What do you want to see in Yosemite?
1. I want to see a peaceful river framed by granite domes.
Valley Loop Trail
Level trail with sections of boardwalk.
See all the Yosemite Valley highlights—but none of its crowds—on this easy loop with views including El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock, Bridalveil Fall, and the Merced River. Start the complete 11.5-mile loop at Lower Yosemite Fall and go in either direction. For the 7.2-mile half loop, take the spur trail to cross the Merced at El Capitan Bridge.
2. I want to see a pounding waterfall.
I don’t mind sharing the trail if it means I get to see something amazing.
Yosemite’s most popular path, Mist Trail, deserves every bit of attention it gets: This spectacular, rainbow-streaked trail skirts 317-foot Vernal Fall and 594-foot Nevada Fall and extends to Little Yosemite Valley. Hike 1.2 miles (one-way) and 1,000 vertical feet to the top of Vernal Fall; going on to Nevada Fall adds 1.5 miles and 1,000 feet to your trip. Start early to avoid crowds. (Happy Isles Trailhead; shuttle stop 16)
Solitude is my middle name.
Head to the Hetch Hetchy area to catch this 1,400-foot cascade careening over enormous boulders into the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Hike 2.5 miles (one-way) to the footbridge crossing the falls; put on your rain jacket if you venture out for a closer look! Go in late spring to see the falls at their most impressive (be careful of high water on the bridge). (O’Shaughnessy Dam Trailhead)
3. I want to see a serene mountain lake.
Less than 3 miles.
From the trailhead on Tioga Road, you’re only 1.3 miles from dipping a toe in idyllic May Lake, making this trip a great one for kids. And if the view at the lake energizes you for more, continue on to the top of 10,850-foot Mt. Hoffman for a 5.4-mile round-trip. (May Lake Trailhead)
7 or 8 miles.
One glance at the rhino-horn summit of 10,912-foot Cathedral Peak reflected in Upper Cathedral Lake, and you’ll know hoofing it up this high-altitude Tuolumne Meadows trail was worth it. The round trip is 7 miles to either Upper or Lower Cathedral Lake and 8 miles for both. Tip: Go to both. (Cathedral Lakes Trailhead)
4. I want to see Yosemite Valley from above.
Panorama Trail (or do the shorter Four-Mile Trail)
Downhill is my speed.
The elevation change on this steep 8.5-miler from Glacier Point is a whopping 3,200 feet—but it’s all downhill. As you descend Panorama Trail, drink in views of Illilouette Fall and Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and Nevada and Vernal Falls. Take the hiker shuttle to the trailhead up on Glacier Point; link up with the Mist Trail to finish. (Glacier Point Trailhead). Or do the Four-Mile Trail that starts at Glacier Point and descends four miles to the valley.
I’m up for a strenuous climb. Can you throw in some exposure too?
A Yosemite rite of passage for experienced hikers, the 14- or 16-mile round-trip up the iconic 8,839-foot granite peak is a physical and mental challenge—near the top, you’ll have to conquer a very steep, exposed 400-foot section laced with metal cables. Half Dome permit and route information. (Happy Isles Trailhead)
I’m in the mood for something moderate.
Bag a peak without all the work of Half Dome on this moderate, 5-mile round trip to the top of 7,543-foot North Dome. From the summit perch, you’ll have a close look at Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Yosemite Valley. (Porcupine Creek Trailhead)
5. I want to see big trees.
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
I want to be inspired.
Renovated for two years to reduce the environmental impact of visitors and infrastructure, Mariposa Grove near the South Entrance is a gorgeous, must-see. Stroll among trees hundreds of years old and marvel at their beauty.
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail is a perfect stroll. It’s a two-mile loop that takes 1.5-2 hours and circles the edge of the grove.