Last year over 3 million people visited Yosemite National Park, one of the most stunning parks in America’s National Park system. Every year over half of park visitors are first-timers, a dramatic increase from previous years.
If you’re thinking about planning a visit and want to explore the park and its beauty on your own two feet, we’ve done the leg work for you! Here’s a list of nine of the Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park based on comfort level.
Hikes in Yosemite National Park – A Plethora of Stunning Options
Located in eastern central California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park offers abundant trails fringed by majestic views. Indeed, this park is internationally acclaimed for its biodiversity, rugged mountain ranges, lakes, streams, waterfalls, and of course, those giant sequoia trees.
Best of all, the park features hiking opportunities for various levels. So whether you’re looking to push your limits on an extreme uphill trail or simply want to indulge in a soothing stroll in the sunshine, here are some of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park.
Easy Hikes in Yosemite National Park
Sentinel Dome and Taft Point via Pohono Trail
Not only is this one of the easier trails in Yosemite, but it also happens to be off the beaten track, so you can expect fewer tourists. While it’s entirely possible to complete this five-mile hike in three hours, give or take, it’s best to allocate yourself around four hours to properly soak up the unblemished park views from Glacier Point, which stands at an elevation of nearly 8,000 feet.
It’s good to know that Glacier Point Road is typically open from May to early November. Expect some light snow speckled across the trail in the first few days after the trail reopens for the season.
Whether or not you’re an experienced hiker, it’s absolutely worth checking out the Mariposa Grove, located at Yosemite’s southern point. Known for its towering sequoia trees, this trail is often hailed as being the easiest one in the park so expect to see plenty of families with kids. The Mariposa Grove trail offers various loops that range from 0.3 to 7.0 miles.
Depending on the loop you want to take, this hiking trail can offer a 1,200 feet view of the park. While this is undoubtedly one of the easiest hikes in Yosemite, it’s still a good idea to allocate yourself four hours so you can properly enjoy the views.
Yosemite Falls (Lower Area)
Depending on your speed, it’s possible to hike this area in just 15 to 60 minutes. You don’t gain a lot of elevation, but Yosemite Fall’s Lower Area is known for being one of the most scenic spots in the park. At the end of your hike, you’ll reach the majestic Yosemite Waterfall, which, at 2,425 feet, is the tallest in North America.
Since it’s nearly ten times as tall as Niagara Falls, Yosemite Falls is quite a sight to behold. This hiking trail covers 1.5 miles from the Yosemite Village and less than a mile from the trailhead (roundtrip). There are lots of nice campgrounds near Yosemite Falls so that you can sleep right near the trail. Backpackers Campground, Upper Pines Campground, and Camp 4 Yosemite Valley are all good options. Some are unpowered, though, so be sure to have a generator to power your campsite if needed.
Moderate Hikes in Yosemite National Park
While it’s admittedly not as popular as neighboring spots such as Glacier Point and Mist Trail, the Panorama hike does offer sweeping views of both Panorama Point and Illilouette Falls. A one-way hike does cover over eight miles, though, so it’s best to give yourself between 5 to 8 hours to complete the trail.
Most people start uphill from the valley, but you can always debut from Glacier Point, which features an elevation drop of 3,200 feet if you would rather hike downhill. Yosemite National Park does offer a shuttle that can loop you back to your starting point after your hike.
With a 3 to 5 hours hiking time, Cathedral Lakes has a trailhead elevation of 8,500 feet. Like several other Yosemite hikes, this one also starts from the Tuolumne Meadows and merges with other paths that form part of the John Muir Trail.
There’s no denying that Cathedral Lakes boasts some of the most impressive sights in the park, with magnificent views of the granite-shored, picnic-friendly High Sierra lakes. This trail is open from June to October, although you should expect cold and marshy hiking conditions earlier in the season.
The Mist Trail (Vernal and Nevada Fall)
Often acclaimed as Yosemite National Park’s signature hike, the Mist Trail is especially known for its awe-inspiring sights. This particular hike also provides vistas of Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall. Peak runoff usually runs from April to mid-June, but it’s always a good idea to start off early to avoid the crowds.
The Mist Trail features a 1,000 feet elevation gain to Vernal Falls, and experienced hikers can usually complete the trail in just over two hours, although it’s best to give yourself up to five hours so you can properly take in the sights.
Advanced Hikes in Yosemite National Park
Half Dome via Mist Trail
Because it’s one of Yosemite National Park’s toughest hikes, you imperatively need a permit to access the Half Dome. The cables are usually accessible from Memorial to Labor Day. It’s also imperative to keep an eye out for weather conditions since there have been fatal accidents in the past due to extreme winds, rain, or even lighting.
Experienced hikers usually require between 10 and 14 hours to complete this hike. As such, some people like to split their expedition into forty-eight hours. Camping nearby before or after this hike, or any other advanced hikes, is a great idea. Then, you can wake up and start hiking without needing to travel. Make sure you have good camping gear and check out Van Life Theory for recommendations on the best rooftop tents!
Upper Yosemite Falls
With a nearly 2,600 feet elevation gain to the very top of the waterfalls, this hike covers an expanse of 7.6 miles (round trip). It’s usually recommended to set aside 10 to 12 hours to cover the entire trail. If you’ve got the stamina for it, you can always push through an extra mile to Yosemite Point, which delivers glorious views of the park.
This is also the only place in Yosemite Park where you’ll be able to capture both the Half Dome and the Yosemite Falls in the same picture. This hike isn’t as heavily populated since it’s quite a strenuous trail.
Glacier Point through Four Miles
Serviced by both the Visitor and the El Capitan shuttles, this hike covers a distance of 9.6 miles (round trip) to Glacier Point. One of the toughest hikes in the park, Glacier Point, provides an elevation gain of 3,200 feet.
Hikers normally require between 2 and 5 hours for a one-way hike or up to 8 hours for a round trip. This hike starts off at the very bottom of the Sentinel Rock and follows a continuously steep terrain all the way up to the summit of Yosemite Valley.
Photos Courtesy of Visit California & Unsplash.
We’re Alesha and Jarryd, the co-founders of Van Life Theory. We’re a married Australian couple in our mid-30s, currently travelling around Australia in our 2008 Mercedes Sprinter 518CDI campervan. This website was born to document our experiences, stories and misadventures as we go.
We are actually professional content creators, photographers and digital marketers (you may have seen our work over at NOMADasaurus), and being digital nomads has allowed us to create an incredible life of freedom as we travel the world.