Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Looking for the best hikes in Yosemite National Park?? Here’s the list with all the travel information you need to plan a hike with your family.

Undoubtedly the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park are the Half Dome hike, Sentinel Dome Trail, Yosemite Falls Trail, Bridalveil Falls, and Mist Trail.

The iconic views of Yosemite are hard to beat. The following are just a few of the hikes in the park. You may want to combine a few to maximize your time and see the park’s top attractions.

However, before you start the hike, check out the trail’s difficulty level. If you’re in good physical shape, you can try the Sentinel Dome trail, which is only accessible when Glacier Point Road is open. You can enjoy a 360-degree view of Yosemite, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Tenaya Canyon from Sentinel Dome.

The Half Dome Trail is the most popular hike in Yosemite National Park. It takes about thirty minutes to complete. Along the way, you’ll see the mirror-like lake reflecting in the glacier-carved valley below. The trail features beautiful frosted areas and a creek. It is a great way to experience the park during the colder months.

There are so many hikes in Yosemite National Park that it’s hard to decide which one to do first. Just check the list below and plan your hike.

1. Hikes in Yosemite National Park: Half Dome Hike

To get the best view of Yosemite’s Half Dome, you must make an effort to climb its cables. Obviously, this hike is suitable for adventurous hikers.

Hikes in Yosemite National Park Half Dome Hike
Half Dome Hike

Several routes are available to reach the summit of Half Dome. The 14- to 16-mile roundtrip hike leads up the summit and includes several hundred feet of granite stairs.

The trail ends with a cable system that connects the summit to the valley floor. This cable system was built near the Anderson route in 1919. A cable system is also available to access the top of Half Dome.

The final section of the Half Dome hike is so steep and exposed. That’s why the park has installed a safety cable system. Still, reaching Sub Dome is challenging.

This challenging trail will take the whole day. But, it is totally worth trying by any person in good physical shape. The hike can be risky, particularly at night, when there are no rangers on duty.

Obtaining a permit is necessary for hiking beyond the Sub Dome. Getting a permit for a day-long trip is not easy. Moreover, permits for overnight trips are scarce. You must make a wilderness permit, lodge reservation, and campground reservation before you embark on this hike.

And only 225-day hikers and 75 backpackers are allowed per day.

Several people spend several days on the trail, while others stay overnight in Little Yosemite Valley.

The Half Dome hike can be done by automobile, bus, or shuttle. Although public access is restricted, you can still enjoy the hike by car. You can find a parking lot in Curry Village.

If you are hiking in the Yosemite Valley, you can take the Panorama Trail, which intersects with the Half Dome route above Nevada Fall.

2. Hikes in Yosemite National Park: Sentinel Dome Trail

The Sentinel Dome is a rounded granite outcrop rising above the dense forest just above Glacier Point.

Hikes in Yosemite National Park Sentinel Dome Trail
Sentinel Dome Trail

At 8,122 feet above sea level and 4,000 feet above the valley floor, it offers breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, the Sierra Crest, and El Capitan.

The Sentinel Dome trail begins from the parking lot near Glacier Point. If you’re hiking the track, be sure to check the park’s road conditions and weather forecast before setting out.

The trail begins with a 0.3-mile uphill section and ends with a brief downhill. The rest of the trail is flat and beautiful, with the exception of a cell tower.

You’ll soon find yourself surrounded by Ponderosa and Jeffrey pines. Also, you’ll see the mighty Half Dome. During your hike, you should pack a picnic lunch if you’re going to be on your own.

The Sentinel Dome trail begins from the parking lot and can be accessed when Glacier Point Road is open (only during the summer). It’s easy to follow and is about 2.1 miles long.

Depending on your fitness level and your hiking experience, you can choose to hike the whole trail or do a circuit and take in the views. If you’re looking for a challenging hike, try the Sentinel Dome Trail.

On the trail, you’ll pass a gnarly Jeffrey pine tree. This tree is 2/3 of a mile from the trailhead. Its bark smells like butter and has cracks that will take your breath away.

After that, you’ll reach the summit of Sentinel Dome. This tree is the most impressive of the park’s landmarks, with a flat-topped dome and a spectacular view of the High Sierra and coast range.

3. Yosemite Falls Trail

Hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail in Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular activities visitors can do while in the park.

Yosemite Falls Trail
Yosemite Falls Trail

The trail is relatively flat and stretches for 7.6 miles roundtrip to the top of Yosemite Falls, the highest fall in North America (1,647 m). Therefore, this hike is one of the most beautiful things to do in Yosemite National Park.

It also gives excellent views of Half Dome and other park attractions. The best way to reach the trailhead is via the Curry Village, a small settlement nearby.

The trailhead for this hike is located near the Yosemite Valley Lodge, which has a cafeteria. The hike takes around six to eight hours, so hikers can purchase water, food, and snacks from the restaurant.

They should wear comfortable hiking shoes and bring at least four liters of water per person. The trail is a strenuous hike with little shade and few facilities. However, it’s well worth the effort and the scenic view.

Spring is the best time to hike Yosemite Falls Trail as the waterfall gives its best views.

While hiking the Yosemite Falls Trail, be sure to bring plenty of water. The upper part of the trail is rocky and steep, but the views at the top make it well worth the effort.

Because the creek is a feeder of the massive waterfall, extreme caution should be used while nearing the water. The falls are so high that even a small slip can cause serious injury, so be careful.

The best time to visit Yosemite Falls is early spring and early summer, as the fall is usually dry by September. Though the trail is popular with hikers, the views are breathtaking, and many stop at the base before proceeding to the actual falls.

Those who are staying overnight at Yosemite Lodge should be aware that the shuttle stops at Sunnyside Campground.

4. Bridalveil Fall Hike

If you’re looking for a scenic hike in Yosemite National Park, don’t miss the Bridalveil Falls trail.

Bridalveil Fall Hike
Bridalveil Fall Hike

Its misty base makes the falls even more picturesque, and you can get to them in a car in just over an hour.

The trailhead for the waterfall is located on Big Oak Flat Road, and you can pull over at signpost B3 and continue your hike.

After parking your car, you can hike to the base of Bridalveil Fall and then head up the steep trail to the falls. You’ll reach a small viewing area near the base of the falls, where you can catch the mist in the air.

There’s a 3 miles roundtrip to this hike. So, this short hike will take around 30 minutes.

Some people even clamber over boulders for better viewing positions, but this is dangerous and not recommended. During springtime, the spray from the falls is heavy enough to keep visitors away.

Despite the spectacular scenery, the hike to Bridalveil Falls is not perfect. The trail system is not always accessible, and there are steep sections with uneven walkways and restrooms. Overgrown vegetation is also a hindrance to the views of the fall.

Getting closer to the falls is nearly impossible because the area is closed to the public. However, if you do visit, you’ll be rewarded with a memorable experience.

5. Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall

One of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park is the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall and Nevada Falls. (3 miles round trip to Vernal Fall and 7 miles round trip to Nevada Fall)

Mist Trail to Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall
Mist Trail to Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall

This is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National park, especially for families.

The 3 miles roundtrip to Vernal Falls (starting along the Merced River) is considered strenuous but well worth the effort. Washrooms and drinking water are available along this hike.

If you continue the hike, you can reach the Nevada Fall, which is seven miles roundtrip and 2000 feet in elevation gain. It will take around four to five hours to complete the hike.

When hiking the Mist Trail, make sure you bring adequate clothing. It can get a bit chilly, especially if it is icy. When hiking with small children, you’ll want to pack the appropriate clothing to keep them dry. A rain jacket is also recommended.

The Mist Trail begins with a gradual ascent of 400 feet. The climb gets steeper on the way back. It also has a few dips, but most hikers don’t get wet.

On a warm day, the splashes of mist cool hikers down. There are several breathtaking viewing points along the trail. Therefore, Mist Trail to Nevada Fall and Vernal Falls is a popular hiking route in Yosemite National Park.

Be sure not to go over the railings and watch out for wet and slippery rocks. If you’re afraid of heights, you can skip Vernal Fall.

You’ll be amazed at how spectacular these waterfalls are when misty. The trailhead of the Mist Trail is located at Happy Isles, shuttle stop #16 on the shuttle bus.

6. Mirror Lake Trail

A 2.4 miles short hike in Yosemite National Park can take you to the serene and enchanting Mirror Lake.

Mirror Lake Trail
Mirror Lake Trail

This reflective body of water reflects the surrounding landscape and the blue skies, making it a serene venue for a nature walk. You can start this 2.4 miles hike from shuttle stop #17 and take the paved access road.

Mount Watkins, Ahwwayah Point, and Half Dome rise over the lake, providing breathtaking views of the surrounding area. This lake is filled with snowmelt during the spring and summer, creating beautiful reflections of the nearby mountains.

Mirror Lake is a popular attraction in Yosemite Valley, and as well as it is a popular hiking trail. Visitors can admire the views from both sides of this emerald lake.

However, it’s worth noting that many people use this trail as a picnic destination. While it’s a popular destination, its popularity doesn’t make it an authentic wilderness experience.

You’ll find plenty of people enjoying themselves in the sun and sitting on lawn chairs, so you’re unlikely to be alone.

You can also take the Valley Loop Trail to get to Mirror Lake, which starts from the Ahwahnee Hotel’s valet parking lot. This trail winds its way east along the north side of Yosemite Valley while also heading west toward Lower Yosemite Fall.

And it makes for an even grander loop in the Yosemite Valley.

7. May Lake Trail and Mount Hoffmann

The hike to the top of May Lake and Mount Hoffmann is more than worth the effort. While the view is impressive, you should take frequent breaks as you climb.

May Lake Trail
May Lake Trail

After all, you’re in the high country, so it’s essential to take time to rest. You’ll feel energized after spending a few hours soaking up the views of May Lake.

Moreover, you’ll appreciate the peace along the lake’s banks.

While the campgrounds at May Lake are unique, and the scenic views are worth the effort. The 2.4-mile May Lake Trail leads to a beautiful lake at an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet.

The hike starts off gradually but ends with switchbacks. The trail passes through granite hillsides and patches of pine trees. It’s slippery at times but offers beautiful views along the way. The hike is one of the most scenic lake hikes in Yosemite National Park.

Mount Hoffmann
Mount Hoffmann

If you’re looking for a more strenuous hike, you can climb Mount Hoffmann, which rises above Lake May. And it will add another 3.5 miles roundtrip to the hike. This 10,850-foot peak is often called “the best 360” in Yosemite.

It offers sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley, the Cathedral Range, and the Clark Range. However, you’ll need to take a third-class scramble to reach this peak. The trail goes right next to cliffs, so be sure to bring sturdy hiking shoes.

8. Cathedral Lakes Hike

For a spectacular and unique Yosemite experience, consider a Cathedral Lakes Hike. The hike will take you to Cathedral Lakes, located south of Tuolumne Meadows.

Cathedral Lakes Hike
Cathedral Lake

The two lakes are separated by an impressive granite ridge, surrounded by Cathedral Peak in the east and Tresidder Peak in the south.

The hike to upper and lower Cathedral Lake begins at Tuolumne Meadows, and the John Muir Trail winds up to the lake. It has an 8-mile roundtrip.

This hike is not challenging, but it does require a healthy amount of effort. Most hikers stop at Lower Cathedral Lake, which is the most scenic.

The trail begins at 8,500 feet and continues upward until you reach Cathedral Peak. You will need to conserve your breath a bit throughout the hike because the hike is often uphill.

However, it is well worth the effort because the view of Cathedral Peak is unbeatable. If you have a hiking partner, you may choose to hike together to get the complete picture.

The trail starts from the Tuolumne Meadows area and is a half-mile detour from the famous John Muir Trail. This trail is famous and is the perfect place for hiking for those who love nature.

You can enjoy the scenery of this hike from a vantage point and also catch some incredible views of the valley. And you can even spot a bear if you’re out of luck.

Cathedral Lakes hiking trail takes you to two stunning alpine lakes, and you can even camp in the area if you want.

It is best to visit Cathedral Lakes during summer since the lower shoreline of the lake is lined with spacious campsites, while the upper shoreline offers more camping options.

You’ll have beautiful views of Cathedral Peak, so you’re bound to be surrounded by wildflowers and other wildlife.

Are you looking for more campgrounds in Yosemite National Park? Check this list. 

9. Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

If you plan a hiking trip to Yosemite National Park, you might consider hiking the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail. (1.2-mile loop trail)

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

This trail will allow you to view the breathtakingly beautiful Yosemite Falls, which plunges 2,425 feet into a gorge below. It is an easy half-mile trail that can even accommodate wheelchairs. (If you are coming from Yosemite Village, there’s a 1.5-mile roundtrip)

This excellent hike offers views of the mighty upper and lower Yosemite Falls and will leave you breathless.

The trail is wide and smooth and offers excellent views of the waterfall. You can walk the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail year-round, but it may be a bit wet in the spring and early summer.

By the end of the year, the trail is dry, though it may be icy. You can also enjoy a view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley from the Lower Gate.

The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is a popular hiking trail in Yosemite National Park. Visitors can admire the falls from both the north and south side, making it one of the most popular hiking trails in the valley.

The rocks are slippery and wet, so watch your step. Once you’ve reached the base of the falls, the trail continues eastward past the village and park headquarters.

Getting there: A 1/2 mile wheelchair-accessible trail leads to the waterfall’s base. The trail begins in the parking lot on Northside Drive and winds through fir and pine trees west of the creek.

After about half a mile, you will reach a granite boulder clearing with stunning views of the waterfall. In early summer, Yosemite Creek will crash onto these boulders and disappear by late summer.

10. Hikes in Yosemite National Park: Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge Trail

The Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge Trail are a great couple of hiking options in Yosemite National Park.

Hikes in Yosemite National Park Soda Springs
Hikes in Yosemite National Park Soda Springs

These puddles of carbonated water in Soda Springs are corralled in log enclosures and accessible for visitors to explore. Visitors can elbow their way in and watch the bubbling water.

The hike starts on a gravel road and ends at the Parsons Lodge, a historical landmark dedicated to an early environmental activist.

And it is a 1.5-mile roundtrip hike suitable for families with kids.

The Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge Trail begin in the valley and wind up a small hill to a cabin. This cabin is the oldest surviving building in Yosemite National Park and is filled with carbonated water.

At the base of the lodge, you can see a reconstructed cabin constructed by an early environmental activist in 1915. It features a stone facade and an open beamed ceiling. The guest rooms are tastefully decorated and have views of Lembert Dome.

The Parsons Lodge Trail passes through the high country and leads to a scenic visitor center. If you want to spend more time on the trail, you can also visit the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail, which begins four miles from the parking lot. The lake is a beautiful high-country oasis.

Another popular hike is the Mirror Lake Loop, which begins from the Happy Isles shuttle stop. The 2.4-mile-round route passes Tenaya Canyon and the Tenaya River. You can also hike to Cathedral Falls, a popular attraction in the Yosemite Valley. This route also passes the aptly-named “Mirror Lake.”

11. Hikes in Yosemite National Park: Taft Point

To experience the grandeur of Yosemite National Park, visit Taft Point, a viewpoint located west of Glacier Point.

Hikes in Yosemite National Park Taft Point
Taft Point

You can enjoy expansive vistas of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan. The views from Taft Point are unmatched.

Here, you can watch the sun rise and set over Yosemite Falls and marvel at the majesty of the El Capitan.

The trail of 2.5 miles begins in a small, open area and then proceeds down a slope past a cluster of white quartz and into the pine forest.

After fording the upper end of Sentinel Creek, the trail then winds around the granite hill and enters woodland on the other side. Tall ponderosa pine trees loom over the landscape, with thick patches of bright green moss edging them.

Once at the overlook, you can walk around the edge of the ridge to see the view from Sentinel Dome (added 2.3 miles) and other overlooks further west.

Taft Point
Taft Point

As you walk up the ledge to reach Taft Point, look out for fissures – deep crevasses carved into the rock. Those gaps in the rock can reveal the valley below, which is why the views from Taft Point are so impressive.

If you’re daring, you can also go slacklining between the jagged edges of the cliff.

Hikes in Yosemite National Park

  • Half Dome Hike
  • Sentinel Dome Trail
  • Yosemite Falls Trail
  • Bridalveil Fall Hike
  • Mist Trail to Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall
  • Mirror Lake Trail
  • May Lake Trail and Mount Hoffmann
  • Cathedral Lakes Hike
  • Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
  • Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge Trail
  • Taft Point