Yosemite National Park is crisscrossed by an unmatched network of backcountry trails open to hikers, backpackers, and horse riders. Incredibly, almost 95 percent of the park is designated as wilderness. Whether you just want to just get out of the car and do a little exploring, or you’re planning a multi-night backcountry adventure on foot or horseback, we’ve got just the thing for you and your family.
Many of Yosemite’s trails follow the path of history, including Native American trading routes, pioneer wagon roads, and the footsteps of early explorers including conservationist John Muir. An easier paved recreational path for walkers and cyclists encircles the valley floor, letting you get up close to waterfalls and the picturesque Merced River. Another gentle, mostly level trail heads out to Mirror Lake, where you might be able to catch the reflection of Half Dome, especially in spring. Otherwise, the only direction to hike from the valley is up, perhaps to panoramic Glacier Point or to summit Half Dome, a thrilling adventure that ends with a series of rope cables. During summer in the high country along Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road, trailheads lead to more scenic viewpoints, granite domes, alpine lakes, and mountain peaks.
If you’re an experienced backpacker, or even if it’s just your first time sleeping in the wilderness overnight, Yosemite National Park has an bewildering variety of trails. Many of the classic backpacking routes start off Tioga Road, in the Sierra Nevada high country near Tuolumne Meadows. One unforgettable trip leads over Clouds Rest vista point down to Sunrise Lakes, from where you can make an early-morning assault on Half Dome. Some other popular backpacking destinations, including Cathedral Lakes, Vogelsang, and Glen Aulin, lie along a loop route defined by the High Sierra Camps, where overnight beds and meals are available by lottery in advance. For hard-core, long-distance backpackers, Yosemite is the start of the 211-mile John Muir Trail (JMT), which finishes at Mt Whitney in the eastern Sierra Nevada. The JMT follows a section of the marathon Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), which stretches over 2650 miles from the Mexican border up to British Columbia, Canada.
Horseback Riding & Pack Trips
Another entertaining way to soak up the epic Sierra Nevada scenery is from the back of a sure-footed horse or mule. The national park’s concessionaire, Delaware North Companies (DNC), offers both half- and full-day trail rides suitable for beginning rider, including children over 7 years of age who are at least 44 inches tall. Popular day rides visit some of Yosemite’s waterfalls and lakes. DNC can also arrange guided overnight pack trips, which tend to be especially popular with extended families and fishing enthusiasts. To inquire about any of these horse and mule trips, contact DNC stables in Yosemite Valley and at Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows, all of which are open seasonally. Reservations are recommended, especially for overnight trips.