Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite + Central Sierra, California

Start Exploring
Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop

Share:

Advertisement
  • 594-foot Nevada Falls at low flow as seen from the John Muir Trail.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The trail begins at the John Muir Trailhead at Happy Isles. As the sign suggests, this is also the start of many other classic Yosmite and Sierra trails.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The paved lower section winds through oak, pine, and some large granite boulders.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • An early view of Illilouette Gorge.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • 317-foot Vernal Falls comes into view less than a mile up the trail.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The Mist Trail ascends beneath Vernal Falls. The trail is named for the deluge of spray hikers encouter during high flows. - Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The last few rocky steps to the top of Vernal Falls.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Looking down on the Merced River Canyon and the Mist Trail from the top of Vernal Falls, the first step in the Giant Staircase.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Liberty Cap (7,076') from the top of Vernal Falls. Nevada Falls can be seen in the lower right.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Silver Apron Bridge.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Nevada Falls.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The Mist Trail threading through ponderosas.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The Mist Trail below Nevada Falls.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Topping out on the second step of the Giant Staircase. This is where the Merced River plummets 594 feet over Nevada Falls.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Top of Nevada Falls. - Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Nevada Falls during spring runoff.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The John Muir Trail.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The glacial domes of Half Dome (8,836'), Mount Broderick (6,706') and Liberty Cap (7,076') as seen from the JMT.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • Descending the JMT.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The JMT.- Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
  • The Giant Staircase over which Neveda Falls and Vernal Falls flow, viewed from near Glacier Point. - Nevada Falls via Giant Staircase Loop
Overview + Weather
Pros: 
Multiple waterfalls. Phenomonal veiws of Yosemite's glacial domes.
Cons: 
Lower section of trail can get crowded.
Advertisement
Region:
Yosemite + Central Sierra, CA
Congestion: 
Moderate
Preferable Season(s):
Spring, Summer, Fall
Day-Use/Parking Pass Required:
National Park Pass
Total Distance: 
6.30 mi (10.14 km)
Trailhead Elev.: 
4,000 ft (1,219 m)
Net Elev. Gain: 
1,090 ft (332 m)
Trail Uses:
Hiking, Horseback
Trail type: 
There-and-back/Loop
Dogs allowed: 
No
Current Local Weather:
Powered by Dark Sky

Today

Clear throughout the day.
80°F
57°

Tue

Clear throughout the day.
78°F
47°

Wed

Clear throughout the day.
75°F
47°

Thu

Clear throughout the day.
82°F
53°

Fri

Clear throughout the day.
85°F
54°

Sat

Dry throughout the day.
85°F
52°

Sun

Dry throughout the day.
86°F
56°
Advertisement
Hike Description

Hike Description

Team

Upon first viewing Yosemite’s Giant Staircase, one can imagine how this section of the Merced River Canyon got its name. The Giant Staircase refers to a pair of immense granite steps that create a 2,000-foot drop between Little Yosemite Valley and the main Yosemite Valley floor. Adding to this dramatic landscape, the Merced River plummets over the ledges and creates two spectacular waterfalls: the lower 317-foot Vernal Fall and upper 594-foot Nevada Fall.

The Giant Staircase loop begins at Happy Isles Trailhead, which is also the northern starting point of the famous, 210-mile John Muir Trail (JMT). The Mist Trail splits off from the JMT slightly past the Vernal Fall Bridge, climbing a steep granite staircase adjacent to the waterfall. This area gets drenched in the spring and early summer at high water flows. If you hike here in the spring, be sure to bring your rain jacket.

Once you reach the top of Vernal Falls you’ll have ascended the first step of the Giant Staircase. Continue up the Mist Trail and begin the second climb as it switchbacks up a steep gully to the left of Nevada Falls. At the top of the gully the Mist Trail ends at junction with the JMT. A few hundred yards to the right is the top of Nevada Falls, the highest point on the loop and the summit of the second step of the Giant Staircase. Enjoy a rest and the scenery, but be watchful of your food if you stop for lunch as the local critters are anything but shy.

Follow the JMT on the return trip for spectacular views of the southeast face of Half Dome, Mount Broderick, and Liberty Cap towering above Nevada Falls. If you are hiking in the fall, take care not slip on ice in shaded areas. Follow the JMT back to your beginning at Happy Isle Trailhead.

Note: The lower section of the trail up to Vernal Falls is very popular with Yosemite visitors. Set out early to get in front of the crowd and/or consider a visit in the quieter fall season.

Updates, Tips + Comments

Updates, Tips + Comments

Field Guide + Trail Map

Field Guide + Trail Map

Download
Advertisement
Location + Directions

Location + Directions

Nearby Camping + Lodging

(10 within a 30 mile radius)

Nearby Adventures

(59 within a 30 mile radius)

Advertisement
Related Content

Related Content

Adventure Community

Adventure Community

Who Wants To Do It
88 Members
Who's Done It
67 Members
Submission by
Team
309 Adventures Explored
301 Adventures Published

Newsletter Signup

Join the Outdoor Project Community

Get access to essential planning materials and information for your next adventure. Take a few seconds to join the community. It’s FREE!

Free Field Guides + Maps

Post Updates, Tips + Comments

Organize + Track Your Adventures

Insider Detailed Info, News + Benefits

Custom Driving Directions

Recommended Campsites, Photos + Reservation Info