Top Hikes in Yosemite National ParkPublished on 05/21/2021 · 7 min readIf you're planning a trip this season, Camping & Hiking expert Hannah K. shares some of the top-rated hikes in Yosemite National Park.
Photo by Curated Software Engineer Jeff Dam
California undeniably has some of the most diverse ecosystems and gorgeous national parks in the country — Yosemite National Park being the most famous and well-known. A mecca for climbers and a sacred space to John Muir, Yosemite National Park has something for everyone. For anything from bird watching to extreme hiking, Yosemite is the place to be. For those planning a trip this season, here are some of the top-rated hikes in Yosemite National Park.
PSA: As always, check to make sure the weather hasn’t shut down any trails, and don’t forget to look into permits, entry fees, and any other reservations you might need to hit the park.
Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail
The Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail is a 6.1-mile loop trail with 337 feet of elevation. It is rated as moderate and is best used from March to November. The Mirror Lake is a must-see for its gorgeous reflections of Half Dome (another popular hike) and the wildflowers in early summer. It is a calm lake on Tenaya Creek and sits between North Dome and Half Dome.
Mirror Lake is also the last memory of a large, glacial lake that once covered the entire valley floor. Due to its distance from lodging, it is a less-crowded trail and very well-marked. Take a free shuttle to the trailhead or hike east from the Ahwahnee Hotel to get to the trail. The trail is completely paved on the west side and thus accessible. However, there are many steep sections that may make it difficult. Learn more about the trail here.
Half Dome Trail
This strenuous trail, the Half Dome Trail, is a 16.3-mile out-and-back trail with 5,318 feet of elevation gain. It takes an average time of 9.5 hours to complete it. The trail features a waterfall and is only recommended for experienced, strong hikers. You do need a permit to hike this trail (if you are lucky enough to get one!). At the top, you will get spectacular views of Liberty Cap, the valley floor, the High Sierra, and Vernal and Nevada Falls. The trail is well-marked, but keep an eye out for the signs. Steep climbs, switchbacks, minor scrambling moments, and epic views will push your physicality and wow your mentality. The hike down offers two options — the exact same way you came up, or take the John Muir Trail, which will add half a mile to your journey. Learn more about Half Dome here.
Sentinel Dome Trail
The Sentinel Dome Trail is a 2.1-mile out-and-back trail with 456 feet of elevation gain. This trail is rated as easy and offers 360-degree panoramic views of Yosemite National Park. Look north to see the valley floor, including El Capitan (a vertical rock formation famously climbed by Alex Honnold with no ropes). You’ll see many of the High Sierras, the Merced River, and Half Dome on this trail. Hike through lush pine forests until you get to the exposed dome where the views are. There is also an alternate route that starts at a fire road and merges with the trail toward the end. You can learn more about the trail here.
Porcupine Creek Trail to Indian Ridge Natural Arch to North Dome
Although AllTrails says that the Porcupine Creek Trail to Indian Ridge Natural Arch to North Dome trail is moderate, I would argue that this is more of a difficult hike with almost 2,100 feet of elevation gain spread across 9.8 miles. Most of the trail is not shaded, so bring sunscreen and extra water if you go during warmer seasons. You start by heading downhill from the Porcupine Creek Trailhead. Then, after a left, you start the climb to Indian Ridge, finally heading up the summit of North Dome. This trail isn’t as popular as others, so if you want to avoid the crowds you should head here! Be wary of vicious chipmunks that may want to steal your lunch when you take your break. Learn more about the chipmunks and the trail here.
Chilnualna Falls Trail
This well-kept secret of Yosemite outside the valley floor is a 7.9-mile out-and-back trail with 2,188 feet of elevation gain. Wading pools, waterfalls, and cascades waiting at the top make the steep climb worth the effort. If you enter the park at the south entrance, the Chilnualna Falls Trail is on the way to the valley floor.
There are two sections of the Falls. The shorter section is on top and has several small falls leading into the wading pool. The larger section has about a 690-foot drop. Head to the Chilnualna Falls Trail for some private trails, beautiful views, and a part of Yosemite that many don’t visit. Learn more about the trail here.
Cloud’s Rest Trail via Tenaya Lake
This strenuous hike, the Cloud’s Rest Trail via Tenaya Lake, is a 11.9-mile out-and-back trail with 3,120 feet of elevation gain. This trail features a beautiful forest setting and is best used from May to October. Cloud’s Rest is a massive stone formation northeast of Half Dome that is known for its views of the valley and the razor-sharp ridge near the summit. The narrow ridge has drop offs on both sides and requires some scrambling, but it is well worth the scary heights and physical effort. The first mile and a half is pretty flat, and then the switchbacks will help you climb 1,000 feet in elevation gain in one mile before you reach a slope. Learn more about the trail here.
Cathedral Lakes Trail
The Cathedral Lakes Trail is a moderate-rated trail. It is a heavily trafficked, 8.6-mile out-and-back trail with 1,550 feet of elevation gain. Horses are also able to use this trail. The first 3.5 miles are very steep, taking you 1,000 feet up. While doing so, the trail highlights the gorgeous and very popular Tuolumne Meadows. Cathedral Peak rises above an alpine lake and is covered with pristine wildflowers fit for a fairy village. If you plan on camping overnight, register early to get a permit. Learn more about permitting and the trail here.
Wapama Falls Trail
Wapama Falls Trail is a 4.6-mile out-and-back trail that has 954 feet of elevation gain and is best hiked between April and October. This trail is best used for bird watching, hiking, trail running, and nature trips. This trail is located near Long Barn, California, and features a beautiful waterfall that streams into a lake. Learn more about the Wapama Falls Trail here.
Sentinel Meadow Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail
The Sentinel Meadow Cook’s Meadow Loop Trail is a 2.2-mile trail that is very flat — rising no more than 85 feet at any point — and is perfect for all skill levels. This trail is mostly used for trail running, hiking, and road biking. Dogs are allowed on this trail but must be kept on leash at all times. This trail highlights the valley floor and upper Yosemite falls. It’s a great hike to do when you first arrive in Yosemite National Park to give you a quick, but beautiful, overview of the park. Learn more about the trail here.
Mount Dana Summit Trail
The Mount Dana Summit Trail is the second-highest peak in Yosemite (Mount Lyell is the highest). This hike covers seven miles of trail and has 3,000 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is next to the east entrance of the Yosemite National Park. While there are no trail markers or maps, there is an unofficial, used trail to the top that is very easy to follow. You start by hiking through beautiful meadows until you hit the switchbacks. Eventually, you will hit a flat area, and then the serious uphill battle is about to begin. After some intense scrambling and careful footwork, you will summit Mount Dana. Learn more about Mount Dana here.
Yosemite National Park is filled to the brim with beautiful views and epic trails — you can’t go wrong with anything you do. There is so much history to learn, good memories to make, and intense climbs to summit! If you have any questions on finding the right gear for your upcoming trip to Yosemite, chat with me or one of my fellow Camping & Hiking experts here on Curated for free, personalized advice and recommendations.