The trail to Nevada Falls can be best described as “up” and “wet”. The trail to the Vernal Falls bridge is fairly steep and paved. For some, it is quite the climb and so they may take a couple of rest breaks.
There is a toilet, and a water fountain at the bridge and it is recommended that you use both. It’s a steady climb to the base of the Vernal Falls above the bridge. You will encounter a series of granite steps carved into the mountainside there. The steps are wet due to the mist which gives the trail its name. You need to be careful here as there are no rails present here. This also the most congested part of the trail. But it’s fine given the treacherous footing at this part. You will be soaked but you will feel good in the heat. Then you will climb up the steep steps to go above Vernal Falls. You will find a big rock at the top where you can sit down, have lunch and even dry out. Most people stop here.
After the Vernal Falls, you will climb uphill gradually to the base of the Nevada Falls. Although you can stop here and skip the more difficult part. But it is extremely worth going for. You will start climbing granite steps within switchbacks up to the top of the falls. The steps are tall and steep. The steps are also exposed towards the top and you can expect them to get warm. You would need to stop regularly to eat and drink.
The last mile is the most difficult. But again, all the effort is worth it! You will know when you get to the top. At the top, you will find a bathroom and a sign that tells you that you will die if you go into the water. That is not a lie or even exaggeration. So, if you think you will be fine, don’t go near water’s edge because one slip, and you will be in a lot of trouble. But it’s a nice view of the waterfall from the top.
The JMT is recommended for two reasons: first, it’s a different view from the surrounding area. It gives an absolutely breathtaking view of the Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, and the back of the Half Dome. Second, even though it’s a bit long, but it is much less steep saving you the trouble to go down wet, slick stairs at Vernal. To take JMT, just go over the bridge across Nevada Falls and go straight. You will start heading down shortly. The JMT hooks back up with Mist at the Vernal footbridge and you follow it back to the trailhead. Your legs may hurt at the end of the day but a good night’s sleep is all it will take to make you feel better. If you get an actual bed and a shower, that will be even better.
All in all, if you hike the trail this way, you will be walking 8 miles with an elevation gain of 1990 ft. If you are not an experienced hiker, and not in perfect shape, then this hike might prove itself to be somewhat challenging. However, the hike is doable but it will take a toll on your body nevertheless.
Some tips to help you have a pleasant experience:
- Wear good hiking shoes or boots. This is important otherwise your feet will hurt you a lot. If you try this hike in non-hiking shoes, then you might experience a lot of pain in your feet and swelling as well.
- Trekking poles or a good stick will prove to be very helpful in the slick spots of Vernal Falls. They also provide good support on the stairs to Nevada or the rockier portion of the JMT.
- Take enough water with you. You can fill it at Vernal Falls.
- Having snacks will help you replenish your energy levels as you will be burning a lot of calories.
- The route is exposed to the sun so wear sunscreen.
- Wear layers or bring ponchos. You will need them because you will get soaked at Vernal, you can tackle the situation without being indecent. Ponchos are light and easy to pack.
- Bring a camera.
Be sensible and you will have a great time. Don’t feel ashamed of taking breaks.