If you are planning a trip to Yosemite, then chances are you are thinking about hiking. With hundreds of trails to choose from, this guide is about some of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park.
It is possible to drive to many of the hotspots and photo spots in Yosemite. However, there is no doubt that the best way to experience Yosemite National Park is on foot. Not only are you able to get back to nature, but there are nooks and crannies of the park that a vehicle doesn’t take you to.
Deciding which hike to take however comes down to many factors. You have to take into consideration what you want to see at the park, what time of year you are visiting and what experience you have hiking.
Luckily Yosemite has something to suit everyone. There are hikes for beginners, hikes for families, hikes for those who want a challenge and hikes for the more experienced. Some are even included in the best Yosemite tours and others take one day to complete.
In fact, Yosemite is one of the best National Parks in the US for hiking.
Before setting off on any hike it is important to be prepared too. There are a few key factors you should take into consideration. Knowing how long it is, whether there is any incline and what you should bring all help to make your hike an enjoyable experience.
It is easy to fit a few hikes into a 2 day or three day itinerary winter, fall, spring or summer. Below you can find all the information you need to decide which hikes are best for you, what to pack and how to prepare for them.
Easy Hikes in Yosemite
There are many reasons to choose an easy hike. They are easy to add to your itinerary, they often don’t take too long and don’t require a lot of planning. A quick hike doesn’t necessarily mean you have to compensate for spectacular views.
The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is short at just 1.9km but it has amazing views of Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and even Middle Cascade. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America, so it is not to be missed.
The great thing is that it takes just thirty minutes to complete. It is easy to get to as the shuttle takes you right there, just hop off at the number six-stop. This also means that it is popular so expect it to be busy.
The end of the trail near the falls is rocky. You can climb from the trail over the rocks to the rock pools. Be careful though as the rocks are slippy when the waterfalls are in full flow.
The trail is open all year round even in December, January, February and March. It is well shaded so it is a perfect walk in July and August. However, don’t expect to see much water in the summertime as the falls have usually dried up at this time of year.
The waterfalls and fast-flowing rivers that attract visitors to go rafting are caused by the melting snow. This happens in springtime and the waterfalls are roaring at this time. In fact, you may even get wet if you walk on this trail in April, May or June. It is still worth the trek any time of year. Many people have spotted deer on the trail.
Easy Yosemite Hikes
The most breathtaking views are found at Glacier Point. Most people drive there or take the free shuttle service. If you are coming from the valley, then the drive should take around an hour.
Glacier Point has the most amazing views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls and Yosemite’s high country. In fact, Glacier Point should be high on your to-do list as it is not to be missed.
The trail to the Glacier point viewing platform is just 1 km. It’s not much of a hike, more of a walk, but you are rewarded at the end. The 270-degree panorama view is sure to leave you speechless.
This trail is also accessible to wheelchairs and strollers. However, they may need some help near the end.
It is understandably a popular trail so expect crowds there. There is also little shade, so it is best not to go in the middle of the day. It is, however, the best place to be for the sunrise or the sunset.
Unfortunately, the road to Glacier Point is not open all year round. It is closed in December and the winter months due to snow and ice. If you are a cross country skier then it is a great place to be when the snow is falling.
The Best Winter Hikes, Yosemite
If you are visiting Yosemite in winter, then don’t rule hiking out. Not only are there fewer people around at this time of year but seeing the valley floor covered in snow is a spectacular sight.
One of the best winter hikes in Yosemite is the Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail. It is between North Dome and Half Dome. Most people take the trail in Spring and summer as Half Dome is reflected in the lake. There are also beautiful wildflowers at this time too.
During the winter the lake has dried up and the trail is covered in snow. Along the 9.8km trail, the scenery changes every kilometre. There are beautiful mountain views, a creek and beautifully frosted areas.
If you hike here in winter then don’t expect to see any bears around. However, many people claim to have seen coyotes.
The trail starts in the far east of the valley. To get there, take the free shuttle to the start of the trail or hike east of Curry Village. Alternatively, you could drive there and park at the car park near the trailhead.
As most of the trail is covered in snow, it is best to wear the proper footwear to stop your feet from sinking into the snow. Snowshoes or crampons are perfect for this trail in winter, along with waterproof hiking boots. It can take a bit longer to complete the trail in winter, and poles could help you navigate it easier.
The Best Day Hike in Yosemite
Experienced hikers are also spoiled for choice at Yosemite. There are trails around every corner, some more difficult than others. Half Dome trail is one trail that comes highly recommended for those that love a challenge.
It is an all-day trail covering 26km so it can take up to 12 hours to complete. It is not for the faint-hearted either as it takes you 1463 metres above the valley floor.
If you are brave enough to hike it then the views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, the Yosemite Valley, and the High Sierra are waiting for you.
As you are hiking up Half Dome, then a permit is required. You must apply for the permit in March and applicants are emailed in April. It is only possible to hike Half Dome when the cables are up between May and October.
It is a lottery so not everyone gets a permit. It is a popular hike, so this was introduced in 2013 to keep the crowds at a minimum and everyone safe. If you don’t manage to get one then consider hiking it as part of a Yosemite tour.
After a steep climb to Vernal Falls and then on to Nevada Falls you walk through a forest to reach the cables at Half Dome. It is a challenging hike, the cables are the toughest. It is steep and slippy, so take your time.
What makes this one of the best Yosemite day hikes is you can combine it with two others. The trail can start with the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail. Many people recommended the Mist Trail to start and finish with the John Muir Trail.
If you are lucky to get the permit, then you need to be prepared before you set off. As it is a long trail, aim to set off around sunrise. Your backpack needs to be full of all of the essential items you need on your hike.
You need to carry a lot of water, around 6 – 10 litres of water depending on the weather. Consider carrying hydration reservoirs. They are light and easy to use while you are hiking. Take plenty of snacks like trail mix and granola bars to keep your energy up.
Hiking boots are definitely needed for the hike. Just make sure they are worn in. The last thing you need is sore feet on a long day hike in Yosemite. Light layers to prepare you for all types of weather and a rain jacket.
You can hike on any trail in the park, except Half Dome, without a permit. The only thing you need to do is pay the entrance fee when you arrive. It costs around $35 to enter the park. However, if you can also use America the Beautiful Pass to enter the park.
In fact, the annual pass allows you to visit over 2000 sites around the US. It is relatively inexpensive and a great investment if you plan on visiting a few federal sites throughout the year.
One of the Best Hikes, Yosemite National Park
If you’re looking for 360-degree views and a short but moderate hike, add Sentinel Dome to an itinerary. It is short at just 3.4 km so kid-friendly. While many guides consider it an easy trail, there is an incline when you reach the Dome.
Many people who have hiked it consider it a moderate trail. It seems to be under the radar and not one of the most talked-about trails in the park. However, this hidden gem has outstanding views and it is one of the best photo spots in Yosemite.
The trail starts from Glacier Point Road and takes you up, Sentinel Dome. Once you are at the top be prepared to be memorized. To the west, you can see Yosemite Valley and Merced River Canyon.
Look to the north and you can spot El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The east has views of Nevada Falls, Half Dome and Clouds rest. While the hike should take around an hour, leave extra time to sit at the top and admire the views.
As the trail ends at the top of the dome, there is no shade. Make sure to take your sunscreen with you and plenty of water. You are high up, so it can be windy too. Take a light jacket especially if you are there early in the morning or the evening as the temperature is cooler.
The best time to hike the trail is between April and November. April in Yosemite means that the waterfalls are overflowing, so the views from Sentinel Dome are even better.
Guided Hikes, Yosemite
There are several guided hikes in Yosemite available. Many of them are all-day trips and some even start in San Francisco. Hiking past the Giant Sequoias is probably one of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park.
It is great for all levels and the Giant Sequoias are magical. Taking a guided tour around Tuolumne Grove is even better. You get to hear the history of the park and what makes it one of the most popular National Parks in the US.
The Yosemite with Giant Sequoias tour begins with pickups in San Francisco. As it takes around four hours to reach Yosemite, there is a short break at Central Valley. The first stop in Yosemite is Tuolumne Grove.
There you spend about 1.5 hours hiking among the towering Giant Sequoias of Yosemite. It is the perfect place for a photo too. After that, there are four photo stops before lunch. The tour stops at El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridal Falls and finally Tunnel View.
Lunch is in the valley and there is some free time to explore the surrounding area. If you are not sure where to go, your guide is on hand to give you a few suggestions.
In the afternoon, you get back on the bus and make your way back to San Francisco. The tour starts at around 6.30 am and finishes around 8.30 pm. They recommend you add water and wear comfortable clothes and shoes to your packing list.
Yosemite Short Hikes
If you are looking for a great place to swim at Yosemite, then head for the Swinging Bridge trail. Unfortunately, the bridge is no longer swinging, but it is still a beautiful place to hike.
The trail is short and sweet at 1.9km and it only takes around thirty minutes. There are plenty of short hikes in Yosemite to choose from, but this one has plenty to see and do. The bridge is over a slow-moving river and there are lots of swimming holes around.
While it isn’t possible to raft here, it is the perfect place to visit when the weather is hot. There is even a granite slide a little upriver. If you plan on using the slide, wet your swimsuit first. It makes the swimsuit slippy and therefore less likely the granite tears it.
It can be a bit busy around the river, so if you want some distance, then walk on further up and you are sure to find a private spot. It is also a great place to have a picnic. Bring along your lunch and enjoy eating it beside the river.
As the trail is flat and with the swimming holes, it is a great trail to do if you are visiting Yosemite with kids. If you are planning on a swim, remember to pack some towels and water shoes to walk in the river.
The Best Short Hikes in Yosemite Valley
When you plan a trip to Yosemite National Park, you end up spending a lot of time in the valley. Here you can find restaurants and hotels to stay in. There are also a few campgrounds and RV Parks darted around. In fact, it is where all of the action is.
As visitors spend a lot of time there, it is great that there are a lot of trails in the area too. One trail that is particularly beautiful is the Sentinel Meadow Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail. It is under 4km so it is a very short hike and perfect if you just have one day.
It is an easy hike as it is all mostly flat. You can also expect to see a few bicycles along the trail. If you want to try it for yourself, then check out Yosemite bike share. All you need to do is download the app and reserve a bike. You then make your way to the village to collect it.
The trail is very busy, so riding a bike the whole trail may not be possible in the busy season. The trail is not shaded so it can be hot during the day. However, as it isn’t too long, it is doable in the midday sun.
As you walk along expect to see views of upper falls, half dome, and El Capitan. The meadow surrounding you is stunning too. If you visit around sunset then you may even see some deer grazing nearby. The colours are also mesmerizing at sunset too. In fact, it would be the perfect hike to take after dinner.
Right at the end of the trail is the Merced River. If you do decide to hike in the sun, then the cool river is a welcome sight.
Waterfall Hikes, Yosemite
There are more than 25 waterfalls in Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Falls is probably the most popular. Chilnuala Falls may not be well-known but it is absolutely stunning and Yosemite’s hidden gem.
Most visitors to the park stick to the valley and the surrounding area. The valley is around 12km and while it does have some of the most beautiful sights, there is still plenty to see in Yosemite outside the valley.
In fact, Yosemite is 748,542 acres so it is not surprising that there are many places to explore here. The Chilnuala Falls are near the South Entrance of the park. The trail to the top of the falls is a moderate hike and around 12km.
Once at the top there are several small waterfalls that lead into a pool. This water leads to the larger falls that are 73 metres high. Like the other falls in the park, they are trickling in the summer and have usually dried up in fall. However, they are overflowing in the spring.
It is best to start this trail early in the morning as there is not much shade on the trail. The great thing about this trail is that it is usually quiet. It is a steep hike to the top but doable even for novice hikers.
It should take around four hours to complete it, but don’t forget to factor in time at the falls. You may want to wade in the pool at the top if it is a hot day. Take plenty of water and snacks. In fact, it is a beautiful spot to eat your lunch.
Moderate Hikes in Yosemite
Hikes are usually broken down into three categories; easy, moderate and hard. They are defined by how long they are and the elevation. There are a few calculations that take place but let’s not get into that.
Moderate hikes are for novice walkers, who want a bit of a challenge and they can be completed in half a day. This makes them perfect for a 2 Day Yosemite itinerary. The Cathedral Lakes Trail is rated as moderate. It is around 13km and it is estimated to take just over four hours to complete it.
The trail is fairly steep. In fact, it rises 1000 feet quite quickly. Despite the incline, it is one of the popular hikes in Yosemite National Park. The entrance to the trail is off Tioga Road and the trail doesn’t waste any time. The incline begins almost immediately.
Once you get over the incline the trail evens off. However, if you are not used to being up that high, then you might tire faster due to the thin air. Walk through the trees surrounded by beautiful views, until you hit the lower lake.
After that, you could head to the upper lake. Both lakes are pretty cold, but still warm enough to take a dip in. Just beware of the mosquitos. Take your bug spray/repellent and wear long sleeves if you can.
Both lakes are beautiful in their own right. The lower lake is the bigger of the two and reflects the Cathedral peak in the still waters. The upper lake is right beside a stunning meadow with wildflowers galore. The colours are beautiful and it makes for the most breathtaking photos.
Bring your lunch on your hike and plan some extra time to sit and admire the views beside either lake. If you are familiar with backcountry camping then beside the lakes is an amazing place to camp.
However, you just can’t pitch your tent there. You need to register for a wilderness permit on the website. They are available on a first-come-first-serve basis but you must reserve a place at least fifteen days in advance.
What to Know About the Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park
The trails are all well signposted, but if you are distracted it can be easy to miss one. Carrying a map with you at all times is a great idea. A paper map is fine, but you can also use the ALLTRAILS APP.
You should download it before you arrive as the service is not great at Yosemite. There you can find trails of all levels from easy to difficult including the ones mentioned in this guide.
You can even search for loops that take you straight back to where you started. If you plan ahead, the trails and maps can be downloaded and used offline.
This gives you the chance to explore and enjoy the best hikes in Yosemite National Park with peace of mind.
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