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Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is one of the world's most spectacular hiking destinations, and all visitors should consider at least a short hike. The Vernal Fall trail is a short and rewarding trek for valley visitors, numerous trails in the high country along Route 120 are suitable for brief trips to see alpine lakes or granite domes, and the sequoia groves all offer the option of short hikes that can easily be extended. More adventurous and physically-fit hikers might consider the Half Dome trail or any of the park's backcountry trails. Prior to hiking check with rangers for trail conditions; snow and hazards from falling rock close many trails in winter, and the cables on the Half Dome trail are only up from late May through early October (ascending Half Dome when the cables are not erected is possible but is dangerous and strongly discouraged). No permits are required park-wide for day hikes, with the exception of the Half Dome Summit.

Yosemite Valley

Many of the meadows have short trails, some of which are handicap accessible. For those staying in the valley, walking to get around is easy, scenic, and avoids the stresses of car travel in the valley.

  • Lower Yosemite Fall, Starts at the Lower Yosemite Fall shuttle bus stop (#6). This flat, easy, paved one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Yosemite Fall and provides views of the waterfall along the way. During the spring the sound of the water is deafening, although it may be nearly dry by late summer. There is no parking at the trailhead, but there is a shuttle stop. The eastern part of the loop is wheelchair accessible.
  • Bridalveil Fall, Starts from the Bridalveil Fall parking area. Another flat, easy, paved trail that leads to the bottom of the Bridalveil Fall. Parking is available at the trailhead. Despite being paved, the trail is not wheelchair accessible due to the grade (it ascends in elevation). The trailhead to this fall is on the Southside Dr, so it's best to visit it on your way to the Valley.
  • Cook's Meadow Loop. This flat, easy loop trail meanders through the meadow across from the visitor center and near the Lower Yosemite Fall trail, offering excellent views of Half Dome, Yosemite Fall, Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome. From the visitor center, walk west along the bicycle path toward Lower Yosemite Fall. At shuttle stop #6, cross the street and follow the bike path, bearing left as the path forks. At Sentinel Bridge parking area (shuttle stop #11), walk out onto the bridge to enjoy a classic view of Half Dome before returning to the parking area. Follow the boardwalk back across the meadow, cross the two streets, and turn right to return to the visitor center.
  • Mirror Lake/Meadow, Starts from the Mirror Lake trailhead shuttle bus stop (#17). The first mile of the trail follows a paved service road and eventually leads to what is a large pond in spring and a meadow the rest of the year. When it contains water the lake reflects Half Dome, but even when the lake is dry the meadow still offers scenic views. Those who are interested can also hike around the lake bed and along Tenaya Creek.
  • Valley Floor Loop. The loop trail around Yosemite Valley can be hiked in pieces or in full as it travels through meadows, forests, and beside the Merced River, offering great views of Yosemite Valley. Following the road in places, the trail can be shortened by crossing the bridge just east of El Capitan Meadow. The majority of this trail network is wheelchair accessible with the exception of the Superintendent's Bridge and a steep section near Housekeeping Camp.
  • Vernal Fall (Mist Trail), Starts from the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop (#16). This trail gradually gains of elevation along the Merced River by the time it reaches a footbridge offering an excellent view of the high Vernal Fall. From the footbridge the trail quickly gains another of elevation as it traverses steep and often slippery granite steps to the top of the waterfall, but the view is hugely impressive and worth the exertion. The Mist Trail is one of the busiest trails in the park during the high season––returning visitors might want to consider a hike outside the valley. From the top of Vernal Fall hikers can continue on to Nevada Fall.
  • Nevada Fall (Mist Trail), Starts from the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop. Nevada Fall is a waterfall beyond Vernal Fall. The trail from the top of Vernal Fall is relatively easy and passes through a pleasant stretch of the Merced river with several pools (beware of currents!) surrounded by impressive granite cliffs before leading up a steep series of steps to the top of the waterfall. The John Muir trail is a more gradual ascent that can be undertaken from the junction near the Vernal Fall footbridge, but those who choose that route will forgo the view from the top of Vernal Fall as well as the scenery along the Merced River; consider ascending on the Mist Trail and descending on the John Muir trail if you want to enjoy the scenery but limit the trauma to your joints. The total elevation gain from the Happy Isles trailhead to the top of Nevada Fall is .
  • Panorama Trail, Starts from Glacier Point. The Panorama Trail offers panoramic views of the valley and passes by three of Yosemite's most impressive waterfalls, although you'll likely only see two of them; while Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are easily viewed, there is no viewpoint of tall Illilouette Fall despite the fact that the trail crosses Illilouette Creek only a short distance from the top of the waterfall. Panorama Point is accessible via an easily-missed unmarked side trail that can be found from the Illilouette Creek bridge and is a detour that should not be skipped. From late May/early June through October, a fee-based hikers bus will take you up to Glacier Point, where you can then hike two downhill miles to Illilouette Creek, ascend in elevation over, and eventually descend on either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail back down to the valley floor, ending at Happy Isles.
  • Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. The trail follows switchbacks from Glacier Point and offers spectacular views up and down Yosemite Valley. Hikers can take the shuttle bus from the valley to Glacier Point and then hike down, or those looking for an extremely strenuous hike can ascend starting from the Four Mile Trailhead just west of Swinging Bridge picnic area. Visitors interested in a long day hike can make a loop on this trail with the Panorama Trail.
  • Upper Yosemite Fall, Starts near the Camp 4 shuttle bus stop. One of the oldest trails in the park, the Yosemite Fall trail was built back in 1873 and ascends from the base of the high Yosemite Falls all the way to the top of the waterfall. The first ascends steeply to Columbia Rock, which offers exceptional views of the valley and Half Dome. A less strenuous further along the trail offers views of the upper Yosemite Fall. The second half of the trail is equally strenuous, but the incredible views reward those who choose to continue. In summer bring a plenty of water and begin hiking early as the trail becomes extremely hot and dusty.
  • Half Dome, Starts at the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop. One of the most spectacular trails in the world, the Half Dome trail travels past Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall, and then continues rising through a pine forest before opening up near the summit of Half Dome. The final mile is a grueling trek up granite steps, followed by wire cables that lead up the steep ascent to the top of Half Dome. Hikers should bring leather work gloves to protect their hands from the cables; some gloves are often available in a pile at the bottom of the cables. While it is possible to ascend Half Dome while the cables are down (between approximately October 15 and May 15), hikers do so at their own risk. Views and scenery are unforgettable, but hikers should be aware that the final climb up the back side of Half Dome via the cables can be exhausting and, for those with even a mild fear of heights, frightening. While the majority of the trail is accessible without a permit, an $8 permit is required to traverse the final stretch of the trail beyond the base of the Half Dome subdome. 300 permits are available each day (approximately 225 to hikers and 75 to backpackers), with rangers stationed on the trail to turn away hikers without permits. Permits can be obtained in advance via a pre-season lottery (apply online between March 1 and March 31, permits issued in mid-April, an additional online application fee of $4.50 applies), and approximately 50 permits are made available in an evening lottery two days prior to the hiking date.

Glacier Point

Tuolumne Meadows

  • Soda Springs & Parson's Lodge, Begins at the Lembert Dome parking area. The trail follows the gravel road northwest past a locked gate. The Soda Springs are protected within a log enclosure. Carbonated water bubbles up through the ground, but drinking the water is not recommended due to possible surface contamination. Further along the trail is the historic Parson's Memorial Lodge, which offers exhibits.
  • Dog Lake, Starts at the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. The trail goes up steeply and crosses the Tioga Road, then continues up for to a signed junction. Continue straight to Dog Lake. Enjoy fishing and picnicking from this high country lake.
  • Lembert Dome, Begins at the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. A strenuous hike that goes up steeply for to a signed junction. The trail to the left goes to the top of Lembert Dome. Expect a spectacular panoramic view of Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak, and Unicorn Peak. The top of the dome can be windy and quite a bit cooler than down below.
  • Dog Lake and Lembert Dome. These two hikes can be combined in a loop that delivers some of the best scenery from any five-mile hike in the park. Do the lake first, before you get tired from the dome climb.
  • Glen Aulin, Starts from the road near Tuolumne Meadows Stables. A moderately difficult trail that follows the gravel road as it loops behind Soda Springs and drops to Glen Aulin. The route is noted for scenic cascades, particularly Tuolumne Falls, 4 miles from the trailhead.
  • Elizabeth Lake, Starts near the Tuolumne Meadows Group Campground. This moderately difficult hike climbs steadily to the glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. To reach the trailhead, drive past the group campsites to where the road ends. There are restrooms there.

  • Cathedral Lakes. From the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead the trail climbs steadily to Upper Cathedral Lake. Near the top, it passes a spur trail to Lower Cathedral Lake.
  • John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon. From the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area this relatively flat trail (only elevation gain over ) wanders through Lyell Canyon, mostly alongside the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.
  • Mono Pass, Starts at the Mono Pass Trailhead ( east of Tuolumne Meadows). A moderately difficult trail that climbs gently at first ( elevation gain) to a junction with Spillway Lake. The left fork then steeply climbs to Mono Pass, at . From the pass, Upper Sardine Lake is another down the pass to the east.
  • Gaylor Lakes, Starts from the Gaylor Lakes Trailhead (at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station). A strenuous trail that climbs steeply in the first ( elevation gain) to a ridge with views to both sides. At the ridge, the trail drops to a lake and meadows, which can be explored with side trails.
  • Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Lake, and Pass, Starts from the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. The trail's first, along the John Muir Trail, are relatively level. The Rafferty Creek Trail then splits off and begins a ascent to Tuolumne Pass, followed by a climb to the High Sierra Camp. You can continue to Vogelsang Lake ( further) and spectacular Vogelsang Pass ( further).

Wawona & Mariposa Grove

  • Wawona Meadow Loop, Starts at the golf course across the street from the hotel. The trail is a pleasant stroll on a fire road around the Wawona Meadow.
  • Swinging Bridge Loop. A moderate hike leading from the Wawona Store to the swinging bridge, the trail follows the paved Forest Drive upstream from the history center and then continues on the dirt road for a short distance to the swinging bridge (which really does swing). Cross the bridge and bear left onto the dirt road, which soon becomes paved Chilnualna Falls Road. When you reach the Wawona Stable, walk into it towards the Covered Bridge, where you started this hike.
  • Chilnualna Fall, Starts in the Chilnualna Fall trailhead parking area. This strenuous hike leads past the cascades of Chilnualna Fall and all the way to the top of the fall. Hikers can expect moderate exposure and a sharp increase in elevation for roughly 4 miles. For the hearty day-hiker, the trip can be extended 18 miles (round-trip) to reach Crescent Lake.
  • Alder Creek, Begins at the Alder Creek trailhead parking area. This strenuous trail climbs through an open pine forest with abundant manzanita on the drier slopes.
  • Wawona to Mariposa Grove, Starts near the Moore Cottage at the Wawona Hotel. This generally viewless hike leads to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. From late April through September, you can take the free shuttle bus from the grove back to Wawona.
  • Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. There are numerous trails leading through this grove of giant trees, all starting from the Mariposa Grove parking area. To reach the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree, follow the trail that begins at the far end of the parking area. To reach Wawona Point, continue on the trail past the Grizzly Giant into the upper grove. The old road ascends to Wawona Point from near the Galen Clark Tree.

Hetch Hetchy

  • Wapama Falls, Starts from the O'Shaugnessy Dam. This easy trail leads to the bottom Wapama Falls (and Tueeulala Falls in spring). This trail has very high exposure (little shade).
  • Rancheria Falls, Starts from the O'Shaugnessy Dam. A moderately difficult hike that provides numerous views of the Hetch Hetch Valley.
  • Poopenaut Valley. This oddly named trail begins four miles from the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station and provides quick access to the Tuolumne River, descending to the river below O'Shaugnessy Dam.
  • Smith Peak. A strenuous trail from the Hetch Hetchy Ranger Station to Smith Peak. Forests and meadows eventually give way to great views of the Hetch Hetchy area.