Hiking Yosemite's Mist Trail with kids
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Jaw-dropping views of exploding waterfalls and the powerful Merced River put the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park at the top of the list for all levels of hikers.
The most popular trail in the park, and a semi-challenging one at that, don't let the crowds or the challenging stairs scare you away.
Your family will talk about this hike for years
Carve out a good chunk of a day for this, and promise towering ice cream cones at the end of the trek. Ice cream is a huge motivator around here.
The Mist Trail is a moderate hike doable with kids. We chose to make the steep 1.5 mile climb up to Vernal Fall with our kids ages 8, 11, 14, and 15.
The first paved mile of the hike is the busiest and leads you to the Vernal Fall footbridge.
Then, you will follow the Mist Trail up what I call nature's stair master: a long,winding granite stairway of over 600 steps. Phew! If my 8 year old can do it, so can you.
Please keep your kids within arm's reach and please just keep going. There is a portion, where you basically hug the granite wall as you trek up the stairs, with only a simple, yet sturdy fence keeps you from sliding, tumbling down the incline.
Slippery footing and a ginormous amount of waterfall spray occurs here along the steep staircase in spring and early summer.
It ain't called the Mist Trail for nothing.
It's worth every shirt-grabbing, hand-holding, yelling moment with your kids. And if you're smart and alert, you will be safe and have fun!
You will get soaked even if you're wearing a rain jacket.
You will cling to the staircase wall and wait for others to pass from the opposite direction.
You will witness gorgeous rainbows in the spray of the fall.
You will marvel together and encourage each other up to the top!
You will make an amazing memory together!
On top of Vernal Fall
Smile upon reaching the top of Vernal Fall and pat yourself on the back.
Soak in sunshine along the landing, pull out your snacks, and savor jaw-dropping views on top of the 317-foot waterfall. Rest and enjoy God's masterpiece.
Please remember: Do not step across the railings to take pictures and use extreme caution while you're near the Merced River and wet boulders in this area. Injuries and deaths occur every year in Yosemite because people do not heed warning signs. You're not vying for the Darwin Award.
The hike further up to Nevada Fall is another 1.5 miles of rocky, steep switchbacks. I'm sure its a rewarding view, but we didn't do it. We decided we want our kids to like hiking. And us.
And seriously, those ice cream treats were calling our names.
But, we did take an alternative route back down that rewarded us with a sweet shot of Nevada Fall from the John Muir Trail:
Hiking down from Vernal Fall via Clark Point Cutoff
Following our heart-thumping, ever-so-worth-it hike up the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall, we chose this alternate route down. Ask a ranger before the hike to make sure of it's location, otherwise you might walk right by it.
A sign at Vernal Fall mentions the Clark Point Cutoff as an alternative hike back. The Clark Point Cutoff eventually connects with the John Muir Trail, which leads you down with amazing views of Yosemite Valley. And this way has less traffic.
Remember, the Mist Trail to and from Vernal Fall can be crowded. The John Muir Trail seems to be a bit less traveled, at least from our experience on a summer Saturday.
Serious hikers use the longer John Muir Trail to elevate themselves in Little Yosemite Valley, providing them with access to hike Half Dome all the way to the top.
(Half Dome, we see you, and our family dreams of returning in a few years, obtaining a wilderness permit, and climbing you. Just waiting for our kids to grow a few more notches.)
The Clark Point Cutoff to the John Muir Trail provided relaxed, fantastic, gorgeous views of both Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall (see above) on the way back down. Totally recommend this return route, especially for families.
How to reach the Mist Trail trailhead
From Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16), begin your trek up to Vernal Fall. You can ride the Valley Visitor Shuttle (7 am to 10 pm year-round) to Happy Isles and then follow the signs across the bridge to where the trail begins. You can't miss it.
Grab your map. Bring LOTS of drinking water. Pack rain jackets if you can. Bring lots of snacks. (We devoured ALL of ours.)
Drinking water is available at the shuttle stop near the trailhead, as well as at the Vernal Fall Footbridge (May thru October). This is the only drinking water available along the trail, so carry plenty of water for your hike.
Plan on carrying 2 liters per person on the hike.
Our kids loved this adventurous, challenging hike. And those ice cream cones at the end of the hike were de-li-cious.
If you have any questions about hiking the Mist Trail with kids, please feel free to jot me a note below!
Have you taken family hikes like this in Yosemite? If so, which hikes would you recommend? We'd love to hear, so please comment below!
Know a family headed to Yosemite soon? Please feel free to share this post with them!
All photos belong to Tanya Raedeke. You must request written permission to use any of the photographs in this post. Thank you!