From secret hikes to date hikes to cave hikes, San Francisco holds its own pretty well in the hiking department. Yosemite though? Yosemite owns the whole department with more than 800 miles' worth of hiking trails, glacier-cut rock formations, unlimited panoramic vistas, and too many waterfalls to count.
For whenever you make the three-hour drive to one of the West Coast’s 16 most iconic road trip destinations (right... now?), here are the hikes you won’t want to miss.
Distance: 14.2 miles, round-trip
Elevation gain: 4,800ft
Best time of year: Visit when Half Dome’s cables are up, generally May through October. Earlier is better for the waterfalls.
You can combine two fantastic hikes by taking the Mist Trail to the top of Half Dome -- Yosemite’s most iconic rock face. The Mist Trail brings you in close proximity to two major waterfalls: Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls (hence the mist). Then you climb to Half Dome’s 8,842ft summit. The last 400 vertical feet of the hike are so steep that cables have been installed to help with the ascent/descent. Despite Backpacker Magazinenaming this route among its 10 most dangerous hikes in America, this hike is still so popular that the park limits visitors with a permit process. Note: entry for 2015's main permit lottery is over (it took place in March), but throughout the summer the park service will be conducting additional lotteries of 50 or so permits per day two days in advance. Boom boom pow.
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Distance: 9.6 miles, round-trip
Elevation gain: 3,200 ft
Best time of year: Spring and early summer, when the waterfall is at its best.
This hike has you on a switchback-filled journey from the valley floor to the Glacier Point visitor center -- and back. The views pick up after a mile when you climb out of the trees on the valley floor. After that, you’ll get a head-on shot of Yosemite Falls, plus views of Sentinel Dome, El Capitan, and Half Dome. There’s ice cream at the visitor center, which basically everyone who likes ice cream (so... everyone) uses as motivation for reaching the summit. And, if this uphill hike gets you down, you can always take the Glacier Point shuttle bus back to the valley, cutting the total distance in half.
Distance: 7.2 miles/8.4 miles with Yosemite Point, round-trip
Elevation gain: 2,600 ft to Yosemite Falls; 2,900 ft to Yosemite Point
Best time of year: Spring and early summer when the waterfall is at its best.
One of the oldest trails in Yosemite (built from 1873 to 1877), this hike leads to the top of the continent’s tallest waterfall (!!!), which measures in at 2,425ft. At one mile (and weaving through dozens of switchbacks), you’ll reach Columbia Rock. Then continue on to reach Yosemite Falls. For just another 1.6 miles, roundtrip, you can visit Yosemite Point for views of Half Dome and Eagle Peak, the highest point on the North Rim of the valley.
Glacier Point Road
Distance: 8.5 miles, one-way
Elevation gain: 3,700 ft with Sentinel Dome; 3,400 ft without
Best time of year: Whenever Glacier Point Road is open, typically mid-May through early November. Waterfalls are best in spring and early summer. What would you say if we gave you a downhill hike that includes Glacier Point and the Mist Trail -- plus Panorama Point, Illilouette Falls, and views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls? But yes, there is a catch -- there are 800ft of switchbacks after Illilouette Falls, as well as a lot of stone steps between Nevada and Vernal Falls. If can handle those two small obstacles, you’re golden.