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Eight Great Hiking Trails in Yosemite National Park

Updated 06.01.2015

Hiking through a scenic national park like Yosemite is a fantastic way to experience nature’s exquisite beauty. Between majestic mountains, clear lakes, dramatic waterfalls, and incredible views all around, Yosemite really is a national treasure. And for anyone looking to experience this active travel paradise by hiking some of the best trails, today’s guest writer, photographer Noel Morata, is here to give us some details on what to see while hiking in Yosemite.

Hiking trails in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park in California is a hiking paradise for those who want to be outdoors experiencing different aspects of the park. There are a variety of trails to match any walking or hiking level or time commitment. The hikes that I’ve listed below are some my favorites. They are also the most popular ones in the valley ranging from easy strolls to more challenging and difficult trails. I have taken all of the hikes included here except for Half Dome, which I have never had the opportunity to experience. Did you know that Half Dome requires a reservation to make the climb to the top? Maybe you can try it some day and send me a picture of the amazing view?

1. Bridalveil Fall
One of my favorite first hikes whenever I re-visit Yosemite is Bridalveil Fall because of its close proximity to the valley entrance. This is an easy hike, 0.5 miles roundtrip, and it takes about 20 minutes in a leisurely stroll from the parking lot to the base of the waterfall. Views of the falls are better from a distance compared to reaching the end of the trail.

 Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

2. Mirror lake
One of my favorite easy hikes on the valley floor is Mirror lake. It’s a flat and easy trail covering 2 miles roundtrip over paved roads and dirt trails on the other side of the Merced river. There is also a 5-mile-loop around the lake which takes over two hours to complete. Views of the mountain cliffs are spectacular and also are beautiful in water reflections on the lake.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

3. Lower Yosemite Falls
This flat and paved trail is only 1 mile long and takes about 30 minutes to complete. Beautiful views of the lower and upper falls can be seen on this hike.

4. Upper Yosemite Falls
Hiking in Yosemite doesn’t get any better than this moderately-strenuous trail covering 7.2 miles round-trip. The journey takes between 6 to 8 hours and you will climb to a height of 2,700 feet from the valley floor. There are many switch backs on this trail but you will be rewarded with gorgeous views of  monuments and panoramas in the valley when stopping to catch your breath at many of the lookout points.

5. Vernal Fall
This moderate hike covers 1.6 miles round-trip, which can take 1.5 to 2 hours, and climbs to a 400 feet elevation at the footbridge. To get to the actual falls would be a 3-mile-hike on the Mist Trail with up to a 1,000 feet elevation gain. Wonderful views of Vernal Falls can be taken at the footbridge. (At the time of this photo in September the falls were down to a trickle which did not show up so well in photographs.)

Vernal Fall, Yosemite

Vernal Fall, Yosemite

6. Nevada Fall
Reaching Nevada Fall requires that you first hike to Vernal Fall on the Mist Trail. A more strenuous trail, this hike covers 5.4 miles and takes 5 to 6 hours with a 2,000 feet climb in elevation. You can also hike the John Muir trail and bypass Vernal Fall. The framed views of Nevada Fall are spectacular from below or photographed from Glacier Point where the images here were taken.

7. 4 Mile Trail
4 Mile trail is one of my favorite trails in Yosemite valley because of the amount of scenic panoramas on different parts of the hike. A strenuous trail covering 9.6 miles round-trip, the journey takes 6 to 8 hours with an ascent of 3,200 feet. The views of the valley and monuments from this trail are quite spectacular and worth the effort. Also you can choose to take a shuttle to or from the top of Glacier Point to hike one leg of the trail, just make sure you make reservations in advance because the buses are always full.

4 Mile Trail, Yosemite

4 Mile Trail, Yosemite

8. Half Dome
This challenging hike covers 14 miles round-trip (via the Mist Trail) and takes 10 to 12 hours, climbing to a 4,600 feet elevation. The top portion of Half Dome is accessed by cables and requires a permit.

Half Dome, Yosemite

Half Dome, Yosemite

Although these are some of the most popular trails for hiking in Yosemite Valley, there are many others throughout the park to fit any challenge or requirement. Which of my favorite Yosemite hikes would you like to try?

Planning a hiking trip? Be sure to check out our Hiking Travel Resources.

Have you had the pleasure of hiking in Yosemite before? Come join the conversation at the My Itchy Travel Feet page on Facebook. Or send us an email with your thoughts.

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