Picture alpine meadows, high altitude lakes, and granite domes; this is Yosemite National Park, the second oldest national park in the U.S and one of the most beautiful places on our planet. Nearly four million people visit this park a year and although many come to see the most popular attractions such as Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, there is so much more to discover. Hiking through the park is the only way to discover the magic of it, and here are the park’s best hikes.
10. Gaylor Lakes
It is one of the most overlooked hikes in Yosemite and easy enough for both beginners and families to hike, something hard to come by in this incredible national park. It takes anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on how much exploring you do and only has one real steep climb at the beginning. From the trailhead, hikers will climb steadily to a ridge with views of the high Sierra including Mt. Dana and Dana Meadows with its scattered ponds, offering some of the best high-country views off of Tioga Road.
The Gaylor Lakes valley actually contains five picturesque lakes and lends the feeling of a prehistoric time and one almost expects to see dinosaurs roaming through it. Hikers won’t have to contend with crowds here either as even during the busy season hikers are spread out.
9. Cathedral Lakes
The Cathedral Lakes trail is one of the most popular hikes along Tioga Road although compared to Yosemite Valley, it is serene and uncrowded. It is a 7 or 8-mile round trip depending on whether you want to visit both the lower and upper lake. The trek is a hard 8 miles as the hike starts at 8,600ft, offering some serious altitude, and climbs over 1,000ft in the first mile.
What hikers will be rewarded with though are stunning views, shimmering waters backdropped by the iconic spire of Cathedral Peak. Hikers can explore the granite slopes, meadows, and peaks that surround the lakes. Make sure to look at the lower lake’s southwest side as the granite drops steeply away and offers views of Tenaya Lake, with its bright blue water shimmering in the distance.
8. Panorama Trail
This hike actually loses 2,800 feet in elevation, which makes a lot of people think that it is an easy hike but they would be wrong. This 8.5-mile one-way hike challenges hikers with its 800 ft of switchbacks and plenty of difficult small steps, but the views are well worth it. Everywhere you turn on this hike offers incredible views and includes Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Illilouette Falls, Yosemite Falls, and the entire Valley.
There is an awesome unmarked detour to Panorama Point, take the trail that is about half a mile after you cross the bridge over Illilouette Creek, and prepare yourself for panoramic views ranging from Glacier Point to the Royal Arches, North Dome, and the back of Half Dome. If you can handle the up and downs and don’t mind catching a shuttle at the end; this is one unforgettable hike.
7. Vernal & Nevada Falls
If waterfalls are what you are after, this day hike is the perfect choice for you. Vernal and Nevada Falls are two of the most spectacular waterfalls in the park and hikers will get a glimpse of the famous Yosemite Falls in the distance. The loop is started by hiking up the steep granite steps that makeup Mist Trail and then proceeding down the John Muir Trail which lends spectacular views of both falls.
The granite slab located on top of Nevada Falls is the perfect place to picnic and snap amazing photos. Do this hike in the springtime when the water is flowing fast and it is less crowded than in the summer. Make sure to bring plenty of water, snacks, and decent hiking shoes. If you do hike in the summer make sure to head out early to avoid the afternoon heat and throngs of people.
6. Glen Aulin
This is another hiking trail that offers spectacular waterfall views and the trick here is the further you go along the trail, the more waterfalls you actually see. The trail starts by descending down the Tuolumne River for about 5 miles in which you will cross Tuolumne Falls and White Cascade, as well as numerous pools that branch off from the trail. In June and July, White Cascade is an incredible place to take a swim so make sure you have your bathing suit.
If you feel like making this 10-mile hike into a 16-mile hike make sure you keep heading on and you will hit California Falls, LeConte Falls, and Waterwheel Falls. That is a total of five waterfalls in 16 miles! The Glen Aulin campsite is where you will turn around to keep the hike at 10 miles and beware that the last mile before the campsite is a deep descend and it’s helpful to have trekking poles.
5. Clouds Rest
For those hikers who want to experience Half Dome but don’t want to fight the crowds or are unsuccessful in getting a permit; the hike to Clouds Rest is perfect. Hiking this trail you actually get to look down on Half Dome and get a 360-degree view of Yosemite Valley. Round trip is just over 14 miles and hikers should be experienced to make it to the top and back down.
The hike starts at picturesque Tenaya Lake and ends with some easy rock scrambling before reaching Clouds Rest, where you should have your camera ready to snap some unbelievable photos. Keep your eyes peeled for the climbers attached to the cables on Half Dome and realize that you have a better view. This awesome hike is a well-kept secret amongst many and arguably provides the best views of the valley.
4. Mono Pass
This hike takes place at a high altitude and if you are coming from sea level it is recommended you take a few days to acclimatize before attempting this hike. The hike starts at 9,700ft and ends at 10,599 ft; lung-busting heights if you aren’t used to them. The first part of the trail leads you through beautiful streams, alpine meadows, and glacier domes.
The latter half of the hike will be through barren, rocky landscapes; making you appreciate how high you really are. Hiking Mono Pass is an 8-mile trek and in early summer the creeks are often overflowing with water making them hard to pass without getting wet. Prepare yourself for stunning views of the massive Mono Lake, 4000ft below you, when you reach Summit Lake and Sardine Lake. A real mix of ridges, forest trails, and rocky landscapes makes this one awesome hike.
3. North Dome
If you are looking for another way to view Half Dome that is less crowded, there is yet another option for you. North Dome is an 8.8-mile round trip that offers unparalleled views of Half Dome as well as the peak of Clouds Rest. Although the hike up isn’t the most scenic in the park, it is the view from the top that draws hikers here. In fact, the only crowded part of this hike is at the top as people are unable to tear themselves away.
If you feel like hiking another mile or so make sure to check out the detour to Indian Rock Arch, a natural granite arch about 15 feet high. You will want to give yourself 4-6 hours to do the round trip hike and make sure to bring a pair of binoculars if you want to view the teeny tiny people making their way up Half Dome.
2. Tueeulala & Wapama Falls
There are few hikes in this park that bring you so close to a giant cascading waterfall than this one. In springtime is when you will find the falls at their mightiest but beware that the trail is sometimes closed as the water actually roars over the bridges. This is a great hike for hikers with little experience as it features easy up and down terrain rather than the steep terrain that a lot of the park features.
On the way to Wapama Falls, you will pass Tueeulala Falls which spring spectacularly from the cliffs from more than 1000ft above the trail. Over the entirety of the hike, Hetch Hetchy Dome and Kolana Rock will loom over you, Kolana Rock’s north face being the nesting site for peregrine falcons. If you want to take the kids along for this hike make sure you are prepared with lots of water, snacks, sunscreen, and enough time as it’s not as easy as one may think.
1. Half Dome
It wouldn’t be a list of hikes in Yosemite Park if we didn’t include this one. Although we have given you many more options to experience the views you get from Half Dome, there is truly something magical about actually hiking it. Hiking this glacier dome isn’t easy though as permits are now required and the cable route to the summit is only open from May to October. It is a big 14-mile round trip hike that first takes you along the Mist Trail and then up to the 8,842ft summit.
Steel cables are in place to help hikers up the final 600ft and many times this part takes a long time due to crowds and lineups. If you are jittery and nervous expect to move up very slowly. The summit is a whopping 5 acres and mostly flat, giving 360-degree views of the valley. If you are heading down the glacier on the same day make sure to watch as the sun sets quickly and you won’t want to walk in the dark.