The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Yosemite. Is it challenging? Sure – but you wont be able to beat the views of some of Yosemite’s favorite attractions, including Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls and Half Dome. Depending on the time of year you go, you may experience just why they call it “Mist” Trail. I’ve heard from other hikers that the falls are at their fullest in the spring and you will get soaked as you tackle the trail. We hiked mid-October – while we didn’t get the mist effect, we still had plenty of falls to see.
There are a few options you should explore before setting off on your own adventure. Create a plan for yourself, align the plan with your physical abilities and choose the length of the trail that is going to give you the best experience.
Here is how we tackled ours.
//Happy Isles – Vernal Falls
The Mist Trail is pretty steep – soon after setting off on the trailhead you’ll get a good idea of the challenge ahead. While not technical, the hike does require you to climb about 500 stairs carved into the cliff to get to the top of the waterfall. If you choose to turn around from this point the hike will be about a 3 miles (4.8 km) round-trip. TIP: The last stop to get fresh water in the summer is just across the bridge below Vernal Falls. Fill up.
//Vernal Falls – Nevada Falls
The hike to the top of Nevada Falls is a good mix of flat sections and steep stairs. Keep your eyes peeled for wildlife – squirrels, chipmunks and multiple species of birds are essentially following you around. You are treated to views of the falls as you make your way to the top. We chose to stop and have a picnic at this stage to enjoy the view. Sheer granite rock behind you, water pouring over the falls in front of you. If you choose to turn around here take the John Muir trail down. The JM Trail is flat, much easier on the ol’ knees and gives you a different view of the falls than on the way up. The round trip journey to here is 7 miles (11 km).
//Nevada Falls – Half Dome
If you are feeling adventurous (and have enough water) continue your hike further. Choosing to get to Half Dome is essentially doubling your total round trip journey to 14.2 miles (22.7 km). Once you get above the tree line you are treated to some fantastic views of the surrounding valley. The steep steps from Sub Dome will bring you to the base of Half Dome – where you will find the infamous Half Dome cables. These two steel cables are what climbers use to hike to the top of Half Dome. We arrived the first day they were closed for the season – so plan your trip in advance if you are keen.
//Half Dome – Happy Isles
Upon your descent be sure to take the John Muir Trail back down to Happy Isles trailhead. As mentioned before, it’s accessible from Nevada Falls, is easier on the knees and gives you a different path to admire the lovely area you have just explored. The trail joins the Mist Trail entrance where your journey started.
Thinking of taking on the trail challenge? Be sure to remember these key things:
- Parking: There is parking at the Happy Isles trailhead, but will fill up very early as those planning a dawn start for Half Dome will already be there. No parking? Park anywhere in Yosemite Valley and take the free shuttle bus to the trailhead.
- Get A Permit – If you are planning to ascend Half Dome you will need to get a permit in advance. In the summer, there is a permit lottery that operates which allows for 50 lucky hikers to attempt Half Dome. Check the National Park Service website for details on how to get a permit.
- Check The Time – Depending on where your hike takes you, you will need to make sure you have enough time. Heading to Half Dome? You are looking at about 10 – 14 hours round trip. You can camp at the Little Yosemite Valley (with the correct permit) if you want to break the hike up and overnight in the park.
- Water (& Food) – Make sure your daypack has water and treats. We made it to Half Dome with only a liter each. 4 liters per person is recommended. 2 if you are stopping at Nevada Falls, and 1 if you are only heading to Vernal Falls. Be smart.
For more information on the trail or Yosemite National Park, visit the National Park Service Website. Happy Hiking!