Yosemite National Park has no shortage of hiking trails. Some of the most spectacular views I have ever seen came from this valley. With several hiking trails to choose from, one of the most famous and popular is the Mist Trail, and with good reason. The trail includes 2 spectacular waterfalls: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The best time to visit are in the Spring and early Summer when the water is raging. I recommend shoes with good traction as some parts of this hike can get very wet and slippery. Also any waterproof gear will definitely come in handy!
The trailhead starts at Happy Isles. The first section of the hike to Vernal Falls is on a very well-paved path and only a little less than a mile long. Although definitely steep, there are many families and children on the the first part of the hike to see Vernal Falls. Once you reach the Vernal Falls footbridge, you’ll see many people taking a break and taking in the views. This is also a good spot to use the bathroom and fill up your water at the water station if you are planning on continuing the hike up to Nevada Falls.
After this first section, many families and children head back down the trail and don’t continue on. While the next part of the trail is slightly less crowded, this is still one of the most popular Yosemite hikes, so you won't be alone. The next part of the trail includes a granite staircase that takes you alongside of Vernal Falls. This is where you get wet. I had to put my phone and my camera in my waterproof backpack. (This is where a GoPro could come in handy!) The falls were pouring on us! But in 95 degree weather, this felt amazing. This was one of my favorite parts of the hike; getting drenched as we walked alongside one of the most beautiful waterfalls.
Once we reached the top of Vernal Falls, we took another break to take pictures and admire the views of the valley from higher elevation. From there, we continued up the trail to Nevada Falls. While the switchbacks are tough, your eyes will thank you once you reach the top. Seeing the views of Nevada Falls and the valley from this viewpoint will make those tired legs and drenched clothes all worth it!
For heading back down, my advice is to do the loop and take the John Muir Trail. Although longer, It changes up the scenery and is more flat and easier on the knees than the hike back down the Mist Trail. Also, the view of Nevada Falls from the distance on this trail is definitely worth seeing, with Half Dome and Liberty Cap in the background. It really lets you get to feel the vastness of Yosemite with these points of view.
After finishing our hike, we still had some time to explore the valley before and during sunset. There are plenty of viewpoints all over Yosemite that provide incredible views, and some are easily accessible by car. We drove to Tunnel View as well as Glacier Point and Taft Point to see some of these iconic views of the valley. There is a short and easy hike to Taft Point (~1 mile each way). This is a popular sunset spot, we arrived about an hour before sunset to see the golden light pour over the valley and El Capitan. You’ll see many photographers setting up to get some spectacular sunset shots. Just remember to bring a headlamp to make the 1 mile hike back to your car after dark.