Hiking Yosemite...... All You Need to Know!


Hiking in Yosemite presents one with a lot of options, which can be a little overwhelming when planning a trip.  When planning a hiking trip there are several things to consider.  The first of which is what are you looking for, big payoffs at the end? views all along the way? long ascents? steep descents? Be sure to thoroughly read descriptions of the hikes to know what you are getting yourself into.  Asses the fitness of everyone in your group and pick a hike that matches everyone's capabilities.  It is not fun when a hike is too challenging for someone.  Make sure you pack appropriately for the hike, including water, sunscreen, food, first aid kit, and if like Anika, an inhaler!

So what are some of the best hikes in Yosemite?

  1. When planning the one big hike you do, Half Dome comes frequently comes to mind.  However, it requires winning the lottery for permits to complete the final ascent. Personally, without the permits, it wouldn't be worth it for us.  Clouds Rest not only hikes higher then Half Dome, you can see it and look into the entire valley! Clouds rest should be considered challenging at 14.5 miles round trip and an elevation gain of 1,775 feet.  A seven-mile one way hike will weed out a lot of people, and the unnervingly narrow trail along the ridge will take care of lots more.  There will probably still be people at the top when you get there, which is a  testament to just how good the views are.  Elevation-wise, Clouds Rest is a four-part trail shaped like a staircase.  Part one is a gentle, nearly flat walk of just under two miles through the Tenaya Lake valley. Part two is a tortuous series of switchbacks covering a thousand feet of elevation gain in a mile, leading at the summit to the Sunrise Lakes trail fork. After a brief descent, you'll have a leisurely stroll for a few miles through another wooded valley, passing a pretty pond along the way, until you begin climbing Clouds Rest itself. This final section isn't as steep as the first big hill you climbed, but its 9,000+ foot elevation will still take a toll.
  2. If wanting to do a hike that is a challenge but not as much as Half Dome or Clouds Rest, we recommend North Dome, which is an 8.8 mile round trip with an overall elevation loss.  You haven't really seen Half Dome (figuratively, at least) until you've stood on North Dome and looked across Yosemite Valley at it. It's an incredible closeup view. North Dome also offers an unsurpassed view of Clouds Rest which is across to the right. Not a lot of people hike this trail, as it is uneventful for the first four miles but please stick with it! North Dome itself is rounded on top, but if you walk close enough to the edges, you'll still find sheer drop offs to Yosemite Valley a few thousand feet below, so please be cautious.  Be sure to bring binoculars so you can look across to people climbing Half Dome.
  3. A shorted hike that offers fantastic views is Lembert Dome, which is a 2.8 mile round trip that gains 900 feet in elevation. Lembert Dome offers excellent views looking west across Tuolumne Meadows, which is beautiful to see from above. While it is a short hike, you are climbing the side of a mountain so be sure to give yourself breaks. You will encounter less crowds at the top as Lembert Dome is a little awkward to reach. 
  4. If visiting in Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail is a must! The Mist Trail, consists of Vernal and Nevada Fall  It is a 3 miles  round trip to Vernal Fall and a 7 miles round trip to Nevada Fall.  If you walk from Curry Village instead of catching a shuttle bus to the trailhead, add an extra 1.5 miles round trip.  There is a 1,000 feet elevation gain to the top of Vernal Fall and a 1,900 feet elevation gain to the top of Nevada Fall.  This is Yosemite's signature hike. While many of Yosemite's trails are popular due to having a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered all along it. Due to this, expect the crowd factor on this trail to be rather high.  Since the Mist Trail is such a popular hike. If you're hiking it during peak season, and especially during a peak season weekend, you'll get the best experience starting early in the morning or later in the afternoon.  In terms of difficulty, the stretches beside Vernal and Nevada Falls are both quite steep - in fact, the last few hundred meters up the Vernal Falls trail are stairs cut into the cliffside. If you need a gentler workout, you can just proceed as far as the bridge looking upstream to Vernal Fall without exerting yourself quite so much.  Since this hike is located along the side of a waterfall, the stone steps carved into the canyon wall beside can be slippery, so tread carefully.
  5. Still wanting to enjoy Yosemite but long hikes aren't your thing? It's okay, we got you covered!  Bridalveil Fall is only a 1.2 mile round trip hike that gains 200 feet in elevation.  While it is short compared to Yosemite Falls, it is still a beautiful sight to see.  The waterfall is famous for the mist that wafts off in the breeze, which resembles a bridal veil.  It is best to visit during springtime since the falls will be at their fullest.  Always be aware of slippery rocks!  The trail takes you to the base of the trail so sometimes the views are better from other perspectives such as from Southside Drive, from Tunnel View, from the Gates of the Valley or from Northside Drive. 

  6. Another waterfall that you don't want to miss is Lower Yosemite Falls, which is a .5 mile round trip from the trailhead and 1.5 miles round trip from Yosemite Village, which very little elevation gain.  Spring is the best time to visit the falls and they should be avoided in late summer as they may be dried up completely.  The trail to the lower falls is very crowded as it is an easy hike for an amazing view. If you are wanting to add an extra and strenuous adventure, you can continue to Upper Yosemite Falls, which is 7.6 mile round trip from the lower calls and gains almost 3,000 feet in elevation.  The average hiking time is 6-10 hours so make sure this is all you do that day.  While the is basically a stone staircase, it offers you one-of-a-kind panoramic views of Yosemite Valley atop of one of the tallest waterfalls in the world! Due to the strenuous nature of the hike, the crowds will thin out the higher you go. Be sure to pack plenty of bug spray, food and water for the journey. 

  7. Half Dome is known as "the hike" to do in Yosemite if you are physically fit and want a challenge!  The trail is 16 miles round trip via the Mist Trail (information above).  The trail gains 4,800 feet, which is very strenuous over 17 miles.  The hike has 900 feet worth of spectacular waterfalls at the bottom when you take the Mist Trail route.  In addition, you get bigger-than-life panoramic vistas at the top of Clouds Rest, North Dome, El Cap, and the Valley.  The final 400 ft ascent is steeply up the rock between two steel cables used as handholds.  The cables are fixed with bolts in the rock and raised onto a series of metal poles in late May and  taken down from the poles for the winter in early October.  The cables do require a permit to hike and you can find more information for the permits at https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hdpermits.htm.  As this is one of the most popular, you can expect large crowds, which is the primary reason for the permit system.   While you will need a wilderness permit, if you don't mind lugging a big pack up the Mist Trail, you can arrive before the day hikers by spending the night before in Little Yosemite Valley and getting an early start the next morning.  We would recommend watching several Youtube videos of the Half Dome cables in order to grasp a better understanding of what the cables will be like, which will be really important for any hikers who have a fear of height.