Great Hikes of Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park is truly one of the wonders of the natural world. In Yosemite Valley there are stunning vistas everywhere you look. Granite peaks rise sharply from the valley floor, the scent of pristine pine forest envelopes you and stunning waterfalls cascade from the mountain tops into the majestic Merced. Wildlife abounds with mule deer, bobcats, coyotes, and black bears often sighted together with hundreds of species of birds, insects and reptiles. If you are making a trip to Yosemite and really want to get to the heart of this most stunning of parks then you need to put on your hiking boots and try some of the fantastic trails the valley has to offer.

Before You Set Out

Before you leave the valley floor remember that there are few facilities on the trails. You need to take all the food and drink that you need for the duration of your journey and keep all of your rubbish with you until you return to civilisation. Wear sturdy footwear and, if you have them, take aqua shoes as there will be ample opportunities to clamber amongst the rocks and streams. Use a good quality back pack and take walking poles, sun screen and your camera! Now all you have to do is decide which of the magnificent trails to tackle.

The Mist Trail

This is probably the most celebrated trail in the whole of the park and rightly so! There are few places on earth that offer so many wondrous sights in a comparatively short hike as you will see if you take it on! The trail head is well marked and can be reached via the free shuttle bus. Disembark at the Happy Isles and the trail is just a few hundred metres down the road. The first section of the walk is an easy amble without much incline and takes you 0.8 of a mile and 400 ft up to the Vernal Falls Footbridge where there are excellent views of the falls. Here you will also find toilets and drinking water. Once you have soaked in the view continue on towards the falls. The trail now gets more strenuous and ascends 600 ft over 0.5 of a mile via steep paths and steps cut into the granite cliffs. There is an enormous amount of spray from the falls during spring and early summer hence the name of the trail and the path can be slippery under foot. You will have an amazing close up and personal experience of Vernal falls before you make the steep final ascent to the summit of the cascade to enjoy spectacular views down the falls and the majesty of the Emerald Pool. There are more toilets available here and this is a fine spot to sit down and have a bite to eat. You can now return to the valley floor or continue onwards and upwards to Nevada Falls. The trail up to the Nevada Falls is strenuous and rises a further 1000 ft over a distance of 1.3 miles but boy is it worth it. There are spectacular views everywhere and the area at the top of the falls offers several gorgeous places to sit and relax, eat your lunch and explore. By now you have probably used up most of the memory card in your camera! There are further toilets here which you may wish to use before your descent back to civilisation. This trail is glorious but not to be taken lightly! Start early in the morning to avoid the heat, take plenty of water and don’t be tempted to paddle in the water anywhere near the falls as the currents are deceptively strong.

Half Dome

If you are fit enough and feeling brave you may want to take on the trail to Half Dome. This is an extremely strenuous hike of 7 miles with a 4800 ft elevation change. The shortest route is via the Mist Trail and then onwards from Nevada Falls. The trail leads you via little Yosemite Valley through a forested area and onwards to a steep section which includes many granite steps. The final 400ft of the ascent is via a cable ladder which should not be attempted in wet weather or periods of lightening. The views from the summit are stupendous but you do need to be in very good shape to take this journey on. Please note that a permit system now operates for this trail to restrict the numbers on the route.

The Four Mile Trail

If there is one thing that you should experience during a trip to Yosemite it is certainly the view from Glacier Point. You can drive up but you will have a much better sense of achievement if you walk it! This is a strenuous walk of 4.8 miles and an elevation gain of 3200 ft. The trail head is on Southside drive and can be accessed by car , via the El Capitain Shuttle or the Valley Visitor Shuttle stop #7 half a mile away. The trail climbs steeply almost from the start and you rise quickly up from the valley floor taking in the spectacular vistas along the way. The early section of the trail affords great views of Yosemite Falls and the valley floor before the switch backs reward you with the majestic sight of the western portion of the valley. The steep path then leads you past craggy cliffs and pine forest to the incredible wonder that is Glacier Point. This trail is best tackled in the cool of the early morning but because of the position of the sun the early part of the day sees most of the trail in shade anyway. Unfortunately if you do spend much time at the top this does mean that the descent will be in the heat of the afternoon sun so make sure you have plenty of liquid with you. It is hard to explain the glory of Glacier Point! There are the most awesome views of the entire valley over to Half Dome and across to Vernal and Nevada Falls. If you have binoculars or a zoom on your camera it is possible to see the tiny figures of hikers at the summit of Half Dome and you get a real sense of the scale of the National Park. There is a café, souvenir shop, toilet and water fountain at Glacier Point so you can enjoy an ice cream and replenish your water before attempting the descent.

Lower Yosemite Fall

If you are looking for some respite from arduous hiking then this one will do the trick. This is a short and easy walk from Shuttle Stop #6 through forest and streams to the lower Yosemite Falls. The easy nature of this walk and the spectacular view of the falls do mean the area can get very crowded and so it is best visited early morning or late afternoon when the crowds are lighter. At the base of the falls there is a magnificent cascade of giant boulders forming numerous rock pools which can be explored, you can even go for a swim as the water is cold but not painfully so. The terrain is hard under foot and so if you do go clambering amongst the pools sandals or aqua shoes will really help.

Upper Yosemite Fall

This is a strenuous 3.6 mile hike to the top of America’s highest waterfall and has an elevation gain of 2700 ft. The trail head is at shuttle bus stop #7 or a quick walk from the visitor centre area where you can park. The trail starts in forest and with steep switch backs which lead you up to a more open area with excellent views of the valley. You will then arrive at Columbia Point, an excellent place for a rest and a snack with stunning views. Proceed along a flatter portion of the trail until you reach Yosemite Creek where you get your first sight of the falls. Look out for a spur to the right of the trail that takes you to “Oh My Gosh Point” for a spectacular view of the upper falls before returning to the trail and upwards through more switch backs to the summit where you can walk to a viewing platform for a close up encounter with the cascade. Please note that the falls dry up by late July/early August and so this walk is best undertaken in the spring and early summer. Most of the trail is directly in the sun in the morning and early afternoon so be prepared for the heat. When you descend visit the rock pools at the base of the lower falls to cool off!

Natural Wonders

There can be few places on earth that can boast the embarrassment of riches that you will discover hiking in Yosemite National Park. There are numerous trails of varying difficulty offering something for everyone to enjoy but don’t miss the highlights of The Mist Trail, Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point as you will certainly be glad you made the effort to take on these awesome trails.


Sally S is a serial returner to Yosemite National Park and knows the trails intimately. Sally writes on a wide range of topics but loves to recount the great walks she has done over the years, is a keep fit enthusiast and owns a Marcy multigym, which she uses to prepare for walks in the mountains.


In-depth information on Yosemite

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