Must Do Yosemite Hikes
August 28, 2023 9:55 PM   Subscribe

I’m seeking recommended Yosemite day hikes by difficulty. What do you think we should absolutely consider?

Seeking to plan out day hikes and have options based on your experience. We put in for Half Dome and were lucky enough to get picked. Knowing difficulty levels of the hikes you recommend would be very helpful. Please mark the hikes as Easy, Moderate Hard, Strenuous and/or must see!
posted by glaucon to Travel & Transportation around Sydney, Australia (7 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
You won't go wrong with any of them, though the Upper Yosemite Falls trail to Yosemite Point is definitely one of the marquee day hikes, with some of the best views in the park. I did it in springtime so the weather was mild and the waterfall was at peak flow. Starting from the Lower Falls trailhead it took about 6 hours for the 9.5mi / 15km round trip distance — including stoppage time for photos — but I'm a fairly fast hiker. You can shave about a mile off that if you start at the trailhead near Camp 4.

The trail is busy in the lower section up to Columbia Rock, which is as far as a lot of people go. Further along are the best views, with Half Dome looming across the valley and Upper Yosemite Falls cascading in the foreground (unless it's late season or a dry year, when it can be greatly diminished). Standing at the brink of the falls and seeing them drop a half mile down below you is exhilarating. You can turn around there but I'd recommend going all the way to Yosemite Point for even better views of the valley. There are a couple of vistas along the trail where you can see every major waterfall in the valley at once.

After having a big breakfast, I was fine with a snack and 2 liters of water for the hike. If it's warmer weather or if you'll spend a longer time on the trail you'd want to bring more than that. In terms of difficulty, most of the trail is pretty relentlessly uphill (total elevation gain to Yosemite Point is about 3700ft / 1125m) with lots of switchbacks, but I wouldn't say it's super strenuous if you're in decent shape. Call it moderately hard. If you're doing Half Dome as a day hike you should be able to manage Yosemite Point.
posted by theory at 1:22 AM on August 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

The Panorama Trail, one way 'down hill' (there's still plenty of uphill), was one of the best of my life. Enough work to satisfy but not too challenging, huge payoff in views! I'd say moderate and must see.
posted by SaltySalticid at 4:40 AM on August 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Valley hikes page, with difficulties. Profiles for the more strenuous hikes.

When are you going? Traffic in the valley can be unbearable during peak season, and tends to dictate what you can and can't do with the time you have. Unless you're staying in the Valley itself (like at the Ahwahnee or one of the campgrounds).

Park Conditions page; currently there are maintenance closures on the upper part of the Mist Trail (the granite stairs to the top of the falls), and the Bridalveil trail is closed "until Fall 2023."

The one hike I always do with people new to the park is the Mist Trail at least up to the Vernal Falls footbridge (just before the Mist and Muir trails diverge). I tend to think of it as on the easier side of moderate, at least that far; and I'm not in great shape. Here's a bit more on the trail and the options to loop it.
posted by snuffleupagus at 5:54 AM on August 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: My favorite hike in the valley is strenuous but super beautiful. It starts by going up the Mist Trail and then connects to the Panorama trail. So you hike from Nevada Falls down to the Illilouette River and then a long uphill to Glacier Point. This is a great break spot to take photos and people watch, and then you descend the 4-Mile Trail to the valley floor.

It's not a perfect loop so you'll have to get yourself from camp to trailhead and back again. I stay at Camp 4 and take the shuttle to the Happy Isles trailhead in the morning and then in the evening just walk across the valley from the 4-Mile trailhead back to Camp 4. I suppose you could reverse course (4-mile to Glacier to Mist Trail) but I'm in love with the late afternoon light while coming back down into the valley on the 4-Mile trail.

Start early and bring lots of water (and a filter) and food. It's roundabout 12 miles and you'll deserve a cold beverage at the end. Here's a random trail report.
posted by scrubjay at 9:55 AM on August 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

The Mist Trail is a must-do. It's so beautiful. It's... medium? I've done it as a kid and as a fat pregnant lady, so it can't be that bad, although I wouldn't call it easy.

Most of the way you're climbing in the spray of the falls so it keeps you cool despite the climb, and then you reach the top and look down and the scene just has to be seen to be believed, the rainbows of the falls over the greenery and the rocks, you want there to be unicorns frolicking around on it just to complete the picture. It's wonderful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 12:45 PM on August 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

You'll pick up the recommendations of just about everyone here on your Half Dome Hike - most people that do it as a day hike take the Mist/Muir Trail, so if that's your route you'll pass the bridge at the base of Vernal falls, Nevada Falls, Little Yosemite Valley, etc on your way up the Giant Staircase.

If you have the ability to get out of the Valley, Lembert Dome near Tuolumne Meadows is pretty quick and not too difficult, but uphill all the way at a much higher elevation than the Valley floor. Good view from the top of the Yosemite backcountry.

I don't know if I'd call it "essential" but Mono Pass from near the Tioga Pass park entrance is neat - long gradual uphill hike to above treeline where there are a couple small lakes at the crest of the pass.

You could maybe get down to some of the falls on the Tuolumne River and back in a day hike, but it might be a stretch. Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin is about 6 miles, and Waterwheel and California falls are a bit further than that. Mostly flat and easy until just before Glen Aulin on the way out though.
posted by LionIndex at 2:10 PM on August 29, 2023 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The whole Eastern Sierra is underrated; but most people access the park from the west side. If you are coming in from Lee Vining via Tioga, or can exit that way, let us know. As there is stuff you shouldn't miss.

If you wanted the to make the absolute most of the trip, I'd stay a day or two on the west side before entering (like in Wawona) and do stuff outside the valley floor, then stay in the valley for a night or two, and then depart to the East and stay in Mammoth for as long as you feel like exploring that side. (Mono, Bodie, Lundy Lakes, Virginia Lakes, Mammoth Lakes & Reds Meadow, and most impressively, Rock Creek & Little Lakes Valley. And more...)

I haven't checked the prices at the Ahwahnee in a long time, I'm sure they're ugly, but it really is a special place if you can afford it. Even if not staying set aside a couple hours to hang out there, imo.

(You can take the obligatory The Shining pic in the grand room. The dining room around the corner is overrpriced, but it's a memorable setting. Or if the bar is open, they serve the grand room and the patios. Which tend to get some half-tame wildlife to view.)
posted by snuffleupagus at 2:35 PM on August 29, 2023 [2 favorites]

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