Your guide to Yosemite’s best hikes and trails.
Whether they’re experienced or newbies, all hikers like diverse trails.
The most popular hiking trails in the world are often the ones that offer the most diverse landscapes to hike through — and the sheer scale of the landscape makes al the difference. In this case, bigger is better.
In terms of diversity and scale, there is one place in the United States that’s truly unique: Yosemite National Park.
Established in 1890, the park has long been a symbol of the American nation and featured in countless films. However, its biggest lure is more than 100 hard hiking trails extending for more than 120 kilometers in total.
In this post, we’ll take you through our pick of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, from the hardest and most challenging trails to Yosemite’s easy hikes and beginner friendly trails. We’ll also throw in some info about what’s often regarded as Yosemite’s most iconic hiking trail.
In light of COVID-19, new measures have been introduced for visitors to the park. Check out the official list of requirements and safety measures before you plan your trip.
Some of the hardest hiking trails in all of California
Usually, the most appealing hikes are also the hardest ones. However, young hikers or those looking for easy hikes in Yosemite shouldn’t be discouraged by the valley’s hiking trails as they’re accessible to beginners as well, as long as you take the proper security precautions.
Here are some of the hardest hikes in Yosemite you can try your luck on,:
Half Dome hike
This Yosemite hike goes out and back, totaling at some 26 kilometers. The elevation of the Half Dome Hike is around 1.6 kilometers, adding to its overall appeal.
Not only is this walk difficult but it can get quite crowded at times. However, it’s all worth it when you climb the top and enjoy the picturesque view of the Yosemite Valley.
Be advised that you need a permit to climb the very top of the Half Dome; without it, you will reach only the sub-dome. As park rangers constantly patrol the area, you can be certain they will ask you for the permit.
Finally, be ready to set off early in the morning and come back down at dusk.
The next walk on our list actually overlooks Yosemite’s Half Dome hike, as well as the entire valley. Cloud’s Rest is another out and back trail that is some 22 kilometers long, taking you up the mountain nearly 850 meters.
Unlike the Half Dome hikes, don’t expect to see throngs of tourists, although the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead can get busy at times.
In addition, you don’t need a permit for Cloud’s Rest (ideal if you have been rejected for the Half Dome trail). The trail is perfect for hikers who are afraid of heights since the elevation is fairly moderate.
The aforementioned Sunrise Lakes trailhead starts at Sunrise Lakes where you’ll need to stock up on water, especially in the summer.
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
In terms of popularity, Yosemite Falls is definitely the most-visited trail in the entire park. The round trip is 12 kilometers long and the elevation is admirable: some 2.5 kilometers.
Although crowds are attracted to this trail, expect to see fewer and fewer hikers as you climb up Yosemite Point. The hike will give you a good sweat, working out all your muscle but it’s definitely worth the reward: an amazing view of the Yosemite Valley scenery and all its iconic landmarks.
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Yosemite hiking trails for beginners
On more than 3,000 square meters of Yosemite National Park, there are plenty of easy hikes as well. They’re characterized by lower elevation and shorter trails, and you can also expect crowds of picnickers. However, these trails are ideal for beginner hikers who still have to learn the ropes (pun intended).
Bridalveil Falls hike
Among the top short hikes, Bridalveil Fall is fairly short out and back; around 1.7 kilometers long in total. The elevation is also easy to handle, never over 60 meters. Unfortunately, these climbing conditions mean that the Bridalveil Falls trail is often swarming with tourists, especially during the summer season.
They are after the breathtaking view of Bridalveil Falls, which is particularly impressive during the peak season when the waterfall is in its full might. Of course, you’ll need to withstand some spraying from the falls but that’s the funniest part of the Bridalveil Falls Hike.
Lower Yosemite Falls hike
If you’re looking for an easy trail in Yosemite Valley to conquer with your family, then the Lower Yosemite Falls hike is ideal for you. It is only 800 meters long and the elevation is minimal. The only real downside of this trail is the proximity of Yosemite Village, which means you won’t be the only person on it, to say the least.
This chill hike passes Yosemite Falls, so hikers get a chance for a view of the falls from the bottom. The trail is so easy that you can complete it while sipping a hot cup of coffee you’ve picked up in the village.
Lembert Dome trail
The final easy trail on our list is a loop extending some 4 and a half kilometers. The total elevation gain is 250 meters, which might not sound like much but the trail is rather steep.
Because of this, it is not overcrowded like the rest of the easy Yosemite hikes, allowing you to enjoy the panoramic view of Tuolumne Meadows in peace. On most of the days, you can see from the lodgepole pine forest the Cathedral Range as well.
The most challenging way to the top is from the southeast side. Scrambling up the steep granite slab is not easy but it is still easier than the climb to Half Dome. Wearing shoes with good traction is a must and you shouldn’t ho up the trail (literally) when the conditions are slippery, like after rain.
John Muir Trail: Yosemite’s most iconic hiking trail
We can’t discuss hiking in Yosemite National Park without referencing its most iconic trail: John Muir Trail. This through hike is almost 340 kilometers long and the elevation gain is a staggering 14 kilometers.
Needless to say, this trail is one of the most extreme ones, as it is going to take you several weeks to complete it — months even. Regardless, the trail is very popular because the scenery along the route is among the most impressive in all of California.
Final thoughts on hiking in Yosemite National Park
The western Sierra Nevada of Central California is God-given country for hiking. The jewel of this region is Yosemite National Park, offering easy and difficult hiking trails for picnickers and professional hikers alike. Its trails take you across valleys, mountain peaks, and past waterfalls; up and down a mesmerizingly beautiful landscape.
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