Edit: Obviously, I can’t fit every single hike in every single area of the park here. Let’s be reasonable. Most people only go to the valley and Tuolumne anyways, so that’s where the focus will be.
We’re continuing our Yosemite binge by focusing on the best hikes to do in Yosemite National Park. If you’re planning a trip to this mecca of hiking, climbing, and views, this will give you a great overview.
There are so many options out there but I’m going to stick to the best parts that you should see and do.
Additionally, I laid out everything you need to know to hike Half Dome here so we won’t spend too long on that hike when we get to it.
Away we go.
These are the hikes you start from the valley floor.
What you need to do:
- Tunnel View: If you’re coming in from the south, you have to drive right by the turn off/parking lot. Make sure to stop and soak it all in. It might be the best view in the country. Also know it’s going to get crowded in a heartbeat. Hopefully you’re coming in early.
- Yosemite Falls – Lower and Upper
- Lower Yosemite Falls:
- 0.5 miles: This is accessible to pretty much anyone. It’s flat and brings you to, you guessed it, the bottom (and smaller) of the waterfalls.
- Lower Yosemite Falls:
- Upper Yosemite Falls:
- 7.6 miles round trip, 2,600 feet up: I’ll be honest, this is one hell of a hike. It might even be harder than Half Dome (minus the death factor and everything). However, it’s also one of the best. Plan for an all day hike and start early as the uphill is in sun and it’ll beat down on you hard. The views of the valley are unparalleled from the top. And, depending on water flow rate, you can likely go into the second pool of water at the top to cool off. Again, if you couldn’t tell, this is a must hike.
- Mist Trail – Vernal and Nevada Falls
- This might be the most popular hike in the valley that isn’t flat. Because of tourist activity, I would recommend going at off hours so earlier or later – depending on how high up you’re going.
- Vernal Falls Footbridge:
- 2 miles round trip, 300 feet up: This short scamper up (300 feet elevation gain) will give you a great view of the waterfall from afar. My 78-year-old grandpa was able to walk to the footbridge so you can probably do this also.
- Top of Vernal Falls:
- 3 miles round trip, 1,000 feet up: You’ll hug the waterfall as you climb up steps to reach the top. Be prepared to get damp and wear shoes that have some traction. You don’t want to be the one that falls and takes out the entire trail. The views are perfect. Just be prepared for large crowds.
- Top of Nevada Falls:
- 7 miles round trip, 1,900 feet up: You’re going to lose most of the visitors if you keep going towards Nevada Falls and they are missing out. Right before you start the switchbacks, you’ll come to the base of the waterfall and it’s a sight to behold. The uphill to the top is going to tax your quads but it’s 100% worth it. This should be obvious but I’ll note it anyways, Do Not Go In The Water Near The Falls.
- Half Dome
- 16 miles up the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail, this is the gold standard of Yosemite Hikes. You can read it all here.
- Four-Mile Trail
- 9.4 miles round trip, 3,200 feet up: I haven’t done this one but I want to. This hike is all up (or down if you start at Glacier Point) and will land you at Glacier Point, giving you an incredible view of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the valley as a whole.
These are the hikes you’ll start in Tuolumne Meadows/Tioga Pass area (basically anything in this vicinity.)
What you need to do:
- Clouds Rest:
- 14 miles round trip, 1,775 feet up: If you want to look down on Half Dome, this is the hike for you. Not too strenuous besides the two mile uphill at the beginning that will get your heart pumping, Clouds Rest is amazing. I hiked this intending to be at the top for sunrise but we took the wrong turn after the initial switchbacks. Don’t be like me.
- Furthermore, bring bug spray. After your initial uphill, you’ll drop down into a very scenic but buggy area. Long sleeves and pants are recommended.
- The trailhead is not marked “Clouds Rest” so look for the “Sunrise” signs and you’ll be set.
- One more thing, if you are into camping/backpacking, Sunrise High Sierra Camp is the spot to be! We ended up here (extra five miles of walking) when we got lost but it’s gorgeous, green, and lush area.
- Cathedral Lakes:
- 7 to 8 miles depending on Upper or Lower, 2,800 feet up: How often do you get to go to an alpine lake that sits at 9,000 feet? This is an awesome hike that has a nice incline to start but then levels out a bit. Odds are it won’t be hugely trafficked giving you some peace and quiet away from the usual craziness in the valley. The at the lake will blow your socks off -in a good way!
- Olmsted Point:
- This is mainly an overlook with a short walk if you so choose. You’ll get the back of Half Dome and Clouds Rest in the same view, making for a unique shot.
- Lembert Dome:
- 2.8 miles round trip, 900 feet up: This is a short stroll but you are going up a rock – so keep that in mind. It’ll give you a nice view of Tuolumne Meadows but that’s the extent.
- Tuolumne Meadows:
- Mileage up to you and flat: Here’s your chance to stroll through a scenic meadow and possibly catch some wild life. Enjoy and embrace the calmness of the meadow before returning to the valley.
- Tenaya Lake:
- 2.5 miles around the lake and flat: Here’s a great place to stop for a meal and enjoy the lake and surrounding mountains. It won’t be too crowded and offers a chance to reflect on your vacation.
What you need to do:
The views here are going to be stunning and you’ll hardly need to move your head to see Half Dome. Most people don’t do much strenuous hiking here, but use the chance to be above the valley floor as a sightseeing opportunity. However, if you’re set on a hike from here, check this out.
These hikes should keep you satisfied for multiple trips into Yosemite. I wish you all the best as you explore one of the greatest national parks our country has to offer.
Until next time adventurers, take care and be safe.
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