A Guide to Hiking at Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park Hiking: Popular Trails

Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most beautiful and scenic places in the park. That also makes it one of the most popular to visit.
Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most beautiful and scenic places in the park. That also makes it one of the most popular to visit.

Yosemite has enough hiking trails to last you a lifetime. Make that two lifetimes. They range from easy strolls to difficult and dangerous treks. Some take an hour, some require days or weeks.

The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite. This moderate, 7-mile (11-kilometer) hike takes you near two spectacular waterfalls, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. You'll ogle a series of wonderful views during the 5-hour walk. It's a great hike for spring when the water's high. Be sure to bring rain gear -- it really can be misty [source: Every Trail].

You won't want to miss the trail to Lower Yosemite Falls. Neither does anyone else -- you can count on crowds here. A half-mile (0.8 kilometer) paved path brings you to the base of a waterfall that's almost a half mile high, dropping in three sections. It's one of the most famous sites in Yosemite. If you're up to it, you can hike to Upper Yosemite Falls. The steep climb will take at least 6 hours [source: Yosemite Hikes].

To get a classic view of Yosemite, try the trail to Artist Point. It's only 2 miles (3.2 kilometers) round trip, but there are some steep sections as you climb 500 feet (150 meters). The trail brings you to the most famous panorama of Yosemite, known as the Tunnel View. You look down the length of Yosemite Valley, with granite peaks and waterfalls on both sides. Artist Point will be less crowded than the traditional spot for taking in this view on State Route 41. You'll definitely want a picture of yourself here with Yosemite in the background [source: Yosemite Hikes].

Don't miss hiking around the Marioposa Grove of giant sequoias. There are several trails that take you on easy to moderate hikes ranging from 2 to 6 miles (3.2 to 9.6 kilometers). In the lower grove, you'll see the Grizzly Giant, the largest sequoia in Yosemite. This tree, more than 30 feet (9 meters) in diameter, had already been growing here for 700 years when Julius Caesar ruled Rome [source: Yosemite Hikes]

For the hiking experience of a lifetime, try the climb to Half Dome. This is the most difficult day hike in Yosemite. You'll climb 4,800 feet (1,460 meters) over the 14-mile (22.5-kilometer) round trip. Some hikers make it a two-day walk. During the last 400 feet (122 meters) of climbing, you'll hold onto cables as you ascend sheer rock. If you have a fear of heights, this is not the hike for you. You'll need to get a permit from the Park Service in advance, and the demand is high -- this is a popular trail [source: Yosemite Hikes].

If you still haven't satisfied your hiking urge, you can do all or part of the John Muir Trail. This 211-mile (340-kilometer) path takes you across Yosemite and all the way to the summit of Mount Whitney. It crosses alpine heights most of the way, affording stupendous views of the Sierras. Truly one of the premier hiking trails in the world [source: NPS].

The wonders of nature and the glorious night sky tempt many Yosemite visitors to camp outside. In the next section, you'll learn about your options.