Hiking is in my blood. My home town in Northern California has more trails than roads, and I spent my childhood roaming the golden hills. But if there’s one place I enjoy hiking more than home, it’s Yosemite National Park. Famed for its dramatic natural scenery, it’s one of the best places in the world to get outdoors. Given this year is the 100th anniversary of the founding of the National Park Service, I’ve traveled out to take on the best hikes in Yosemite.
Best Hikes in Yosemite
I arrive in Yosemite in the early afternoon. A four-hour drive from San Francisco has taken me and my boyfriend to the South Entrance on the western side of the park. We’ve come on a Sunday to avoid the usual traffic, and soon we find ourselves in Wawona.
Wawona Meadow Loop
The first of our hikes in Yosemite is the Wawona Meadow Loop. It’s one of the easiest in the park, and a great place to warm up our legs for the more challenging trails.
It’s also beautiful. The 3.5-mile (5.6 km) circular path takes us under towering trees and alongside meadows full of wild flowers. At the end we settle into Adirondacks on the verandah of the historic Big Trees Lodge to soak up more of the peaceful surroundings.
Chilnualna Falls Trail
Legs prepped, we drive over to the Chilnualna Falls trailhead, the starting point of the next of our hikes in Yosemite. The 8.4-mile (13.5 km) path goes straight up into the mountains and back.
A number of small waterfalls make for good stopping points along the way, as do breaks in the tree line that offer views of the granite peaks in the distance.
Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall
The next day we head into Yosemite Valley, the best known part of the national park. Surrounded on all sides by waterfalls and rock faces, it’s straight out of a fairytale.
One of the best hikes in Yosemite starts from the valley floor and works its way up to two of the most spectacular waterfalls in the area. Hiking to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall is a rite of passage for many visitors, ourselves included.
We take the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall, climbing the famous 600-step rock staircase through wet rainbows to the top.
After letting the view percolate, we continue to Nevada Fall. The 2.5-mile (4 km) uphill climb is worth the energy, not least because the valley looks even more stunning from here.
We could continue to Half Dome, but we opt to take the 4-mile (6.4 km) John Muir Trail back down. We want to pay homage to the naturalist for whom the trail is named and who lobbied successfully for the creation of Yosemite Park (we made a pilgrimage to his home town in Scotland earlier this year, after all).
Yosemite Falls Trail
On our last day in Yosemite, we take on another of the challenging hikes. Yosemite Falls Trail starts in the valley and climbs a steep set of switchbacks before reaching Lower Yosemite Falls 1.5 miles (2.4 km) later. The climb is tough, but worth it for the views of Half Dome and the tendrils of mist pouring down the cliff face.
The trail continues to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall. Sadly, we don’t have time to complete it, as we’re off to drive Highway 1 to Seattle. But given how beautiful it is, we’re happy to have a reason to come back to Yosemite again someday. And since hiking is in my blood, I’m sure we will.
Have you been the national park? What do you consider the best hikes in Yosemite?