Hike the very best trails in one of the most famous—and most popular—natural reserves of undeveloped land in the world: Yosemite National Park.Less
"First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, and much more,” writes the National Park Service. In addition, Yosemite is internationally famous for the towering granite cliffs that provide some of the very best rock climbing in the world. Even if you don’t rock climb, the views of the cliffs are absolutely incredible!
A truly spectacular peak, Half Dome is rightly revered as one Yosemite's great landmarks. It is an attainable (but still tough) hike with a famous section of cables close to the summit. The hike is 14-16 miles long (depending on exactly how you do it) and gains 4800 feet in that time. Most hikers take 10 - 12 hours to complete the roundtrip having started at sunrise.
Yosemite Falls, a series of three cascades that are collectively 2,425 feet tall, is North America’s tallest waterfall. Because they are so tall, and because the middle section is recessed into the cliff, it is impossible to see the whole thing in one view. The best way to experience the entire waterfall is to hike the Yosemite Falls Trail to the very top. This is a strenuous hike with many switchbacks, but it is the only way to reach the view at the lip of Upper Yosemite Fall.
In Yosemite National Park, the high country of Tuolumne Meadows and the legendary rock walls of Yosemite Valley may seem a world apart. Studying a map reveals they are not really so far from one another, however. The Meadows actually form the headwaters of the river that flows through the Valley. They are separated by several miles and a several thousand feet of terrain, but trails make it possible to link these two realms on foot.
Bridalveil is the most accessible of Yosemite National Park’s many iconic waterfalls. It is likely the first one you’ll notice when driving into the park because it’s close to the road near the entrance to the valley. Bridal Veil is 620 feet tall and flows year round, in a thundering column in May and June, and in a wispy spray during drier months. Winter brings a backsplash of ice on the cliff behind it.
The John Muir Trail follows the crest of the Sierra Nevada through the most impressive stretch of this extensive range. The trail is named for the legendary 19th-century naturalist John Muir, who helped explore this formerly trackless wilderness and raised a resounding voice for its conservation. Beginning in Yosemite National Park and finishing on Mount Whitney, the 210-mile thru-hike is revered for epic scenery and sublime solitude among alpine peaks and basins that are hard to reach any other
North Dome is one of Yosemite’s lesser-known but more spectacular viewpoints. It is a granite dome perched on the north rim of the Valley that stares directly across at the vertical face of Half Dome. The hike is not especially long or difficult, but begins from a rather nondescript trailhead along Tioga Road, that for some reason does not receive the same attention as other trails in the area.
From the Taft Point/Sentinel Dome Trailhead, hike first through forest and fields, then emerge suddenly at a jaw-dropping perch on a clifftop. At Taft Point, the precipice tumbles 1,000 feet straight down to the floor of Yosemite Valley, and the wide-open panorama includes El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and the Merced River.
Clouds Rest is a large granite dome on the rim of Yosemite Valley, and its summit grants one of the best views in the entire park. It is guarded by an arduous hike, but the rewards are certainly no secret. This trail remains popular as a day hike despite its difficulty and vertigo-inducing exposure on the dome’s sloping spine. There are multiple ways to reach Clouds Rest, but this route from Tioga Road is the easiest and most direct.
This astonishingly-scenic loop features two impressive waterfalls on the Merced River, and offers different options for distance and difficulty. The full hike mapped here is to the top of Nevada Fall via the Mist Trail and back via the John Muir Trail, but shorter variations are available as well.