Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most beautiful landscapes in California and it offers visitors plenty of opportunities for sightseeing and adventuring. In this guide, we share information on one of the simplest day hikes in Yosemite – the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail.
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail explores some of the best parts of Yosemite and offers up-close views of Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, Sentinel Rocks, and many other highlights. This trail travels through the Yosemite Valley floor and you have the option to do the full loop or a half loop which is only 6 miles in total.
If you want to enjoy the classic Yosemite views without the painful elevation gains that most Yosemite trails entail, the Yosemite Valley Loop is for you! Let’s get started!
Yosemite Valley Loop Hiking Guide:
- Location & Parking
- Quick Trail Highlights
- About Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
- Photography Tips
- What To Expect
- What To Bring
- Where To Stay
Location & Parking
The Valley Loop Trail travels through the entire Yosemite Valley so you can start hiking this trail from many different places. We followed a map from AllTrails that started the trek at Camp 4. If there is no parking there, you can also park and begin the trail by Lower Yosemite Falls.
Parking in Yosemite can be a limiting factor so sometimes it’s easier to walk to the trailhead from where you’re staying, whether that be a campsite, a hotel inside Yosemite, or Curry Village.
Google Map Location: Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Quick Trail Highlights
Here are a few quick Yosemite Valley Loop Trail highlights before we go into more details:
- Length: 6.5-miles for the half-loop or 13 miles for the full loop
- Elevation Gain: 200 feet
- Time Needed: 3 hours for the half loop, 6 hours for the full loop
- Difficulty: Moderate (due to its length)
- Cost: $35 per vehicle to enter Yosemite National Park
- Dogs allowed?: Only on paved roads and sidewalks
About Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is a great hike for first-time Yosemite visitors that want to get an overall sense of Yosemite National Park. The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is different than other hikes in this park because it connects many of the top highlights into one single loop.
You have the option to hike the half-loop which is around 6 miles long or the full loop which is around 13 miles long. 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 families and those who want to get their legs warmed up before attempting one of the steeper 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.
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is located in lower elevation so it’s accessible all year round. This makes it a great trail option during the colder months when many other hikes in Yosemite are closed for the season.
We hiked the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail in late October and the scenery was just unreal. Many of the lower elevation trees like Bigleaf Maple and Black Oak change colors to bright yellows and oranges while the higher elevation alpine trees stay evergreen.
In the summer months, Yosemite attracts large visitor crowds, but the Valley Loop Trail stays somewhat empty offering a bit of peace and solitude during the busy seasons. So if you’re looking for a flat, crowd-less trail with incredible scenery – you’ll love the Valley Loop Trail!
Psst! Here are a few other incredible hikes that we’re done in Yosemite:
Yosemite National Park is one of my favorite places for photography in California as it offers many unique locations and landscapes. Here are a few photography tips to help you capture memories of a lifetime from your trip:
- Use a polarizer filter. A polarizer filter can help manage reflection in the water and deepen colors. You can even buy a polarizer filter for your phone if that’s your go-to camera!
- Keep the shutter speed high. Your photos can come out blurry if you’re snapping them on the go. Keep the shutter speed high for sharper images.
- When capturing photos try to stand so the sun is behind you. Direct sunlight tends to wash out colors and contrast in photos.
- Use a lens hood on your camera to help battle direct sunlight during the day.
- Bring a small travel tripod. During this route, you’ll pass waterfalls and the Merced River. Using a tripod allows you to lower the shutter speed to create a flowy, soft look in the water while reducing blurriness in a photo.
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What To Expect
I’ve been to Yosemite many times and usually, I’ll try to tackle one of the more challenging hikes. On this trip, I was traveling with my mom so we decided to hike the easier half Valley Loop Trail instead.
We started our hike from Lower Yosemite Falls and took the route counterclockwise. The first section of the trail is very easy and follows a paved path to Camp 4.
You can take the trail through Camp 4 that passes backpacker campsites, restrooms, and the trailhead for Upper Yosemite Falls & Eagle Peak. This is another great hike that we’ve done – but it gains around 4000 feet in elevation and can take all day to complete.
Continue on the trail past Camp 4 and soon you’ll feel submerged into nature with barely anyone else around. The further you go away from Yosemite Village, the fewer people you’ll encounter.
You’ll pass giant granite rocks where you might spot a few people practicing rock climbing and bouldering. If you’re interested in rock climbing lessons yourself, check out the Yosemite Mountaineering School that is located in Curry Village.
Keep going on the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail and soon you’ll need to cross the main road where the trail continues through the woods parallel to the Merced River.
In a couple of miles, we were finally rewarded with one of my favorite views in Yosemite of the river and El Capitan as the backdrop.
If you’re hiking the half-loop trail, you can cross the Merced River at El Capitan Drive and start heading back towards Yosemite Village. If you’re hiking the full loop, continue on the trail towards Pohono Bridge and Bridalveil Falls.
We had planned to hike the half-loop trail so we crossed to the other side of the valley floor. Here you can stop by a scenic bridge overlooking jagged Yosemite mountain peaks next to an expansive meadow.
After taking in the views, we kept going along the loop. During our visit in November, Yosemite was undergoing a controlled burn so part of the trail was closed and we had to walk along the main road before we could continue hiking in the forest again.
Certain sections of this trail can be a bit difficult to find so having an offline hiking app like AllTrails or Maps.me can help you navigate the route.
The next few miles passed through a serene forest filled with tall trees and giant boulders. While you may not get the most epic Yosemite views here, it’s a wonderful place to disconnect from everything and enjoy a bit of solitude.
At the Four Mile Trailhead, we crossed the road again and followed a narrow path that led to the Swinging Bridge. The Swinging Bridge is a popular day-use area with grills and picnic tables that also has one of the best views of Yosemite Falls.
While this bridge is called “The Swinging Bridge”, it is a stationary bridge that can be used for crossing the Merced River safely. From there we took the path through meadows back to our starting point at Lower Yosemite Falls.
What To Bring
Here are a few things that we recommend bringing along to make your hike more enjoyable:
- Sturdy hiking boots – there are many parts of the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail that travel across uneven surfaces, rocks, and tree roots. Good hiking shoes with support can prevent you from falling and twisting your ankles.
- Hiking Poles – this trail is mostly flat but you’ll be hiking for 6+ miles so your legs will start getting tired. Hiking poles can provide support and stability to finish the hike safely.
- Plenty of water – for longer day hikes I always bring several reusable water bottles.
- Insect repellant– one of the most challenging parts of this hike were the relentless bugs that kept following us for the entire time. Bring a bug spray for a more enjoyable time!
- Alpine jacket – the weather in Yosemite can be a bit unpredictable. The full loop can take all day to complete so be sure to bring warm layers in case you don’t get to finish the hike before sunset.
- Headlamp – A headlamp is a must if you plan to hike this trail in the dark.
- Adventure medical kit – REI sells compact lightweight emergency kits that are easy to bring in a day pack.
- Portable phone charger – in case your phone runs out of battery.
- Day pack – I have a small day pack from REI that fits all of my necessities and is very light so it’s easy to bring along.
Where To Stay
During our fall trip in Yosemite, we stayed in these cozy heated canvas tents in Curry Village. Curry Village tent cabins is the perfect accommodation choice for those who want to spend days hiking and exploring Yosemite National Park and return to stay in a no-frills campsite surrounded by majestic trees and towering granite walls.
Here visitors have the opportunity to unwind and relax at spacious tent cabins scattered in the wilderness while also enjoying comfortable amenities like hot showers, a seasonal pool, and multiple dining choices.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail is an exceptional trail passing some of the best highlights of Yosemite National Park. We hope this guide has helped you prepare for an unforgettable trip to Yosemite but if you have any questions, don’t hesitate to ask us in the comments below and we’ll do our best to answer them!
Looking for more Yosemite travel inspiration? Be sure to check out these popular Yosemite posts next:
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- Hiking & Backpacking The Cathedral Lakes Trail
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