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Trail Guide to Yosemite National Park
This summer I finally crossed off an item on my bucket list of adventure trips: Hiking Yosemite National Park. My father and I have been planning this trip for what seemed like forever and were like two excited kids who were pumped for Disneyland. Much to the dismay of the rest of my glamping side of the family, we decided that we would go big or go home, only doing the most strenuous and the best hikes Yosemite had to offer.
There was one problem: None of us are experienced hikers. At all. My cardio regimen had disappeared altogether during my Freshman year of college and I don’t even think I could last 30mins on a Stair-master. Nevertheless, we were determined to do the most and to hike the equivalent of pretty much being on a Stair-master for at least 8 hours straight per day.
As you’ve probably guessed, I survived my trip and it’s not my ghost typing up my tale of adventure. Hiking in Yosemite was definitely a workout, but it was a lot easier than I thought it would be and the views were out of this world.
For the inexperienced hiker, these are the trails that I went on and what I really thought of them:
Upper Yosemite Falls
Mileage: 7.6 mile hike
Looking back, I’m glad that this was the first hike on my list because I would’ve ached way too much later in the week to attempt this strenuous hike. Yosemite Falls is by far the most iconic waterfall in Yosemite Valley and is the tallest waterfall in the park, measuring an impressive 2,425ft from summit to base.
If you’re thinking of hiking in Yosemite, you have to do this trail. The views of the valley get more and more impressive the higher you go and honestly the whole scene looks like a painting. You’ll be really proud of yourself once you reach the top.
The hike is mostly a series of steep switchbacks and I would recommend taking at least 2 liters of water with you or perhaps a LifeStraw so you can filter natural spring water that you find along the trail. You’re going to get thirsty. And on that note, also make sure to use the restroom before embarking on this trail because it’s a narrow mountain pass with basically nowhere to hide and pop-a-squat until you reach the top.
Upper Yosemite Falls is gorgeous and you can hear it roaring before you see it. You can feel the cool air coming off of the falls from quite a distance (a relief if you’re feeling hot’n sweaty).
Master Oogway Pro Tip: Slow and steady wins the race. There were these two ancient looking old ladies who slowly hiked their way to the top of this waterfall and were on their way back before we even reached the top. Why did they get there before all the youngsters with working knees? Because they weren’t sprinting up the side of the mountain and taking many breaks like we were. If you take it slow and steady, you’ll most likely reach the top faster and with minimal effort.
Mileage: 7 mile hike
When they say that you get “mist” on this trail, it’s a gross understatement. This trail is freaking Splash Mountain. The spray and icy wind coming off of that mammoth of a waterfall will soak you on this trail, so be sure to bring extra socks and wear something water proof. Although the icy blast may sometimes feel as if you are on the sinking Titanic, this was definitely my favorite trail because of how beautiful it was. The spray from the waterfall combined with streaks of sunlight streaming from the forest above us meant that there were constant rainbows that could be seen throughout the ascent. The trail was so green and so misty that it looked like something out of Lord of the Rings. The trail opens onto a clearing at the top of the waterfall where you can lay back, have a snack, and let the sun dry you while you take in the views.
Pro tip: The stairs that are cut into the mountain leading up to the waterfall are slippery so I would not recommend going down the trail the same way you came up. Instead, take the John Muir trail back to the valley floor. It’s an easy downhill trail and you won’t get wet.
This was the hike that made me army-crawl down a massive granite slab. Not everyone did this – in fact no one did this -just me…because I have recently discovered that I have a crippling fear of accidentally yeeting my body off of a cliff.
Taft point is a place where you can stand at the edge of a 7,500ft cliff, one of the highest uninterrupted drop-off points in the park. The hike to the point itself is really easy and you go through some beautiful fairytale looking woods with snow still on the ground in late June. Then the forest abruptly ends, and you’re standing on a terrifying cliff with fissures that lead straight down to your death if you accidentally fall into one. It’s not actually as bad as I’m describing. There were young children running around on this cliff, guys lying on their bellies and peering over the edges, and lots of prairie dogs are daredevil squirrels that were just running along the gaping chasm. But me? Nuh-uh. Not today Satan. After stepping up onto Taft Point for an obligatory photo, I scooted on my butt past fearless young children and crawled my way to the edge of the forest for safety, leaving my family to their own devices.
Mileage: 2.2 mile hike
Sentinel dome is probably the easiest hike for the greatest reward. It’s definitely not as high and nowhere as difficult as climbing the iconic Half Dome. However, I think this trail is very underrated because it carries some of the most impressive views the park has to offer. From the top of the dome, you have a complete panoramic view of the valley and can clearly see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. The top of the dome still had lots of soft snow which many kids were sliding around in or having snowball fights.
Mileage: 1 mile hike or a twisty mountain drive
This point is extremely tourist heavy during midday because of its iconicity. There are bathrooms, a gift shop, and an amphitheater. You can either drive up to or hike up to this point. The views, as always, are very impressive and you can see a lot of the valley.
We went up here in the evening and stayed for nightfall so that I could try and get some long exposure shots of the sky. On a good night you can see the milky way, but unfortunately we chose a full moon night so there was too much light to be clearly seen. However, the moon rising was gorgeous and you could see Half Dome eerily lit by the moon in the quiet of night and see the lights of climbers strapped to the side of El Capitan.
Mileage: 5 miles (loop trail)
So this looks like a lake, but it’s actually just a really wide part of a river that will eventually lead to waterfalls and crazy rapids, so if you decide to swim just be mindful. Mirror Lake is a popular swimming destination, but honestly I don’t really think it’s all that impressive. Swimming at Barton Springs or Lady Bird Lake is just as great.
A lot of families just stop once they reach the lake, go swimming, and then turn back around. But not us. We’re a whole lot of extra. Instead, we hiked a trail that would loop us back around to the entrance. For the most part, the trail was easy or at least was meant to be easy, but there was a landslide that covered a large part of it so we had to climb and wiggle our way through that mess. We saw a lot of wildlife and I almost stepped on a rattlesnake, so watch out.
I wouldn’t do this hike again, but if you have young children, want an easy trail, and want to swim in ice water, then this is the spot for you.
Unfortunately, we didn’t get to do this one because we hadn’t booked far enough in advance. Make sure to register for this hike about a year in advance or take part in the nightly raffle (12:00AM) to secure a spot. If all else fails, be one of the first to stand outside of the Wilderness center and perhaps receive the permit to hike up Half Dome from someone who cancelled last minute.