Yosemite has always been known as a premier destination for hikers looking for the most scenic and challenging trails in the state and country. For those that have already hiked up the hills and down into the valleys, picking the right trail is much easier because of their extensive knowledge of the park. On the other hand, for a family that might be traveling to Yosemite as a vacation destination or for someone who has never had the pleasure and experience of visiting the park before, picking the right trail to hike on can be difficult and possibly even confusing. This blog post should help out the newcomers to the hiking experience at Yosemite, and also highlight some different trails that are perfect for any experience level.
The most famous hiking trail in Yosemite is Half Dome, and it is one of the hardest trails in the park. You actually need to apply for a permit ahead of time to get the proper permission to hike up Half Dome! Needless to say, this is NOT the trail for a beginner or someone that doesn’t have rock climbing experience. We wanted to highlight this trail because it is the pride of the park and usually the first thing people associate with when they are talking about Yosemite.
The best place for someone with little to no hiking experience, or is planning to have small children with them, is the Meadow Loop Trail. This trail is pet friendly as long as they are on a leash, and there is zero incline throughout the trail. It is located directly across from the Wawona Hotel, and it takes you through a cool forest glen that shades you from the sun on the park’s hottest days. You can expect to see all of the sights and sounds that nature has to offer and possibly even see a herd of deer. This loop takes you right past the famous golf course located right in the middle of the park. The full loop trail is 3.5 miles long and should take the average walker about 2 hours to complete.
Another great beginner trail for people of all ages and physical abilities is the Swinging Bridge Loop. Your hike will start at the Wawona Store parking area, perfect for parking your car when you first get to the park. You will follow a paved road for 2 miles then bear left onto a dirt road at the Seventh Day Adventist camp. From there you cross the bridge and turn left again onto the trail that starts as a dirt road and becomes the paved Chilnualna Falls Road. This last leg of the hike takes you to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and finally ends back at the Wawona Store. This is a 4.8-mile hike that can take 2 hours, but we recommend taking your time at some of the park landmarks this trail takes you through. Each location provides a unique insight into the history of the park, and the stories of the people that made it possible for us to enjoy this beautiful land today.
If you are looking for a bit of a challenge that involves some uphill climbing, but is still very accessible, we have a few suggestions for you. The Grizzly Giant, 1.6 miles with a round-trip time of 1 hour; the Wawona Point, 6 miles with a 3 hour round-trip time; or Outer Loop Trail, a 6.9 mile loop that takes 4 to 5 hours. All of these trails are in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. If you are planning on exploring the Mariposa Grove and all that it has to offer there is a self-guiding hiking brochure and map available.
Finally, for those looking for a more strenuous hike that involves some great uphill climbing with some of the most spectacular views from the park we have two trails to recommend. The first trail is the Nevada Falls Trail in Yosemite Valley. This is a 5.8-mile hike that can take 5 to 6 hours round-trip with a 2,000-foot elevation gain. This uphill climb is something that should not be taken lightly; we recommend being in good physical shape for this hike. The trail is in 2 parts: The Mist Trail to Vernal Fall, and continuing an extra 1.3 miles along the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls. The second trail we suggest is Alder Creek. This is a 12-mile hike that can take 6 to 8 hours to complete. It starts at Chilnualna Falls Road in Wawona and takes you up into an open forest, where you’ll get views of the entire Wawona area. Both of these hikes should be planned as a full day experience, and on summer days should start earlier in the morning to avoid heat exhaustion from being at a higher elevation.
It should be noted that these suggestions are only a few of the HUNDREDS of trails available to hike in Yosemite and the areas around the park. If there is a specific trail you want to hike, or to have more options a complete list of hiking trails is available on the site.
Final tips for all hikers:
1. Bring plenty of water to drink on any hike to avoid dehydration.
2. Only bring what you are willing to carry from the start of the hike to the end, and remember that water is a lot heavier in bottles on your back than it is in your refrigerator at home.
3. If you are planning one of the longer hikes or a hike in the middle of the day bring food to snack on to keep your energy levels up. Candy is not recommended. Bring granola bars and trail mix, which provide lots of protein and slow burning carbohydrates.
4. Never decide to create a new trail that isn’t clearly marked even if it looks like it might be more fun. Marked trails are maintained and do not interfere with the natural habitats of the millions of plants and animals that call Yosemite their home.
5. It is always safer to hike in larger groups of people than it is by yourself. Even the most seasoned hiker is susceptible to twisting an ankle or accidently making a wrong turn that takes them away from a marked path.
6. Use your common sense and best judgment whenever going out into nature. If it looks dangerous or sounds like a bad idea it probably is.
7. For a more complete list of safety tips and other safety resources our friends at the National Park Service have provided a Hiking Safety webpage.
Hopefully this was a helpful guide to planning your hiking experience at Yosemite and the surrounding areas. We can’t wait to see you soon for your next big adventure in our historic park. If you have any comments or questions about this post or about any other activities available to you please share with us in the comments.Go Back