Yosemite Hiking and Backpacking

Hiking in Yosemite National Park

Discover and explore what is so special about Yosemite National Park. Although the bulk of Yosemite visitors stay in the popular drive routes through the valley and park, for many the real treasure of Yosemite can only be found via foot power.

Between the breathtaking waterfalls and gorgeous meadows visitors willing to take a hike to discover mountains that captivate their imaginations, lakes that fill your spirits, and valleys so deep and long that it changes the scale and perspective of your world. Of course, this is all built inside the world’s most extraordinary granite features and the beautiful California weather that makes exploring Yosemite a must-do bucket list for millions each year.

With over 800 miles of trails, you’re likely to spend lots of your Yosemite vacation wandering from spectacular destination to spectacular destination. Choosing between day hiking or backpacking is often one of the most difficult decisions after your first visit to Yosemite. Day hiking is super simple and destinations are plenty. Hikers can choose from crowd favorites such as the Mist trail, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Cathedral Peak, Clouds rest, and Glacier Point or grab a little less traveled route to spectacular views such as Mt. Watkins, Mt. Hoffman, Mono pass, or Yosemite Valley Loop. Backpacking takes planning and effort in Yosemite as most backpacking permits are reserved 6 months in advance and the lines for a day of permits start early. However the magical backcountry in Yosemite is well worth the effort. Backpackers can choose routes that take them high over Sierra passes or deep into the canyons carved by rushing rivers. Backpackers in Yosemite can still find locations and lakes where they are the only visitor for the day or traverse high alpine tundra to mountain routes only a few have ever explored.

We have spent the last 10 years exploring Yosemite on Day hikes, and backpacking trips. I have personally taken many families on their first visits. These lists of hikes are not a complete list, but our favorites to share with those who ask.  They offer something for everyone, they are in our opinion the hikes that provide some of the Yosemite’s most iconic locations. 

Vernal Falls Yosemite National Park hikes

The Most Scenic Hikes in Yosemite National Park

True, this list is nearly impossible to build. It is like splitting hairs. Every hike in Yosemite has its own beauty and unique features that will burn in your memories for ages. But here is a list of our favorite Scenic Hikes in Yosemite National Park. Choose from Nevada and Vernal Falls, Hetch Hetchy, Mono and Parker Pass, Half Dome, North Dome and More.

  1. Yosemite Valley to Vernal and Nevada Falls -The Mist Trail  – Of all the hikes I have done in Yosemite National Park, this is the most rewarding and scenic hike.  It is just a combination of everything Yosemite to me. It’s not the most epic vista view, but around every corner is the perfect picture and awe-inspiring moment.
  2. Cathedral Lakes – Such a great Yosemite hike. for most this is the perfect amount of backcountry hiking with little effort. The climb up will make you work as you hike through old growth and the side of a crumbling granite mountain. Recommend going to Upper Cathedral first then back down to lower.  Take time to walk around the backsides of each lake for the best views.
  3. Mono and Parker Pass – possibly one of the most underrated hikes in the park. Climb to 12,ooo feet, Explore the Eastern side of the Kuna crest and see beautiful blue water lakes.
  4. Clouds Rest – If peaks are your game then Clouds rest probably climbs to the top of this list. Don’t make the mistake of skipping sunset lakes while you are up there. This hike will test you after the first mile. “The wall is a set of switchbacks that will have you traverse 1000 vertical feet in one mile. Bring your water.
  5. Hetch Hetchy to Wapama falls – Such a different hike in Yosemite, with one of the most stunning waterfall areas in the park.  Walk this short hike to the waterfall and imagine what Yosemite Valley twin once was while enjoying the beauty of this stunning lake landscape.
  6. Four Mile Trail – Up up and away. Simply a stunning hike at every turn. Climb from the valley floor, stopping at every switch for what might seem like the best photo you have ever scene.
  7. Yosemite Valley Loop – Often missed by us adventurous types. Talk with rangers and they will often tell you that the Valley loop is all of Yosemite’s best features.
  8. North Dome and Indian Arch – A beautiful segment of Yosemite. The hike down to North dome is green and comfortable, then you reach the granite shelf and life explodes with adventure and ruggedness as you stare down Half dome.
  9. Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin – One of the most scenic sections of the Tuolumne river to day hike, The Tuolumne  Waterfall at 4 miles is brilliant.
Mirror Lake Fall Colors

Best Hikes From Yosemite Valley

Some of the most hiked trails on the West coast of America, yet many of them would have a darn good argument as the best in the nation. Be prepared to be mesmerized by scenic views and world-class waterfalls plus the grand rise of granite cliffs

 

Trail                                                             Miles                      Elevation Gian

4-Mile Trail 4.7 (7.5)* 3,200 (975)
 
 
 
Artist Point 2.0 (3.2) 500 (150)
 
 
 
Bridalveil Fall 1.2 (1.9) 200 (60)
 
 
 
Columbia Rock 3 (4.8) 1,000 (300)
 
 
 
Half Dome 14.2 (22.7)* 4,800 (1,600)
 
 
 
Happy Isles 0.5 (0.8)* < 10
 
 
 
Inspiration Point 2.6 (4.2) 1,000 (300)
 
 
 
Mirror Lake & Tenaya Canyon 2.4 (3.8)* < 100*
 
 
 
The Mist Trail (Vernal & Nevada Falls) 3 (4.8)* 1,000 (300)*
 
 
 
Pohono Trail 13 (21)* 3,700 (1,130)*
 
 
 
Sentinel / Cook’s Meadow Loop 2.25 (3.6) < 10
 
 
 
Snow Creek Trail 7.2 (11.6)* 2,700 (820)*
 
 
 
Turtleback Dome 1.2 (2) 360 (110)
 
 
 
Lower Yosemite Falls 0.5 (.8)* < 50*
 
 
 
Upper Yosemite Falls 7.6 (12)* 2,600 (790)*
 
 
 
Source: Yosemitehikes.com
Yosemite National Park Nelson Lake

The Best Hikes Off Tioga Pass - East Entrance

I am a true believer that the best hikes in Yosemite are found on the Eastern Side of the park in the high country.
Follow this link to see my complete list of the top 10 hikes off Tioga Pass or HWY 120 on the East side of Yosemite. One thing to keep in mind with these hikes, there are dozens of options either on these hikes or including these hikes to expand your hiking parameters.  When we first started, we just started mapping out places we wanted to visit and kept a list to complete later dates.

  1. Cathedral Lakes – the Cathedral Lakes day hike or backpack experience is our most recommended hike in Yosemite’s east end.   It is challenging for most visitors, yet short enough that most well-prepared hikers can easily accomplish this is a day hike in Yosemite.
  2. Mono & Parker Pass – This scenic hike is found shortly after entering Yosemite and will travel to the west of Mt. Dana up and to the East of the Kuna crest. This rugged old mining region of the park is full of wildlife, meadows, snowmelt-filled streams, and views with shades of blues, browns, and greens that are straight out of an Ansel Adams dream.
  3. May Lake and Mt. Hoffman – This short climb hike takes you up to the base of Mt Hoffman and May Lake Recreation area. Mt. Hoffman at 10,860 ft. is on of the most popular peak climbs in Yosemite and May Lake is a stunning area for a summer day in Yosemite.
  4. Northdome and Indian Arch – Possibly our favorite view of Half Dome is from straight across the canyon on North Dome. North Dome provides a spectacular view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the Yosemite High Country. Along the trail make sure you Climb up to Indian Rock. This Arch is an iconic symbol in Yosemite and provides its own unique view of Yosemite.
  5. Sunrise Lakes and Clouds Rest – Ready for a workout? Ok, we note that many people do this route because this is Clouds Rest we are talking about. Maybe the single most spectacular view in all of Yosemite. However we would argue from a day hike perspective, the Sunrise Lakes is also a great location to enjoy a relatively peaceful day in Yosemite with few visitors. Since most head on up to Clouds Rest, many just don’t bother with these three lakes. Maybe because the 1200 ft climb in less than a mile has something to do with it. They call it “The Wall” I guess you could say all good things are earned in Yosemite. Along the route are several unique and awesome views of Half Dome not often seen in pictures. Early season this also features a stream crossing just out of the parking lot as the water flows from Tenaya Lake
  6. Dog Lake & Lembert DomeDog Lake is another of those least visited lakes in Yosemite. Still, inside the no Camping Zone, this lake can be accessed both from the Lembert Dome Trail, The Tuolumne Meadow, and The Dog Lake Trail which also is the access to Youngs Lake, (Not on this list as I consider it a backpacking lake at 7.5 miles) I like this trail from the Dog Lake Trail Parking lot covering Lembert Dome on the way, option to make this a loop trail and travel back down to the meadow and walk the highway back to the car.
  7. Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin High Camp – Out of Tuolumne Meadows follow the Tuolumne River down stream to a series of spectacular cascades and waterfalls near Glen Aulin High Camp. This hike is a down hill hike on the way out with all the work on the trail saved for your trip back. Well worth the 6 plus mile trek out of the meadow as you visit pristine river valley features, panoramic views and then in the last two miles, visit some of the most stunning water features in all of Yosemite. No, they are not as grand as the Valley floor falls, but in our opinion may be just as spectacular an experience.
  8. Lyell Canyon – Part of the JMT and PCT routes, this section of trail is stunning. It follows the river for approx., 10 miles on relatively flat ground as the Kuna Crest rises to the East and Potters Cap and Donahue pass showcase to the South West. The meadow is typically full of wildlife and early season, although the trail can be a bit muddy the river water clarity is the best in the park. The colors are stunning.
Wawona

Best Hikes South of Yosemite Valley (Wawona region)

The historic Wawona region of Yosemite National Park is home to the Mariposa Grove of giants.

Trail                                                             Miles                      Elevation Gian

Chilnualna Falls 8.4 (13.5) 2,300 (700)
 
 
 
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias  2.0 (3.2)* 1,200 (360)*
 
 
 
Wawona Meadow Loop 3.5 (5.6)* < 50*
 
 
 

Wawona Swinging Bridge

Source: Yosemitehikes.com

0.75 (1.2)*

 < 50

 

Backpacking Yosemite National Park

Frankly, if you want to experience Yosemite National Park to its fullest we believe that you must commit to a backpacking experience. For many that might mean a guided trip with one of several guide services. But for others who understand navigation, and basic backpacking how-to’s there is an unlimited adventure awaiting you in one of the most astonishing places on earth.

Backpackers can find great locations in every direction. some require a steep hike out of the valley or off the roadside, before opening up to a world of granite towering peaks and pools of crystal clear lakes and streams. Others will gradually take you down a valley or across a rugged terrain filled with granite boulders and Creekside wildlife.  We have found that some backpacking trips are just better done as a loop, while others it would seem that an out and back destination trip with daytime exploration from a base camp is best.

Backpacking in Yosemite does require a permit. And based on your destination a fire is not always allowed in Yosemite.  Fires in Yosemite are only allowed under 9600′ and in existing fire rings.  

How to Get a Yosemite Backpacking Permit

Wilderness permit reservations are available up to 24 weeks (168 days) in advance. View a table with the earliest dates for reservation requests. Reservations are not available one day in advance or on the day of your hike (see below for information about first-come, first-served permits).

The cost for each confirmed reservation is $5 plus $5 per person. This fee is non-refundable and non-transferable. All changes to existing permit reservations must be made by the trip leader.

A wilderness permit is required year-round for backpacking, overnight climbing, or any other overnight stay in the Yosemite Wilderness. A wilderness permit is not required for day hikes (unless hiking to Half Dome) or for staying in lodging facilities and frontcountry campgrounds.

Wilderness permits are only issued to a limited number people for each trailhead in order to provide outstanding opportunities for solitude, as required by the Wilderness Act. Since many trails are very popular, reservations are recommended. Of each daily quota for a trailhead, 60 percent can be reserved ahead of time. Normally, 40 percent of wilderness permits are available on a first-come, first-served basis at park wilderness centers. Instead, in 2022, this portion of wilderness permit reservations will be available online 7 days in advance and up to three days in advance. See below for more information.

When making a reservation for a permit in Yosemite, consider the Trail quotas for each trail. We have found that having a 2nd and third option greatly increases our chances of getting a permit. Also knowing that a trail has limited permits available may be a clue to start your backpacking experience before the weekend when it is guaranteed to be busy.

John Muir Trail Hikers

There is no longer a separate process for JMT through hikers. This new system replaces both reservation systems and is the only system for reserving wilderness permits for trailheads in Yosemite. In 2015 the National Park Service began enforcing an exit quota for backpackers exiting Yosemite over Donohue Pass.  Making proper planning and flexibility of date even more important for your permit lottery experience.  

Half Dome Permits

Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days per week when the cables are up, even for backpackers with wilderness permits. The quota for Half Dome permits for backpackers is about 75 permits per day. The cost for Half Dome permits is $10 per person, payable at a wilderness center the day of or day before your trip, and is therefore not refundable.

Reservations for Wilderness Permits & Half Dome Permits

If you want to hike to the top of Half Dome as part of your overnight wilderness trip, you can add Half Dome permits for all or some members of your group if you if you get a wilderness permit reservation or walk-up wilderness permit (not available in 2022) and begin your trip from the following trailheads (A map showing each Half Dome trailhead is also available [1.5 MB PDF].):

  • Happy Isles to Little Yosemite Valley
  • Glacier Point to Little Yosemite Valley (closed in 2022)
  • Happy Isles past LYV (Donohue pass eligible)
  • Sunrise Lakes
  • Cathedral Lakes
  • Rafferty Creek to Vogelsang
  • Mono Meadow (closed in 2022)

You do not need to reserve this in advance; you can simply add it upon request when you pick up your wilderness permit if your permit is for one of these entry trailheads. The cost is $10 per person (paid when you pick up your permits). These Half Dome permits are only available for overnight backpackers and are not valid for day hikers.

Half Dome permits received in this way will be valid for all dates your wilderness permit is valid.

Walk-Up Wilderness Permits

April 29 through October 23, 2022

For the 2022 season, the remaining 40% of trailhead quotas will be released on a first-come, first-served basis on Recreation.gov seven days in advance at 7 am PDT. Popular trailheads will fill very quickly; be logged on and ready to reserve promptly at 7 am PDT seven days in advance of your desired start date. The latest you can make a reservation is three days before a trip (although, few reservations will be available at that point). For example, to start a trip on a Saturday, the earliest you could make a reservation would be the prior Saturday, and you would be able to make a reservation until Wednesday at 11:59 pm. The first on-sale date will be April 22, 2022 (for an April 29 start date) and the last will be October 16, 2022 (for an October 23 start date).

October 24 to April 2023

Most of Yosemite is covered in snow during winter. Before planning a wilderness trip during this time, please ensure you’re prepared for winter conditions.

From November through April, wilderness permits are still required. You can get a wilderness permit the day before or day you intend to start your hike at the permit issuing station nearest the trailhead. While trailhead quotas are still in effect, most trailheads don’t fill up. Bear canisters are only available for rental at the Valley Visitor Center.

For complete regulations and frequently Asked questions visit: https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wildpermits.htm

Sunset on Young Lakes white mountain and Mt Conness in Yosemite

The Top Backpacking Destinations and Loops in Yosemite National Park

Note this list of Backpacking destinations is just the tip of the iceberg. It is focused on the basic weekend trip to Yosemite. You might say beginner trips for Yosemite Backpackers.  The extensive trail network provided in Yosemite will give travelers in the backcountry so many options to customize a backpacking experience for each party. Also noteworthy are several well-qualified guide organizations that have mastered the art of group and individual guided hikes by expert enthusiasts of Yosemite. Imagine just hiking all day with a Yosemite knowledge source, not worrying about the campsite, because the best one has already been scouted, and not worrying about navigation as much because they know exactly where the next water source is or next river crossing.

Sierra Rec Magazine Featured Destination Base Camp Backpacking Locations:  These locations are great places to backpack to set up base camp for a day or two and day hike around the regions to other great spots to enjoy on your travels.

  1. Cathedral Lakes
  2. Mono Pass to Ansel Adams Wilderness border.
  3. Young Lakes
  4. Glen Aulin High Camp
  5. Vogelsang High Camp
  6. Sunrise High Sierra Camp
  7. Buena Vista Lake via Chilnualna Falls Trailhead
  8. Ten Lakes Basin
  9. Big Oak Flat Road to Yosemite Falls

Sierra Rec Magazine Featured Moderate Loop Backpacking Trips: These loops will include several key locations they all require 3-7 days to complete and will provide a variety of options for camps, day distances, and alternative routes.

  1. Yosemite High Camp Loop
  2. Rafferty Creek Trail to Vogelsang High Camp to Ireland Lakes/ Lyell Canyon back to Tuolumne Meadows
  3. Hetch  Hetchy to Laura Lake To Lake Vernon, to Tiltill Valley and Rancheria Falls back along Hetch Hetchy to O’Shaughnessy dam.
  4. Yosemite Valley to Up Yosemite Falls To North Dome to Snow Creek back to Yosemite valley via Mirror Lake
  5. Glacier Point Loop
  6. Cathedral to Sunrise Lakes Loop with Clouds Rest excursion
  7. Tuolumne Meadows to Glen Aulin or Cold Canyon to McCabe Lakes (off trial Via High sierra Route to Roosevelt and Young Lakes ) back to Toulumne Meadow
  8. Off Trail Loop from Elizabeth Lake and Tuolumne meadow  to Nelson Lake to Matthes Lake, Echo Lake back to Cathedral Lakes and down to Tuolumne Meadows
  9. Triple Peak Fork Merced River Loop -Triple Peak Fork Merced River Loop is nestled in the most remote southeastern edge of Yosemite and is made for those willing to escape from everything but secluded outing amidst Yosemite’s famed alpine backcountry. The trail features various scenic peaks and lakes that are hard not to be impressed by: Johnson, Rafferty, Fletcher, and Vogelsang Peaks are magnificent, while Washburn, Babcock, Emeric, and Boothe Lakes offer excellent fishing and superb scenery. Staggering vistas, numerous side trip options to remote valleys and lakes, and limitless streams of the deep, serene Merced River add to the trail’s charm. 

Sierra Rec Magazine Featured Through Hikes – These premium hikes will require a ride back to your car, but oh the places you will see! Lakes, waterfalls, passes, meadows, glacial carved valleys if you are seeking to see it all consider a thorough hike on one of these routes.

  1. Grand Canyon of Yosemite
  2. Tuolumne Meadows to Yosemite Valley
  3. Full North Rim Trail – The ” Longest Trail hike in Yosemite” – WHAT IS THE LONGEST HIKE IN YOSEMITE? Stretching 29.1 miles, Full North Rim earns the title of the longest hike in Yosemite. This lengthy and strenuous point-to-point route is full of highlights—including North Dome, Yosemite Point, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan—and takes four to five days.

Sierra Rec Magazine Yosemite Trail Reviews

Yosemite Trail Reviews and Latest News

Read the Latest Yosemite News and our personal journey reviews of hiking and backpacking destinations in Yosemite

 
 
 


Yosemite Trail Reviews and Latest News

Read the Latest Yosemite News and our personal journey reviews of hiking and backpacking destinations in Yosemite


Yosemite Regions

Tunnel View view of the Yosemite Valley from the tunnel entrance to the Valley

Yosemite Valley – This is the place people are usually thinking of when they think about Yosemite. Many of the things Yosemite is famous for are here: El Capitan and Half Dome, Yosemite and Bridalveil Falls, the Mist Trail, the tunnel view. A fair number of people, too. You won’t find solitude here unless you show up during a blizzard, but all those tourists have good reason to be here. There’s simply no place else like it anywhere.

Tioga Pass / HWY 120– Tioga Pass Road is the A-list destination for the Yosemite sightseer who can’t decide what he wants. It’s got some of everything – granite peaksalpine lakes and meadows, a giant sequoia grove, and even a few hikes to the north rim of Yosemite Valley. The only park entrance on the east side, it is open May through October. Depending on snow conditions, it usually closes in November for the winter and spring.

Glacier Point road image

Glacier Point– If you want to find out whether or not you’re afraid of heights, there’s no more scenic way to do it than to try the hikes off Glacier Point Road. Any of the trails with “Point” in the name lead to jaw-dropping, vertigo-inducing views over the sheer walls of Yosemite Valley. This road also passes the trailhead to Sentinel Dome, where you’ll find a fabulous 360-degree vista and possibly the most revered tree, thanks to Ansel Adams and scores of other photographers, that ever lay dead on the ground.

Hetch Hetchy -Hetch Hetchy Valley has been flooded for more than 80 years, much to the detriment of its own beauty and the environmental cred of the city of San Francisco, which is adamantly opposed to tearing the dam down. Despite the valley’s destruction, there are still things to see here – a giant waterfall that’s had its feet chopped off by the reservoir but is still impressive, and in the Big Oak Flat area, Yosemite’s least crowded giant sequoia grove.

Seqouias2020

Southern Yosemite / Mariposa – Home to the most renowned bunch of trees in the world. The Mariposa Grove has Giant Sequoias just hanging out in the parking lot that people would normally drive hundreds of miles to see, yet they’re completely overlooked here due to the larger-than-life presences of the Grizzly Giant, the California Tunnel Tree, and a host of others.

Yosemite Wilderness – Untrampled Wilderness. Nearly 95 percent of Yosemite is Congressionally designated Wilderness. Wilderness is a word of many meanings. From a place to be feared to a place to be revered, wilderness can evoke images of wild animals, cascading streams, jagged mountains, vast prairies, or deserts. For individuals wilderness can mean physical challenge, grand vistas, solitude, community, renewal, or respite from a complex technological society. Yosemite Wilderness holds it all.

Yosemite Lodging

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

  • Lodge / Resorts
  • Camping
  • Glamping

 

 

Yosemite Travel

Centrally located in the Sierra Range Yosemite National Park offers three main access points and transverses the Sierra from West to East. Hwy 140 Hwy Hwy 120 and Hwy 41  are three California Highways that travel into Yosemite.  Hwy 120 covers both the Northern Route through to Towns of Groveland and Bucks Meadow as well as gives you the easiest access to Hetch Hetchy. This route is often called the Big Oak Flat entrance. The Big Oak entrance into Yosemite is the most traveled route into Yosemite National Park. 

Highway 120 also is the Eastern Route  Also known as Tioga Pass.  This entrance is seasonal only available summer and fall seasons and is the best entrance for those traveling from reno. Carson city or from Mammoth or Las Vegas. This route will take you through Tuolumne Meadows, the Cathedral range and through the park next to Tenaya Lake on into the El Portal Road entrance just South of Hetch Hetchy.

Highway 140 also Known as the Arch rock Entrance travels from Mariposa and is the fastest route for most people coming from the San Francisco region. They are actually close to the same distance, so this is simply a traffic pattern preference. If you are coming from San Francisco, the fastest route to the park is via the Arch Rock Entrance or the Big Oak Flat Entrance. To enter via Arch Rock Entrance, you will take I-580 east to I-205 east to Highway 140 east into the park. When you enter the park through the Arch Rock Entrance, your road turns into El Portal Road, which leads you to Yosemite Valley.

The Hwy 41 entrance from Wawona rd. entrance. California Highway 41 enters Yosemite National Park at its southern entrance. It leads through the Wawona area, and then through mostly forested areas until it reaches Yosemite Valley. This road is typically open all year, though tire chains may be required anytime outside of summer.   This road is where the Tunnel View image is located. 

From:

  • San Francisco – 4 hours  170 miles
  • San Jose 3.5 hours – 165 miles
  • Fresno 1.3 hours – 62 miles
  • Reno 2.75 hours – 151 miles (Summer route over Tioga Pass)
  • Reno  4.5 hours. 230 miles (Winter Route on West side Hwy 120)
  • Las Vegas 5.5 hours – 354 miles
  • Los Angeles – 4.7 hours – 279 miles (West side of Park
  • Los Angeles – 6 Hours – 369 miles 

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