Pets allowed
Not Allowed
Elevation Gain
3,428.00 ft (1,044.85 m)
Trail type
6.00 mi (9.66 km)
Please respect the outdoors by practicing Leave No Trace. Learn more about how to apply the principles of Leave No Trace on your next outdoor adventure here.

Yosemite Valley in winter is a thing of beauty, a piece of paradise. It’s serene without the summer crowds and presents itself in a way not many people get to witness. As the valley was carved out by glaciers, visiting in winter might be equated to paying homage to its creation. Some trails are closed for safety reasons, however, getting to Vernal Fall is still possible via John Muir Trail.

In winter, the hike might require a few extra precautions and a bit more planning but it’s well worth an and all effort put into it. You’re more likely than not going to have the trails all to yourself while you’re surrounded by cold grey granite walls and colder bright white snow. If you’re looking for a hike to put your mind to absolute peace, this is the one that’ll do it.

Start at the Happy Isles bus stop. You might have to hike there from wherever in the valley you’re staying. Follow Happy Isles Loop Road, Cross the bridge, and a short walk later, you’ll be at the Mist Trailhead where John Muir Trail starts. You can begin your wintery adventure.

Mist Trail and John Muir Trail follow the same trail for the first mile; follow it as it winds along and eventually crosses Merced River. Be careful; the path may be icy and slippery. Enjoy the serenity of the canyon as the river will be most likely the only thing you hear besides your footsteps.

1.2 miles into the hike, you’ll arrive at a junction; follow the John Muir Trail as it takes a right turn and leaves the Mist Trail. Mist Trail is closed in winter; you’ll get to take the longer but much milder route. The trail will climb in a series of switchbacks to the highest point of the hike before it reaches Clark Point at mile 2.5. Clark Point and the trail beyond offer gorgeous views of Nevada Fall and Liberty Cap. 

Leave the John Muir Trail by continuing straight through Clark Point and take the following descent very slowly. After all, every descent is just a very controlled fall, and losing control could be catastrophic in this case. At the next junction, turn left, and half a mile past Clark Point, you will have reached the top of Vernal Fall.

After you’ve enjoyed the waterfall and started heading back past Emerald Pool, I suggest you make a tiny 0.2-mile long detour. Instead of turning right onto the trail back to Clark Point, walk straight and follow the Mist Trail until you reach the Silver Apron Footbridge. The views there are gorgeous as well, and you even catch a glimpse of Nevada Fall.

When you’re ready to return, simply turn back, climb back up to Clark Point and then begin the long descent via John Muir Trail. Take a left turn where it joins Mist Trail and you’ll be back at the trailhead in no time.

Logistics + Planning

Preferable season(s)




Parking Pass

National Park Pass

Open Year-round



Unique experience of the place. Crowd-less version of a popular hike. Gorgeous views. Solitude.


Requires a bit more preparation. Trails can be closed due to safety concerns.

Trailhead Elevation

4,115.00 ft (1,254.25 m)

Highest point

5,589.00 ft (1,703.53 m)


Near lake or river
Geologically significant
Big vistas

Typically multi-day


Permit required



Nearby Adventures


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