The 10 Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park for Every Skill Level
In the world of hiking, rock climbing and just generally outdoor adventure, it doesn't get more bucket list than Yosemite, which draws upwards of 4.5 million visitors annually. Consistently ranked among the ten best national parks in the United States, this 759,620-acre expanse in Northern California is widely regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the Golden State. For those keen on pitching a tent and snoozing under the stars, it’s also home to some incredible camping sites. Extraordinary scenery truly exists at every turn—from waterfalls, glaciers and granite walls to flower-filled meadows, sequoia trees and verdant valleys. Don’t forget about the wildlife-peeping opportunities. All this adds up to Yosemite having a preternatural ability to make even the least outdoorsy travelers tap into their rugged side. Whether you’re a hardcore adrenaline junkie who thrives off a challenge or prefers something a bit more low-key and scenic, you’ll find something to love.
Wondering which trails are better suited for you based on your experience level, comfort with scrambling and desired distance? We’ve rounded up the best hikes in Yosemite—a mix of easy, moderate and tough treks—to ensure you strike out on the perfect path.
Are all Yosemite hikes difficult?
There are certainly options for every skill level, from easy trails like Lower Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point Trail to the notoriously difficult Half Dome via the John Muir Trail. Keep in mind that the most challenging treks in Yosemite tend to be harder than what are categorized as “difficult hikes” in other national parks. That’s due to the elevation change, landscape and weather that can turn on a dime. So, it’s really important to do your research and determine what you’re actually in for before committing to a path.
What is the longest hike in Yosemite?
Stretching 29.1 miles, Full North Rim earns the title of the longest hike in Yosemite. This lengthy and strenuous point-to-point route is full of highlights—including North Dome, Yosemite Point, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan—and takes four to five days. (OK, now, we’re thinking it may be necessary to extend our trip…)
P.S. For anyone saying, “You forgot about the 210.4-mile, John Muir Trail.” That path runs through Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon as well as Inyo National Forest.
How many hiking trails are in Yosemite?
With over 750 miles of trails to explore, you’re never far from a scenic trek. To that end, AllTrails lists 277 different Yosemite hikes.
1. HALF DOME VIA THE JOHN MUIR TRAIL
Ready to put in some, err a lot of, legwork? Half Dome via the John Muir Trail is a 16.2-mile roundtrip trek with 4,830 feet of elevation gain that’s rated as hard (aka for experienced adventurers only). An emblematic and stamina-testing hike, this particular route to the top of Half Dome winds past Vernal and Nevada Falls, under Liberty Cap and through Little Yosemite Valley. The final, quad-torching section entails scaling steep stairs and granite slabs, not to mention the climb to the summit. FYI, you need to obtain a permit in advance, and it’s a hot ticket, so plan ahead.
2. FOUR MILE TRAIL
Four Mile Trail is actually sort of a misleading name since it’s 4.8 miles one way to Glacier Point and 9.6 miles round trip. Regardless of the minor advertising glitch, this strenuous, steep hike has all the makings of a picture-perfect—albeit challenging—albeit adventure. The trail begins at Four Mile Trailhead, near Sentinel Rock, in Yosemite Valley and ends at Glacier Point, 3,200 feet above. Along the way, trekkers face a series of switchbacks and are treated to views of Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome. The grand finale? Glimpsing the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Snow can impact trail conditions significantly, so plan to go between May and November. And be sure to check the weather forecast.
3. UPPER YOSEMITE FALLS TRAIL
One of the park’s oldest and most punishing paths, Upper Yosemite Falls Trail leads to the top of North America’s tallest waterfall. It’s a strenuous and steep slog, so be sure to carve out six to eight hours to complete the 7.2-mile round-trip route—and don’t attempt this trail unless you’re a pro. The payoff for tackling dozens of switchbacks and a formidable 1,000-foot climb? Epic panoramas of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Sentinel Rock from Columbia Rock make all that effort worth it. And, of course, the reason you’re actually embarking on the taxing trek in the first place: the breathtaking view of Upper Yosemite Fall.
4. LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS TRAIL
Short, flat and easy, Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is a 1-mile loop that’s suitable for pretty much anyone. Visitors of all ages will love the leisurely walk to the base of the cascades, stand on the footbridge and glance up at its gushing glory. Start at Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead. (It’s shuttle stop #6, for those taking the park transport.) Follow the paved trail until you reach the falls. The entire hike will take you about 30 minutes. Just a heads up that due to its accessibility, Lower Yosemite Fall continues to be one of the busiest trails in Yosemite and spring is the peak time to go. Arrive early and prepare to contend with crowds.
5. VERNAL AND NEVADA FALLS VIA THE MIST TRAIL
What’s in store for hikers attempting to tackle the difficult, 7.2-mile Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail? After the initial paved part, the crowds thin out as the trail gets exceedingly more arduous. Dig deep and keep going on the almost entirely uphill path. Climb up the steep, Mother Nature-made granite staircase with over 600 steps. Watch your footing on the slick footbridge. So what motivates people to attempt such a herculean feat? Showstopping, front-row views of two giant, powerful cascades. With any luck, a rainbow might even appear in the spray. The chance to see the resplendent riverfront scenery and numerous geologic wonders sweetens the deal.
6. SENTINEL DOME TRAIL
Sentinel Dome Trail is a great introduction to Yosemite hiking. Rated as easy—meaning it’s very doable for all skill levels—this 2.1-mile, well-marked, heavily trafficked out-and-back route offers colorful wildflowers and 360-degree visibility from the flat rock plateau at the top. It has just a bit of altitude and some scrambling towards the end, giving hikers a workout and a sense of accomplishment without leaving your legs feeling like jelly for the rest of the trip. Pro tip: If you plan on staying for sunset, make sure you bring a headlamp or flashlight for the way down.
7. GLACIER POINT TRAIL
Overdid it on the previous days of outdoor adventure and need something way less taxing? Perhaps, you’re just interested in a lovely, easy hike that the whole family will enjoy and has some pretty photo ops? Maybe it’s your last day and you want to see something else really beautiful before leaving. Set your sights on the Glacier Point Trail. It’s super quick—just a little over a 1-mile round trip—and features unparalleled views that might even make you question why you’d ever do a more difficult trek (oh right, because hiking isn’t about the destination but rather the journey). Anyway, if the promise of eye-popping scenery and sunsets too sensational to put into words aren’t enough to convince you to hit the Glacier Point Trail, well, we give up.
8. TAFT POINT
Clocking in at 2.2 miles round trip, rated as easy (though, we’d suggest taking that classification with a grain of salt as you’re not skating by without putting in some effort) and with a close-up look at The Fissures and glorious vistas of the valley all the way to El Capitan, it’s sort of a no brainer to add Taft Point to your inaugural Yosemite itinerary. (The one exception would be if you’re traveling with small children as it’s not recommended for little tykes.) It’s also a must to use caution at the top as there aren’t guardrails. Stand back! This is not the place to get brazen with a selfie stick.
9. MIRROR LAKE TRAIL
For a quintessentially Yosemite adventure that won’t leave you entirely drained, consider Mirror Lake Trail. It's 2 miles round trip to the lake and back. If you have more gas left in the tank, loop around the lake for the pleasant full 5-mile journey. Whether you choose to ramp up the step count or not, this hike provides the unique perspective of looking up at Half Dome directly from its base. (Basically, you get an eye full of the park’s signature granite walls.) Not to be overshadowed are the views of Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins and Washington Column.
10. CATHEDRAL LAKES
Cathedral Lakes covers a lot of ground—8 miles round trip to be exact—but it’s not back-breaking or, more accurately as in the case of hiking, glute-busting work. While you’ll come up against two steep-ish inclines and about 800 feet of elevation gain. Besides being a bit out of breath it’s pretty manageable. Without the attitude, you wouldn’t be able to witness such a stunning high alpine landscape. Both placid and pristine lakes are nothing short of magical. And if you need some sustenance before continuing on, Lower Cathedral Lake is a peaceful spot for a picnic lunch.