Last Updated: October 9, 2020

Best Hikes In Yosemite

Yosemite national park is a hiking wonderland with over 800 miles of trails to explore. It’s one of the most popular National Parks in the US and receives over 3.5 million visitors a year. The hikes are spread across the Yosemite Valley, Wawona, and Tuolumne meadows. 
 
You can hike amongst the sequoias and flower-filled meadows, follow rivers and streams, see the highest waterfall in the US, walk amongst old glacial valleys and check out the summits of Half Dome and El Capitan. The list is truly endless and once you’ve been there you’ll have a yearning to return year after year. 
 
It’s not just landscapes you’ll see but also some amazing wildlife. The park is home to black bears, mule deer, bobcats, mountain lions, foxes, and bighorn sheep plus over 250 species of birds. So if you’re into bird watching then don’t forget to take your binoculars along. 
 
There are entrance fees to pay for your vehicle and they range from $35 to $20 for a week pass. Pretty much all the gates are manned 24 hours a day and if there is no one there when you arrive, you can go in and pay on your way out. 
 
With so much to do in Yosemite, it’s hard to know where to start, and you definitely can’t do it all. Luckily we have made this handy list of the Best Hikes In Yosemite, so you can be sure to see the best of it. 

Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Hike

mirror lake yosemite

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 6.1 miles
  • Elevation Change: 337 feet
  • Hiking Time: 4-5 hours
  • Starting Point: Lower Pines Camp Ground
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Transportation: Shuttle, Car

The Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Hike is a great one for the whole family. It’s pretty easy without much elevation change and the path is well looked after. It’s not ideal for strollers or wheelchairs though as there are some inclines where you’ll struggle with them.

The trail runs through the Yosemite Valley and follows a route around Mirror Lake which sits between Half Dome and North Dome in the Tenaya Canyon. You can see beautiful reflections of Half Dome in the lake (hence the name Mirror Lake) and a huge amount of wildflowers if you’re there in early summer.

The hike is just over 6 miles long and should take around 4-5 hours depending on your speed. The path begins just next to Lower Pines Camp Ground and you can either opt to drive or get the shuttle bus. There is a large parking area and drinking water available so you can refill your bottles before you begin.

The trail is best done between March and November due to the weather and it’s also one of the less crowded hikes in Yosemite, so if you need a break for business, this is the hike to head to.


Sentinel Dome Hike

sentinel dome yosemite

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 2.1 miles
  • Elevation Change: 455 ft
  • Hiking Time: 1 hour
  • Starting Point: Glacier Pt Road
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Transportation: Car, Shuttle

The Sentinel Dome Hike is a quick and easy hike that offers some of the most spectacular views of the Yosemite Valley and its features.

Once you’ve climbed the dome, you’ll be able to see right down the Yosemite Valley with El Capitan and Yosemite Falls to the north and if you look east, then Half Dome Clouds Rest and Nevada Falls are waiting for you to take their picture.

Getting to the spectacular view is not hard at all and the whole hike there and back is just a 2.1-miles with an elevation change of 455 ft. You can do it in an hour but it’s worth spending as much time as you can at the top to take it all in.

It’s best to do this hike between April and November so you don’t experience any bad weather. The trail begins on Galcier PT road and is well signed. You can park your car there or take the shuttle.

The first part of the hike takes you over a stream and up through some lovely pine trees. Eventually, you’ll arrive at the base of the dome and go up on top of it to see the magical views.


Glacier Point Hike

glacier point yosemite

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 0.6 miles
  • Elevation Change: 219 ft
  • Hiking Time: 30 mins
  • Starting Point: Glacier Pt Rd Parking Lot
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Transportation: Car

Glacier Point Hike is probably the easiest hike that offers the best views. It’s found in the Yosemite Valley and is just a 30 minute, 0.6-mile hike along a well maintained paved path. It is doable with strollers or a wheelchair but there may be moments when they’ll need some assistance. You can also take your dog on this trail on a leash.

You can park or take the shuttle to Glacier Pt Rd Parking Lot where the trail begins. You’ll find restrooms, a gift shop, and a snack bar there. After a short 15 minute hike down the trail, you find yourself awestruck by the views.

You have a huge view of the Yosemite Valley where you can see both the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Cloud Rest, and Half Dome. It’s quite amazing to see all this from one short little hike and it’s not to be missed.

The trail does get busy and it’s best to be there early or late to avoid the crowds. Plus it’s pretty magical in the morning and evening light. The best time of year to go is between May and October unless you feel like doing some cross country skiing and staying in the Glacier Point Ski Hut.


Lower Yosemite Falls Hike

lower falls yosemite

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 1.2 miles
  • Elevation Change: 59 ft
  • Hiking Time: 1 hour
  • Starting Point: Lower Yosemite Falls Picnic Area
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Transportation: Car, Shuttle

Seeing the Lower Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America and 5th in the world is a must when you’re in Yosemite. Make sure to go outside of July-October as quite often the falls can be dry. The best time to see the falls is early spring when the snowmelt is still pouring off the mountain.

This hike is accessible all year round and it does get busy, so be there early. It’s a loop hike that covers 1.2 miles and should take less than an hour to complete, depending on how long you want to look at the falls.

As well as the Lower Yosemite Falls, you’ll also the Upper Falls and the Middle Cascade. The trail is paved and can be done with a stroller or wheelchair but with some assistance.

You can get to the start of the trail by car or shuttle. The trailhead is well signposted and the shuttle stops right by it. It’s just next to the Lower Yosemite Falls Picnic Area if you want a landmark to go on.


Clouds Rest Hike

cloud's rest view of half dome

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 13 miles
  • Elevation Change: 3113 ft
  • Hiking Time: 8-10 hours
  • Starting Point: Tenyana Lake
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Transportation: Car, Shuttle

The Clouds Rest Hike going via Tenyana and is not for the faint-hearted. You’ll need to be fit and not have a fear of heights in order to accomplish this hike.

It’s 13 miles long and has an elevation change of 3113ft, and at one point you gain 1000ft over just one mile. It’s an out and back trail, so you’ll go home the way you came and you should expect it to take around 8-1o hours.

This hike should only be attempted between March and October and you should be careful not to summit on a windy day.

The trail starts on the southern end of Tenaya Lake where you can either park your car or get the shuttle to. To begin the hike follow the signs for Sunrise H.S.C and within a few miles you’ll start to ascend up Sunrise Mountain, this is where you’ll gain 1000ft in elevation over one mile.

Once you’re at the top, you see a junction, follow the sign for Clouds Rest. You’ll eventually reach some flat terrain after a descent, where you can walk through some stunning woodlands and past a pretty lake. keep following the path to Clouds rest until you see the marker for Clouds Rest Foot Trail.

This is where it gets tricky. The hike to the summit is on a narrow path with sheer drops on either side, take your time. Once you’re at the top you’ll have amazing views of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, and the surrounding mountains. Then it’s back the way you came to get home.


Four Mile Hike

four mile hike yosemite

Image courtesy of Thomas Dimson

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 9.2 miles
  • Elevation Change: 3612 ft
  • Hiking Time: 9 hours
  • Starting Point: Valley Loop Trail, Southside Drive
  • Difficulty: Very Hard
  • Transportation: Car

Four Mile Hike is certainly not four miles long, so don’t let the name fool you. It’s designed for serious adventurers who know what they are doing, so if you are unsure at all, it’s probably best to pass this one up.

If you do have the skills, then you’re in for a treat. The hike is around 9.2 miles long and it takes you via Union point to Glacier point or vice versa. You can choose to either start at Glacier Point or at the Valley loop trail on Southside drive and either do it out and back or use a shuttle service of some kind to drop off/pick up once you have been from point to point.

On the way, you’ll see awesome views of Royal Arches, Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, North Dome, and Half Dome. The trail has a lot of switchbacks as you climb or descend the 3200 feet into or up the Yosemite Valley. You’ll need to pay more attention to the way down than the way up due to the slippery decomposing granite.

It’s best to do this hike between April and October as in other times of the year the trail will be closed due to snowfall.


Vernal Falls Hike

vernal falls yosemite

Image courtesy of Wikimedia

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 5 miles
  • Elevation Change: 1279 ft
  • Hiking Time: 4 hours
  • Starting Point: Upper Pines Camp Ground
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Transportation: Car

Vernal Falls Hike is a lovely walk that follows the Merced River from next to the Upper Pines Camp Ground. It truly is a magical hike that takes you on a steady incline all the way up to the top of the beautiful Vernal Falls.

It’s around a five-mile hike and is an out and back route, so you’ll only have to face the incline on the way there. For that reason, it’s rated as medium but it should be fine for most levels of hiking ability.

The best time to do the hike is in May and June when the waterfall is at it’s highest volume thanks to the snowmelt. You can do it anytime from May to November but the falls can be dry by August.

The trail is obvious and well maintained but there are two restrooms along the way and water filling stations. Towards the end, before you turn back you’ll pass by Emerald Pool in the Silver Apron. It’s a great place to have a swim and hang out before heading back down for where you came.


Half Dome Hike

half dome yosemite

Hike Details

  • Trail length: 15 miles
  • Elevation Change: 5206 ft
  • Hiking Time: 12 hours
  • Starting Point: Upper Pines Camp Ground
  • Difficulty: Very Hard
  • Transportation: Car, shuttle

For those of you who like a challenge and are pretty awesome at hiking, the Half Dome hike might be what you’re looking for. It’s by far the toughest hike in the line-up and is rated as super-duper extra hard.

The hike is 15 miles long with an elevation change of 5206 feet. It should take you around 12 hours but please, please do no do this hike if you don’t have the skills. And please turn back if you discover on your way that you are pushing your limits too far.

It’s an out and back hike that starts at the same place as the Vern Falls hike, the Upper Pines Camp Ground. You actually follow the same route as Vern Falls, but you end up going a lot further.

Once you have passed Vern Falls and the Emerald Pool, you continue on a steep incline up to Nevada falls. Once you pass the second waterfall you have about a mile of flat terrain that you will want to enjoy, as it is only uphill from there.

Once you past little Yosemite Campground, it is switchback after switchback as you climb through the ancient forest. You’ll have an amazing view of the side of Half Dome and the valley after about 7 miles. Then the switchbacks are carved in rock, like stairs, and eventually, you’ll come to their end where you only have 400 feet to go.

This is the hardest part of the trail. You’ll need to use the cables to get up to Half Dome, to pull yourself up to the summit. This is so you don’t have to rock climb. It’s highly recommended to use gloves and there are wooden supports every now and then to rest on.

Once you’re at the top, the views of the surrounding mountains and valleys are incredible. Then it’s a hike back down to the start and it’s much nicer on the way down, trust me.

In order to do this hike, you should check the cables have been put up on Half Dome and you will need a permit too, which you can buy here.