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The Mist Trail - is the most popular trail in Yosemite National Park, based on the sheer number of people who go out of their way to hike up it's steep granite carved steps. And there is good reason for this well deserved popularity, for there are few places in the world that sport such beauty in terms of contrast and variety of scenery.

As a participant on this trail, you will be treated to spectacular Vernal and Nevada falls. Roaring streams of snow fed water, Emerald Pool, marvelous trail engineering, and glacier carved granite cliffs (of awe inspiring grandeur) will delight each and every individual. The "Mist Trail" gets its name from the wind blown mist that tends to soak hikers as they pass by the falls. I have to say that while hiking up the trail in April of 2009, not only did I get a good drenching, but my digital SLR camera also got a good soaking. Thankfully Nikon did a good job weather sealing the D300 camera that I was carrying at the time. It made it through with no permanent damage (even though a got a bit concerned in some of the wettest areas). Mist Trail Map

To the right you see a map outlining the route along the Mist Trail. The trail-head is located at Happy Isles near the Nature Center. It is the starting point for many famous hikes and backpacks that traverse some of the most spectacular high country in the Sierra Nevada. The Mist Trail can also be used to access Half Dome via the cable ladder, along with Little Yosemite Valley, Nevada Falls, and many other locations in upper Yosemite.

The only downside to the Mist Trail, is that it is the busiest trail in all of Yosemite. So if you are a fast hiker you will need to be patient and try not to rush people who are struggling with the steep terrain. Take the extra time and enjoy all the surrounding beauty.
Trail Mileage
Just a bit up the trail, you come to a nice trail sign (image to the left) that lists all the mileages to key areas in the park including Tuolumne Meadows which makes up a good part of Yosemite's high country. Note the final entry on the sign indicating that Mt Whitney is 211 miles away.

Because the Mist Trail is made up of multitudes of stone steps, be sure to wear sturdy comfortable shoes or boots. And if it's a cooler day, having a bit of rain gear would be a good idea, because you are going to get wet if you make the hike during a time of heavy runoff.

Keep in mind when hiking the Mist Trail that undercut banks, slippery rocks, cold water, and fast moving water can whip up a recipe for extreme danger. Most deaths in Yosemite happen because folks do not give fast moving water the respect it demands. Stay behind railings and watch your footing. Do not swim in pools above waterfalls and keep a close eye on your children.

Happy Isles is also the northern stating points for the John Muir Trail. This world famous trail goes for 211 miles and traverses some of the most beautiful mountain scenery anywhere in the world. Once a hiker travels about 9 miles out of the valley floor, he or she will spend most of their time above 8,000 feet. When hiking from north to south, the hiker will ascend over 46,000 feet, and descend about 38,000 feet. Lots of work for sure, but it would be an adventure you will never forget. The trail ends at Mt Whitney, which tops out at 14,497 feet. It is the highest point in the continental United States.
Relief Map
The relief map to the right shows many of the key landmarks along the trail. From Happy Isles to the top of Nevada Falls is a 5.4 mile round trip journey via the Mist Trail, or a 6.8 mile round trip if you make use of the John Muir Trail (4) to the right of the mist trail.

The Vernal Fall Bridge located 0.8 miles from the trail-head is a great viewing location for Vernal Fall. Snowfall in Yosemite Valley averages about 29 inches, but rarely accumulates to a depth of over two feet, so most of the moisture in the park comes from the higher elevations.

As temperatures warm in spring, increasing runoff swells rivers and creeks producing the needed flow for the many spectacular falls in Yosemite. The Mist Trail gets it's name from the heavy mist that blows over the trail (which is located on the right flank of Vernal Fall as you hike upward).

In section three as noted in the map to the right is where the heavy mist will give you a good soaking.
Mist Trail Walkway
From a starting elevation of 4035 feet, you travel 0.8 miles up a steep foot path (photo to the right) that leads to the Vernal Fall Bridge (2). This section of the trail is paved, and it is not unusual to see people pushing folks in wheel chairs or babies in strollers (hard work) all the way up to the first bridge view point. Hikers gain 400 feet of elevation on this first leg of the trail.

Multitudes of people make this 0.8 mile journey in order to see the spectacular view of Vernal Falls (see photo below). Several people call it a day at this point, but many go on to the top of Vernal Falls, which is a 1,009 foot elevation gain from the trail head in Happy Isles.

But the trip is well worth it, and I would be hard pressed to think of a trail anywhere in the world that delivers so much beauty in such a short distance.
Vernal Fall
From the foot bridge, you can either take a series of switchbacks along the side of the mountain that makes up the John Muir Trail (4), or you can ascend the Mist Trail, which is a steep climb up 500 granite steps that are slick from the moisture laden environment. But take note, traveling on this section of the Mist Trail (image to the right) requires careful placement of your feet if you do not want to take a very painful tumble.

Two tenths of a mile beyond the bridge, the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail merge. To proceed directly to the top of Vernal Fall, follow the Mist Trail 0.5 mile (0.8 km) up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps. But be prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of waterfall spray in spring and early summer. This portion of trail is closed in winter due to risk of falling ice and rock.

Vernal Falls with a height of 317 feet and 594 foot Nevada Falls are fed by the Merced River (7). Congress designated the Merced River as Wild and Scenic in 1987. The National Park Service manages 81 miles of the Merced River, encompassing both the main stem and the South Fork in Yosemite National Park and the El Portal Administrative Site.

As you can see in the photo, Vernal Falls is a wonderful example of Yosemite Valley's many water falls. Also note the lush green canyon that it pours into. Many photographers line up their tripods for images up this canyon. The first foot bridge is a good vantage point for those looking to get that special photo of Vernal Falls.

Flowing water always adds so much to any hiking experience, and the Mist Trail is famous for this. All this beauty does have it's dangers though, and most deaths along the Mist Trail have taken place because people fail to respect the incredible power of fast moving water.
Mist Trail Stone StepsThe stone stair steps also require a lot of physical work to ascend and descend. They can also be tough on the knees if you have problems in that area. But you can overcome these difficulties by making sure you set enough time aside so that you can take it nice and easy. This will also give you more time to enjoy your surroundings. Some people make it a speed contest going up and down this trail, but you miss out on a lot of subtle beauty if you travel the trail in this fashion.

In the above photo to the right, you can see how slick the rock surfaces get near the falls. The Mist Trail is well named for this feature. Going off trail and climbing on these rocks is also to be discouraged for obvious reasons. If you have children along, keep close watch on them. It does not take much wandering by one of your younger ones to land them in big trouble in this type of terrain. Also note the incredible scale of this area. If you look closely, you can see a few people taking a break in the just off center to the upper left hand portion of the image on the left.

Vernal Falls
As the stair case approaches the top, the misty air begins to thin, and if you are traveling on a sunny day, you will begin to experience the warming rays of the sun filtering through the moisture laden air.

It is also an opportunity for more beautiful photographs as you will witness to the right. Otherwise common sites of dully colored areas of grass and moss come to life when light hits them in just the right way.

You are not far from the top of Vernal Falls at this point, and once you reach the top, you can relax on a series of smooth granite platforms (as seen in the photo just below) and enjoy the well earned views or the landscapes below. One their you will be able to appreciate the height of Vernal Falls 317 feet, and watch as the Merced River pours millions and millions of gallons of water over this beautiful precipice.
Top of Vernal Falls
From the top of Vernal Falls, you will be able to get a good view of the trail below. Check out the army of people (upper right photo) ascending the trail. This picture was taken in mid April of 2009, and already the trail is crowded. As the year moves toward summer these crowds will only increase, so take a deep breath and relax if you are caught in this traffic jamb. There is a reason for why all these people hike the Mist Trail. It is because, as mentioned above, you will be hard pressed to find a trail anywhere in the world that packs so much beauty into so few miles of effort.

Solar Restroom on Left, Edge of Vernal Falls Right
Another luxury of this popular trail, is all the rest rooms that are placed along the way. In the photo in the above left hand portion of this page you see a solar toilet that has been constructed at the top of Nevada Falls, but there are facilities like this also at the end of the first foot bridge at the base of Vernal Falls, and another one at the top of Vernal Falls, and there is even a good sized restroom placed in Little Yosemite Valley. Things have changed a whole lot since the days I used to hike this trail.

Once on top of Vernal Falls (upper right hand photo), you will be able to get a spectacular view of the water cascading over the edge. There is a railing at this edge of the falls, and for very good reason. There have been people who ignore this barrier, and have ended up going over the falls. Hard to believe that people will play around in the water so close to the falls edge, but people do these things, and pay a dear price for it. This is another place where you need to keep a sharp eye out on your little ones if they are along with you.

Emerald Pool
As you continue up the trail, in just a short distance, you come to Emerald Pool as seen in the image to the right. Many years ago people, including myself, would use these slabs as slippery slides to slide into the pool of water below.

Today, this activity along with other water activities such as swimming are prohibited (as noted in the warning signs below). Too many people were getting hurt, and even killed over the years, due to this type of activity. Therefore, the park had to put a stop to it.

I have to admit that over forty years ago, when I was young and a little crazy, I slipped on these slabs, and banged my head just hard enough to gash my forehead open. After hiking down the Mist Trail with a nice little headache, I was rewarded for my ill planned slide into Emerald Pool with a timely visit to the Yosemite Valley doctor where I received a half a dozen stitches or so for my efforts.

Mist Trail Warning Signs
Mist Trail Bridge
In the picture to the left, you see a romantic view of a couple on a foot bridge along the way to Nevada Falls. Beautiful scenes such as this abound along the Mist Trail. I tried to catch up with these folks and offer to send them a copy of the digital file, but I was unable to find them when I got there.

The Merced River is fed throughout the high country of the Sierra Crest, by snowfields and glaciers including those on Mount Lyell (13,120 ft) which is the highest peak in Yosemite National Park.

The river then drops steadily through U-shaped glacial canyons and alpine lakes such as Washburn and Merced. It then descends form the high country and flows quietly through the nearly level floor of Little Yosemite Valley just before roaring over a 594 foot cliff to become spectacular Nevada Falls (shown in the below right hand photo).
Nevada Falls Stone Steps

MIST TRAIL STATISTICS
DESCRIPTION MILES ELEVATION
Happy Isles Trail-head 0.0 4,035 ft  
Bridge (Vernal Fall View Point) 0.8 4,432 ft (This first leg of the trail has stroller and wheelchair access)
Top of Vernal Falls 1.5 5,044 ft  
Emerald Pool 1.6 5,104 ft  
Top of Nevada Falls 2.7 5,907 ft (It is 3.38 miles if you use the John Muir Trail)

SUMMARY-
  • The Mist Trail is the most popular trail in Yosemite National Park.

  • Few if any trails throughout the Sierra Nevada Range offer so much beauty in so few miles of effort.

  • Some people have lost their lives while traveling along the Mist Trail. Mostly as a result of falling into fast moving water, or swimming or wading in areas with strong under current.

  • The Mist Trail demonstrates some of the finest foot path engineering I have ever come across in all my outdoor travels.

  • Opposed to what some people may tell you, sliding, swimming, wading, or playing in the water near Emerald Pool is prohibited. There are other areas, such as the top of water falls, where the park service has put up fences for hiker's safety. When in any doubt, stay out of the water and use good common sense. Fast moving water can be a killer, and as mentioned above, it is the cause of most deaths in the park.

  • It is wonderful to have your children along with you, but keep a close eye on them. The terrain is beautiful, but can be very dangerous if not treated with the utmost respect.

  • Don't forget your still camera, video, or even both. There is no end to the photographic possibilities on the Mist Trail. Make sure you have something along to protect your camera with. Water can be your photographic tools worst nightmare. During times of heavy run off (usually during the spring and early summer months), the Mist Trail is perfectly capable of giving your camera (or other water sensitive items) a good shower bath. Very few electronics can stand up to this kind of abuse, and there is no doubt that serious and/or costly damage may occur. Even my so called semi pro weather sealed Nikon D300 digital camera started to act a little funny in a couple of sections (but no lasting damage, thankfully).

  • Careful placement of feet is a must on slick steep granite steps, especially going down. Lack of concentration or fooling around in some of the tricky sections of the trail could result in serious injury or even death.

  • Make sure to adjust your hiking plans to your groups experience and physical condition. Doing so will make the whole outing a pleasant experience for all. You can plan to stop at the first bridge for a spectacular view of Vernal Falls from below (wheel chair and stroller access)........Or can stop at the top of Vernal Falls, have lunch, and relax on the warm granite slabs in season.........Or you can go all the way to the top of Nevada Falls and beyond. All are great options.

  • In conclusion, The Mist Trail is one of those must do hikes (if hiking is something you like to do), and it is my firm belief that the experience will be one you will likely never forget. In our modern day era, there are fewer and fewer places where you can see this much unspoiled beauty so near to major metropolitan areas.
Well, that's about it for the Mist Trail, hope you enjoyed your visit here at Timberline Trails and pray for God's best for you and your loved ones, no matter where you choose to spend your time in this glorious creation that God had entrusted to us.

Dave French

Hiker on Mist TrailDeeper Insight - A difficult path to take. As mentioned in the above write up, careful placement of the feet on the Mist Trail takes concentration and care on the part of the hiker in order to assure a safe trip. Gaining altitude on steep uneven granite blocks, is always challenging, and there is no substitute for stamina and experience when it comes to making good progress in this type of terrain. Traveling a path in life that is God pleasing also takes concentration, sustained effort, and can be extremely challenging to say the least. With all the snares and obstacles that everyday life seems to throw at us, it is vital that we have help. Completing a God pleasing well lived life here on earth is an impossible undertaking on our own. However, help is closer than you think, and it comes in the person of Jesus Christ. He paid the entry fee for us to have access to the God of this universe so we could be with Him forever. The below Bible verse talks about some of the benefits of being with God in heaven.

God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."
Revelation 21:3-4


But until that day comes, it is important that we read and make use of the best navigational book out there. This book is called the Bible, and it contains all you will ever need to know about living a life that pleases God. No other book on earth contains so much time tested knowledge, wisdom, and direction for the human spirit. It is the only book that is able to guide you into the everlasting. It will be that ultimate source of light to illuminate even the darkest of times. So it does not matter if you scale the highest heights, or descend to the lowest depths, the Bible will provide guidance for whatever path you happen to be on. God's Word, the Bible assures you of this.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path.
Psalm 119:105


For more on this most important subject please visit the following links:
"The Ultimate Journey" and the "Meaning of Life"