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10 Breathtaking Hikes in Yosemite to Reconnect with Nature

10 Breathtaking Hikes in Yosemite to Reconnect with Nature

Yosemite is one of California’s most famous national parks, adored by hikers of all levels. Yosemite hiking trails are never dull, with many natural slights like waterfalls, deep valleys, and granite rocks all around. Moreover, Yosemite is home to the iconic giant sequoia trees that are believed to be about 3,000 years old, which are truly a sight to behold.

At almost 1,200 square miles, Yosemite National Park boasts many incredible hiking trails. Whether you’re a beginner or an experienced trekker, you’ll love exploring this vast nature reserve. Here are the 10 best hikes in Yosemite, from easy to moderate (plus one challenge)! While hiking is just one popular activity in this national park, don’t miss out on all of the other things to do in Yosemite too!

Best Trails in Yosemite National Park

The following list of top hikes in Yosemite contains trails from 30 minutes to 6 hours and 1km to 12km. 

Hold-up: I’ve got a number of guides for visiting Yosemite and more California travel inspiration to help make your trip extra awesome, with these below being the not-to-miss/need-to-know details.

Lower Yosemite Falls

  • Length: 1.9 km (1 mile)
  • Duration: 30 – 60 minutes
  • Difficulty: Very easy
  • Elevation gain: Minimal

Starting with the shortest and most effortless (but still with incredible views, of course), Lower Yosemite Falls is accessible for everyone. Despite being just one mile in total, this short trail takes you close to the beautiful falls, giving you an incredible view with minimal effort required. Plus, the whole course is along a flat, paved track, so it is an excellent option if you’re exploring the national park with small children. 

The best time to visit the Lower Yosemite Falls is in the spring when the falls are more likely to have water. Moreover, hiking here in the dry season may be a little disappointing, so if you’re in Yosemite during the summer, check out some of the following trails instead. 

Grizzly Giant Loop Trail

  • Length: 3.5 km (2 miles)
  • Duration: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 90m (300ft)

The Grizzly Giant Loop Trail is one of the best hikes in Yosemite for seeing the ancient trees up close. This forest trail is a 2-mile loop that starts at Mariposa Grove Arrival Area, near Fish Lake. It’s an easy and relatively flat route that features the most famous giant sequoia trees like The Bachelor and Three Graces, Grizzly Giant, and the California Tunnel Tree.

Taft Point and The Fissures

  • Length: 3.7 km (2.2 miles)
  • Duration: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 114m (374ft)

Taft Point is one of the most beautiful hikes in Yosemite as the trail leads to a stunning, photogenic view. The track itself is not too exciting, however, as it is short and mostly flat, it makes for a gentle nature walk to a great perspective of El Capitan and the valley. This trail is best to visit between ​​March and October, and the view is most spectacular at sunset when there is a golden glow over the valley.

Artist Point

  • Length: 3.5 km (2 miles)
  • Duration: 60 – 90 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 150m (500ft)

The short 2-mile Artist Point trail is one of the more easy hikes in Yosemite. It is away from the crowds at Tunnel View but gives just as beautiful views of Yosemite Valley. However, as it’s such a hidden gem, it can be a little tricky to find the trailhead. 

Park at the Tunnel View parking lot, then follow the Pohono Trail, a small path in the southeast part of the lot. From here, after several switchbacks, turn left onto the old stagecoach road and follow it until you reach the clearing with a large boulder and a marvelous view.

Sentinal Meadow/Cook’s Meadow Loop

  • Length: 3.6 km (2.3 miles)
  • Duration: 45 – 60 minutes
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: Minimal

Sentinel Meadow/Cook’s Meadow Loop is another of the top short hikes in Yosemite with minimal elevation. It’s favoured among botanical lovers as the meadows you pass through are full of wildflowers. 

The looped route passes around the Swinging Bridge and back again, offering some beautiful views along the way. I recommend visiting during late spring or early summer when the flowers are in full bloom. You can also combine it with the ​​Lower Yosemite Falls trail. You’ll find the trailhead at the Lower Yosemite Falls shuttle stop.

Gaylor Lakes

  • Length: 5 km (3 miles)
  • Duration: 1 – 2 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation gain: 297m (975ft)

This 5km round trip starts at Yosemite Entrance Gate East and takes you around the beautiful lakes and up to Gaylor Peak. You won’t find any crowds on this route; in fact, it’s so quiet here, you’ll forget you are in Yosemite. This, along with the tranquillity of the vast waters, makes it one of the best hikes in Yosemite valley for a relaxing afternoon walk. 

The first part of the trail is the steepest, but you soon come to sweeping views of Dana Meadows and to the mountain backdrop. At the highest point, you’ll see the mountains of east Yosemite and a unique perspective of all five lakes in the valley below. 

Mirror Lake & Tenaya Canyon

  • Length: 7.75 km (4.8 miles)
  • Duration: 2 – 3 hours
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Elevation gain: 30m (100ft)

Mirror Lake is one of the most popular attractions in Yosemite National Park and for good reason. The lake gives a unique mirror-like effect, creating a beautiful reflection of the tall trees around it and the base of Half Dome. For this reason, the trail can get crowded in the summer, so I recommend going during quieter months or early in the morning. 

Mirror Lake & Tenaya Canyon is not the shortest hike. Still, there isn’t much elevation gain, so it is a gentle, peaceful stroll. However, there is an option to skip the canyon and just hike to the lake and back, making the trail half the length at 3.8 km.

Dog Lakes & Lembert Dome Trail

  • Length: 8 km (5 miles)
  • Duration: 3 – 3.5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 279m (914ft)

This 5-mile scenic lake trail features panoramic views of Tuolumne Meadows and the mountain backdrop. It is a lesser-known route, so it is not too crowded. It’s one of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park to spend a relaxing afternoon and maybe even enjoy a picnic lunch. 

The route begins with an incline hiking to the top of the dome, but from here onwards, the trail is relatively gentle. Plus, on the way back down, you can take a dip in the lake to cool off. 

Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail & John Muir Trail

  • Length: 11.6 km (7.2 miles)
  • Duration: 3.5 – 5 hours
  • Difficulty: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 676m (2217ft)

This trail to Nevada Falls is relevantly crowd-free, so it is one of the best hiking trails in Yosemite for anyone looking for peace and quiet. However, at over 7 miles, you’ll need an entire morning or afternoon to complete it. Furthermore, there is a fair amount of elevation gain so take plenty of water. 

Although it is a challenge, this hike is totally worth it as the perspective from the summit is terrific. Begin at Happy Isles and take the Mist Trail to the top of the Nevada Falls. Then switch to the John Muir trail, walking along the cliffside before descending back down. 

Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

  • Length: 12.2km (7.5 miles)
  • Duration: 4 – 6 hours
  • Difficulty: Hard
  • Elevation gain: 918m (3010ft)

This is one of the most demanding trails in Yosemite but also one of the most rewarding. For experienced hikers, this is one of the must-do hikes in Yosemite, but you will need the whole day for it. I included this hike as it’s one of the most favoured, and overall best day hikes in Yosemite. However, I recommend the Lower Yosemite Falls as a more accessible alternative if you’re new to hiking.

As it’s a steep, strenuous hike, take plenty of water and stop for regular breaks. Start early in the morning, too, so you’re not doing the incline during the hottest part of the day. The view from the top is mindblowing all year round. However, it is best during the spring when there is water in the falls.

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