How to choose just a few day hikes in Yosemite? There are so many choices and, of course, everyone has a different definition of a day hike. Theresa and I have several times covered more than 30 miles in a day (and my longest Yosemite day hike ever was 54 miles with 17,000 feet of elevation gain). But in general, we think of day hikes as hikes that reasonably good walkers can do in a comfortable day and still have time for photos, picnic, maybe some time to sit and read or draw. Roughly speaking, these hikes are in the 4–8 hour range.
If you’re looking for short hikes, check out our recommended short hikes in Yosemite
Starting in Yosemite Valley
Aside from the Valley Loop Trail, plan for a bit of pain. You are starting in one of the deepest valleys in America so the miles don’t come easy.
- Valley Loop Trail (up to 13 miles). A long, flat, quiet meander around Yosemite Valley. Highlights: quiet and flat even on the busiest days. Details: see my comments on the Recommended Short Hikes in Yosemite page.
- Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (6.4 miles round trip, but count on 4–6 hours). A steep, hard and rewarding hike in the spring. A hot, dry hike in August. As this slope gets early morning sun, from June through mid-September, starting early in the cool of the morning will dramatically improve your experience. Highlights: Columbia Point and the view out over the Valley, Oh My Gosh Point and the best view of the Falls, and the lookout at the top with views of the Valley and out over the High Sierra. Details: see Yosemite Explorer.
- The Mist Trail (6–7 miles round trip depending on your route and about 2,000 feet of gain). This is the hike to do in Yosemite in the spring and early summer. Of course, you’ll share the experience with 1,000 of your best friends, but with good reason. This is one of those hikes we have done dozens of times and drag almost everyone who visits us during the season (partially closed in winter) up this trail. Highlights: mist on your face (spring), standing on top of Vernal Fall, looking into Diamond Cascade from the footbridge, and peering over the railing at the top of Nevada Fall. This is my favorite waterfall view on any major trail. It’s mesmerizing. I can watch it for hours. Details: see the Mist Trail page on Yosemite Explorer. See also Yosemite Hikes.
- Four Mile Trail (4.7 miles one way, 3,200 feet of gain, closed in winter). You can do this round trip, one way, or link it up with the Panorama Trail. Most commonly, people take the hiker’s bus from Yosemite Valley Lodge up to Glacier Point and hike down. We don’t recommend trying to do it the other way, because if you miss the bus or there’s no space, you’ll need to hitchhike down. Most definitely, do NOT drive to Glacier Point and hike down planning to take the bus back. Every single day in the summer hikers come into the visitor center and ask how to get back to their car and the answer is “either walk or hithchike.” I have sometimes given this bad news to three parties in a single day. Highlights: Views out over the Valley and Sentinel Rock, with of course Glacier Point as your reward at the top. Details: Four Mile Trail page on Yosemite Explorer.
From Glacier Point
- Panorama Trail (7.8 miles one-way, mostly downhill). Take the hiker’s bus from Yosemite Valley Lodge to Glacier Point and hike down through some of the most stunning scenery in the park. You can also link this up with the Four Mile Trail for what I call the “Yosemite Half Marathon.” Highlights: great views of the south face of Half Dome (that’s the round side), Illillouette Creek and Falls, with a finish down the Mist Trail. The way to do this is to put a change of clothes in the car and park at Yosemite Valley Lodge. Take either the bus up to Glacier Point or follow the bike trail across Swinging Bridge and down the road to the Four Mile Trail and hike up. At the end of the day, hop on the shuttle and take it right back to your car, change your clothes and have a nice dinner in the Mountain Room. Details: See the Yosemite Explorer page on the Panorama Trail.
- Dewey Point (7.8 miles round trip, rolling terrain). Dewey Point takes you to one of the best, if not the best, lookout on the west end of the Valley. Lunching on Dewey Point while looking out at El Capitan, contemplate the climbing parties on the Big Stone too small to see with the naked eye amid that vast see of granite. Highlights: stunning views of Yosemite Valley with 1% the crowds of Glacier Point. A gorgeous, rolling walk that in the right season has monkshood, fireweed, scarlet gilia and many other flowers. Details: see the Dewey Point page on Yosemite Hikes.
- Ostrander Lake (12.2 miles round trip, about 1,800 feet of gain). This trail starts out with several flat miles, making it one of my favorite long runs. The hills at the end (in the middle that is) and the pounding take their toll. As a walk, though, it never feels especially steep and this walk takes you into a high alpine lake and a very different environment than you will experience in Yosemite Valley hikes. If you have time, you can circle the lake and scramble up to the top of Horse Ridge for a true high alpine feel. Highlights: a chance to visit one of the hundreds of high alpine Sierra lakes and a relatively quiet portion of the park. Details: see the Yosemite Hikes Ostrander Lake page.
- Chilnualna Falls Trail (about 8 miles and 2,400 feet of gain). Another favorite, but grueling run that makes for a less-grueling, but rather long day hike. The bottom takes you by the lower cascades of the creek and then into the forest. In the right season, the trail is lined with over a mile of the sadly named Mountain Misery, a flower in the rose family with a blossom like a strawberry. Then you arrive at the top of the lower cascade and can wander up the successive levels of the Chilnualna Falls cascades. Details: Chilnualna Falls trail on Yosemite Explorer.
The opportunities for long day hikes from Tuolumne Meadows are numerous. We frequently go there on our days off in the heat of the summer. You can find many suggestions on the Yosemite Hikes Tioga Pass Road section