hit the trail, you should be aware that the Mist Trail can be dangerous if you’re not careful. It’s steep and slippery. And if it’s closed, it’s for good reason. More people die on the Mist Trail than anywhere else in Yosemite, largely due to people ignoring safety precautions.
If you only follow one of these tips for hiking the Mist Trail, it’s this: don’t be that person who steps behind the guard rail for a selfie, wears the wrong footwear and slips, or attempts to get too close to the rushing water. Never, ever go in the water, even if it looks calm.
When’s the best time to hike the Mist Trail?
The best time to hike the Mist Trail is when the waterfalls are in full force. So generally, April to June as the snow pack from the mountains melts.
In terms of time of day, this is a very crowded trail. When we started around 9:00am on a Monday, it was packed! I recommend starting as early as 7:00am if you want to avoid the crowds, especially on weekends.
How long does the Mist Trail take?
The round-trip hike to Nevada Falls from Yosemite Valley is 6.4 miles with an elevation gain of around 2,000 feet. The Mist Trail itself consists of 600+ steps. During the winter months, you’ll have to hike both up and down the stairs as the loop via the John Muir Trail will likely be closed due to snow.
It took our group around 5.5 hours for the full round-trip hike. That includes a stop for lunch and spending some time at the top.
We departed from Half Dome Village and chose to walk vs. wait for the shuttle. According to my iPhone Health app, we ended up walking a total of 10 miles.
If you take the shuttle, it’s stop #16 (Happy Isles Trailhead).
How hard is the Mist Trail?
I’m not going to lie, the “hard” rating given by AllTrails to the Mist Trail is accurate. You’re literally just climbing steps or walking up steep rocky trails almost the entire way up.
The Mist Trail is accessible via a paved path that is a little steep, but the easiest part of the trail. If you’re exhausted by the paved portion, I don’t recommend continuing onward. It only gets more challenging. But if you’re in decent shape, the rest of the trail should definitely be doable.
For more casual hikers, it’s still worth it to hike the paved version to the footbridge for a great view of Vernal Falls!
If you’re doing the full shebang, I actually found the way down to be more difficult than the way up. The stairs were tough on my knees. So if the John Muir Trail is open, I’d highly recommend taking that route down vs. the stairs, even though it’s slightly longer.
While it’s definitely a strenuous workout, I’ve done steeper and harder hikes. And I’m certainly not in hardcore hiking shape. I do reformer pilates 2-3x per week and the occasional 3 to 6-mile hike. Just plan to bring plenty of water and take breaks along the route (you’ll want to for the scenery!). Plus, the mist from the waterfall will keep you cool and make it more manageable.
What to wear and pack for the Mist Trail?
One of the best tips for hiking the Mist Trail in Yosemite is to pack layers including a good rain jacket.
Seriously, I found myself stopping to peel off or add on layers almost constantly. One second you’re freezing and getting doused by the waterfall, and then the next you’re on a steep incline on a dry portion sweating your *ss off.
You should also wear waterproof hiking boots with good traction. You’re bound to step in puddles during the spring months, and the stairs and rocks can also be slippery.
Given how tough this trail is, you should also pack plenty of water and food to refuel. The area at Vernal Falls is a great place to stop for lunch before continuing on to Nevada Falls.
Should you go all the way to the top, or stop at Vernal Falls?
Personally, I really enjoyed going all the way to the top. The stairs are definitely the hardest part of the journey. And most people turn around once they get to Vernal Falls. Therefore, the trail up to Nevada Falls is considerably less crowded.
While the views don’t change dramatically by going all the way up, it felt rewarding to make it to the top and a break from the crowds was nice.
Expect the trail to be very rocky, so you’ll need to be careful with your footing. Again, the right shoes are key. There were so many people hiking the Mist Trail with casual sneakers. I can’t imagine how uncomfortable and wet their feet must have been!
I hope you found these tips for hiking the Mist Trail helpful (and that you won’t be that person who goes in or too close to the water!).
If you’re planning to visit Yosemite, you might also want to check out my guide on what to pack for Half Dome Village in addition to tips for hiking the Mist Trail. Yosemite National Park is a gorgeous and special place and I hope you have a blast!