If you’re searching for the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, then you’ve come to the right place. With more than 280 (maintained) hiking trails in Yosemite, it can be a little overwhelming to choose which hikes to add to your list when you’re visiting the park for a limited amount of time.
As a California native that grew up just a few hours drive from Yosemite, I’ve been fortunate enough to make my way through this incredible park nearly a dozen times since I was a youngster (most of those trips with my dad). For that reason, this national park holds a very special place in my heart.
Whether you’re visiting Yosemite for a day hike—or you’re here to plan a lengthier adventure for yourself, these are my picks for the absolute best Yosemite hikes you should consider today.
5 Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park (Top Day Hikes & Trails) in 2022
- Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail (6.0 Miles — 4 Hours)
- Half Dome via the John Muir Trail (15.0 Miles — 8 Hours)
- Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (7.6 Miles — 5 Hours)
- Clouds Rest Trail (14.0 Miles — 7 Hours)
- Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail (4.4 Miles — 2 Hours)
Before we get into my list of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park, I want to answer a few of the most common questions I get from first-time visitors to the park. Click on a question to expand and see my answers—or feel free to head straight down to my full list of the best Yosemite hikes and dive right in.
Do you need a reservation to enter Yosemite National Park?
Yes. As part of a new program to manage crowds during the 2022 summer peak season, a reservation will be required to enter Yosemite National Park from May 20, 2022 through September 30, 2022, for those driving into the park between 6:00am and 4:00pm. You’ll need to book your $2.00 reservation online here on Recreation.gov in advance. Even if you’re planning on just driving through the park and not stopping to hike, you’ll still need a reservation if you’re entering between the hours of 6:00am and 4:00pm.
If you’ll be visiting Yosemite between May 20, 2022 and September 30, 2022, you can make your reservation to enter the park on Recreation.gov right here. The reservation fee is $2.00 and you’ll still need to pay the $35.00 per-car park entrance fee on top of that. If you’re an early bird like me, a clever way around the reservation system is to enter the park before 6:00am… just be sure to do your part in maintaining this beautiful park and make sure you pay the $35.00 per-car entrance fee on your way out.
While the National Parks Service is billing this as a temporary reservation system to “help manage congestion and provide a quality visitor experience while numerous key visitor attractions are closed for critical infrastructure repairs,” I wouldn’t be surprised to see a version of this policy stick around due to the popularity of Yosemite during the summer months.
What is the best hike in Yosemite National Park?
The best hike for casual hikers in Yosemite National Park is Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail (6.0 miles). This also happens to be one of the most popular loop hiking trails in Yosemite, largely because of the moderate distance (expect a 3-4 hour hike) and incredible views you’ll access from the top of the two waterfalls along the trail.
The only consideration to take into account for infrequent hikers, is that like almost all moderate and above hikes in Yosemite, your elevation gain will be about 2,162ft. Be sure to prepare yourself ahead of time with plenty of water to stay hydrated, snacks, outerwear, sunscreen and of course the right footwear (some parts of the Mist Trail can be slippery when wet, so leave the Yeezy’s at home).
As an experienced hiker in the park myself, I think the best hike for moderate to experienced hikers in Yosemite National Park is Half Dome via the John Muir Trail (15.0 miles). While a much more strenuous day hike with 5,193ft of elevation gain and clocking in at between 7-9 hours of hike time depending upon your speed and amount of rest, the views you’ll get from the top of Half Dome are without a doubt the best you’ll find on any of the day hikes in Yosemite National Park. This is the Yosemite hike I’ve done most as an adult when I come to the park for just the day—a very long day.
If I only have one day in Yosemite, what’s the best hike to do?
If you’re coming into Yosemite National Park for just the day and not planning to camp (or stay overnight at a hotel), I’d recommend either Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail for a 6.0 mile / 4 hour hike, or taking on Half Dome via the John Muir Trail for a 15.0 mile / 8 hour hike. For a great half day hike, Vernal and Nevada Falls is perfect. If you’re planning on entering the park early enough in the day and want a more strenuous (all day) adventure, then Half Dome will be an unforgettable experience.
Which hikes are the most kid-friendly in Yosemite?
If you’re visiting Yosemite with children (under 12 years old), I’d recommend either Mirror Lake via the Valley Loop Trail for a 4.4 mile / 2 hour hike with only 301ft of elevation gain—or if you’re feeling a little more ambitious, Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail for a 6.0 mile / 4 hour hike that packs in a much more substantial 2,162ft of elevation gain. You should also consider the short hike up to Lower Yosemite Falls for a 1.2 mile / 30 minute walk that’ll still get you a great view of the falls.
Are Yosemite hikes difficult?
Yosemite National Park offers more than 280+ different hiking trails that range in difficulty from beginner (and very child friendly) all the way up to strenuous multi-day hiking trails that require a good amount of gear, preparation and physical endurance.
Most adults in good enough physical condition to walk a few miles with steady elevation gains will be able to confidently take on most of the day hikes in Yosemite National Park.
Which Yosemite hikes are open (right now)?
The best source of up-to-date information about which Yosemite hikes are open right now is the National Parks Service current conditions page right here. If there are any current trail closures, you’ll see them clearly listed in the “Trails and Wilderness Conditions” section a little ways down the page.
How many hiking trails are in Yosemite National Park?
There are at least 282 known and maintained hiking trails in Yosemite National Park, according to AllTrails. These trails vary greatly in difficulty, elevation gain, distance and level of maintenance, so be sure to do your homework ahead of time and come to the park well-prepared for your adventure.
Now without further delay, let’s dive into my shortlist of the best hiking trails in Yosemite National Park.
1. Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail (6.0 Miles – 4 Hours)
If you only have a half day in Yosemite, this is your hike. Vernal and Nevada Falls via The Mist Trail is hands down my favorite moderate loop trail hike in Yosemite, especially when I bring first-time park visitors with me. The views you’ll get of these two iconic waterfalls—framed with picturesque mountains—will never disappoint, and at the halfway point of the hike (at the top of Nevada Falls), there’s plenty of open space to sprawl out with a picnic for a little relaxation before your descent.
This hike clocks in right at 6 miles with 2,162ft of elevation gain and you can expect it to take anywhere from 3 to 4 hours to complete, depending upon your pace and how long you stop to take in the views along the way.
Why this hike rocks: If it’s your first time visiting Yosemite National Park and you’re looking for a relatively easy to moderate half day hike, this is your best bet. You’ll set your eyes on several of the park’s most iconic waterfalls, landmarks and viewpoints that’ll make a lasting impression. And while you’ll certainly encounter a lot of other day hikers along this trail (compared to our other best hikes in Yosemite), if you start early in the morning, you’ll still be able to find some peace & quiet at the top of Vernal Falls.
Though this is amongst the easier Yosemite day hikes on this list, it’s still wise to plan ahead with your gear and be sure you’ve got the right hiking boots for the season you’ll be visiting during (be sure to check out my list of all the best gifts for hikers this year too). Here’s a map of the trail:
For up-to-date trail conditions on Vernal and Nevada Falls, check the National Parks Service status right here. And for my detailed guide about when you should plan your visit to the park, check out the best time to visit Yosemite during the year.
2. Half Dome via the John Muir Trail (15.0 Miles – 8 Hours)
Half Dome is by far the best hike in Yosemite if you’re in good physical shape and have a full day to dedicate to a truly unforgettable experience. Bring plenty of water to stay hydrated, pack a lunch, grab some salty snacks, double check that you have the right gear and I can promise you’ll have a great time.
This hike clocks in at around 15 miles with a pretty strenuous 5,193ft of elevation gain and you can expect it to take anywhere from 7 to 10 hours to complete, depending upon your pace, if you decide to tackle the final ascent onto the top of Half Dome and how long you rest at the summit.
About the Half Dome cables: The cables are normally up during the peak summer season (as you can see pictured below) from the Friday before the last Monday in May (Memorial Day) through the second Monday in October (Columbus Day). When the cables are up, this part of the hike is much easier and safer for the average day hiker—and when the cables are down, consider it more of an adrenaline junkie adventure.
During the summer season when the cables are up, you’ll need a permit, which is awarded on a lottery basis. It costs $10 to enter the lottery and if you’re awarded a permit, they’ll be an additional $10 for each permit you choose to accept—and you’ll be locked into completing the hike on the day your permit is awarded for. A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed (about 225 day hiker permits and 75 backpacker permits) each day on the final leg of the Half Dome Trail, keeping the experience as pristine as can be.
What’s the best time of year to hike Half Dome in Yosemite?
The best time of year to hike Half Dome in Yosemite National Park is between March to May and October to early December. Because of all the extra coordination involved with hopefully getting a permit to do the Half Dome hike during the summer season, I’ve started avoiding these peak months and instead aim for the shoulder seasons (March to May and October to early December) when the weather is still mild, snow is few and far between, but the crowds are much lighter. Keep in mind though, that this means the cables will be down during the off-season, which requires a different kind of (mental and gear) preparation, which I get into a little more below. Check out my full guide for the best time to visit Yosemite National Park, depending upon which activities you’re planning to do.
Why this hike rocks: In case you couldn’t tell, this is hands down my favorite hike in Yosemite—and for that matter, one of my top hikes in the United States. It’s without a doubt Yosemite’s most iconic hike, and it probably won’t be open forever due to geological deterioration along the final ascent up the back of the dome. The view you’ll get from the summit of Half Dome simply can’t be matched by any of the other hikes in the park, and it makes the (very) sweaty ascent worthwhile. It’s always a challenging, adrenaline-fueled final stretch up the cable section—especially when the cables are down—leaving me ready for a rest, rehydration and lunch at the top.
👋 If you’re doing this hike, I highly recommend for safety purposes that you read up ahead of time about the guiding cables on the last leg of the climb and make sure you’re prepared with gripping gloves if the cables are down and an optional harness to clip in for extra safety. I’ve done Half Dome a few times while the cables are down without a harness and it’s been a fun adrenaline rush, but I wouldn’t recommend it to inexperienced hikers. Know that the final climb is not for the faint of heart. If you have any hesitance around heights, check out this YouTube video for a real sense of what it’ll be like. Here’s a map of the trail:
For up-to-date trail conditions on Half Dome, check the National Parks Service status right here.
3. Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (7.6 Miles – 5 Hours)
The Upper Yosemite Falls hike is a very happy medium between the shorter Vernal and Nevada Falls trail—and the much longer, more strenuous hike up to Half Dome. Because of the incredible up close and personal experience you’ll have with Yosemite Falls (and panoramic view of the entire Yosemite Valley below), when I’m heading into the park and I know I’ll only have about a half day to spend on the trail, Upper Yosemite Falls is at the top of my list.
This hike clocks in at around 7.6 miles with a heart pumping 3,218ft of elevation gain and you can expect it to take anywhere from 4 to 6 hours to complete, depending upon how many sights you stop to take in along the way. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks in case this one takes a little longer than expected!
Why this hike rocks: Yosemite Falls consists of three sections: the upper falls, middle cascade and lower falls. The vast majority of park visitors only make the shorter hike up to see the lower falls (an easy, family friendly 1.2 miles), leaving the upper falls much less trafficked by hikers. On top of that, the Mist Trail Loop with Vernal and Nevada Falls often attracts far more park visitors, so you’ll be much more likely to have the upper falls viewpoint to yourself for a bit. Here’s a map of the trail:
For up-to-date trail conditions on Upper Yosemite Falls, check the National Parks Service status right here.
4. Clouds Rest Trail (14.0 Miles – 7 Hours)
Clouds Rest is a huge granite formation located just northeast of Half Dome in Yosemite Valley, famous for how the formation looks from down in the valley below. What I like most about this hike, is that it pushes me outside of my comfort zone when it comes to heights and finding a sure footing. As you’re approaching the end of the Clouds Rest trail (and looking at the summit ahead), you’ll start scrambling up the narrow ridge and see dramatic, sheer drops on both sides of the trail. It’s not for the faint of heart—and certainly not inexperienced hikers.
This hike clocks in at around 14 miles with a surprisingly gradual 3,166ft of elevation gain and you can expect it to take anywhere from 6 to 8 hours to complete. If you’re making time for regular breaks, taking in the sights and admiring the special views this park has to offer, expect to run a little on the longer side. As always, be sure you’re packing in a lot of water, food, sunscreen (maybe an adult beverage) and any other gear you’ll need to be comfortable for this long haul.
Why this hike rocks: If you’ve already hiked Half Dome, then Clouds Rest should be next on your list. It’s a pretty strenuous day hike from the floor of the Yosemite Valley, but easily doable with the right gear and preparation. From the summit, you’ll get a one-of-a-kind view of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon and all the surrounding mountains. Here’s a map of the trail:
For up-to-date trail conditions on Clouds Rest, check the National Parks Service status right here.
5. Mirror Lake via Valley Loop Trail (4.4 Miles – 2 Hours)
Mirror Lake, one of the first hikes I can remember doing in Yosemite, is the final remnant of a large glacial lake that once filled the entire Yosemite Valley, making it an important part of the park’s history. If you’re coming to Yosemite with small children, this’ll be one of the best hikes in the park—it’s relatively short, has minimal elevation gain and there are lots of places to stop and rest along the loop.
This hike clocks in at around 4.4 miles with a very easy 301ft of elevation gain and you can expect it to take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to complete, depending upon how long you decide to stop for a picnic at the lake. While this is certainly one of the easiest hikes in Yosemite, it’s still one of the most visually rewarding during the spring and early summer—just be prepared to share the trail with plenty of other park visitors.
Why this hike rocks: If massive elevation gains aren’t your cup of tea, the Valley Loop Trail around Mirror Lake makes for the perfect half day hike in Yosemite, culminating with a quick walk around Mirror Lake. With beautiful reflections of Half Dome shining off the lake and a wide variety of wildflowers during the early summer months, Mirror Lake is a serene destination to park it for a picnic with the family. Here’s a map of the trail:
For up-to-date trail conditions on Mirror Lake, check the National Parks Service status right here.
What are Your Favorite Yosemite Hikes?
I hope this guide is helpful in planning your next hiking trip to Yosemite National Park. This park will forever hold a special place in my heart and I’m excited to hear about your hikes in Yosemite too. And if you’re looking for a little extra inspirational reading, check out my picks for the best hiking books to read this year.
Did I miss any of your picks for the best hikes in Yosemite National Park?
If so, please share with me in the comments below. I’d love the challenge to take on some new hikes this year!
I’ve done the Mirror Lake hike and it’s well worth it! The reflection at the end is stunning.
Love to hear it! 🙌