With hundreds of miles of trails and hundreds more miles of cross-country routes, Yosemite has stunning “hikes” that are just a few minutes from the car and loops of hundreds of miles that would take several days for all but strongest ultra-runners. Most of our guests are looking for a short, half-day hike, or a moderate hike that will take the better part of the day without being a death march.
What defines a “short hike” is going to vary a lot from person to person. But let’s say that we would not call the 0.2 mile walk from the parking lot to Glacier Point a “hike” and though only six miles, we would not call the Upper Yosemite Falls trail “short” by most visitors’ definition. For the purposes of this page, we consider “short” to be in that one to four hour range. We realize that a four-hour hike might be “long” for some people and that a fast runner might knock off these four-hour hikes in an hour — personally I (Tom) run the Dewey Point trail in about 1:20, but we put it down as a 4-hour hike here.
For a selection of longer hikes, take a look at our Recommended Day Hikes in Yosemite
Super Short Hikes in Yosemite (under 1 hour)
Though I wouldn’t call these “hikes” as they are so short. However, at least in the right season, they are easy and spectacular so there’s no good reason to skip these quick hits.
- Lower Yosemite Fall. This is a short, wheelchair-accessible loop that takes you to the footbridge below Lower Yosemite Fall. Take the shuttle to the Yosemite Falls stop (#6) or the Yosemite Valley Lodge (#8). From either stop you can do the entire loop in about 40 minutes though in the spring and early summer, you will likely linger quite a bit longer.
- Bridalveil Fall. Parking here can be a challenge on a busy day, but it’s only a five-minute walk from the car to the viewing area where, in spring and early summer, you will feel the spray on your face.
- Glacier Point. Only five minutes from the parking lot to one of the most spectacular views in the world. Best late in the day as the sun sinks low and turns Half Dome orange. Go for the ranger sunset talk. The Glacier Point Road is typically open late-April through the first snows sometime in late October or November.
Short Hikes in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley has one big drawback for hikers: it’s a valley. So many hikes leaving from the Valley are short, but not necessarily easy. These hikes are all about 25–30 minutes from our house to trailhead parking.
- Mirror Lake and Mirror Lake Loop. (1–3 hours; 2–6 miles, flat). From shuttle stop 17, it’s only a bit more than a mile to Mirror Lake proper. Be forewarned, this is a “legacy” name and much of the year it would be more proper to call it Mirror Meadow as this lake dries up completely most years — in bygone days the park service used to dredge this area to maintain the lake, but now they let natural processes run their course. Then entire loop is about six flat miles and takes you under Half Dome. Tip: If doing the full loop, it’s worth hiking up the Snow Creek trail for about 10 minutes to get above the tree line for a stunning view of Half Dome in a setting where you are typically alone. Start at shuttle stop 17 or park at the trailhead parking opposite Upper Pines campground and walk about 3/4 of a mile to stop 17. See Yosemite Hikes for details.
- Valley Loop Trail (1 hour to all day; 0 to 13 miles; flat). The Valley Loop Trail roughly parallels the road and, therefore, I always discounted it. A fellow ranger I was working with was constantly recommending it, so one day I just took him up on it and hiked the whole thing. In fact, it takes you to quiet parts of the Valley with little foot traffic and typically feels far from the road. Spending the better part of day walking, seeing few people, lots of bear scat and territorial markings with shade punctuated by views of Yosemite icons, I became a convert — the Valley Loop Trail in the west end of the Valley is a quiet, natural experience that lets you breathe in Yosemite at a strolling pace. It can be a bit hard to follow through the woodlot west of El Capitan, but otherwise it’s a major trail. You can start anywhere, but one nice option is to park at Pohono Bridge at the west end of the Valley and hike first one way then the other depending on how long you want to be out for.
- Artist Point (2 miles round trip, 500 feet elevation gain). When Thomas Ayres drew the first published pictures of Yosemite, he drew them from Artist Point as did most of the artists and photographers who followed him until the new road opened in 1931. Start at Tunnel View at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel. See details on Yosemite Hikes.
- Vernal Fall (3 miles round trip, 1,000 feet of gain). Leave from shuttle stop #16 and climb the steep and, yes, crowded trail. But it’s crowded for a reason — you’ll get close enough to the fall to feel the mist on your face (thus the name Mist Trail) and perhaps get soaked to the skin from the mist. Beginning about midsummer you’ll no longer feel the spray, but you’ll still have close-up views of a dramatic waterfall. See details on Yosemite Hikes and Yosemite Explorer.
- Oh My Gosh Point (about 4 miles round trip and roughly 1300 feet of gain). Oh My Gosh Point (which sticklers will call Indika Point, but that’s another story), is roughly the halfway point of the Upper Yosemite Falls trail and pushes the definition of “short” hike for many walkers as it is rather steep. But oh the reward — the only place you can view the Lower Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascade and Upper Yosemite Fall from one point that will make you say… “Oh my gosh!” To find it, hike past Columbia Rock and continue until the trail starts to round the ridge bringing you into the falls canyon and look for a clear trail to your right. In about 50-100 feet, you will see a steel railing and the namesake lookout. If you have a full, clear view of Upper Yosemite Fall, you’ve gone a minute or two too far. Use care: people have gone off trail here never to be found again. The trail should be almost as clear and obvious as main trail. There are also climber and game trails that must be avoided. See details on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail on Yosemite Explorer with more specific instructions on getting to Oh My Gosh Point.
Short Hikes along Glacier Point Road
Glacier Point Road may have the best collection of short hikes. Of course, there is the eponymous point which is not really a hike, per se. But there are other short hikes that are great.
- Sentinel Dome (2.2 miles round trip). A stunning 360-degree view that shows off almost the entire park. You won’t be alone here, but it is one of our favorite spots and the parking is less that 25 minutes from our house. See Sentinel Dome details on Yosemite Hikes.
- Taft Point (2 miles round trip). Taft Point is like Glacier Point, but with 1% as many people and views toward the west end of the Valley rather than the east. Like Sentinel Dome, there are few hikes that have as high a ratio of scenery to miles. More details on Taft Point.
- Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop (about 5 miles total). For a bit more effort, you can get both! A great outing that is perhaps a bit long to consider a “short” hike, but like its constituent parts, it has a very high ratio of scenery to miles.
Short Hikes near Wawona
The crown jewel of short hikes near Wawona is the quick walk to the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove, but the grove is actually closed for all of 2016 for restoration. But there are still some nice hikes out this way.
- Wawona Meadow Loop 1(about 3.5 miles, relatively flat). A pleasant loop anytime, this trail is great in the spring flower season. Park anywhere in Wawona and head up the Chowchilla Mountain Road that cuts across the golf course right by the Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wawona Hotel). Not, when you walk on Chowchilla Mountain Road you are on the route that Roosevelt and Muir took when they traveled together to Yosemite. Read more about this hike on Yosemite Hikes.
- Chilnualna Falls base. The full trail is a fairly substantial hike if you want to go to the actual falls, but there are some nice cascades right at the bottom that make for a nice, very short hike (about a quarter mile each way, though of course you can continue).
Short Hikes on the Highway 120 Corridor
- Tuolumne and Merced Groves of giant sequoias (2–2.5 miles round trip, roughly 400 feet of elevation loss). Near Crane Flat, where Highway 120 turns east over the Sierra Nevada and Big Oak Flat Road continues to Yosemite Valley, there are two small sequoia groves, each a relatively easy walk and both open all year. For the Tuolumne Grove, take Highway 120 East from Crane Flat and park. This is just before the winter closure gate and accessible all year. For the Merced Grove, continue about a mile west of Crane Flat on Highway 120. Read more about the Tuolumne Grove on Yosemite Hikes.