One Hundred Hikes in Yosemite

Selecting Your Hike
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If you know what area you want to hike in, turn to the appropriate geographical section and review its hikes. The 100 hikes in this guide are found in Chapters 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, and 12, and these eight chapters are arranged more or less from northwest to southeast. If you are skilled at using a topographic map, then the one enclosed with this book should help you envision the Park's geography encountered along its trails. (Hikes sometimes mention elevations of peaks, passes, or lakes, and these elevations are taken from 15' topographic maps, not this book's less-detailed Park map.) If you are unfamiliar with the Park or are uncomfortable at map interpretation, you can use Table 1 to decide what hike is best for you. For each hike in this table, the following basic information is given, which should help you narrow your selection to just a few possibilities.

Recommended hiking time: This is the length of time that I feel is best for a given hike walked by the average hiker. You may want or need more time or less time. Elevation, topography, and hiking duration were taken into account in arriving at these recommended times, for a hike will be more exhausting if it is at high altitude, if it involves lots of ascent and descent, or if it is long and therefore requires an initially heavy backpack. Generally, most of this book's backpack trips require only 8-10 miles of walking per day-a travel rate designed to give you ample time for many stops. John Muir would have found this meager distance disgraceful, and the recommended hikes in his 1912 guidebook generally required an output of 25 miles per day over rugged terrain. At that rate, however, you see little more than peaks and domes, and you can't absorb the myriad sights, sounds, odors, or feelings experienced by hikers intimately aware of their surroundings.

Grade and difficulty: The information in this column tells you how hard your hike will be. The numbers refer to each hike's mileage, as follows: 1: 0.0-4.9 miles; 2: 5.0-9.9 miles; 3: 10.0-14.9 miles; 4: 15.0-19.9 miles; 5: 20.0-29.9 miles; 6: 30.0-49.9 miles; and 7: 50.0+ miles. The letters refer to the total elevation gain you must climb: A: 0-499 feet; B: 500-999 feet; C: 1000-1999 feet; D: 2000-3999 feet; E: 4000-6999 feet; F: 7000-9999 feet; and G: 10,000+ feet. Total gain is not the elevation difference between your trail's high and low points (that is net gain); rather it is the vertical distance you'll have to climb along your entire trip, both going and returning. The ratings are for the minimum distance and do not include any side hikes that are suggested in the hike's description, which are extra.

The words "easy," "moderate," and "strenuous" describe the difficulty of the hike, given the recommended hiking time. Of course, you can decrease the difficulty of most hikes by taking longer to do them.

Hiking season: This is the period of the year you should be able to drive to a trailhead and then hike an essentially snow-free trail. On the higher trails you may experience snow flurries, but your trail will be covered by only a few inches of snow, not a snowpack. Should you choose, you can hike early in the season, when trail use is light or nil, but then be prepared for some route-finding problems due to parts of the trail being under snow. In Yosemite Valley you can hike year round, for it is unlikely you would get lost even with a foot of winter snow on the floor. You may not find the trail, but then, you won't have to, if the snowpack is firm enough for cross-country hiking or skiing.

Hiker use: "Light," "moderate," "heavy," or "very heavy" is used to describe each trail's popularity. This gives you an idea of how many people to expect. On heavily used backpack trails, campsites may be in short supply on weekends though probably not on weekdays. Some of this book's hikes have sections that vary significantly in usage. For example, Hike 14's first day traverses to heavily used campsites near Rancheria Falls, but on the second day it leaves virtually everyone behind. Later, it joins the moderately used Pacific Crest Trail, then takes the lightly used Jack Main Canyon trail to Moraine Ridge, beyond which you descend on a moderately used trail. Therefore, overall its use should be moderate, but I have given it a light designation, based on my own subjectivity, since along its two lightly used sections I felt truly alone.

Can swim and fish: This is fairly obvious. Usually where you can swim you can also fish, typically in one or more lakes seen along the trail, but also in the Tuolumne, Merced, and South Fork Merced rivers. If you can do only one of these two activities, then the table says which one. For example, Harden Lake (Hike 20), is too shallow to support trout, but is an enjoyable, relatively warm swimming hole. In contrast, on a walk up along Tenaya Creek to Mirror Meadow (Hike 66), you can fish, but the creek is unsuitable for safe and enjoyable swimming.

Exceptionally scenic: Yosemite as a whole is very scenic, but some trails are more scenic than others. The criterion used for this category is that a hike is classified "exceptionally scenic" if the views alone justify taking it. Hikes that are not rated exceptionally scenic are still worth taking unless your sole concern is spectacular mountain scenery.

Other Pre-Hike Information

Once you have narrowed your potential hike down to a few choices, you can turn to them and read their descriptions to see which one is best for you. At the start of each hike is certain basic information: distance, grade (already discussed), trailhead, and introduction.

Distance: Distance is given in miles, not also in kilometers, since trail signs give mileage only. Included with the distance is the type of hike: round trip, loop trip, semiloop trip, and one-way trip. A round trip is not a circular one, but rather is one on which you hike to a destination and return the way you came. A loop trip is one on which you wind across the terrain and return to your trailhead without having to retrace any of your route, except perhaps for a small part of it. A semiloop trip is a combination of the two: it has at least one significant segment on which you'll have to retrace your steps plus at least one loop. A one-way trip is one on which you hike in one direction, ending somewhere away from your starting point. On this kind of hike you'll usually have to be dropped off by someone who later meets you at trail's end. Or, if you and your friends have two vehicles, you can leave one at the start and the other one at trail's end.

Mileages are based on my data, and they often disagree, usually slightly, with signs. Signs aren't always consistent. If you were to record all the mileages on signs and then determine the distances along segments between trail junctions, you would find that some segments have two or more distances. Which to use? I use my own, based on my own detailed mapping of the trails and then measuring the length of the trails as drawn on topo maps. There are map distortions in every topo map, so my distances can be off. Nevertheless, they are accurate enough for hikers. Along an actual 10.0-mile trail I may come up with 9.8 to 10.2 miles.

Trailhead: The trailhead is where you park your vehicle and start your hike. Included in this section for each route are all the necessary driving directions to get to the trailhead. Virtually all the roads are in good-to-excellent condition except when snowbound. At the end of this section is a letter/number combination in boldface type-for example, F3-which gives you the location of the trailhead on this book's topographic map.

Introduction: This section tells you briefly what you can expect. It is useful in your decision of what trail to hike.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication
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