Hiking is very popular in Yosemite National Park as you’ll have over 800 miles of scenic trails to choose from. Great for exploring the American wilderness, these well-maintained paths pass through oak and pine forests, alpine lakes, and iconic lookouts. Maps and trail guides are available at any of the concessions in Yosemite Village.

    While most of the trails are open year-round, some can only be tackled in the summer to ensure your safety. However, you’ll still find plenty of challenging routes taking you to steep cliff edges and roaring rapids. Check out our guide to the best hiking trails in Yosemite National Park.

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    Half Dome day hike, Yosemite National Park

    Stand triumphant at the summit and enjoy spectacular views

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    Having conquered the Half Dome day hike at Yosemite National Park, you’ll have one of the most famous, most challenging, and yet most memorable hikes under your belt. Half Dome itself is one of the most striking features on Yosemite’s landscape, towering about 5,000 ft above the valley. This view has been heavily featured on film and canvas.

    The day hike is a 15-mile roundtrip, best started out at sunrise. Your journey to the granite giant will be complemented by soothing nature sights, such as the Vernal and Nevada Falls, along with Liberty Cap, another standout formation. Reaching Half Dome, the real thrill begins with the climb up the cables, 400 ft below the summit. All your effort is paid off once you scramble to the top, with the panorama of the valley and the High Sierra to enjoy.

    Location: Happy Isle Loop Rd, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, USA

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    Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park

    Climb the steps by thundering falls

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    The Mist Trail is one of Yosemite’s most popular hikes, just south of the famous and challenging Half Dome Trail. This hike can be as short or as long as you please, depending on your call to adventure. It’s preferred by many who’d rather take a shorter trek, while others can follow on further as it leads to the iconic Half Dome rock.

    Follow the rushing Merced River with its giant boulders rising from the water. The trail is roughly a 3-mile roundtrip to Vernal Falls, one of the waterfalls in the area that blanket the trail with mists, hence its name. Pause the steps below the 317-ft-high Vernal Falls and catch a magical rainbow, then climb to the top and find the small and shallow yet tranquil Emerald Pool as a reward.

    Location: Mist Trail, California 95389, USA

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    3

    Yosemite Falls Trail

    A scenic trail dating back to the 1800s

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    The Yosemite Falls Trail takes you to the top of one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the USA. Built between 1873 and 1877, the 7.2-mile roundtrip starts near Camp 4 in Yosemite National Park, passing through oak woodland and gaining 2,600 ft in elevation.

    Make sure to stay on the maintained path, which has railings to keep you steady as you pass by exposed plateaus. Once you reach the top, you’ll be greeted with elevated views of Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley. Continue hiking for another mile to reach Yosemite Point, which overlooks the iconic Half Dome and Eagle Peak.

    Location: Yosemite Falls Trail, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389, USA

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    4

    John Muir Trail

    Hike over 200 miles in the Sierra Nevada

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    The John Muir Trail is one of the longest hiking routes in California, spanning several national parks within the Sierra Nevada mountain range. You can choose to hike the entire 211-mile-long trail, which starts at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. If you're planning a day hike, some routes lead to landmarks such as Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, and Trissider Peak.

    The long-distance trail journey takes you to granite summits ranging between 13,000 and 14,000 ft above sea level, passing through the Kings Canyon, Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. Note that a wilderness permit is required if you’re planning to tackle the John Muir Trail.

    Location: Sierra High Rte, Lakeshore, CA 93634, USA

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    Taft Point

    A short hike with commanding views of El Capitan

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    Taft Point, spanning only 2.2 miles roundtrip, makes for a rather easy yet excellent hike in the summer. The trailhead is about 13.6 miles from Glacier Point Road, with an elevation gain of around 250 ft. You’ll pass by a pine forest and a unique geological formation called The Fissures – deep gashes in granite descending hundreds of feet into the valley below.

    Taft Point offers panoramic views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. There aren't any guardrails, which lets you walk right up to the cliff's edge – be extra cautious as the drop-off is very steep. Note that you can only hike to Taft Point when Glacier Point Road is open, usually between June and October.

    Location: Yosemite Village, CA 95389, USA

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    6

    Chilnualna Falls Trail

    A 6-tiered cascade offering dramatic views

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    The Chilnualna Falls Trail is an 8.4-mile roundtrip hike to its namesake waterfall in Yosemite National Park. With an elevation gain of around 2,300 ft, it can get rather challenging in the summer so it’s best to visit in spring when the waterfall is at its peak flow.

    Along the way, you’ll tackle several challenging switchbacks, passing by several smaller cascades and a series of pools. The upper falls are around 240 ft high, which makes for a dramatic view with the water rushing into Chilnualna Creek.

    Location: Yosemite National Park, 8154 N Chilnualna Falls Rd, Wawona, CA 95389, USA

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    photo by Antandrus (CC BY-SA 3.0) modified

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    Cloud’s Rest

    An overlook with excellent views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley

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    Cloud’s Rest is accessible via several trails, with the shortest spanning around 12.5 miles roundtrip. The Sunrise Lakes Trailhead is located near Tenaya Lake, about 18 miles from Yosemite’s east entrance. The rather challenging hike includes a series of switchbacks with around 1,000 ft of elevation gain. You’ll also need to climb Clouds Rest itself, which reaches 9,930 ft above sea level.

    There’s a viewing platform on the mountain’s summit, offering expansive views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, and Sentinel Dome. An alternative trail to Cloud’s Rest starts at Happy Isles, covering 20 miles roundtrip with around 6,000 ft of elevation gain.

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    Panorama Trail

    Great for exploring lesser-known falls in Yosemite

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    The Panorama Trail is an 8.5-mile route bookended by Glacier Point and Happy Isles in Yosemite National Park. The best time to tackle this scenic trail is in spring or early summer, as you’ll pass by several waterfalls during your journey.

    The trail at Glacier Point offers views of the iconic Half Dome, as you descend 3,200 ft to Yosemite Valley. A must-see is the 380-ft Illilouette Falls, which occupies a small canyon on the valley’s south wall. You’ll then reach Nevada Fall via a steep stone staircase, followed by Vernal Falls just a few minutes later.

    Location: Glacier Point Rd, Yosemite Village, CA 95389, USA

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    9

    Cathedral Lakes

    Visit 2 beautiful High Sierra lakes on a single hike

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    Cathedral Lakes are 2 alpine lakes in Yosemite National Park that you can visit via a trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows. Part of the long-distance John Muir Trail, it takes about 8 miles roundtrip to reach both lakes.

    The 1st mile can be challenging due to the 1,000 ft elevation gain, but the rest of the journey takes you past a lodgepole pine forest and lush meadows. The Lower or Upper Cathedral Lakes are surrounded by Cathedral, Echo and Tresidder Peaks, all of which over 1,000 ft. Note that the trailhead is on the Tioga Road, which is only open from June through October.

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    10

    Sentinel Dome Trail

    A summertime hiking trail in Yosemite National Park

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    The Sentinel Dome Trail is one of the shortest hikes in Yosemite, so you don’t have to tire yourself out to enjoy spectacular views. It’s about a 2.2-mile roundtrip, with the trailhead located 3,500 feet above Yosemite Valley, just off the Glacier Point Road.

    Once you reach the top of Sentinel Dome, expect panoramic views of prominent Yosemite landmarks such as El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Clouds Rest. You might be able to see Mount Diablo on clear days. You can only hike the Sentinel Dome Trail when the Glacier Point Road is open, usually between June and October.

    Location: Yosemite Village, CA 95389, USA

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    11

    Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River

    A combination of waterfalls, rapids and alpine forests

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    You can get to the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River via a 50-mile loop route that starts on the Glen Aulin Trailhead at Tuolumne Meadows. The trail descends 3,500 feet on rather steep switchbacks, so sturdy and grippy shoes are highly recommended.

    You’ll pass by many dramatic waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River, including White Cascade Falls, Tuolumne Falls, and California Falls. A must-see is Waterwheel Falls, where you can see water continually propelled into the air, which looks like a counter-clockwise wheel.

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    12

    Mono Pass

    A moderate trail offering views of Mono Lake

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    The trail to Mono Pass covers the Sierras' eastern and western slopes, allowing you to see different ecosystems. It's an 8-mile roundtrip that starts at Tioga Road, around 1.4 miles south of Yosemite National Park’s entrance.

    It's a good idea to get acclimatised to the altitude, which starts at 9,700 ft and climbs up to 10,600 ft. Along the way, you’ll pass depilated 19th-century cabins and cross 3 streams before reaching Mono Pass. The mountain pass has a shelf offering dramatic views of Upper Sardine and Mono Lakes. You can continue your hike to find yourself in Bloody Canyon and the eastern Sierras.

    Location: Wawona, CA 95389, USA

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    Penny Wong | Compulsive Traveller

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