One of the most popular national parks in the United States, Yosemite should have a spot on your bucket list!
Some of Yosemite best hikes are located in Yosemite Valley, the heart of the park. Here you will find towering cliffs, impressive waterfalls cascading down from the dizzying heights and strenuous hours-long hikes that lead to some of the most rewarding views you will ever see.
Best time to visit Yosemite
May through the middle of September is the best time to visit Yosemite Valley if you are looking for warm temperatures.
The summer season typically brings the most visitors to the valley, so be prepared for delays and traffic, especially if you visit Yosemite during the weekend. Yosemite is one of the most popular Bay Area road trips with many people coming here to hike, camp and explore backcountry.
From October through April, the number of visitors to Yosemite drops by a lot.
During this time, the park typically receives most of its snowfall which leads to a lot of road closures, limited hiking opportunities, and freezing temperatures. If you plan your visit for late fall, winter or early spring, you will most likely have to put chains on your tires.
Yosemite Valley parking
The valley receives most visitors during summer months, so Yosemite Valley parking can be difficult during this time.
Parking at Yosemite Valley is available at Yosemite Village, Half Dome Village and not far from Yosemite Falls. All of them are located around Yosemite Valley Loop.
If you need to get around Yosemite Valley, catch a shuttle bus instead of driving your car around, because parking spots fill up fast and you might not be able to find another one for a long time.
Yosemite entrance fee
Yosemite National Park entrance fee is $35 per car. The issued ticket will provide access to the entire park (including Yosemite Valley) for up to 7 days.
Directions to Yosemite
Yosemite National Park is accessible via several entrances. Depending on your locations, some routes are quicker than others.
– From the East: If you are driving to Yosemite from Las Vegas or Eastern California/Western Nevada, take Tioga Pass/Highway 120 from Lee Vining. Tioga Pass is sometimes closed all the way through June because of snowstorms, so check always check road conditions. Tioga Pass typically closes in early October and reopens in May or mid-June.
– From the West: Take Highway 120 West from Groveland and pass Buck Meadows before you get to the entrance of the park.
– From the South: If you are taking a trip from Los Angeles to Yosemite, take Highway 41/Wawona Road via Fresno, Highway 140/El Portal Road from Merced.
Yosemite Best Hikes
Yosmite Valley is full of scenic overlooks, incredible landscapes and hiking trails for all levels. While it might be tough to choose just a few hikes, I’m going to tell you about Yosemite best hike that you shouldn’t miss!
1. Upper Yosemite Falls hike /Yosemite Point
Where to start: Camp 4/Shuttle Stop #7
Total distance: 7.2 miles
Elevation gain: 2,425 feet
The tallest waterfall in the continental North America, Upper Yosemite Falls is one of Yosemite best hikes! It takes about 6-8 hours to complete.
If you want an easier hike, you can hike up to Columbia Rock, a viewpoint along Yosemite Falls Trails that is perched nearly 1,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley. The round trip to Columbia Rock is about 3 miles.
On a windy day, there’s plenty of mist along the trail, which provides a nice refresher. As you keep going up, you will have to hike a series of switchbacks which will take a lot of energy.
Prepare some snacks and plenty of water. The best part about this hike is that there are several creeks along the way. If you hike in early summer or late spring, they should have plenty of water for you to refill.
As you get to the top of Yosemite Falls, you will have a chance to observe the Yosemite Valley and take stairs to the overlook that provides the closest access to the waterfall.
PRO TIP: If you want to see Yosemite Falls in its full glory, plan your trip for late spring or early summer because Upper Yosemite Falls slows down to a small trickle toward August.
Bonus: Yosemite Point
If you want to continue your adventure, simply head back to the intersection of two trails. From there, you will be able to take the trail that leads to the top of Yosemite Point, another one of Yosemite best hikes.
This easy-to-moderate trail takes you across the bridge and up the mountain toward the overlook that opens an impressive view of the Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point.
2. Vernal Falls/Nevada Falls
Vernal Falls/Nevada Fall via Mist Trail is a 7-mile loop that starts at Happy Isles Shuttle Bus #16.
Total Distance: 3.3 miles to Vernal Falls round trip; 6.6 miles to Nevada fall round trip
Elevation gain: 2,200 feet
A hike to the Nevada Fall is another one of Yosemite best hikes. The first portion of the hike goes along the Mist Trail on the slippery set of stairs alongside Vernal Falls. The first mile of this hike is paved and provides access to Vernal Foot Bridge. And if it’s a windy day, you might get all soaked (hence the name of the hike).
You can turn around and go back after reaching Vernal Falls or you can continue hiking toward Nevada Fall for another 1.6 miles.
This part of the hike has more forest and nowhere near as much mist as the Vernal Falls portion. Once you reach the top of Nevada Fall, walk another 0.2 miles toward the footbridge for a better overview.
Bonus: John Muir Trail
John Muir Trail is named after the famous naturalist John Muir.
The 211-mile trail which traverses most of the Sierra Nevada starts at the beginning of Vernal Falls/Nevada Hike and offers an easier hike for those who don’t want to get drenched in mist and climb up the slippery rocks.
The main drawback of the John Muir trail leading to Vernal Fall is that it’s 4 miles compared to 3.3-miles of the Mist Trail. The John Muir Trail begins at the same trailhead with the Mist Trail and after climbing to Nevada Fall, it continues east.
3. Glacier Point Hike
While Glacier Point is technically located outside of Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point is one of the most visited overlooks in the Yosemite National Park. There are two ways to visit Glacier Point:
First, you can take a 30-minute ride south on Wawona Road that has a turnout leading toward Glacier Point along Glacier Point Road. However, this road is only open from May through September/October.
There are also several hikes along Wawona Road before you get to Glacier Point:
A moderate 2.2-mile hike brings you atop a giant granite dome that is located at the elevation of more than 8,000 feet. Depending on the weather, it can be windy at the top of the dome, so make sure to bring some layers if you want to do this hike.
This easy-to-moderate 2.2.-mile round trip will bring you to one of the most iconic overlooks located west of Yosemite Valley.
If you crave adventure, you can also hike to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley along Panorama Trail or Four Mile Trail.
This very strenuous hike will take you to one of the most scenic vistas in the Yosemite Valley – Glacier Point. The round trip is 9.6-miles and typically takes between 6 to 8 hours to complete. While you should plan depending on your pace, the hike takes most of the day, so plan accordingly.
4. Mirror Lake
The trail begins at shuttle stop #17.
Mirror Lake is one of Yosemite best hikes for beginners. This 2-mile round-trip is considered fairly easy as it takes you to Mirror Lake in the northwest corner of Yosemite Valley. While the round-trip takes about 1 hour, if you want to do the loop around the lake, you will spend about 2-3 hours on a round-trip.
5. Lower Yosemite Falls
This easy hike that goes along a paved road provides a quick access to the bottom of the Lower Yosemite Falls. But don’t confuse it with Upper Yosemite Falls! The two hikes don’t intersect or join together, so if you want to hike to the Upper Yosemite Falls, you will have to get on a completely different trail.
The 1-mile Lower Yosemite Falls hike starts at the shuttle stop #6 and normally takes about 15-20 minutes.
6. Bridal Veil Fall
The 0.5-mile Bridalveil Fall hike starts at the Bridalveil Fall Parking Area and takes you to the base of the waterfall. If you hike this fall early in the summer season, similarly to Lower Yosemite Falls, you will be able to get drenched in the exhilarating mist that comes from the waterfall.
7. Yosemite Valley Loop
Hiking around Yosemite Floor Loop is a perfect way to familiarize yourself with the valley, especially if you are visiting it for the first time.
The 13-mile loop starts at Lower Yosemite Fall Shuttle Stop #6 and takes between 5 and 7 hours to complete.
Yosemite Valley accommodations
Yosemite Valley has several types of accommodations for different price points.
Here you can find hotels and campgrounds that range from a few hundred dollars per night to $10 a night.
Several campsites in Yosemite Valley hold lotteries due to big demand. Winners are notified about whether they were able to secure the camping spot one day before their trip.
-Yosemite Valley hotels: Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
These two hotels are located right on the valley floor and provide a close access to all of the hikes and views that the valley offers. They usually cost between $200-$300 a night.
Hotels near Yosemite
There is also a number of hotels outside of Yosemite Valley. Most of them are located in nearby towns, so if you stay there, you will have to do some commuting to Yosemite Valley, depending on how many days you decide to stay.
The upside is that most of these places will be significantly cheaper than hotels in Yosemite Valley.
Here are a couple of options:
While Mammoth Lakes is located further away from Yosemite National Park, it’s a destination in itself! If you have enough time, try to spend at least half a day exploring this cute mountain town.
Groveland is a gateway to the Yosemite National Park. In summer it offers a farmer’s market and a visitor center where you can ask a Yosemite ranger questions about the park.
Yosemite Valley Campsites
Yosemite Valley campsites include: Upper Pines/Lower Pines/North Pines/Camp 4
Due to a high demand, it’s typically tough to find a spot unless you make a reservation far in advance or win a spot through the lottery. Read more about Yosemite campsites here.
Tioga Road at the eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park has several campsites including Crane Flat, Tamarack Flat, Yosemite Creek and Porcupine Flat.
Tioga Road campsites
Other campgrounds near Yosemite Valley are Wawona Campground near the southern entrance; a number of campgrounds along Highway 120 West such as Sweetwater, Lost Claim and the Pines.
In addition, several RV parks such as Yosemite Lakes RV Park and Yosemite Pines Camp & RV Park have spots for tents.
Things to know before visiting Yosemite
Yosemite is one of the busiest national parks in the United States.
While it’s amazing to visit at any time of the year, summer months often bring a lot of visitors which leads to a lot of traffic, busy trails and limited parking availability.
That’s why it’s better to hike some of Yosemite best trails early in the morning.
Most of Yosemite is located in the wilderness, so bringing a GPS is a good idea, if you plan on hiking in the backcountry.
Having proper gear and arriving early also makes a huge difference, so be sure to get out early, have plenty of snacks and water with you and plan properly.
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