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The 7 best hikes at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a hiker’s paradise, with countless trails that offer breathtaking views, challenging terrain, and the opportunity to connect with nature. From the iconic Half Dome to the lesser-known Cathedral Lakes, there is a hike for every level of a hiker in Yosemite. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the best hikes at Yosemite and the best hikes in Yosemite Valley.

The best hikes at Yosemite

Yosemite best fall colors best hikes at Yosemite

Yosemite Falls Trail

Yosemite Falls is another must-do hike in the park. The trail is 7.2 miles round trip and takes hikers to the top of the Upper Yosemite Fall. The trail is relatively strenuous and involves a lot of elevation gain, but the views from the top are truly breathtaking.

Along the way, hikers will pass by the Lower Yosemite Fall, which is also worth a visit. Of all of these on the list, this is the best bang for your buck and easily one of the best hikes at Yosemite.

Related: Best day hikes in Yosemite Valley

Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Lakes is a more off-the-beaten-path hike in Yosemite, but it is well worth the effort and definitely one of the best hikes at Yosemite. The hike is 8 miles round trip and takes hikers to a pair of beautiful alpine lakes nestled in a granite bowl.

The hike is relatively moderate though if you continue to Upper Cathedral Lakes, it’s a bit harder. Along the way, hikers will be treated to views of granite domes, meadows, and wildflowers.

Mist Trail and Nevada Falls

The Mist Trail is one of the best hikes in Yosemite valley that takes hikers to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls. The trail is 3 miles round trip to Vernal Fall and 7 miles to Nevada Fall. The trail is well-maintained and easy to follow, and the views of the falls are truly spectacular.

Hikers should be prepared for some steep sections and many steps, but the rewards are well worth the effort. Be warned, the portion near Vernal Falls gets very wet in the spring and will leave you soaked. This is a hike where you need waterproof boots that have good traction.

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Taft Point

Taft Point is another great hike that offers incredible views of the park. The trail is 3 miles round trip and takes hikers to a granite overlook that offers panoramic views of the park. The trailhead is located at the Taft Point trailhead, and the hike is relatively easy.

This is probably the best sunset destination in the park. It’s phenomenal.

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Lyell Canyon

Lyell Canyon is a great hike for those looking for a more leisurely experience in Tuolumne Meadows. The trail is 12+ miles round trip and takes hikers through a beautiful meadow surrounded by granite peaks that also acts as the Pacific Crest Trail. The trail starts at the Lyell Canyon trailhead, and the hike is relatively easy.

Along the way, hikers will pass by the Lyell Fork of the Merced River and have the opportunity to spot wildlife such as deer and black bears. This is also a lovely backpacking trip that would be great for beginners or those looking to summit Mt. Lyell, a 13er, the tallest point in Yosemite.

Related: Read about my Lyell Canyon backpacking trip

Clouds Rest

Another must-do hike in Yosemite is Clouds Rest. This hike is a bit less strenuous than Half Dome but still offers incredible views. The trail is 9.5 miles round trip and takes hikers to the top of a granite dome that offers panoramic views of the park.

The hike begins at the Tenaya Lake trailhead and follows a well-maintained trail that winds through meadows and forests. While most of the attention falls on Half Dome for the best hikes at Yosemite, Clouds Rest actually offers better views because you get to look down upon Half Dome.

Half Dome

Half Dome is one of the most popular and challenging hikes in Yosemite. The trail to the summit is a strenuous 14-mile round trip that takes most hikers at least 10-12 hours to complete. The hike begins at the Happy Isles trailhead and follows the Mist Trail, which takes hikers past Vernal and Nevada Falls.

From there, hikers will need to use cables to ascend the last 400 feet to the summit. The views from the top are absolutely stunning and well worth the effort. A pro tip is to take the John Muir Trail and avoid the crowds at Vernal Falls. Plus, this route is a bit more steady with the elevation gain.

Pieces of Gear to Bring

Five tips for hiking in Yosemite National Park

Hiking in Yosemite National Park can be an incredible experience, but it’s important to be prepared for the best hikes at Yosemite. Here are five tips to help you make the most of your time in the park.

Plan ahead.

Yosemite is a popular destination (understatement), and many of the park’s most popular trails can get quite crowded. Planning is essential to avoid crowds and ensure you get the most out of your hike. Research different trails, check trailhead parking availability, and consider getting an early start.

If you’re planning on hiking to Half Dome, be aware that permits are required for the cables section and are issued through a lottery system.

Bring plenty of water.

Yosemite Valley is at a moderate elevation, and the hikes can be pretty strenuous. Make sure to bring plenty of water, and be prepared to refill your bottles at stream crossings or park facilities. It is crucial to stay hydrated during your hike, especially in the summer months when temperatures can be over 80 degrees.

You’ll dehydrate quicker hiking in the higher country, so plan to drink more water than you usually do. If you need a water filter, start here.

Wear appropriate footwear.

Yosemite’s trails can be rocky and uneven, so it’s necessary to wear appropriate footwear. A sturdy pair of hiking boots with good traction is highly recommended. Make sure they are comfortable and broken in before your trip.

Yosemite Valley Hikes Half Dome Glacier Point best hikes in yosemite valley

Carry the Ten Essentials.

In case of an emergency, it’s important to be prepared. So make sure to carry the Ten Essentials: a map, compass, flashlight, extra food, extra water, extra clothing, a fire starter, a first-aid kit, and a signaling device (such as a whistle or mirror).

Related: Hiking safety tips

Be mindful of the park’s wildlife.

Yosemite is home to a wide variety of wildlife, including bears. It’s essential to be aware of your surroundings and to keep a safe distance from wild animals. Furthermore, keep your food stored in bear-proof containers or inside your car, and always be prepared to encounter an animal on the trail.

Bear spray isn’t needed in the park but if it makes you feel safer, bring it along. Just remember you can’t fly with it. When you’re doing the best hikes in Yosemite valley, odds are you won’t see a bear – just near the campgrounds.

In addition to these tips, it’s also important to be mindful of the park’s rules and regulations. Make sure to stay on designated trails and be respectful of the park’s natural resources. Finally, leave no trace and follow Leave No Trace principles.

Lodging near Yosemite

In the Park

Near the Park

Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.

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Author: Alec Sills-Trausch

Title: Founder of Explore with Alec

Expertise: Hiking, Backpacking, Photography, and Road Trips

Alec Sills-Trausch is a hiker, backpacker, landscape photographer, and syndicated travel writer. He enjoys showing off the beauty of the world through his photos, videos, and written work on ExploreWithAlec.com. Alec is also a 2x cancer survivor and bone marrow transplant recipient, showing the world that there is a future from this terrible disease.

He lives in Washington, where he gets to enjoy the stunning PNW mountains in addition to all the other places he attempts to visit each year! You can see more work on IG at @AlecOutside