Yosemite Valley Hikes
January 28, 2020
Yosemite National Park offers some of the most stunning views of nature known to man. The park draws millions of domestic and international visitors each year, largely because Yosemite Valley hikes are among the most scenic in the world.
As massive glaciers covering the Sierra Nevada began to melt away, the valley began to take shape. The smooth granite cliffs dropping thousands of feet from above are some of the more recognizable features. Hikes around and out of Yosemite Valley provide amazing views of all its granite domes, lush meadows, and water features. If you’re planning a visit, make sure to check out at least a few of these trails during your stay.
Yosemite Falls Trail
Arguably the most famous hike in the park, the Yosemite Falls trail gains about 3,000 feet of elevation in less than 3 miles. Starting from the valley floor, the trail winds through switchbacks up the north side of the valley to the crest of Yosemite Falls. This tiered waterfall is one of the largest in the world with a total drop of 2,425 feet.
Yosemite Falls chute in winter
Looking up the valley walls
Two miles into the trail is Columbia Rock, a lookout point with an excellent view across the valley of Half Dome. The trail forks at the crest of the falls, leaving you with plenty of options to continue on. You can either continue on another four miles east to North Dome, five miles northeast towards Tioga Pass, or six miles west towards to top of El Capitan.
Four Mile Trail
The Four Mile Trail is nine miles round-trip, and one of my favorite Yosemite Valley hikes. It’s very steep, gaining over 3,200 feet in just under five miles. In the summer and fall months you can cut the hike in half by taking a shuttle back down to the valley so long as Glacier Point Road is open. As you climb the switchbacks to the top, views of El Capitan and the Tunnel View valley entrance become more prominent.
Looking towards Tunnel View
Breathtaking views of the entire valley surround you from the lookout area atop Glacier Point. To the left, Yosemite Falls towers above the valley floor. To your right, iconic views of Half Dome with Vernal and Nevada falls below.
Make sure to try this hike in the early winter months, after Glacier Point Road is closed and before the trail gets too icy. Only then can conquering the 3,200 feet of elevation gain reward you with the silence of backcountry hiking at one of Yosemite’s most popular lookout points.
The Mist Trail is another one of Yosemite Valley’s more heavily trafficked trails, at least to the bridge below Vernal Falls. If you hike the full loop, expect nine miles of natural beauty as you ascend the granite cliffs past Nevada Falls and descend around Clark Point for amazing views of Liberty Cap.
Top of Nevada Falls
This trail marks the beginning (or ending, depending on your direction) of the John Muir Trail. Watch out for ice in the winter months, as the mist coming off the falls can make the granite portions of trail extremely dangerous. Some section of this loop may be potentially closed because of this, so make sure to check ahead of time.
Mirror Lake Trail
Starting at valley shuttle stop 17, the trail to Mirror Lake is two and a half miles of relatively flat and paved terrain. After the restrooms near the outlet of the lake, Half Dome will be towering above you to the south. As the name suggests, the lake is very still with perfect mirror-like reflections when it holds water.
Frozen Mirror Lake
As with many other trails around the valley, watch out for ice in winter months. Black ice can build up on the paved asphalt trail, making it potentially dangerous. The trailhead is also within walking distance of Half Dome Village. I like to walk over for a hot meal or cup of green tea on my way back to camp.
Valley Floor Loop
The Valley Floor Loop is exactly as it sounds: twenty miles of trail surrounding the outer limits of the valley floor. Much of this trail follows Northside and Southside Drive, making it easy to find a parking lot and hike only a certain chunk of trail. It provides many unique perspectives on Yosemite Valley’s iconic landmarks that aren’t available from roads or parking lots.
Half Dome at sunset
The trail passes by Yosemite and Half Dome Villages, as well as famous viewpoints such as Valley View and El Capitan Meadow. It’s also easily accessible from the valley campgrounds and intersects with all the other trails mentioned above.
If you’ve never been to Yosemite National Park, add it to the top of your bucket list. But don’t just go once. Visit across all the different seasons to fully appreciate all the beauty that Yosemite Valley has to offer. Check out the Mariposa and Tuolumne Sequoia Groves, and make the drive up to Tuolumne Meadow or the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in the summer months. Above all else, experience these Yosemite Valley hikes for yourself.