The 5 Best Hikes in Yosemite
These are the superior trails in the iconic national park
So you made it to Yosemite. Now what?
The country’s most beautiful national park can also be, for newcomers, one of its most bewildering, with a vast array of terrains, trails and required experience levels. Alex Honnold can free solo El Capitan while novice hikers struggle to get up and down Half Dome over the course of a very long day — and energetic eight-year-olds explore the wildflowers and marshes of Tuolumne Meadows. Kids, adults, newbies and veterans: there’s a trail for everyone here.
Below, you’ll find the crème de la crème — the very best hikes in Yosemite.
1. Half Dome
Distance: 14 or 16 miles, depending on trail selected.
In brief: The park’s most iconic sight, Half Dome towers above Yosemite Valley. Though early explorers doubted its summit would ever be attained, they were, it turns out, incorrect, with the first successful ascent in 1875. Now, hikers can reach its summit via a very long day hike — after completing the trail’s most notorious section, 400 feet of two metal cables. (Some good news: “Since 1919, relatively few people have fallen and died on the cables.”)
Difficulty level (out of 10): 10
2. Cloud’s Rest
Distance: 15 miles
In brief: The best view of Half Dome isn’t, of course, from on top of Half Dome — it’s from other vantage points within Yosemite, like Cloud’s Rest. This is another highly strenuous hike — plan on a sunrise start — but the rewards are ample, with views of essentially the entire park. If you don’t mind heights, the hardest part will be the final, 1,000-foot elevation gain; if you do, it’ll definitely be the narrow route at the top.
Difficulty level: 9
Distance: 10 miles
In brief: The Four-Mile Trail, which brings you to Glacier Point, is a misnomer: it’s actually nearly five miles, which means it should actually be called “Five Miles Basically Straight Up Trail,” for a fuller, more accurate description. Unsurprisingly, though, the rewards from the top are spectacular, as they are from Union Point, another vantage that’s accessible via a brief side trail.
Difficulty level: 8
Distance: 5 miles
In brief: This hike is a top choice for spring, when water volumes are at their highest — the optimal way to enjoy a trip that will take you past two waterfalls. A variety of trails take you in and around the two waterfalls, meaning that you can go up one way and come down another — you could even extend from the top of Nevada Fall all the way to Half Dome.
Difficulty level: 8 (if you go all the way to Nevada Falls)
Distance: 9 miles
In brief: It’s a tough hike, but you’ll be rewarded with killer views and fewer crowds, thanks to the (relatively) out-of-the-way location in Tenaya Canyon. For the waterfall of the same name, check out the similar-but-not-the-same Snow Creek Falls Trail.
Difficulty level: 7
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