Best Hiking Trails in Yosemite National Park

Overview

Yosemite Valley in California gets packed with tourists for a reason, and inspired people whose names are known to school children and adults alike. Amongst them are naturalist, writer, founder and president of the Sierra Club and national park visionary John Muir. Soon after, President Theodore Roosevelt and renowned photographer Ansel Adams visited the park in the early 1900s, leaving a lifelong impression and solidifying Yosemite as one of the nation's most beloved national parks. And in the last decades, rock climbers like Royal Robbins, Lynn Hill and more recently, Alex Honnold, have become Yosemite climbing legends, scaling and marking the walls of the “great solemn cathedral,” in the words of President T. Roosevelt, with the sweat and labor of human perseverance and further spotlighting the park.

With sheer granite cliffs rocketing out of the valley, abundant wildlife, waterfalls, sequoia groves and over 800 miles of trails, Yosemite National Park should be on your short-list of U.S. parks not to miss.

Getting Started

One of the most important things to take into consideration is that Yosemite National Park gets packed during the summer months. Whatever your plans, try to base your trip around the free shuttle service, operated by the park year-round. Check out this page for details on public transportation to the park, and within the park itself.

While there, don't miss the vistas from Tunnel View on your way into the Yosemite Valley, and the one hour drive up to the lookout at Washburn Point and Glacier Point, with views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Yosemite's high country. Visit Wawona and Mariposa Grove regions, near the south entrance to Yosemite, and take in the towering sequoia grove along the easy Mariposa Grove Loop trail.

The Half Dome Loop via the John Muir Trail is exceptionally popular, and for good reason. If your legs can withstand more hiking, head up to Yosemite Falls Overlook, North America's tallest waterfall via the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail. And don't miss gawking at El Capitan, Yosemite's most impressive vertical rock face. Check out other hikes not to miss in the hikes section below, as there are many less crowded trails to explore as well.

Make sure to make camping or lodging reservations well in advance, and plan on spending at least a few days exploring the area, if not longer. If time permits and the road is open, don't miss the drive out through Tioga Road and the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, with a stop at the Olmsted Point viewpoint.

When to Go

The park is beautiful all year, but beware of winter conditions, chain requirements and closed roads in the winter months. While the Yosemite Valley and Wawona areas can be accessed by car year-round, Tioga, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove Road close for the winter, generally between November to May depending on snow conditions.

Consider visiting in the spring to visit waterfalls, wildflowers in June, or in the fall for less crowds and the changing of the colors in the few, but lovely, deciduous maple, dogwood and oak trees. In the winter, enjoy winter sports at Badger Pass.

Permits

Like most national parks, fees are required to visit Yosemite, and can be purchased upon arrival or in advance, here.

Wilderness permits are required for any overnight stay in the Yosemite Wilderness. Details can be found here. Day-use permits are not required on trails, except for Half Dome.

For backpacking, it's difficult to get the required permits for the John Muir Trail, but other trails are in much less demand.

Dog Info

Dogs are allowed on a leash no more than six feet long, and only in developed areas, fully paved roads, sidewalks and campgrounds (excluding walk-in campgrounds, like Camp 4). Get more information on pets in Yosemite, here.

Resources

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