Welcome to my article on Mist Falls Trail. My name Satyen which is derived from the Sanskrit word ‘Satya’, meaning truth. So everything I tell you about this experience is the truth. I find it difficult to lie, very on brand!
I was born in Bangalore, a town in the South of India which was once known as the Garden City of India. Greenery and enviable weather made it a comfy city to live in. With the IT boom in the 90s, Bangalore evolved into a hub for tech companies and soon became the Silicon Valley of India.
Fun fact – I took some of my first ever steps as a baby in front of the Taj Mahal, when we lived in Agra for a short time. We then moved around a bit, living in Chennai and Vizag for a few years. Both Chennai and Vizag are coastal cities, and the weather was quite challenging. It was incredibly hot and humid in the summers, and the monsoons were devastating.
We moved back to Bangalore when I was 10. I completed my schooling there. I then moved to London for college where I spent three years, moved back to Delhi after I had graduated, worked there for a few years before moving to Singapore to be with my wife (then girlfriend). I finally moved to New York which is where we have been living for the last three years.
I’m currently a Creative Director at Ogilvy, one of the biggest advertising agencies in the world. So storytelling is my passion and what I do at work too! Growing up, I loved watching nature and animal shows. ‘Crocodile Hunter’ with Steve Irwin and ‘The Jeff Corwin Experience’ on Animal Planet were two of my favorites. I also liked other Nat Geo and Discovery Channel programs on travel, wildlife, the earth and ocean. They fascinated me!
I think that is where I developed a love and appreciation for the outdoors. I also loved filmmaking and photography. The spectacular shots of valleys, cliffs, forests and trails was something I longed to recreate when I grew up.
Because I grew up in hot places, being outdoors was never a pleasurable thing. Here in America however, you have nice cool weather in spring and fall (and even winter because I love the cold!) which allows you to do so much. Having the freedom to enjoy a physical activity outdoors over an extended period makes us eager to do more hikes and explore new trails.
Our Experience Hiking Mist Falls Trail
Hiking in Yosemite National Park had been on our bucket list ever since we arrived in the US. My wife’s a phenomenal planner and the moment we confirmed our dates for Yosemite, she began the research for trails in the park that we could hike. Mist Falls Trail stood out as a top candidate, based on the views and appropriate difficulty level that suited us.
It’s one of the few trails that has not just one but two waterfalls – that was the most appealing thing to us. We look for maximum value in everything we do. If the hike is moderate-difficult, then the views better be worth it!
We took six hours to finish Mist Falls Trail. It’s important to note that this six hours includes a 30 minute walk (one way) from the car park to the start of the trail. Unfortunately, we didn’t get a slot in the car park nearest to the trailhead, so we had to park a mile away. That added around 60 minutes in total to the entire hike, so we completed the trail in five hours.
We took our time. We are moderately fit, not athletes. So we maintained a slow-ish pace with frequent stops to catch our breath, sip water and rest. We also made two long pitstops for lunch and a second snack.
Beautiful Scenery Along Mist Falls Trail
The scenery on Mist Falls Trail is a combination of soaring trees, roaring rapids, towering rocky mountains, valleys, stunning waterfalls, rainbows, pristine pools and exposed rock. The trail begins near a stream and you see some rapids right at the start. Then you begin your climb with that calming sound of flowing water. It puts you in a great mood straight away.
There is a long tarred stretch at the start before it turns into a mud and gravel trail, with shaded switchbacks that are flanked by tall trees. This shaded section offers great respite from the heat and sun. You do get brief glimpses of the mountains and water, as well as the first fall in the distance.
And then, the approach to Vernal Falls takes you by surprise. The spray from the waterfall can be seen first sparkling in the sunlight. A staircase carved into the stone face of the wall leads up into the mist, and it feels dream-like. This view of the waterfall is one of a kind and truly breathtaking.
Once at the top of Vernal Falls, the view is epic. You can look at the drop below, as the water falls off the edge, and see the stream all the way at the bottom. It’s a great picture spot for a group. Bring a selfie stick if possible or a 360 camera to capture this picture from a high angle so that you get the feeling of being at the edge of the fall and see the view behind you.
The pool at the top is great for a pitstop – find rocks by the water and settle down for lunch and get some rest. Moving on to the approach to Nevada Fall, you see the fall to your right and the towering facades of Liberty Cap next to you with Half Dome not too far off in the distance. Again, this is truly awe inspiring. You feel like you are walking towards something big.
The best views though are once you have gone past Nevada Fall and on the way back down. You walk along a narrow path on the side of a cliff, and to your right is the payoff. It’s a gorgeous view of the waterfall, the valley, Liberty Cap and Half Dome – it’s like someone scooped out the earth and created a piece of art! It looks unreal and is one of the most pleasing sights. That is when you really feel that the entire trail was worth every bit of effort.
There are black bears in the area, but these are known to be harmless. The rangers remind you to not be afraid as these bears haven’t harmed humans – you just need to make yourself big and scare the bear away if you do happen to come across one. Hopefully, that won’t be necessary!
What it Feels Like Reaching Nevada Fall
We felt a huge sense of joy, relief and accomplishment when we reached Nevada Fall. Honestly, it wasn’t the easiest of hikes up, so getting to the end point was satisfying. The view of Nevada Fall with the valley, Liberty Cap and Half Dome behind it is special. Like I mentioned, it’s like someone scooped out the earth and created a piece of art. It’s just incredible!
I had deliberately not seen any pictures of the trail before we did this, so I had the chance to see everything and experience it for the very first time. It’s a stunning landscape and different from the other parks we have hiked.
Why Mist Falls Trail is Great for Casuals
This is definitely a great hike for casuals. It’s not technically challenging but it is physically demanding. It doesn’t require any scrambling but there is a difficult ascent, with some big steps in certain sections.
I will say though that we found the descent to be harder than the climb. Coming down, we felt it on our knees, and the last stretch was brutal. I would recommend this trail for casual hikers – but just be prepared for intense activity with some soreness in your quads, knees and lower body.
A lot of casual hikers do the first half of the trail to Vernal Falls and then return. That is definitely an option, but in order to enjoy the full satisfaction of having completed the loop, I encourage you to push beyond Vernal and go to Nevada. The second half is less crowded and you will love it!
Best Memory from Mist Falls Trail
My best memory from this hike has to be the sight of the rainbow at Vernal Falls. It’s a picture perfect postcard sight and doesn’t seem real. Standing on the trail next to the falls on a hot day with the spray of the cool water washing over you was the most relaxing and satisfying feeling.
The dreamy staircase, a mesmerizing waterfall, the surreal rainbow and the spray of the water helps you escape reality. The beauty of nature washes over you, refreshes and re-energizes you. What more could you ask for?!
Where to Stay when Doing the Hike
I suggest finding accommodation inside the park at Yosemite Village. These rooms are popular so plan your trip months in advance and book your accommodation before you even know your itinerary inside the park.
We booked our accommodation close to our trip and couldn’t find any rooms inside the park. So we ended up staying at Oakhurst, which is over an hour away from the trailhead. Now that the park has reopened post COVID, Yosemite requires you to purchase a day pass way in advance. Without this day pass, you cannot enter the premises. Keep in mind that this is in addition to the National Parks Pass which you might already have.
Oakhurst, Fish Camp and Wawona are all good options for outside the park. But if you are driving into the park at peak time, prepare for a long wait to enter as the cars line up on the single lane road. We had a 90-minute delay on the first day we drove in (at 2pm, Memorial Day Weekend).
Tips for Eco-Friendly, Responsible Hiking
Things like stowing away your trash to be disposed, keeping an empty bag to collect your wrappers, foil, napkins, etc. and storing it in your bag goes a long way when you hike Mist Falls Trail. Avoid plastic bottles and instead bring your refillable bottle and fill it up at the fountains before your climb.
Also, avoid playing loud music on your speakers as that may disturb other hikers on the trail and ruin the natural sounds of the waterfalls, rustling leaves, crunching gravel and the birds. The sound of nature is too nice to be spoiled by music (even though you might be playing some good tunes)!
Need to Know Before you Go
1) The first part of the trail is crowded. It might surprise you how popular this trail is. But don’t let that put you off. The crowd disappears after Vernal Falls. That is where 80-90% of the people hiking turn around. So the second stretch of the trail has fewer people and you will see a marked difference.
2) Drive to the trail early! If you are not staying in Yosemite Village and need a place to park your car – go early. You should target getting there for 7am to find a spot in the lot closest to the trailhead, and this lot doesn’t have too many slots. You have options in the campground parking lots too. Going late means adding time and stress before you begin the hike. Also note that people do double park here because of the sheer number of cars.
3) Going down this trail is way harder than going up – especially the last stretch. So be prepared for that. Invest in those hiking shoes, and people with knee problems, please equip yourself with a knee band if needed.
4) There is one slightly treacherous part of the trail. Coming down past Nevada Fall, there is a section of the trail where you walk on rock that is wet – water drips down onto the trail from the rock face on your left. These rocks are uneven and the slipperiness could lead to injury – one of our friends slipped on a rock and hit his toe quite hard on another rock in front.
5) Water filling stations. The last water filling station on Mist Falls Trail is near the start of the trail so fill up there as you will need plenty of water on this hike. It’s better to be overprepared with water than underprepared.
6) Vernal Falls has some of the best photo spots. Spend an extra few minutes walking down and getting a little bit closer to the waterfall. There is a path that lets you go down a bit. Have your friend walk down with you and stop halfway while you venture down near the rocks. Have your friend take a picture of you with a wide angle lens – the rocks, rainbow and waterfall make it look like a different planet. It’s absolutely brilliant!
7) Staying in Oakhurst has one added advantage. You have Bass Lake close by (it’s a 15 minute drive) and that lake is beautiful. It’s not massive but it gives you a great unwinding day post hiking. You can rent a boat and hang out on the lake for a few hours. We did this on Memorial Day. It was a spontaneous plan and it was one of the best decisions we took!