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Nevada Fall Loop

Yosemite National Park

July 14th, 2015

7.0 miles
2120 vertical feet
Total Time: 5:24

Starting elevation
3981 feet
Max elevation
5980 feet

Rating: 8/10

Directions: From El Portal, take Highway 140 into the park and follow the road to Yosemite Valley. Find a parking lot near the end of the road, or park and take one of the shuttles.   View Driving Map

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GPX File

(Note, my GPS lost signal for some time during the hike, so the track above is edited and not complete.)

We arrived in Yosemite Valley on this Tuesday morning, finding one of the last parking spots in the dirt hiker parking lot about a half mile from the trailhead. It was a hot summer day as we prepped in the lot before starting at noon.

We walked about a half mile on mostly flat trail/sidewalk next to the road, past the bus stop (where a bus dropped off a full load of passengers in front of us), and to the Happy Isles trailhead.

We turned right and walked with the masses to the start of the trail. The trail starts off flat, wide, and paved. Soon it starts climbing and begins to narrow a bit, but remains paved for quite some time. It basically follows the Merced River along the way, though it is sometimes out of view.

As we started to climb, we ran into a woman and her 2 daughters going in the opposite direction. For some reason, she had the sense we were doing the JMT, even though we wouldn't be starting it for 2 days, and started talking to us. Her two daughters were 8 and 13 years old, and they were just finishing the JMT (starting about 35 miles south of Whitney and going northbound (NOBO)), partly because of the difficulty of getting a southbound permit starting at Happy Isles. So, right away I knew Jared (9 years old) wouldn't be the youngest one doing the JMT this year! My other son pointed out that their combined ages (20) were still less than the girls (21).

We continued up the trail, climbing about 300 feet up to a bridge with a view of Vernal Fall above. There's a water fountain on the other side of the bridge where hikers were drinking and filling up their water bottles. We crossed the bridge then came to an intersection where we turned right, off the Mist Trail, and onto the John Muir Trail. This is a longer, more gradual climb than the Mist Trail. It's also used by horses, and unfortunately this is very evident as you walk on the trail.

Looking back at Yosemite Falls

Most hikers appeared to be headed *down* the John Muir Trail, having probably gone up the Mist Trail. We wanted to do the opposite so we would know what it was like heading up the John Muir Trail as if we had gotten a permit to start at Happy Isles (the traditional endpoint of the trail). There's not much to see at the start, but eventually we got views of Mt. Broderick and Liberty Cap beyond Nevada Fall. When we got to Clark Point, we had more expansive views, including of Nevada Fall itself.

Half Dome, Mount Broderick, and Liberty Cap (left to right) from the John Muir Trail

From Clark Point, we could now take a short trail to rejoin the Mist Trail, but we instead stayed on the John Muir Trail. There's a large arc section of trail bordered by a stone wall with great views of the falls. After passing through this area we saw a trail coming in from the right - the trail we'd be taking two days from now from Illilouette Creek.

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall from Clark Point

Half Dome and Mount Broderick

Nevada Fall

Half Dome, Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall

Liberty Cap and Nevada Fall

From here it's an easy flat walk to the top of Nevada Fall. There's ample space here for a lunch break or a rest by the Merced River, which flows past granite shores here. After taking a break we crossed the bridge over the river and then walked up to the next intersection, where there's a bathroom. From here, you can continue along the John Muir Trail up toward Little Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. Instead, we turned left and started the return trip downhill on the Mist Trail.

Merced River above Nevada Fall

Top of Nevada Fall

Merced River above Nevada Fall

The trail is steep and rocky as it heads down. Soon we had some nice views of Nevada Fall, although I would say the best views of the falls are from the John Muir Trail. You are closer to the falls on the Mist Trail, though. After viewing the falls, we continued down and stopped near the Emerald Pool at the top of Vernal Fall. This was a very crowded area, with people picnicking and a few people ignoring signs not to enter the water. One guy used the rocks at the far end of the pool as a water slide. There are lots of signs warning about people going over the falls from here (many people have died going over the falls from here).

Nevada Fall from the Mist Trail

After our break, we walked toward the granite at the edge of the falls, then along the railing toward the trail back down. There's a short section here which is single-file, with a railing on one side and a rock wall on the other. One woman coming up was in clear distress -- either winded from the climb up, or scared of falling, or maybe both. After letting her pass with her friends, we descended this section and then continued down the trail. The rock steps seemed shorter than when I'd done the trail many years earlier. I seem to remember some of them being 2 feet high or more, but they've probably done some work on the trail to improve this.

Heading down the Mist Trail below Vernal Fall

Bottom of Vernal Fall

Vernal Fall

After the rock steps, the trail turns to gravel. After it reaches the JMT intersection and the water faucets, it returns to pavement. From there it was an easy shaded descent down to the sunny trailhead. Near the bus stop was a snack stand where we got ice cold sodas and then returned to the parking lot.

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