Yosemite is a haven for nature lovers and one of the most beautiful places in the United States. So it’s no surprise that every year thousands of people visit the park and hike its trails.
Yosemite National Park has over 800 square miles of magnificent wilderness just waiting to be explored. From the famous Half Dome to countless other hiking trails, there are so many things to do in the park. Here’s a list of 10 of our favorite hikes.
The Half Dome Hike
Basics: 14 miles round trip, 5,300 ft. gain, difficult
The Half Dome hike is a challenging one. It’s a 14-mile round trip hike that gains over 5,000 feet of elevation. The hike starts at the Happy Isles trailhead, located just south of Curry Village.
The trail winds its way through forests and meadows until you reach the top of Vernal Falls. At this point, you can choose to continue on to Nevada Falls or head back down to Happy Isles if you’re not feeling up for the full Half Dome hike.
Once you reach the top of Vernal Falls, it’s about another mile and half to get up to the cables section of your trek. Make sure you stop at the Vernal Fall footbridge before starting up this part of your journey!
You’ll have to cross it before heading up the steep switchbacks that lead up to Half Dome’s shoulder (don’t worry — there are chains along the way). Once at the shoulder, you’ll see a set of cables leading up towards Half Dome’s summit; climb those instead of hiking around them! Once at the summit, enjoy views that stretch all around you 🙂
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Basics: 7.6 miles round trip, 2,600 ft. gain, difficult.
The trail head is located at the top of the Yosemite Falls parking lot, which is just below Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. The trail follows the north rim of Yosemite Valley on its way to Upper Yosemite Fall and Vernal Fall.
The trail runs along the base of Sentinel Rock and crosses several small footbridges before reaching a junction with Panorama Trail at 1.5 miles round trip. A short spur leads to a viewpoint above Vernal Fall.
Upper Yosemite Falls is a short distance beyond Panorama Trail junction on your right. If you want to go farther than Upper Yosemite Falls and don’t mind getting your feet wet, continue on the main trail until you reach the top of Nevada Fall and then follow Merced River upstream for another mile or so to see Royal Arches, Washington Column and North Dome from Tunnel View.
Mist Trail to Vernal & Nevada Falls
Basics: 7 miles round trip, 1,900 ft. gain, moderate
The Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls is a moderate hike that takes you through a lush forest, past a waterfall, and up a granite staircase. The trail is one of the most popular in Yosemite National Park, so it can get crowded. But if you go early in the morning, you’ll avoid the crowds and enjoy the solitude on this beautiful hike.
The trail starts from Happy Isles near the parking lot for Curry Village. It’s about 1 mile to Vernal Fall with an elevation gain of about 200 feet. At the top of Vernal Fall, there’s a platform where you can get above the falls and look down at them from above (or in this case below).
From here continue up another 0.75 miles to Nevada Falls which has an elevation gain of 500 feet over 0.8 miles (1.5 km). This section has many switchbacks as you climb up through a forested area with large boulders along the trail.
You’ll also pass through several tunnels which provide some cool shade on hot days or when hiking in early morning or late afternoon when temperatures are warmer (it can be quite warm during summer months).
Mirror Lake Hike
Basics: 2.4 miles round trip, 100 ft gain, easy
This easy hike to Mirror Lake is one of the most popular in Yosemite National Park. The trailhead is located off of Glacier Point Road, and it’s a 2.4-mile round trip hike with an elevation gain of 100 feet.
The trail is wide and easy to follow, but the last portion of the hike can be quite muddy and slippery after rain. If you’re planning on hiking this trail after it rains, make sure you bring appropriate footwear!
The Mirror Lake Trail is an excellent choice for families with children and anyone who wants to enjoy the beauty of Yosemite without having to climb any major peaks or navigate difficult terrain. The entire trail is paved, and there are plenty of places along the way where you’ll be able to stop for photos or just enjoy being surrounded by nature.
From May through September, visitors can take advantage of a free shuttle bus that runs between several popular destinations in Yosemite Valley including stops at Half Dome Village, Happy Isles, Tenaya Lodge & Cabins, Yosemite Lodge at the Falls and Yosemite Village.
Sentinel Dome Trail
Basics: 2.2 miles round trip, 400 ft. gain, easy
The trail climbs to one of the park’s most prominent landmarks, a granite dome with stunning views of Yosemite Valley and Half Dome. The hike is short, easy and beautiful — it’s a must for any visitor interested in getting up close and personal with Yosemite Valley’s granite walls.
The Sentinel Dome Trail is a short loop that begins near Sentinel Bridge, which spans the Merced River near El Capitan Meadow. The trail follows an old dirt road up to the top of Sentinel Dome (8,122 feet), passing several meadows along the way. At the top there are several viewpoints looking down into Yosemite Valley as well as views of El Capitan and Half Dome from across the valley.
The hike begins at a small parking lot near Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite Valley. From here follow the trail past some information signs before reaching some switchbacks on your left. Follow these up to another junction where you’ll see another set of switchbacks on your right. Take these switchbacks up to a flat section just below Sentinel Dome itself (you’ll know what it looks like).
Mariposa Grove Trail
Basics: 7 miles round trip, 1,200 ft. gain, moderate
The Mariposa Grove is home to the largest collection of mature giant sequoias in Yosemite National Park. The historic Wawona Road offers spectacular views of this grove, which has been protected since 1890.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is a must-see for anyone visiting Yosemite National Park. This grove is home to some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world. The trees are protected within the boundaries of Yosemite National Park, and you can visit them on your own or take a guided tour with a park ranger.
The trail begins at the Mariposa Grove Museum and heads uphill through a forest of pine and fir trees. The trail climbs steeply, passing through several switchbacks before reaching the Mariposa Grove. There are no restrooms or drinking fountains at this trailhead, so be sure to stop at one of these along your way:
Lower Pines Campground (0 miles)
Yosemite Valley (1 mile)
Big Oak Flat Entrance Station (2 miles)
The trailhead for the Mariposa Grove is near the south entrance to Yosemite, about a 20 minute drive from El Portal or Fish Camp, or about a 2 hour drive from Oakhurst. This hike takes you through some cool areas, including a couple forested areas, and then along creek beds where you can see the giant sequoias up close. The trail winds around through the groves and eventually loops back to the beginning to make it 7 miles round trip.
Mono Pass Trail
Basics: 7.4 miles round trip, 900 ft. gain, moderate
Mono Pass Trail is from the Tioga Road that leads to Mono Meadow, which is an excellent place to stop for lunch or spend the night. It’s one of the best places in the park for wildflowers and springtime wildflower viewing.
The trailhead is located just north of Tuolumne Meadows Campground, about 2 miles up the Tioga Road. The first couple of miles are fairly flat, as you make your way through forest to Mono Meadow. You’ll pass several small streams along this stretch of trail.
As you get closer to Mono Meadow, you’ll start climbing more steeply up switchbacks that take you through pine forest and into a meadow filled with wildflowers and other plants (depending on the season). The top of this climb is a saddle between two peaks called Mono Pass. From here, there are panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Tenaya Lake below as well as some good views into Nevada’s Mono Lake basin to the east.
Elizabeth Lake Trail
Basics: 4.9 miles round trip, 900 ft. gain, moderate
Elizabeth Lake Trail is one of the most popular trails in Yosemite National Park. The trailhead is located at the western end of the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, which has a small parking area. The trail is well marked and easy to follow.
The hike starts out on an old road that was used to bring supplies into Tuolumne Meadows before the construction of Tioga Road in 1937.
The trail climbs steadily through a forested area and eventually reaches a junction with Lembert Dome Trail, which leads west to Lembert Dome. This junction is about 1 mile from the trailhead, so if you are doing this as a loop hike continue straight ahead at this point.
The remaining 0.3 miles are steep but short as you climb up to Elizabeth Lake. There are several places along this stretch where you can rest and catch your breath before reaching the lake itself.
Elizabeth Lake sits at 8,200 feet elevation and has glacier-fed water year round that stays cool even on hot summer days because it comes directly out of granite bedrock instead of through soil or gravel like most other lakes in Yosemite Valley do.
You can spend time swimming in Elizabeth Lake or just relaxing near its shoreline before heading back down.
Cathedral Lakes Trail
Basics: 8 miles round trip, 1,200 ft. gain, moderate
Cathedral Lakes Trail is a popular hike in Yosemite National Park that starts near Glen Aulin, just beyond Tuolumne Meadows. The hike is 8 miles round trip with 1,200 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is located at the Cathedral Lakes parking lot on Tioga Road.
The trail to Cathedral Lakes starts out steep but then levels out as you reach the top of Vernal Falls. You’ll get some great views of Vernal Falls along this section of the trail. Once you reach the top of Vernal Falls, the trail continues up past Nevada Falls and around to May Lake where you will find Cathedral Lake.
If you are looking for an easy hike that still gets you up close to some beautiful lakes and waterfalls, this is a great option!
Wawona Meadow Loop
Basics: 5 miles round trip, minimal gain, easy
The Wawona Meadows Loop is a great way to enjoy Yosemite’s natural beauty without hiking too far or gaining too much elevation. It’s about 5 miles round trip with minimal gain, making it a great option for families and anyone looking for a low-key hike.
The trailhead is located near the south end of Wawona Meadow, where there are bathrooms and picnic tables. The first mile takes you through forest on a wide dirt and gravel road.
After about 1 mile, you’ll reach the meadow entrance gate and cross over the bridge into Wawona Meadows. From here you can continue on the loop trail or take the spur trail to see deer, bears, elk and more wildlife in their natural habitat.
If you want to continue on the loop trail, turn right at this point; otherwise continue straight ahead onto the spur trail until it meets back up with the loop at mile 2.8 (or just return back to your car).
As mentioned above, there are no major climbs during this hike so it’s perfect for those not looking for an intense workout but still want to enjoy nature. There are also some great photo opportunities along the way that are worth stopping for!
If you really want to experience the beauty of Yosemite, you have to hike some of its trails. Yosemite National Park has a wide variety of trails that cater to every type of hiker. Whether you are looking to experience the views or just get away from civilization, Yosemite is sure to please.