The Sierra Nevada’s gem of a National Park is full of incredible natural beauty and recreational opportunities. The best hikes in Yosemite will take you to scenic vistas, the tops of waterfalls, and through the iconic valley. While there are plenty of challenging hikes, there are also some very rewarding easy hikes in Yosemite, so don’t shy away if you’re not able to climb switchbacks out of the valley. You’ll likely still be able to enjoy some of the best trails in Yosemite. So grab a friend, pack your boots, and head out to the park for some of the most memorable hiking you’re going to find.
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Best Easy hikes in Yosemite
Taft Point Trail
Length: 2.2 miles round trip
Time: 1.5-3 hours
Filled with waterfalls and panoramic views, Yosemite has many amazing places to explore. One of my favorites is located on Glacier Point Road, high above the valley floor. As an avid hiker, the Taft Point trail was at the top of my list.
The hike is only accessible when Glacier Point Road is open, and the trailhead starts at the Sentinel Dome / Taft Point stop on the shuttle. There is limited parking at the trailhead and we were lucky enough to snag a spot when we went at the end of May. I would put aside a 1-2 hours to do this hike, especially if you want to do a lot of exploring or picture taking once you reach Taft Point.
The trail mostly meanders through a forest with a few water crossings. It was the most quiet part of the park we had been in during our whole trip. We did hear quite a few birds and even saw some bear tracks. Once the forest ends, the whole trail opens up to a rocky expanse and you will see Taft Point ahead of you. Watch out for the Fissures – areas of rock that have split apart and drop for hundreds of feet.
Standing on Taft Point is definitely not for the faint of heart but the jaw-dropping, cliffside views sure are worth it! You’ll find a fantastic view of El Capitan across from you and the valley below that just stretches for miles.
By Sean from Wild and Free Traveler
Length: 2 miles round trip to Mirror Lake, 5 miles if you do the full loop around it
Time: 1-3 hours
Mirror Lake is spectacular, but you have to visit at the right time of the year to truly appreciate it. This broad, calm section of Tenaya Creek becomes a “lake” during the heavy spring runoff season and provides hikers with incredible reflections of the surrounding mountains. However, by the middle of summer, most of the lake is dry and has become a marshy meadow. If you visit during lower water, you’ll still be able to enjoy unique views of Half Dome from your vantage point almost right at its base. It’s cool to see it from a different point of view after enjoying the sight of it from other parts of the valley. The flat, mostly paved walk out to the lake is one of the best easy hikes in Yosemite and should be manageable for just about everyone. This is likely the easiest of the hikes included in this list. If you choose to continue past Mirror Lake, you can keep going for more than a mile to make the full loop, but the trail does get a bit more difficult.
Wapama Falls Trail
Length: 5.5 miles round trip
Time: 2-4 hours
If you are looking for a hike that avoids the crowds of Yosemite, then the Wapama Falls Trail is an excellent option. As one of the least crowded waterfalls in Yosemite, you can expect to only run into hikers here and there on the trail. The trailhead is reached through the Hetch Hetchy entrance, which closes at 9pm during the summer, so you’ll want to be sure you are out of the park by then.
The hike itself is almost entirely flat as it traverses alongside the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. From the parking area you cross the dam and continue on the trail with towering granite cliffs above. The trail crosses several granite slabs and smaller waterfalls along the way. When you finally reach Wapama Falls, expect to get wet, especially during the spring months with high snowmelt. A footbridge crosses at the base of the waterfall and the spray is a welcome relief during the hotter months. If the water flow is really high packing along a waterproof backpack is not a bad idea. Also be sure to take care not to cross if the water is too high during flooding as it can be dangerous.
From Wapama Falls you have the option to continue along the trail until you reach Rancheria Falls or you can turn back and return along the trail to the parking area.
By Rand from Well Traveled Mile
Mariposa Grove Hikes
Length: 0.3-7 miles
Time: 1-4 hours
The Mariposa grove is Yosemite’s largest collection of sequoias and offers a few different trail options to choose from depending on your amount of time and skill level. The easiest of the trails is the Big Trees Loop, a .3 mile paved trip that takes you past a few sequoias and the Fallen Monarch, a massive toppled sequoia. Another easy, but more lengthy, hike in the Mariposa grove is the Grizzly Giant Loop. This longer trail takes you to the Fallen Monarch plus many of the park’s most famous trees including its star – the Grizzly Giant. You’ll also encounter a sequoia with a tunnel cut right through its base. The Guardians Loop and Mariposa Grove Trails both involve more of an elevation gain, but take you to the upper groves to see more sequoias – and away from the most crowded parts of the grove.
Other easy hikes in Yosemite
The park does have a few very short paved trails that could be considered hikes. These are great if you don’t have a lot of time or are unable to do the longer or more difficult hikes. Getting up close to the waterfalls or to the overlooks is absolutely worth the small effort required.
- Bridalveil Fall Trail – A paved .5 mile round trip trail to the base of Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite Valley
- Lower Yosemite Fall Trail – A paved 1 mile round trip trail to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Fall, the last stretch of the impressive Yosemite Falls. You can also detour to see a spot where John Muir built a cabin that offers views of the Upper Falls too. The waterfall will dry up later in the season, so if you visit in late summer or early fall, you might not actually get to see anything.
- Glacier Point – If you take the road to Glacier Point, it’s a short walk from the parking lot to get to Yosemite’s most iconic viewpoint. If you visit while the road is open do not skip this.
- Olmstead Point – Accessed via the Tioga Road, this quarter mile round trip will give you great views of Yosemite Valley from the opposite side.
Best Moderate hikes in Yosemite
The Mist Trail
Difficulty: Moderate-Strenuous (only if climbing to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls)
Length: 2.4 miles round trip to the top of Vernal Falls, 5.4 miles round trip to the top of Nevada Falls
Time: 2-5 hours
Being one of Yosemite’s signature hikes, The Mist Trail is very popular so it’s best to start early in the day. It has spectacular views scattered all along the trail and gives you a close and personal experience with 2 magnificent falls, namely the Vernal and Nevada Falls. In late spring / early summer, when the falls are in full flow, you would get drenched climbing up the 600 steps, hence the name ‘Mist Trail’.
The trailhead is in the eastern Yosemite Valley and a shuttle bus can drop you off to it, although the 2/3 mile walk to the trailhead from the village gave us a good warm up. The climb starts right from the trailhead and just after 0.8 miles, you come upon the Vernal footbridge which gives you a good view of Vernal Fall in the distance.
It is crowded from the trailhead to the Vernal Falls footbridge, some people turn back from here while the majority continue to the top of Vernal Falls. I was delighted not just with the valley views but with the waterfall spray once we reached closer to the Vernal Falls.
Continuing uphill on the Mist Trail, we crossed the Emerald Lake and Silver Apron and rested here for a bit. Another footbridge gives you a good view of Nevada Fall. You could continue up to the top of Nevada Fall from here, but being short on time, we turned back at this point. This hike wasn’t possible with the bunch of kids that we were traveling with, but here is an account of our top experiences at Yosemite National Park with kids.
By Shweta from Zest in a Tote
Distance: 7 miles round trip to Upper or Lower Cathedral Lakes, 8 miles round trip to see both
Time: 3-5 hours
The Cathedral Lakes hike is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite, and for a good reason. The Lower Cathedral Lake is a classic deep blue alpine lake surrounded by Tuolumne Meadow’s most impressive granite peaks such as Cathedral and Echo Peaks. The area around the lake is a perfect lunch or sunbathing spot. There’s a flat rock shelf to hang out and sun yourself and if you keep following the eastside shore of the lake, you’ll come across a small sandy beach area perfect for a picnic.
Even though the hike isn’t very long or particularly steep, the trail is at elevation so you’ll probably huff and puff a little more than usual. The “wow” factor of the scenery, especially considering its moderate distance, makes this hike worth it.
The trailhead for Cathedral Lakes is located on Tioga Road in the Tuolumne Meadows, about a 45 minute drive from Yosemite Valley. You’ll find the trail sign on your right before you hit the campground. There will be a row of bear boxes where you should put all of your food and anything with a smell. Please do this to save your car from damage as well as to save the bears. The trail will be obvious and well signed. Cathedral Lake is one of the most popular hikes in the Tioga Road region and a part of the very popular John Muir Trail so crowds are to be expected.
By Jill from Jack and Jill Travel
Distance: 2.1 miles round trip
Time: 1-2 hours
If you’re looking to summit one of Yosemite’s iconic granite domes but aren’t exactly in shape for 1000s of feet in elevation gains, Sentinel Dome might just be the trail for you. With its trailhead along the Glacier Point Road, you’re starting from a higher elevation, so the great views are a bit easier to obtain. This bang for your buck makes it one of the best hikes in Yosemite for people like me who are in kind of ok shape, but also from the very flat Midwest. The hike provides you with side-on views of Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and El Capitan, plus a great look at Yosemite Falls across the valley. It’s very popular and shares a parking lot with the popular Taft Point Trail, so you may have a hard time finding a place to park your vehicle.
Distance: 10.4 miles round trip via the Porcupine Creek Trail or 13.7 miles round trip via the Yosemite Falls Trail
Time: 5-8 hours
North Dome is a large granite outcropping located across Yosemite Valley from the more famous Half Dome. While this dome doesn’t have quite the same name recognition as its counterpart, the hike to the top does provide you with fantastic views of Half Dome’s face. You can connect to it via different trails and this hike is frequently combined with a close-up visit to Yosemite Falls. Starting from the valley, you’re in for a lot of elevation gain, but if you can make the hike, you’ll be in for a real treat and a chance to escape some of the more crowded viewpoints.
Best Strenuous hikes in Yosemite
Length: 14-16 miles round trip depending on route
Time: 10-12 hours
One of, if not the, hardest Yosemite day hikes, the climb to the top of Half Dome is also one of the most sought after. In fact, it’s so popular that a lottery style permit system was put in place to limit the number of people using the cables for the final ascent. The most common routes to the top include the popular Mist Trail or John Muir Trail and then continue on to the base of the iconic dome. During the summer and early fall, the dome can be climbed using cables that are installed in the granite. Even when it’s not wet, this can be very slippery, so use caution and make sure your shoes have good tread before beginning. Starting from the valley, you’ll gain almost 5000 feet in elevation along the trail, so this is definitely a taxing hike. Because of the amount of time needed, it’s also recommended to begin at or near dawn so you can make it back before dark. The views from the top and the sense of accomplishment make this one of the best hikes in Yosemite. Find out how to snag a permit here.
Yosemite Falls Trail and Yosemite Point
Length: 7.2 Miles round trip to Yosemite Falls, add 1.6 miles round trip to Yosemite Point
Time: 5-8 hours depending on point of turnaround
If you only have enough time for one hike in the Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Falls Trail ticks all the right boxes. Easily accessible by shuttle, it provides some of the best views of the valley as well as a chance to stand at the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. While challenging, it’s easy to follow and the payoff at the end is well worth the sweat and sore knees.
A wooden sign greets you at the trailhead before the path starts zigzagging through oak forest, switching back on itself as you climb higher. About a mile in, you’ll reach Columbia Rock viewpoint, offering uninterrupted views of the valley. A little further you’ll get your first glimpse of the Upper Yosemite Fall in all its watery glory. The trail passes close by and you might even feel the spray on your skin!
It’s a steep and tiring climb from here on in but keep your eyes open for deer, chipmunks and lizards as the path ascends through low brush and past pine trees clinging to rocky slopes. Eventually, you’ll emerge alongside Yosemite Creek which ends abruptly in the waterfall you’ve been seeing and hearing throughout the hike.
The views from the lookout points and platforms are breathtaking and some of the best I’ve ever seen. It’s a great spot to have lunch and rest your weary legs. If you still have energy left, make sure to continue for another mile or so to Yosemite Point which offers stunning views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. Unlike the popular main trail, few people venture this far and you are likely to have the spot all to yourself!
If you can tear yourself away from the panorama in front of you, it’s time to head back down for well-deserved beer!
By Alexei from Travel Lexx
Length: 4.8 miles one way
Time: 3-4 hours one way
This popular trail climbs from the valley to Glacier Point, one of the most iconic viewpoints in the entire park. Along the way, you’ll gain 3200 feet in elevation, but you’ll be rewarded with absolutely incredible views of the National Park’s most famous landmarks. You can also take a small detour along the way to check out the views from Union Point. If you choose to hike up, there is a paid shuttle that you can try to buy a return ticket on if you don’t have a ride back to your starting point, but these are cash sales only and can’t be reserved. If you reserve a seat on the shuttle to Glacier Point, you could ride there and then take the trail down. Of course, hiking round trip is an option too. This trail closes for the winter in late fall and typically doesn’t reopen until late spring.
Distance: 12.3 miles round trip
Time: 7-10 hours
Clouds Rest is another one of Yosemite’s iconic granite formations, and it’s a great option if you can’t manage to snag a Half Dome permit. The trailhead is located along the Tioga Road, and from there you’ll gain quite a bit of elevation along the way, but you’ll also be treated to fantastic scenery and easier stretches through meadows. The final ascent to the top of Clouds Rest is along a narrow ridge with sheer drop offs, so use caution. From the top, you’ll have incredible views of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, and Yosemite Valley.
John Muir Trail
Distance: 203 miles one way
Time: 2-6 weeks
This trail is a bit different than the previously mentioned Yosemite day hikes and it requires a lot more skill, time, and preparation. Named after Yosemite’s most ardent advocate, it spans three National Parks (it also passes through Kings Canyon and Sequoia), plus National Forest and wilderness area. Within Yosemite, the Muir Trail begins (or ends if you start at the south end) in the valley at Happy Isles and diverges from the Mist Trail at the Vernal Falls Footbridge, then continues on, passing through some of the most incredible scenery in the high Sierra. If you’re into serious backpacking, this is a trail you have to hike. Permits are required, and you’ll definitely need experience and backcountry skills to attempt this.
Tips for hiking in Yosemite
- Always bring water with you. Dehydration, especially in the warm summer months, is a real danger.
- The Yosemite trails are marked, but bring a map with you and know how to read it just in case.
- Pay attention to posted warnings and trail closures. Hikers have died trying to tackle closed trails in the park.
- Stay on the marked trails and don’t try to take shortcuts. Blazing your own trail is a great way to get lost, injured, or worse. I know. I read a whole book about people who’ve died in the park before I visited.
- Wear appropriate shoes. I swear by my trusty Columbia hiking boots because I love the ankle support. Good socks are a must too.
- For the longer hikes, be sure to bring snacks and/or a full lunch. You’ll definitely be working up an appetite.
- You don’t have to finish a trail if you’re too tired or intimidated by the heights. It’s perfectly ok to turn around and pushing yourself beyond your limits can be dangerous.
- Please stay away from the edges of cliffs and other drop offs.
- Bring layered clothes. It can be markedly warmer in the valley than at higher elevations and you’ll want to be able to dress for both.
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