With dramatic mountains, towering waterfalls, and jaw-dropping views, Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most epic hiking experiences that you can enjoy in California.
If you’re planning a trip to Yosemite and are wondering what hikes you should add to your list, we’re here to share some of our favorites!
With over 800 available hiking trails to choose from it may be hard to pick a few for your visit. After many trips to Yosemite through various seasons, we have compiled a list covering 10 incredible day hikes in Yosemite that you’ll love!
To help you make your trip planning easier, I have divided this guide into three parts:
- Easy Hikes
- Moderate Hikes
- Hard Hikes
(Pssst! Don’t let the hard hikes intimidate you – some of my favorite Yosemite trails fall in this category.)
While there are still plenty of Yosemite day hikes left on our bucket list, these 10 trails are a good starting point, especially for first-time visitors.
1. Lower Yosemite Falls
Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most popular and easiest-to-access trails at Yosemite National Park. Just about any visitor that drives into Yosemite Valley stops to hike this short yet epic 1-mile-long trail.
This hike follows a flat and mostly paved path that leads to the base of the Yosemite waterfall. It stops at a bridge that has a direct and unobstructed view of the towering 320-foot Lower Falls and its sheer power. If you get too close, you can get soaked by the waterfall mist so keep an eye on your camera gear and electronics.
The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is open all year long, so it’s a great hike to do in any season. The waterfall typically flows full of water in spring after fresh snowmelt and slowly diminishes towards the fall months, unless you get lucky with some unexpected rain.
- Length: 1 mile
- Elevation: 50 feet
- Time Needed: 30 min – 1 hour
- Starting Point: Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead
2. Cook’s Meadow Loop
Cook’s Meadow Loop is a 2-mile-long family-friendly trail that travels through some of the best parts of Yosemite Valley. From this trail, you can enjoy impressive views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, towering granite peaks, and lush meadows.
Toward sunset, you can often spot deer leisurely munching on grass, leaves, and plants that grow in Cook’s Meadow.
Some noteworthy attractions of Cook’s Meadow Loop include Yosemite Valley Chapel, Sentinel Bridge, and scenic wooden boardwalks overlooking Yosemite Falls.
- Length: 1-2 miles
- Elevation: Flat
- Time Needed: 30 min – 1 hour
- Starting Point: Cook’s Meadow Loop
3. Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake is a short and popular hike that leads visitors close to the base of Half Dome, one of Yosemite’s most distinct rock features.
Mirror Lake is technically not a lake but a deep river bed that in springtime fills up with fresh snowmelt water and resembles the looks of a lake with mirror-like reflections. By late summer it’s common for Mirror Lake to dry up so don’t be surprised if you hike all the way there and don’t find a lake!
The hike to Mirror Lake is only 2 miles round trip and you have the option to take a rugged trail or a paved path. If the lake is dry, you can take the trail up, cross the dry river bed and return on the paved road back.
- Length: 2 miles round trip
- Elevation: 100 feet
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Starting Point: Mirror Lake Trailhead
4. Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls is one of the first waterfalls that you can experience as you drive into Yosemite National Park. You can even spot it from the roadside Tunnel Viewpoint that overlooks the valley.
While the waterfall might look tiny from Tunnel View, up close you can feel the sheer force of the 620-foot drop that plunges down a steep granite wall. Bridalveil Falls is a year-round waterfall, although the volume does diminish towards the fall months.
Currently, Bridalveil Falls is undergoing a restoration project that will create more accessible pathways to take in those majestic views of the waterfall. If the hiking paths are closed, you can also easily see this waterfall from the designated viewing area on the side of the road.
- Length: 0.5 miles
- Elevation: 80 feet
- Time Needed: 30 minutes
- Starting Point: Bridalveil Falls Trailhead
5. Vernal Fall Footbridge
Vernal Fall Footbridge is a 1.6-mile round-trip trail that leads to a scenic bridge near the base of Vernal Falls. If you want to extend this hike, you can also tackle the 700 granite steps that lead to the top of Vernal Falls or (if you’re up for a real challenge), hike to Nevada Falls for a total of 6 miles.
This is one of the best day hikes in California that offers incredible views and plenty of waterfall sightings. The section to Vernal Fall Footbridge is paved and surrounded by giant boulders. Along the way, you’ll see plenty of views of the meandering Merced River carving its way through the valley.
Vernal Falls is notorious for its powerful waterfall spray that will get you soaked up close. If you’re lucky, you might even see a rainbow forming in the waterfall mist!
- Length: 1.6 miles round trip to the bridge
- Elevation: 400 feet
- Time Needed: 2 hours
- Starting Point: Mist Trail & John Muir Trail Trailhead
You May Also Like:
6. Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail explores some of the best parts of Yosemite National Park and offers up-close views of El Capitan, Sentinel Rocks, Yosemite Falls, and many other highlights. If you want to enjoy the classic Yosemite views without the painful elevation gains that most hikes entail, then this trail is for you!
You have the option to do the full Yosemite Valley Loop which is around 13 miles long or the half-loop which is only 6 miles in total. Either option is just incredible and you’ll get to experience seeing towering waterfalls, granite cliffs, meandering rivers, and scenic meadows that Yosemite is famous for.
Yosemite Valley Loop follows a fairly flat path making it a great option for beginner hikers and those who want to get their legs warmed up before attempting one of the more challenging day hikes. You will also have plenty of opportunities to rest along the way and enjoy lunch at one of the picnic sites by the Merced River.
- Length: 6.5-miles for the half-loop / 13 miles for the full loop
- Elevation: 200 feet
- Time Needed: 3 hours for the half-loop / 6 hours for the full loop
- Starting Point: Camp 4
7. Columbia Rock & Upper Yosemite Falls
Sitting at 2425 feet, Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the United States. If you’re up for a challenge, you can take a 3.6-mile-long trail to the top of Yosemite Falls and enjoy some amazing views from above where the waterfall plunges over the edge. But this trek can take all day to complete due to the strenuous climb.
If you’re not up for the elevation gain, you can also go halfway and stop at Columbia Rock for panoramic views of the valley. Many people start the hike to Upper Yosemite Falls and run out of energy, water, or time. Columbia Rock is a great spot to take a break and evaluate if you should keep going or just enjoy the views and head back.
We did this trail as part of our Eagle Peak backpacking trip and the views were just phenomenal the entire time.
Keep in mind that this trail is very exposed to the sun so bringing plenty of water and a travel-size sunscreen is a must! Trekking poles can also help with the steep, slippery climb both up and down.
- Length: 2 miles round trip to Columbia Rock / 7.2 miles round trip to Upper Yosemite Falls
- Elevation: 1000 feet to Columbia Rock / 2700 feet to Upper Yosemite Falls
- Time Needed: 2-3 hours for Columbia Rock / 6-8 hours for Upper Yosemite Falls
- Starting Point: Yosemite Falls Trailhead
8. Cathedral Lakes Trail
Cathedral Lakes is a place where dramatic mountains, granite peaks, and alpine mountain lakes all exist within the same wilderness. Cathedral Lakes Trail is one of the most popular backcountry hikes in Yosemite that is 7-9 miles long and visits two stunning alpine lakes.
This hike starts at the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead off Tioga Road. The trailhead is easy to spot and follows a narrow path directly into the forest.
The first two miles of the Cathedral Lakes Trail are the hardest and gain nearly 1000 feet in elevation. But once you make it up this steep section, the trail flattens out for a bit giving hikers a much-needed break.
There are two lakes that you can visit along this route – the Lower Cathedral Lake and the Upper Cathedral Lake. Most people make it to the Lower Cathedral Lake and head back, not realizing that there is a second lake just around the corner.
If you have the time, I recommend checking out the trail that loops around the entire Lower Cathedral Lake. You get much better views from the other side of the lake than you do from the arrival point where most people end up hanging out.
- Length: Around 9 miles out and back to visit both lakes
- Elevation: 1550 feet
- Time Needed: 4-6 hours
- Starting Point: Cathedral Lakes Trailhead
Read More: Hiking The Cathedral Lakes Trail In Yosemite
9. North Dome Trail
Jagged granite peaks, direct views of Half Dome, serene wilderness – offering all of this, plus more, the North Dome Trail can be considered one of the best-hidden gems in Yosemite. While most visitors crowd around Yosemite Valley, only a few people venture out to explore the backcountry part of Yosemite National Park where the North Dome trail is located.
North Dome trail is around 10.5 miles long including several detours to Indian Arch and Indian Rock. You can skip these sights and head directly to North Dome if you want to shorten the trail.
North Dome trail starts at the Porcupine Creek Trailhead and heads directly into a forest along a wide path. There are some hills along this trail so you’ll be going up and down (but mostly down) until you reach North Dome.
About a mile from the destination, the forest line will clear and you will need to hike across giant granite slabs. There will be steep 8000 feet drop-offs all around you but there is plenty of flat space for hikers to stay safe.
We’ve hiked and backpacked many trails in Yosemite and this hike, by far, offers some of the best views around. If you plan to day hike Porcupine Creek to North Dome Trail, 10 miles is a long way to go in a day, but it’s well worth the effort!
- Length: 10.5 miles
- Elevation: 2300 feet
- Time Needed: 5-7 hours
- Starting Point: Porcupine Creek Trailhead
Read More: Hiking North Dome Trail In Yosemite
10. Eagle Peak Trail
Eagle Peak Trail might be one of the most underrated trails in Yosemite especially if you’re looking for a challenging day hike. Eagle Peak Trail is 12 miles long and offers incredible panoramic views of the valley from up top.
So why isn’t this trail more popular? Because it’s hard and it kicks your butt. Truly. This trail consists of endless switchbacks that gain 3000 feet in elevation in the first 3 miles. These switchbacks lead to the top of the mountain where, thankfully, the hike flattens out a bit and continues through a mossy forest.
The Eagle Peak hike is not easy and it will push you to your physical limits. But in the end, you will be rewarded with one of the most epic views overlooking Yosemite National Park.
An early head start is a must for those who plan to tackle the Eagle Peak trail as a day trip. This trail also has limited places to fill up on water so plan accordingly.
- Length: Around 12 miles out and back
- Elevation: 3700 feet
- Time Needed: 8-10 hours
- Location: Eagle Peak
Read More: How To Hike The Eagle Peak Trail In Yosemite
Yosemite Entrance Reservations & Fees
Before you head out to Yosemite National Park, it’s important to note that in recent years the park started implementing a reservation system for crowd control during the busy summer months. As you’re planning your trip be sure to check the Yosemite National Park Website for entrance reservation requirements.
There is also a fee to enter and visit Yosemite National Park. The current fee is $35 per car and $30 for a motorcycle for a 7-day pass.
As an alternative, you can also purchase America The Beautiful Annual Pass for $80. This is the pass that I have and it grants you unlimited entry into any US National Park for a year. In the past year, I have been traveling to US National Parks quite a bit and this pass has paid itself off many times over!
Where To Stay
Yosemite offers many incredible accommodation choices that include campsites, cabins, vacation rentals, and hotels.
If you’re looking for a budget stay, the Curry Village Tent Cabins in Yosemite is a great choice! These cabins cost around $100-$200 (depending on the season) so it’s much cheaper than staying in a hotel yet a step up from standard camping.
The Curry Village tent cabins are located in a beautiful part of Yosemite that is surrounded by majestic trees and sheer granite walls. The cabins are quite spacious and offer amazing amenities like hot showers, restaurants, and a bar.
During your stay, you will be provided with all the basics for comfortable sleep including beds, sheets, pillows, and a blanket. In the cooler seasons, you can opt to book a heated cabin so you can stay warm and cozy even as the temperatures drop at night.
Hotels In Yosemite
Here are some of the most popular hotels in or near Yosemite National Park:
- Yosemite Valley Lodge – this lodge is centrally located inside Yosemite near Lower Yosemite Falls and offers 245 comfortable rooms along with a seasonal pool, restaurant, and bar.
- The Ahwahnee – this is a majestic hotel within Yosemite National Park and is a great option if you’re looking for a luxury stay.
- Wawona Hotel – the Wawona Hotel is a Victorian-style lodge from 1856 that is situated near Yosemite’s south entrance.
- Tenaya Lodge – located just 2 miles from Yosemite National Park, the Tenaya Lodge is surrounded by rustic nature yet features modern amenities such as a spa and gourmet on-site restaurant. This hotel is also pet-friendly!
Opting to stay in a cabin rental near Yosemite National Park is one of the best and most convenient ways to experience this stunning expanse of the American wilderness.
Here are some of our favorite VRBO rentals near Yosemite National Park:
- Yosemite Hilltop Cabin. This is a one-bedroom rental tucked away in the small town of Foresta within the National Park boundaries. Yosemite Valley is about a 15-minute drive away and there are excellent hiking trails that lead to wildflowers and waterfalls nearby.
- Mountain Lodge. This beautiful mountain lodge just outside of Yosemite gladly welcomes pets, and has everything you need for a good time. The property comprises five acres perfect for furry friends to roam and play and is also close to a friendly pet boarder for those who wish to explore the park more extensively.
- The Peregrine Lodge. This grand three-bedroom cabin is conveniently situated inside the National Park gates, allowing guests to skip the long lines and enjoy more time for relaxation.
Looking for more Yosemite inspiration? Here are a few other Yosemite guides and posts that you may like:
- 18 Amazing Things To See & Do In Yosemite
- Visiting Yosemite In October & November For Fall Colors
- Hiking Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias Trail In Yosemite
- Hiking The Cathedral Lakes Trail In Yosemite
- Guide To Visiting Yosemite National Park In The Winter
- How To Visit And Snowshoe Mariposa Grove In Winter
Some of the links used in this blog may be affiliate links. At no extra cost to you, I earn a small commission when you book through these links for which I am very thankful!