With over 800 miles of trails, Yosemite National Park is a prime destination for hikers. Although too many visitors fail to leave their cars behind for very long, you should hit the trail during your Yosemite vacation Take a stroll right up to a mighty waterfall or a panoramic viewpoint, a gentle nature walk around Tuolumne Meadows in the Sierra Nevada high country, or an all-day hike to the summit of Half Dome.
The following are just a few of our favorite day hikes in Yosemite National Park. For an in-depth hiking guidebook, check out Jeffrey P. Schaffer's Yosemite National Park: A Complete Hiker's Guide, which includes a handy pull-out topographic map. Park visitor centers have brochures, newspapers, and helpful hand-outs for hikers. Ask about current schedules of ranger-guided walks, which are given year-round.
Easy Hikes in Yosemite
In the Yosemite Valley, you can ramble as far as you like around the valley's 13-mile paved recreational loop trail, stopping off at waterfalls, viewpoints, and meadows along the way, then catch a free shuttle bus back to your starting point. A gentle, mostly level trail heads for one mile each way out to Mirror Lake, so named for its famous reflection of Half Dome, best seen during late spring when water levels are highest.
Moderate Hikes in Yosemite
Starting from the Happy Isles on the valley floor, the challenging Mist Trail climbs a granite staircase beside Vernal Fall, which is a hardy three-mile round trip. If you continue for another two miles along the same trail, you'll reach the top of Nevada Fall. You can also get a great view of both of these thunderous falls is along the Panorama Trail, which descends from Glacier Point for 8.5 miles to the valley floor, passing waterfalls all along the way. A faster hike between Glacier Point and the valley floor is via the Four-Mile Trail, which actually measures 4.8 miles each way, with plenty of valley views and switchbacks.
Strenuous Hikes in Yosemite
For experienced hikers who can get up at the crack of dawn, the 14-mile round-trip ascent of Half Dome is an epic adventure, involving a final stretch of bolted rope cables, which are usually available from late May through early October. Good hiking boots, plenty of extra water and food, and being in good shape are all necessary requirements. Don't attempt this hike when thunderstorms are forecast, lightning flashes are in the sky, or recent rainfall has made the trail and cables too slick to navigate safely.
Update March 1, 2014: Half Dome cables day use is available for reservation starting March 1 in 2014. Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days per week and reservations will be distributed via a lottery system. Successful parties will be notified in mid-April. A maximum of 300 hikers will be allowed on the Half Dome cables per day. Reservations for the permits can be made online at www.recreation.gov or by calling (877) 444-6777. Approximately 50 subsequent daily permits will be available each day by lottery during the hiking season. The permits must be applied for two days in advance of the desired hiking date.
Shorter and longer trails for hikers of all skill levels await off Glacier Point Road (which is usually open from April until November) and also Tioga Road (open June to October) through the park's Sierra Nevada high country. Take your pick of polished granite domes, alpine lakes, or incredible mountain panoramas. Then, take the kids on a hike through the venerable Mariposa Grove of giant sequoia trees, just outside Wawona near the park's southern entrance.