In the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite National Park in California is one of the world’s most beautiful and best-known places. Its massive ancient sequoias, stunning waterfalls, magical sunlight, deep valleys, and enormous granite monoliths have been delighting hikers and nature lovers for over one hundred and thirty years. The best way to appreciate them is going on one of the many hikes on offer.
The best hikes in Yosemite are the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, the Four Mile Trail, Half Dome Hike, Mist Trail, and Cathedral Lakes. They vary in intensity, strenuousness, and elevation, but all offer spectacular views and can be done in a day. You need to be physically fit to walk them.
There are many different hikes in Yosemite National Park which covers seven hundred and forty-eight thousand acres of wilderness. There are over seven hundred and fifty miles of trails, so you are spoiled for choice. This article looks at the best hikes to plan on doing when you get there.
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Yosemite Falls, the highest falls in the US, makes this trail worthwhile. It gives hikers an up-close view of their splendor. Hikers can choose to walk to Columbia Rock and back, a round trip of two miles, or trek up to the top of the Falls, which is just over seven miles there and back. Spring is the best time because the water flow is at its highest.
Columbia Rock is about a third of the way along the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail and is moderately demanding because the total elevation is one thousand feet. The trail has a series of more than a dozen switchbacks, making the climb a bit easier but longer. It doesn’t offer a view of Yosemite Falls, though.
From Columbia Rock, there are breathtaking one hundred and eighty-degree views across the Yosemite Valley, stretching from Half Dome to Cathedral Spires. The hike takes a total of between two and three hours as a roundtrip and is not as strenuous as the whole Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. There are drop-offs and stopping places protected by rails where you can admire the view.
Hiking the entire trail is a round trip between six and ten hours. It is a strenuous hike that takes you from the trailhead, at an elevation of almost four thousand feet, through the top of the falls at around six and a half thousand feet to Yosemite Point, just under seven thousand feet. At the top, a full view of the falls and the panorama of the Yosemite Valley is spread before you.
Four Mile Trail
Four Mile trail connects Glacier Point and Yosemite Valley, temperatures are generally cooler, and it is less steep than the Columbia Rock hike. The Four Mile Trail climbs the rim of the valley from the side opposite Columbia Rock and has many stunning views along the way. Some say there is no better way to see Yosemite Valley and its famous landmarks from unfamiliar angles.
This hike isn’t as steep as the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, but it is pretty strenuous. It can take two to five hours one way and gives you a spectacular, unimpeded view of Yosemite Falls. You can also see Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, North Dome, the Royal Arches, and Clouds Rest. At the top, you look down on Yosemite Falls.
The trail is usually closed in winter and only opens when the Glacier Point Road opens in the spring. This is the best time to do this hike when the snow is melting at its fastest.
Half Dome Hike
Half Dome Hike is an extremely demanding one-day hike that takes ten to fourteen hours. Via the John Muir Trail, it’s just over a fourteen-mile round trip, a twenty-mile round trip via Glacier Point, and a seven-mile round trip from the Little Yosemite Valley campground. You gain a total of four thousand eight hundred feet in elevation, so it’s not for the fainthearted.
The trail’s most strenuous and nerve-wracking section involves climbing Half Dome via a cable attached to the rock. The cable is closed in winter, and opening dates vary depending on the weather. Permits are necessary for this section, and the park uses a lottery system to award them.
There is a three-hundred-person limit on the number of permits issued per day for the cable section. The Half Dome Trail is the most dangerous hike in Yosemite, as people have died on the rock itself and the trail leading up to it. It is not recommended in wet weather conditions as slipping on the granite and lightning strikes have killed people.
You can also do the Sub Dome hike, which doesn’t involve the cable section, but it is still tough going because it is so steep.
The Mist Trail takes in the Vernal and Nevada Falls and is famous for the many incredible views it offers along its length. The total elevation gain to Nevada Fall from the trailhead is one thousand feet, and to Vernal Fall, it is one thousand nine hundred feet. You come to the top of Vernal Fall first before going on to Nevada Fall.
The trail ends with a stunning view of Nevada Fall, the back of Half Dome and Liberty Cap.
You need an early morning start to avoid the crowds, and it takes between two and five hours, depending on how far up the trail you walk. You can also hike the trail later in the afternoon, but you should take a flashlight in case darkness falls while you are hiking.
You can get close enough to the waterfalls to be drenched by their spray. If you go all the way up to the top of the Nevada fall, the hike can be strenuous, and the parts of the trail next to both falls are steep. It takes between five and six hours to get to the top of Nevada Fall.
Steps are carved into the rock cliff beside the Vernal Fall, but you don’t have to climb them if you feel unsafe. The scenery on the Mist Trail is stunningly beautiful.
Cathedral Lakes Trail
Cathedral Lakes is a round trip of eight miles if you want to see both lakes. It is a medium-level hike with a steady climb for the first half mile and offers beautiful views of Cathedral Peak, Echo Peak, and Tresidder Peak. It takes between three and five hours, and it is one of the most popular hikes in the Tioga Road area.
The water of the lakes is crystal clear and mirrors the surrounding peaks. You can go to Lower Cathedral Lake, the larger and more picturesque of the two, or take the left fork in the trail to Upper Cathedral Lake.
The lakes are at an elevation of over nine thousand feet, so it’s a bit like being in the Alps. You can recover your breath with a relaxing picnic on the shores of the Lower Lake. The Cathedral Lakes Trail is part of the John Muir trail and is only open in the summer.
Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, Four Mile Trail, Half Dome Hike, Mist Trail, and Cathedral Trail are the best hikes in Yosemite National Park if you are physically fit and want to see the best views. Some of them are seasonal, so you need to plan your trip in advance and ensure you have the necessary permit for the cable on Half Dome.