The Top Yosemite Hikes You Need to Do
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In one of the nation’s most famous National Parks, you’ll find towering granite cliffs, cascading waterfalls, scenic vistas, and amazing landscapes. While you can see lots of these things just outside of your car, if you head on into the backcountry, you’ll get to explore the best hikes in Yosemite, and so much more of this park.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Distance: 1.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 59 feet
This hike is more of a walk, but it still takes you to a great viewpoint of Yosemite Falls. Because it’s an easier trail, it can be crowded, but if you’re short on time, it’s worth it to see! While dogs can’t go on most hikes within the park, they are allowed here. While walking to the falls, look up to see the middle and upper falls, and if you have the gear and the time, continue on to the Upper Falls for a great hike.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Distance: 7.6 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 3,231 feet
Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America, and one of the most striking sites in the park. This hike will take you to the top of it! It’s a heart-pounding series of switchbacks that is best saved for experienced hikers, but the views are amazing. On this Yosemite hike, you’ll have panoramic views of Yosemite Valley and be amazing at the surrounding beauty. From the Columbia Rock viewpoint here, you’ll be able to photograph Yosemite Falls and Half Dome in one frame. Depending on the waterflow, you may even get hit with some of the spray if you get close enough!
Distance: 5 mile loop around the lake
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Mirror Lake is a pleasant hike that rewards you with beautiful scenery, and exhibits along the side of the trail will explain the history of the area. You can make this an easy two mile hike round trip if you just go to the lake, or make a loop of the lake, which will get you away from some of the crowds and more views of the area. If you visit when the water is calm, it’ll give you beautiful reflections of the surrounding cliffs. It’s fullest in the spring and early summer when filled with freshly melted snow.
Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail
Distance: 8.8 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 2,191 feet
The Mist Trail is one of the most iconic trails within Yosemite National Park. It has numerous fantastic viewpoints along it ending at two amazing waterfalls. You’ll start this hike along a river, get to see Yosemite Falls, and then be able to see Half Dome, Mount Broderick, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Falls all at once. This trail can be very icy in the winter and spring because of how shady it is, so be sure to check for conditions and bring microspikes and poles if needed! If you just want to go to Vernal Falls, it’s only about three miles. Parts of this trail close in the winter due to the risk of falling snow and ice, so the trail may get rerouted changing the length and elevation gain you may do.
Distance: 2.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 400 ft
The Sentinel Dome hike offers spectacular views without much physical effort. Looking out from almost 4,000 feet above the valley floor, you can see far into the distance, and see the famous sites of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls from a different perspective than you would get from driving through the valley.
Distance: 14.5 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 1,775 ft
To take in one of Yosemite's most stunning and wide-ranging 360-degree panoramic views, make your way to Clouds Rest. This trail is serious, so only take it on if you’re well prepared. You’ll have a perfect view of the Half Dome, and if you bring binoculars you can see hikers making their way up.
Distance: 7 miles round trip to Upper or Lower Cathedral Lakes; 8 miles round trip to see both
Elevation gain: 1,100 ft
The Cathedral Lakes hike exposes you to the high alpine beauty found along the Tioga Road. You can hike to both Upper and Lower Cathedral Lake, for an eight-mile round-trip hike, or just hike to either one for a seven-mile return hike. Most hikers just hike to Lower Cathedral Lake, which is the more scenic of the two.
Distance: 2.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 200 ft
Taft Point is an iconic viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. It’s that magical spot you have on Instagram with the tiny rock ledge and the mini person standing out on it. It’s a quick, easy hike from Glacier Point Rd. There’s one small railing at the very edge, but that’s it, so you need to be careful when navigating this area.
Distance: 14.2 miles roundtrip
Elevation gain: 4,800 ft
Half Dome is one of the main features of the Yosemite skyline. It’s a harrowing hike, but once finished, you can stand on top of it! It’s one of those bucket list hikes that you hope you’ll be able to do once in a lifetime.
The final section of the hike is a series of cables that run along the sheer face of the rock. You'll need a permit to access the cable section of the trail. Most permits are awarded through a lottery that takes place at the end of March, with additional lotteries of 50 or so permits per day taking place throughout the summer two days in advance.
There are so many amazing hikes in Yosemite and wonderful places to explore. Our destination experts can plan a Yosemite trip for you complete with accommodations and an itinerary of things to do in Yosemite personalized for your needs and wants. If you go on any of these hikes, or any others, be sure to tag us on social media (@adventuretripr) so we can see your adventures!