Hiking Overview: Yosemite National Park
- Start at Bridalveil Fall parking area to enjoy an easy walk. This short hike to the bottom of Bridalveil Fall provides a great view of the fall.
- From Mirror Lake Shuttle Stop #17, walk to Mirror Lake. There is a good view of Half Dome. You can also hike all the way around the lake.
- Vernal Fall is a trek with hundreds of steep granite steps that leads to a fabulous view of the falls. If you continue past the footbridge, go all the way to the top of this waterfall. In spring and early summer, expect to get wet.
- A short walk up a paved trail to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Fall provides great views of all of Yosemite Falls, plus a close-up of the lower fall. Note that this waterfall is often dry from August through October.
In the century or so since John Muir first stepped foot in this unique wilderness, outdoor enthusiasts have come up with all sorts of complex ways to enjoy Yosemite and its surrounds. Rock climbers, river rafters, skiers, bikers, and base-jumpers have transformed the park into a veritable adventure theme park. But no single piece of recreation gear can take you to the soul of Yosemite like a trusted pair of boots.
Whether it's a leisurely stroll beneath the Wawona sequoias or a lung-busting ascent to a Tuolumne lookout, the simple act of walking remains the surest way to experience the overwhelming sense of peace that has drawn generations of nature lovers to this special place again and again.
Yosemite has more than 800 miles of hiking trails. With so much to choose from, the first step is deciding which area to explore. (Just a hint: There's a whole world beyond the Valley.)
Beautiful and majestic Yosemite Valley boasts some of the most popular trailheads in the park. Some trails are easy ventures around the valley bottom. Other, more strenuous trails lead hikers up the seemingly sheer granite walls which form the Valley. To reach the top of such spectacles as Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, Half Dome, and El Capitan, the hiker will encounter steep terrain, switchbacks, and rapidly changing weather conditions. Spectacular views from the rim of the valley quickly erase memories of any hardships suffered en route. Pack plenty of water, food, and warm clothes, and leave the cars and crowds behind. Many of the areas reached around the rim of the valley area are day-use-only zones. Overnight visitors should be sure to check for camping restrictions.
Hikes in Yosemite Valley
At over 8,600 feet in elevation, Tuolumne Meadows offers a break from the heat and some of the crowds commonly found in Yosemite Valley. Because of its elevation, temperatures in Tuolumne average 15 to 20 degrees cooler than Yosemite Valley. Snow is not uncommon as late as June or as early as September. Some peaks retain snow throughout the summer and provide breathtaking views. Eight different trailheads lead backpackers and day hikers into a broad variety of wilderness adventures. The Tuolumne Meadows campground is available by advance and same-day reservation.
Hikes in Tuolumne Meadows
Historic Wawona, just inside the park's southern boundary, serves as an access point to a variety of beautiful, less-frequented areas. The abundance of water in the spring makes this an attractive area for wilderness users. With a beginning elevation of 4,000 feet, it is often a good area for spring backpackers. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and Chilnualna Falls are popular day hikes. Longer trips starting here are spectacular and abundant. Beautiful meadows and lakes, including Chilnualna, Grouse, Crescent, Royal Arch, and Buena Vista, as well as the little-used Alder Creek trail, can be accessed from the south end of the park. Wawona Campground is available on a first-come, first-served basis.
Hikes in Wawona
At an elevation of 7,200 feet, Glacier Point serves as the trailhead for many popular day hikes, including the Panorama and Pohono trails, as well as short hikes to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome. For backpackers, the Glacier Point Road offers access to trails in the Clark Range and the southern portion of the park. The 16-mile road begins at the Chinquapin junction of Highway 41. This road generally stays open from mid-May to late October. Driving time from Yosemite Valley is about one hour. Permits for trails leaving the Glacier Point Road may be obtained from the Wawona or Yosemite Valley Permit Stations. The Bridalveil Creek campground located on Glacier Point Road is available on a first-come, first-served basis, June through September.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located in the northwest part of the park, serves as the portal to many beautiful, less-used areas in Yosemite. The Hetch Hetchy Road generally stays open year-round, and the reservoir itself lies at a relatively low 3,900 feet, making this a good area for spring and fall wilderness travel. High temperatures prevail along the trail during the summer months, but this is a small price to pay for the breathtaking areas that can be reached from here. Laurel Lake, Lake Vernon, Rancheria Falls, and Tiltill Valley are all within 15 miles of the reservoir. Hikers may elect to begin longer trips here as well, either toward Tuolumne Meadows or the northern-most reaches of the park.
This scenic 45-mile drive covers almost 4,000 feet of elevation change beginning at Crane Flat and ending at Tioga Pass. The road is generally open to vehicles from late May until the first major snowstorm after November 1. There are several first-come, first-served campgrounds along the road, including Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek, White Wolf, and Porcupine Flat. Day hikes from the Tioga Road are abundant, including May Lake, North Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Lukens Lake. For backpackers there are also numerous trailheads leading into the less-traveled but scenic northern section of the Park, as well as the more popular trails toward Yosemite Valley.
Before you go...
Looking for an adventurous long-distance trail across the park? The Pacific Crest Trail crosses the park from the wilderness areas in the north through Tuolomne Meadows. If you want to see Yosemite Valley, you can cut across on the John Muir Trail. If this idea appeals to you, you should line up the reservations as soon as you've figured out when you want to go. Be sure to keep an eye on the weather while you are hiking as it changes quickly in the Sierra. Check with the Wilderness Center in the Valley or any Visitor Center before heading out. In winter, most people confine themselves to the Yosemite Valley floor. However, experienced winter hikers may wish to venture upwards.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication