Nevada Fall – Yosemite National Park – Hiking California

Mel and I will begin our ascent to the top of Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park on a continuation of hiking the Mist Trail from Yosemite Valley to Vernal Fall.  We will climb for another 1.5 miles (2.4 KM) and 900 vertical feet (274.3 m).  As we gain elevation, the long views over the Merced River Canyon to Yosemite Valley become increasingly more spectacular.  Scenic highlights include spectacular views of Glacier Point on the south wall of Yosemite ValleyHalf Dome, Illilouette Fall and partial views of Upper Yosemite Fall.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

After basking in sun on the granite slabs near the brink of Vernal Fall, we restore much drier socks and boots and hike a short distance on the Mist Trail upstream along the Merced River to the very tranquil, beautiful and chilly Emerald Pool which begs for a swim, but once again, the calm surface is deceptive and certainly there is fast water creating powerful undercurrents which head directly to the basin above, and the brink of, Vernal Fall.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Emerald Pool on the Merced River a short distance above the brink of Vernal Fall in Yosemite National Park.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The Emerald Pool on the Merced River above Vernal Fall with the terminus of Silver Apron on photo right.

A short climb past Emerald Pool leads, first, to the junction of the Clark Trail with the Mist Trail.  The Clark Trail traverses on switchbacks from the Mist Trail to the John Muir Trail which would be the preferred down route from Vernal Fall.  This would avoid descent, and higher risk for injury, on the wet, slippery, steep and irregular granite steps which were used for ascent beside Vernal Fall.  Mel and I are continuing onward and upward, so we pass the Clark Trail Junction and head left onto granite slab, then cross the Silver Apron Bridge over the Merced River.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The upstream view of the Silver Apron Bridge over the Merced River and looking towards Liberty Cap.

On the Silver Apron Bridge, and looking downstream, is a direct view of an incredible, natural, water slide as the Merced River negotiates the glacier-created chute feeding foaming, white water into the still waters of Emerald Pool.  It is my understanding many adventuresome souls have succumbed to the nearly irresistible urge to make the slide.  There are hidden rocks, combined with the inability to manoeuvre in the fast water, and many people have been seriously injured, or lost their lives by drowning or by being taken over Vernal FallsIt is a look; do not touch situation.  The roar of the water is overwhelming in this beautiful and exciting location.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The view downstream on the Merced River from the centre of Silver Apron Bridge where the Silver Apron ‘slides’ water into Emerald Pool above Vernal Fall.  People on the granite slab, near the water, provide scale.

Soon, after crossing the Silver Apron Bridge, Mel and I arrive at a viewpoint along the Mist Trail which features our current objective, Nevada Fall.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

We continue hiking along the north side of the Merced River on switchbacks over many irregular, granite steps which gain elevation aggressively as Mel and I curve our way around the flank of Liberty Peak.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

A view over Merced River Canyon and Yosemite Valley from the base of Liberty Cap at 5,907 ft (1,801 m)

We arrive at a flat plateau which is also a major trail junction.  Left leads to the campground in Little Yosemite Valley where registered, permit-holding, participants will stage to make the cable climb to the 8,836 ft (2,693 m) summit of the world-famous Half Dome.  Mel and I take the right fork on mercifully flat ground for the short distance towards the top of Nevada Falls.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The mercifully flat approach over granite pathway to the top of Nevada Fall, Yosemite National Park.

There are great photographs everywhere and, as usual, I fall behind.  Off to my right, my eye catches a fence on a rock outcropping below me, and very close to Nevada Fall, so I work my way over granite slabs and find an intermittent trail leading to this observation platform for incredible photos of Nevada Fall up close and personal.  The roar of white, folding, pounding water is deafening.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Looking straight down Nevada Fall from the Observation Platform on the north side of Merced River.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall in Merced River Canyon from the Observation Platform, Yosemite National Park

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall from the Observation Platform on the south side of Merced River, Yosemite National Park

A wooden bridge crossing the Merced River, very near the top of Nevada Fall, provides the contrast between relatively tranquil terrain upstream and the torrent of white, foaming water occupying the raceway to the brink of 594 foot ( 181 m) Nevada Fall.  Like Vernal Fall, there are slanted granite slabs near Nevada Fall.  It is an excellent place to relax, absorb and appreciate incredible vistas.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The spectacular view down Merced River Canyon to Glacier Point on the south side of Yosemite Valley.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The view of the Merced River looking upstream from the center of the bridge over Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The chute feeding the foaming white water of Merced River into Nevada Fall as seen from the center of the bridge.

When we leave Nevada Fall, we have the choice of taking the infamous Panorama Trail which accesses 370 ft (112.8 m) Illilouette Fall on the way to Glacier Point on the south side of Yosemite Valley.  These are distances beyond the reach of our day hike so we choose to descend on the south side of Merced River Canyon via the incredibly scenic John Muir Trail.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

The bridge over the Merced River above Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap dominating the view.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Beginning descent from Nevada Fall on the John Muir Trail, Yosemite National Park, California.

Views from the descent on John Muir Trail are breathtaking, almost surreal.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Near the beginning of the descent, Liberty Cap with Half Dome behind capture the horizon.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Heading down the John Muir Trail with weeping walls beside us in Yosemite’s Merced River Canyon.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Half Dome behind, Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap looming over Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USANevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Sometimes the view is so spectacular it is difficult to turn away.

Mel and I switchback ourselves into a stupor on our descent of the south side of Merced River Canyon.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

I take a moment to capture a telephoto image of 370 ft ( 112.8 m) Illilouette Fall on the south side of Yosemite Valley.  The scar on one side of was caused by major rock fall during the winter of 1968 – 1969.  We are descending towards the floor of Yosemite Valley which, long ago, was under nearly 2,000 ft (610 m) of glacial ice.

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

Illiloulette Fall along the Panorama Trail near Glacier Point on the south side of Yosemite Valley

We arrive back at the Mist Trail and descend on familiar trail to the Vernal Fall Bridge and hike back to the trailhead the same way we hiked in.  Along the way we pass a spring-fed cistern at trailside.  We complete what is arguably the most popular trail In Yosemite National Park.  It has been an outstanding experience of phenomenal and occasionally deceptive beauty.  Total hiking distance up the Mist Trail and returning via the John Muir Trail is 6.0 miles (9.6 KM) with elevation near 1,900 ft (579 m).

Nevada Fall - Merced River,Yosemite National Park, California, USA

A spring-fed cistern at the side of Mist Trail as we near the end of our hike to Vernal and Nevada Fall in the Merced River Canyon ‘Grand Staircase’ at the east end of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California, USA.

In the book, ‘Off the Wall: Death in Yosemite’, Chapter One is devoted to casualties sustained by plunging over waterfalls.  There are many which have been documented beginning in 1913Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall are mentioned most often.  It likely relates to volume of traffic and terrain demanding respect.

Please, do this amazing hike and take every precaution to be absolutely certain to stay safe.

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7 Responses to Nevada Fall – Yosemite National Park – Hiking California

  1. Helen says:

    “Sometimes the view is so spectacular it is difficult to turn away”
    That I can well believe! Magnificent!

    • We were blessed with near perfect weather and the John Muir Trail descent was sparsely populated with people in comparison to the Mist Trail on the other side of the Merced River Canyon which was very busy. If you consider an image of Nevada Fall with Liberty Cap and Mount Broderick backed by Half Dome, then add a full range of vision combined with the sound of powerful falling water echoing against granite walls, it really is mesmerising. The vision induces a calm, a peaceful pleasure that is satisfying and emotionally gratifying. It is likely there are others too busy, or hurrying to get back, or focused on other things, who miss it. I would urge anyone, who creates the opportunity to hike that section of the John Muir Trail, to take the time to just stand there and soak up those images. The photos will be a reminder of how incredibly beautiful and uplifting it was. The entire vision, the sound, the smell, the feel of a gentle breeze cooling the warmth of sun against skin, they all come back and remind me of how fortunate I was to be there in that moment. Thank you for your comment, Helen. I can tell you believe.

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  5. Christy says:

    Wonderful pics! I haven’t done the full trail loop you describe since 1984 though I have been to the tops of both waterfalls since. Vernal for a short day hike and Nevada on a backpacking trip to Little Yosemite.

    I really agree with your advice to take the John Muir trail back down. I’ve done the Mist Trail as a descent and it is nerve-wracking, especially in spring.

    • Thank you, Christy! I hope I renewed some great memories for you. It is a lot different if you have enjoyed the same experience because the photos bring back your 360 degree memmories of sights, sounds and feelings. Our late summer visit was during the time of lowest water over both falls. I can imagine the spring and early summer flow is substantially larger and the descent on wet stone steps would be challenging with much increased risk for injury. Thanks for taking the time to add your experience on this fabulous hike. Yosemite is an incredibly beautiful park.

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