Sierra Nevada - Yosemite National Park - Nevada Fall

I first visited Nevada Fall in Yosemite National Park in July 1957 on a backpack trip while I was in the Navy. I visited/viewed it on several subsequent trips.

Nevada Fall is a 594-foot high waterfall on the Merced River. Like its downstream neighbor, Nevada Fall is clearly visible at a distance, from Glacier Point, as well as close up, along the Mist Trail. It is located below the granite dome, Liberty Cap, at the west end of Little Yosemite Valley.

Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006

Nevada Fall from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006
Nevada Fall from Washburn Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 2006

The waterfall is widely recognized by its "bent" shape, in which the water free-falls for roughly the first third of its length to a steep slick-rock slope. This mid-fall impact of the water on the cliff face creates a turbulent, whitewater appearance in the falls and produces a great deal of mist which covers a wide radius, which led to its current name (Nevada is a Spanish word meaning "snowy").

The Indian name was Yo-wy-we, signifying the twist or squirm of the falling water. Lafayette Bunnell, a member of the Mariposa Battalion in 1851, suggested the name "Nevada" for the waterfall. He wrote, "The Nevada Fall was so called because it was the nearest to the Sierra Nevada, and because the name was sufficiently indicative of a wintry companion for our spring (Vernal Fall)... The white, foaming water, as it dashed down Yo-wy-we from the snowy mountains, represented to my mind a vast avalanche of snow."

The Emerald Pool forms on the "step" between Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall downstream. The 317-foot high Vernal Fall is a short hike from the bottom of Nevada Fall. They form a cascade in which the Merced River flows down to Yosemite Valley.

This cascade is sometimes called the giant staircase, which is evident when viewed from above, at Glacier Point or Washburn Point.

NPS Map of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall trails
NPS Map of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall trails

You can hike to the top of Nevada Fall via either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail or a combination of both .. see the map.

The Mist Trail is mostly shaded and is progressive in incline until it reaches the base of Vernal Fall where mist sprays onto the hikers.

This first paved mile of trail is busiest and accesses the Vernal Fall Footbridge. Almost entirely uphill, you can appreciate views along the way, and during spring, when the water levels are at their peak, you can also glimpse Illillouette Fall from this first section of trail.

You'll find an excellent view of Vernal Fall from the footbridge at 0.8 miles. About 0.2 miles beyond the bridge, the Mist Trail and the John Muir Trail diverge .. see map.

To proceed directly to the top of Vernal Fall, follow the Mist Trail 0.5 miles up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps. Prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of waterfall spray in spring and early summer (hence the name for this trail!).

At times of high flow, mostly in the spring, hikers may be drenched by the time they pass the mist from Vernal Fall. The final 15 minutes of the trail is a very steep climb up rocks to the top of Vernal Fall.

Once atop Vernal Fall there is a pool of water called the Emerald Pool around which hikers lounge and rest. There is also a 20 degree slope of rock with water flowing into the pool called the Silver Apron.

You will delight in views of Vernal Fall all along this stretch of trail and may even be able to see a rainbow in the spray of the fall. At the top of Vernal Fall, you can experience jaw-dropping views straight down the length of the 317-foot waterfall (please don't cross the railings and use extreme caution while you're near any flowing water or wet rock in this area).

Vernal Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Vernal Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Vernal Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Vernal Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

Emerald Pool and Silver Apron at Vernal Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Emerald Pool and Silver Apron at Vernal Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957

NPS Vernal Fall/Nevada Fall trail profile
NPS Vernal Fall/Nevada Fall trail profile

From this point, you continue up to the next junction (about 0.2 miles) where you can transition over to the John Muir Trail; or continue uphill on the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Fall .. see map.

If you choose to continue on the Mist Trail, shortly beyond Vernal Fall, you will pass by Emerald Pool and Silver Apron. Both of these may look inviting on a hot summer’s day, but it is illegal and dangerous to swim here due to the extremely hazardous current.

Continuing along the Mist Trail, you’ll experience another 1.5 miles of steep, rocky switchbacks in order to reach Nevada Fall.

Crashing down 594 feet, this thunderous waterfall is fullest in spring and early summer, and you will find terrific photographic opportunities along this stretch of trail.

At the top of the climb, head right to reach the footbridge that crosses the Merced River above the fall, allowing you a closer view of it. Use extreme caution while you're near any flowing water or wet rock in this area.

From here, you can either return down the Mist Trail, or continue over the bridge to the John Muir Trail for an alternate route back to Yosemite Valley. If you choose the John Muir Trail, you will enjoy different scenery, with great views of Liberty Cap and different views of Nevada Fall.

The John Muir Trail is longer—approximately 4 miles one-way compared to the Mist Trail’s 2.5 miles.


Nevada Fall, Silver Apron, Emerald Pool from above Vernal Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Nevada Fall, Silver Apron, Emerald Pool from above Vernal Fall
Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957

Nevada Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Nevada Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Nevada Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Nevada Fall from Mist Trail - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957

Bridge at Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1958
Bridge at Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1958

Top of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Top of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Looking over top of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Looking over top of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957

Looking down Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1958
Looking down Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1958
Looking down Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966
Looking down Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1966

Over the brink of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Over the brink of Nevada Fall - Yosemite National Park - Jul 1957
Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall from Glacier Point - Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968
Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall from Glacier Point
Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968

Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Cathedral Range from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968
Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Cathedral Range from Sentinel Dome
Yosemite National Park - Jun 1968
Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970
Liberty Cap, Nevada Fall from Sentinel Dome - Yosemite National Park - Jan 1970

Liberty Cap, Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Liberty Cap, Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973
Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Sep 1973

Looking down Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980
Looking down Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980

Looking down Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980
Looking down Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980
Liberty Cap over Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980
Liberty Cap over Nevada Falls - Yosemite National Park - Aug 1980