The Yosemite Valley is as captivating as it is unbelievable. Breathtaking meadows surrounded by towering granite walls have spellbound those of us lucky enough to lay eyes on it. National Parks pioneer Teddy Roosevelt called it “a great solemn cathedral,” and Ansel Adams “a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder.” My personal favorite might be my boyfriend’s breathless exclamation “it’s like the middle of a cinnamon bun” as we scaled to the top of our hike and looked out on the formidable landscape.
It’s difficult to overstate the significance of Yosemite’s cosmic beauty, so best to experience it for yourself. Here’s 6 of Yosemite Valley’s most heavenly hikes:
Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point
This is one of the best hikes for two reasons: first, you have views of El Capitan, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome. That’s 3 of Yosemite’s most definitive vistas, all in one hike. Second, you have flexibility once you get to the top. Glacier Point has a park shuttle system, so a one-way hike is possible if you want. No judgement either– the four mile trail is only a 4.7-mile hike but it’s a steep 3,200 ft elevation gain. Not for the faint of heart. For the seasoned hikers out there though, you have the option to keep going! Something for everyone, I guess.
The Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls
The Mist Trail is the most iconic of all hikes in Yosemite Valley and a must-do if you’ve never been. The trailhead is near Curry Village and is actually the beginning of a lot of other, much longer hikes! For that reason, it’s heavily trafficked and best to start earlier in the day. The trek to Vernal Falls is 3 miles round trip and if you want to keep going and see a second Nevada Falls, that’s 7 miles round trip. PSA: there is a portion of the hike with colossal granite stairs that truly makes you feel like you’re on another planet. It’s a very waterfall-forward hike and is cemented in my mind as Yosemite’s attention-grabbing, star child.
This is a versatile and less trafficked trail that shows you a lot of the Yosemite backcountry and has spectacular views of Half Dome and Panorama Point. It’s a pretty long trail (8.5 one way) so it has a couple points of entry. You can enter from Glacier Point (either by shuttle or combine it with the Four Mile Trail). You’ll be going downhill for a lot of the trail this way. The more common route is to take it uphill from the Mist Trail to Glacier Point. Either way it’s a unique view of Yosemite and its vast wilderness.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
This is a perfect trail if you want to explore the valley itself and not get much elevation gain. It takes you through the meadows and near the base of the granite cliffs, at which point you’ll look up at the rock face and question everything in your life. After you reorient yourself, this fairly level trail goes on for almost 11.5 miles, but a lot of people just do the half loop, which is 7.5 miles (or you can just stop where you want and turn back). It’s a really accessible and kid-friendly trail you should try out if you want to see the valley floor.
Half Dome Trail
If you’re going to Yosemite for the Half Dome hike, you’ll need to be prepared. Getting to the top of Yosemite’s pinnacle rock formation (the inspiration for The North Face logo) is basically one of the greatest accomplishments of my life. This 10 to 14-hour hike is 14.2 miles roundtrip and best done between May to October.
First things first, you’ll need to get a permit. A permit you can only get by entering a lottery drawing, months in advance. They don’t make it easy, do they? Anyways once you do get the permit, you’ll need to bring a pair of gloves if you intend on scaling the Dome on the wire cables (in years past they had gloves to use, but likely not available in the wake of COVID). Yes, this is pretty scary, and yes, you should do it if you’re in good physical shape and mentally prepared. Whatever you decide, be sure to check the weather and start early, I mean like 6 AM early. It’s the most rewarding experience you’ll certainly not regret.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This is a great hike in springtime to see the bottom half of Yosemite Falls. It’s only .5 miles roundtrip from the trailhead and is right next to the Yosemite Valley Lodge. This shorter route is also a great post dinner stroll if you end up staying the nights at The Lodge. The route is for sure a hot spot when the water is flowing in late spring early summertime, and a lot less crowded once the falls dry up in late summer into fall and winter.