Hiking in Yosemite: The Best Reason to Visit this National Park

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Yosemite National Park is known for many things. It is one of the USA’s most beautiful national parks. But the one thing that excites me most about Yosemite is the amazing hiking that you can enjoy here. 

Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful parks in California. There are so many amazing reasons to visit this spectacular park. The park offers exciting things to do, including some of the best hiking in the region. 

A visit to Yosemite National Park is the perfect escape into nature

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What to Know About Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is yet another gem of the United States that attracts millions of tourists. Let me tell you, with its stunning landscapes, it isn’t just a national park but a world of its own. Spread across 1,200 square miles, this spectacular park has so much to offer.

From massive waterfalls, meadows and valleys to thousand-year-old sequoia trees, mountains and unique wildlife, this is not a place to be missed. This park should be a stop on every Californa road trip.

While Hiking in Yosemite National Park you will find yourself face to face with serene beauty

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The park is a perfect destination to spend time with friends and family and make new and wonderful memories. You won’t be bored with all the great outdoor activities you can try here. Take an adventure in Yosemite National Park and try out some epic hiking, mountain biking and climbing.

Be prepared for some amazing instagrammable pictures!

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Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park 

Shoulder Seasons 

In my opinion, this is the best time to visit Yosemite. The shoulder seasons are the months of fall and spring. These are less crowded and the temperatures are perfect to spend days in the park. Also, the Spring boasts waterfalls at peak and the Fall brags gorgeous oak trees, maples, and dogwoods. You don’t want to miss out on hiking in Yosemite during these seasons as you will find gorgeous scenery and great weather. 

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Visit Yosemite in Winter

Yosemite National Park in winter is wonderful but not all areas of the park are accessible

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Winter is the least popular month in the Yosemite as it is cold and snowy most of the time. Many trails and roads are closed. Nevertheless, the park is still open and worth it. you can still enjoy some beautiful views of the park and get in some brilliant hiking on the valley trails, weather depending though. 

Visit Yosemite in Summer 

Although California has warm temperatures almost all through the year, Yosemite’s location in the mountains makes the seasons more intense. That is why summer is the most popular (and most crowded) season. The crowds often result in long lines and traffic jams around the park. In my personal opinion, although summer is a great time to visit the park, the crowds take away the beauty of the experience. 

I would honestly do anything to avoid the crowds so my favourite time to visit Yosemite is during the shoulder months. 

Hiking in Yosemite National Park 

As you can imagine, in a national park such as Yosemite there is an extensive network of hiking trails for you to explore. But on a short trip where you want to experience the best hiking, here are some great options to help you narrow down the best and most popular hikes in the park.

Glacier Point 

Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park offers one of the best viewpoints in the park

A 7214-foot uphill, Glacier Point is an iconic hike that offers panoramic views of not just Yosemite Valley, but Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country which looks unreal from this point.

You will also get clear views of mighty Mt. Florence and Mt. Clark. Honestly, it is a difficult climb to Glacier Point but it is accessible through roadways. If you can, be sure to try making it up to Glacier Point at sunrise and sunset. The views are unrivaled.

Top Tip: the Glacier Point is usually open from May to October. 

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Tenaya Lake 

Here you can park your car and sit back and relax or enjoy scenic hiking trails from the serene Tenaya Lake. It is a roadside lake and is the largest lake in Yosemite. Also known as Pieweack (Lake of the Shining Rocks), it is famous for sailing, canoeing, kayaking, and other water games.

It is a popular picnic area with two spots to choose from. There are a few easy hikes from here up to Tenaya Creek, Cathedral Lakes, Clouds Rest, Half Dome, and the Yosemite Valley floor. If you are feeling extra adventurous, you can even go further to Tenaya Canyon.

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Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

There’s no better place than Yosemite National Park to experience nature first-hand. From the stunning beauty of the giant sequoias to the awe-inspiring power of the mighty Yosemite Falls, there’s plenty to explore and appreciate in the park. The Yosemite Falls Trail is just one of many trails throughout the park.

There are so many things to love about Yosemite National Park. One of my favorites is the stunning view of Yosemite Falls. I’ve been lucky enough to experience this popular hiking trail when hiking in the park. When you reach the top of the valley, there are two options: either head straight to the overlook below Upper Yosemite Falls or continue past the overlook to Yosemite Point. Both spots offer fantastic views of the valley, but I recommend taking the extra steps to see the Upper Falls first.

Valley Loop Trail

Hiking the Half Dome Trail is one of the most popular activities in Yosemite National Park. It’s a strenuous hike. It is a 5-mile round-trip hike that climbs up to the top of the iconic dome. The trailhead begins at the Lower Yosemite Falls parking lot. It is a 1.5-mile walk from the parking lot to the trailhead. The trail itself is paved and has steps carved into the side of the mountain.

There are several switchbacks to navigate before reaching the summit. Once atop the dome, hikers have views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Mount Watkins, and more. Visitors who wish to see the view from below should start their trek at Mirror Lake instead.

However, those looking to complete the entire hike may start their journey from the Upper Yosemite Fall Parking Lot. Starting from this lower location means that visitors must climb over 10 miles of elevation to reach the summit.

Panorama Trail

This is a favorite moderate hike of mine. Hiking this beautiful trail makes you appreciate the unique beauty of Yosemite National Park. This all-day hike is 10 miles long.

The not-so-challenging hike’s two ends of this trail are Glacier Point and Mist Trail which include two of the most spectacular gems of Yosemite, the Panorama Point, and the Illilouette Falls.

Though the trail is mostly downhill and just 700 feet uphill, it can be a moderately to slightly difficult hike. But the views are worth the effort and a great backpacking trail too.

Both Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls will greet you on your way. As the name suggests, you will see all the worthwhile panoramic views from the spectacular hike.

Cathedral Lakes Trail

Most hikes start from the Tuolumne Meadows area. These hikes include hikes such as the Panoramic Point hike, which starts from Tuolumne Meadows. The trail to Lower and Upper Cathedral Lake is part of the John Muir Trail in the Tioga Road area.

Located at 8500 ft of elevation gain, this beautiful body of water has been named after the cathedral-like cliffs that surround it. These cliffs rise more than 1,200 feet above the lake and form part of the massive El Capitan formation.

To start hiking, head west from the parking lot towards the river. There are two trails heading north along the river. Take either one and you will also see awesome views of Cathedral Peak. They eventually lead to the Merced River Trailhead at the end of the road. From there, you can continue hiking up toward El Capitan Meadow. Alternatively, you could simply turn around and return to the parking area via the same path.

There are many different hikes that start from there. Some of these hikes end up taking quite some time. For example, the Half Dome hike can last anywhere between 3 hours to 6 hours. So, there are plenty of options available for hiking enthusiasts out there.

Lower Mariposa Grove 

Some Sequoia trees are tunnel trees. These are one of the most popular reasons to visit Yosemite National Park

The largest grove in Yosemite National Park, Mariposa Grove is a major tourist attraction in Yosemite Mariposa County. It is where you will get to see Yosemite’s famous giant sequoia trees. These sequoia trees are ancient. By “ancient”, I mean at least 20 centuries old. These are some of the oldest trees in the world.

Among this family of 500 magnificent sequoias, the major attractions are “Grizzly Giant,” “Faithful Couple,” and the “Wawona Tunnel Tree/ Fallen Tunnel Tree.” A grizzly giant is a tunnel tree. This is an amazing spot if you are looking for great travel photographs.

You can hike uphill easily. However, trekking beyond the Grizzly Giant becomes a little tough with 1000 feet of elevation. On your way, you will come across Faithful Couple (two sequoias intertwined as one) and Clothespin Tree (a sequoia that looks like a clothespin). Continue for a few more miles to reach Wawona Point, the final destination on your hike.

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Sentinel Dome Trail

This is a short, easy and beautiful hike that takes you to a stunning view of the entire Yosemite Valley. Sentinel Dome is best enjoyed during sunset, making it one of the popular trails here. The beautiful glaze of the setting sun that blankets Yosemite Valley, is the best thing about this hiking trail.

Another great thing about this hiking trail is that Sentinel Dome is that it is rarely crowded, making it one of my favorite hikes. Plus, it is less than 500 feet of elevation gain. However, it is hard to access during winter because Glacier Point Road (the track taken for Sentinel Dome) is closed in that season.

View alarge part of Yosemite from Half Dome. This is a an easy hiking trail that is relatively easy.

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Half Dome is yet another granite-formed Dome lying in the Eastern part of Yosemite National Park. It is a long 17 miles hike that takes one day to complete. Hiking the Half Dome requires a permit so make sure to come prepared. This hiking trail is reinforced in some places by steel cables and planks that ake the way easier and safer. 

I wouldn’t recommend this for beginner hikers though as this hike does get technical and requires some planning. You don’t want to take this trail if you are unprepared. But, if you are experienced and confident to trek uphill without getting stuck, go ahead and enjoy the serenity of the scenic landscape from a bird’s view. 

Wawona Meadow

Most hikes require some form of preparation before heading out into nature but not with Wawona Meadow Loop Trail. This quarter-mile loop trail offers a relatively easy experience for day hikers. It’s a fairly short walk through a pleasant lush forest area. Most of the trail is beneath trees so it’s not hot during the summer. If you have limited time, consider starting here before heading off into more strenuous terrain.

The Wawona Meadow Loop Trail has one of the most sweeping views in Yosemite National Park. It’s a short stroll through beautiful scenery, and there’s always plenty to see along the way. For example, I love watching the many birds flitting about in the trees. And, the meadows make a wonderful place to relax and enjoy the awesome view. 

Taft Point

Taft Point is a 2.2-mile hike. It is a relatively easy hike to a point high enough to have a complete view of Yosemite Valley. You will also be able to see Nevada falls, the sequoias, and Vernal falls from Taft Point. It is another great reason to visit Yosemite National Park. 

It’s important to know that there is no railing at some places during the hike to Taft Point. So make sure to be careful where you step and return to the starting point before it gets too dark. While Taft Point is open for only a few months of the year and is inaccessible during the winter, this place is best enjoyed during the fall and spring when the colours of the valley are in full bloom.

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What you Need to Know Before Hiking in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is a beautiful place to enjoy some time with mother nature and get your mind off everything else. It is also home to the 5th tallest waterfall in the world – Yosemite Falls. However, before going hiking in Yosemite National Park, make sure to be prepared so that you can make the best of your visit.

  • Carry a first aid box with you. This is a rule of thumb for any hiking that you may do, wherever you are.  
  • Keep a few Magnesium and iodine pills on hand. These can help you with cramps and fungal infections respectively.
  • Make sure to drink plenty of water, especially during the warmer months. You don’t want to suffer from dehydration.
  • A few places in Yosemite can be dangerous. If you are planning to take your children along, always keep them under supervision.
  • Even in summer, the night temperature tends to drop significantly. Carry warm clothes for the night
  • Accommodation can get difficult to find in Yosemite, especially during the summer. It is a great idea to make reservations beforehand in order to avoid disappointment. 

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How to Get to Yosemite National Park 

There are several airports that you can choose to fly into. The closest airport is the Fresno/Yosemite International Airport (FAT). It is just 1.25 hours from the southern entrance and 2.5 hours from the heart of the Yosemite Valley. You can choose to use public transport from here.

San Francisco is just 3.5 hours to the heart of Yosemite Valley. Public transport is available from here. You can also choose to fly into the Los Angeles International Airport which is 6 hours away from the Yosemite Valley. 

You can choose to use public transportation to visit Yosemite or you can rent a car

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Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Top Pick: Yosemite View Lodge

The Yosemite View Lodge is located 14km from Yosemite National Park. It sits along the Merced River and features 4 pools and a hot tub. The property is modest, cosy and comfortable and offers an onsite bar and restaurant. All rooms are fitted with a kitchenette, a spa bath and a coffee machine. Some of the units offer gorgeous views of the river. Guests can enjoy the indoor and outdoor spas as well as a game room. 

Top Pick: Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite

Just 3.2km away from Yosemite National Park, the Tenaya Lodge offers modern amenities, spectacular views and a full-service spa. Guest rooms are fitted with air-conditioners, refrigerators and en suite bathrooms with free toiletries, bathrobes and a hairdryer.

Enjoy a relaxing massage at the spa and gourmet dinners at the onsite restaurant. This resort offers guests an array of daily activities, a fitness centre and retail stores. This is the perfect place to stay during winter and summer as it offers an array of excellent activities nearby. The property is pet friendly. 

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Top Pick: Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite 

The Rush Creek Lodge is surrounded by epic views of the forest and features an outdoor pool, a children’s playground, and two hot tubs. Every unit offers comfortable beds and private bathrooms. There is an onsite bar that guests can enjoy and special diet menus and packed lunches can be arranged. The property offers guests bike hire and an array of other activities. 

Top Pick: Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite

Located in Mather, the Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite offers an outdoor pool, a children’s playground, and an onsite bar and restaurant with amazing views. Guests also have use of the games room where children and adults can indulge in some fun. Each room has its own seating area, and private bathroom and is comfortable and cozy.

The property offers packed lunches for those wanting to spend the day exploring the park. There is also a games room for guests to enjoy. 

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Yosemite is as fun as it sounds. I assure you it won’t disappoint you. It is a perfect blend of adventure and relaxation and for us hiking buffs it is the perfect vacation spot.

Written by Achraf Aouadi. When Achraf is not devoted to civil society, like helping organize the Olympic Games in Rio in 2016, he’s most probably backpacking the Alps. He enjoys being on the road and taking snapshots of life around the world. Follow Achraf’s travel journey on his blog, Walk Beside Me and his Instagram.

Hiking in Yosemite
Hiking in Yosemite