I had the opportunity to take my girlfriend to Yosemite for her first time in July. In my opinion, first time visits there are the most magical and I wanted to make sure she had the best time possible. Naturally, the weather, while sunny, was a balmy 100 degrees on the Valley floor every day we were there. We wanted to take advantage of some of the hiking that Yosemite has to offer, but we knew we wouldn’t get the chance to do as much as we had hoped with the extreme heat.
I opted to take us up the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls, and then continue on to Nevada Falls. We’d head back down by way of the John Muir trail so that we could get the quintessential hiking experience under our belt.
If you have never hiked in Yosemite, or the high country/Sierras, I find that the hikes are a bit elevated (yes, pun intended!) from other areas of the country. Hailing from San Diego county, we just don’t see 2000 ft elevation gain in our average hikes. I have a persistent knee injury resulting from a prior half-Ironman race, so I use standard hiking boots and trekking poles on most hikes in the Park.
Hiking boots for me – Keen Voyageur Mid-Hiking Boots
Hiking shoes for her – Nike running shoes (would not recommend running shoes as there is little to no tread on the bottom of the shoe, and she was slipping a lot on the way back down)
Trekking poles – REI brand, my specific model is unavailable but these are close
We decided to embark on our journey at 5:30am in order to beat the heat of the day, as well as the crowds. We camped at Lower Pines campground, so we opted to walk from our campsite to Happy Isles, where the Mist trail starts. If you aren’t staying in one of the Pines (North, Upper, or Lower) campgrounds, the park service offers shuttle buses that can bring you to Happy Isles with service beginning at 6am. I highly recommend starting early even if there isn’t a heat wave because you will be sharing the trail with very few other avid hikers, and you will be able to avoid families and larger groups of people. We saw less than 10 people on the way up the trail which afforded us a more intimate experience with the surrounding nature.
It took about 2 hours to summit the Nevada Fall, and another 2 hours to return back to Happy Isles. The Mist trail has a lot of granite steps, so I prefer going up the Mist trail as it can be very slippery and easier to slip going down versus heading up. There is a brief reprieve at the top of Vernal Falls though in another .5-1 mile, some steps continue. The view from the top of the Nevada Fall is gorgeous. Liberty cap is right next to it, and if you are continuing on to hike either Half Dome or Cloud’s Rest, you can proceed on the trail at this point. There are 2-3 bathrooms along the way up the Mist trail too, which is very convenient since you should drink 1-2 liters of water depending on how hot of a day it is.
By the time we got back to camp, we were sufficiently beat, and decided to take our camping chairs and plop them in the Merced river (Lower Pines campground buts up to the Merced for easy access) and relax in the shallow, refreshing water.