This trail begins from the Happy Isles area of the Yosemite Valley. In winter, when the shuttle bus isn't working, hikers can begin from the Curry Village Day-Use Parking Area and walk eastward to Happy Isles. This will add two miles to your trip. Nevada Falls can be accessed from the Mist Trail above Vernal Falls or the John Muir Trail. This description follows a loop that begins with the Mist Trail, then returns to the trailhead via the John Muir Trail.
From Happy Isles the trail leads eastward across a small bridge then heads southward. The trail follows the Merced River, which creates both Nevada and Vernal Falls. This route is paved and moderately steep. Before reaching the foot of the falls the trail turns eastward again. It is three quarters of a mile to the footbridge below Vernal Falls from the Happy Isles Trailhead.
Beyond the footbridge hikers will reach a fork. The right side is the John Muir trail that leads south to Mt. Whitney in Sequoia National Park. The left side of the trail is the Mist Trail, which leads to the crest of Vernal Falls. These trails meet again above Nevada Falls.
Follow Mist Trail as it begins the ascent to the falls. This trail is usually wet, so rain gear and good shoes are a must. Begin hiking the stairs along the river bank. There are 500 granite steps that lead to the top of Vernal Falls. At the head of the stairs a hand railing allows hikers to peer down into the falling waters. This portion of the trail is slippery, narrow, steep and usually crowded.
Above Vernal Falls the trail continues to climb. You'll pass the Clark Point Trail to the right. It leads to the John Muir Trail slightly southward. On your left, above the falls, is Emerald Pool filled with chilly water flowing from the Silver Apron and surrounded by slippery rocks.
Beyond Emerald Pool the trail crosses the Merced River on a bridge and begins to climb. In one mile the trail ascends approximately 800 feet to Nevada Falls. The falls lie to the right of the trail. The best views are along the trail below the cascade. At the crest of the falls there is a railing allowing visitors to view the falling water.
Above the falls cross the footbridge and begin descending along the John Muir Trail. This trail leads back to the Happy Isles Trailhead, but away from the river. The descent is slightly longer than the ascent to Nevada Falls. It begins descending slowly then gets steeper near Clark Point then slows toward the Vernal Falls footbridge.
Directions from Arch Rock Entrance: Travel eastward into the Yosemite Valley, 11.5 miles to the Curry Village day-use area. Park your car and take the shuttle to stop number 16, Happy Isles. Head eastward along the paved path that leads along the northern bank of the Merced River.
(NOTE: The trail may close in Winter due to weather conditions. Be sure to check with park officials on trail closures.)