Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley via Nevada Falls – John Muir Trail, Day 1

  • Day1/13
  • Distance (miles)4.8

In June 2014, four friends and I embarked on a 3-day backpacking trip in Yosemite. We started our hike in Tuolumne Meadows and ended it in Yosemite Valley. Our journey through this spectacular national park was filled with awe-inspiring views and thrilling hikes. Little did I know that two years later I would embark on an even more ambitious trip.

In mid-July 2016, I headed back to Yosemite with the same group of friends. This time, though, the trip was different in two significant ways. First, although we hiked the same route, we hiked it in reverse this time from the valley to Tuolumne Meadows. Second, and more importantly, for Don and me, this stretch of the trip was just the tip of the iceberg. Don and I were preparing to embark on a 13-day, 220-mile thru-hiking adventure along the entire length of the John Muir Trail, stretching from Yosemite Valley to the summit of Mount Whitney, California’s highest peak.

Happy Isles to Nevada Falls

We started day one in a typical lazy fashion, leaving the Yosemite Valley backpacking camp at around 9:00 am. Nestled in the heart of Yosemite Valley, the backpacker’s camp is the perfect launching point for any Yosemite adventure. It is the ideal spot to kick off a backpacking trip from Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows, the first leg of our hike.

The five of us were all excited to start the adventure with a hike up to Nevada Falls, where we planned to eat lunch, from the Happy Isles Trailhead. Named after the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Nevada Falls is a 594-foot high waterfall located on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley. From the Happy Isles trailhead, the hike to the top of the falls is about 2.7 miles, over which you’ll gain about 1000 feet of elevation.

Nevada Falls from the John Muir Trail.
Overlooking Nevada Falls from  the John Muir Trail

A combination of heat and the slow climb left the trail crowded with hikers who were struggling to reach the falls. Our arrival at the falls put us just past our halfway point for the day. The hike from Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley, our destination,  is the shortest hike we’ll have on this trip.

The roar of the falls continued to grow louder as we made our way up. The view from the top was breathtaking, and we took some time to take in the beauty of the Park. The misty spray of the falls was a welcome relief from the heat of the day. We stopped nearby for an hour or so to enjoy lunch under some shade trees alongside the creek. While relaxing in the shade, I feasted on trail snacks and sipped on some cool water from the nearby stream.

Don dipping his bandana into water trickling across rocks on the trail.
Soaking up some cool water to help beat the heat

Nevada Falls to Little Yosemite Valley Campgrounds

From the falls, we continued on our hike, finishing up mid-afternoon at Little Yosemite Valley Campgrounds. Over the next few hours, we swam in the Merced River, washed our clothes, and played several games of bridge before calling it a day.

Campers sitting around playing a game of cards.
Don (left) and the rest of the gang enjoying  a few games of bridge in Little Yosemite Valley

The Merced River is a 145-mile long river located in Central California. It starts in the high Sierra Nevada Mountains and meanders its way through Yosemite National Park before emptying into the San Joaquin River. The Merced passes through several waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, including Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and Vernal Falls. It’s also a popular spot for swimming, fishing, camping, and rafting. As the sun set on our camp, we settled in for the night, exhausted but excited for the days to come.

Laundry hanging on a wire between trees.
Airing our dirty laundry in Little Yosemite Valley

My Backpacking Meal Plan

My ultralight backpacking food list for the day included oatmeal with milk and blueberries for breakfast, and Thai peanut noodles and tea for dinner. The Thai peanut noodles recipe was adapted from an original recipe by Andrew Skurka, a renowned long-distance hiker. The dinner was delicious and gave us the energy we needed for the next day’s journey. I was looking forward to a good night’s sleep in the backcountry.

Hot tea and noodles in camping cups.
Thai peanut noodles and Acai berry green tea for dinner

We were all looking forward to beginning our hike to Sunrise Lakes Campground the next day. And I was especially looking forward to sleeping by the meadow under the stars with a full moon. But for now, we’d all have to settle for the soft trickle of the Merced River, and the wind rustling through the trees blocking out the stars overhead.

2 thoughts on “Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley via Nevada Falls – John Muir Trail, Day 1

  • Doris Wang

    Yay! You’re back!

  • Good thinking with the clothing line. Your hikes looks so much fun, I can imagine Nevada falls was amazing


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