With precipitous granite cliffs, winding streams, multiple roaring waterfalls, and giant sequoia trees; Yosemite’s alluring views and trails will not disappoint. With over 800 miles of trails to explore, your most challenging obstacle will be what trails to hike. Thankfully I had the help of YExplore Yosemite, not only did I receive two knowledgeable guides (Jade & Zach) I had endless help from the owner Catherine – I highly recommend this company if you travel to Yosemite National Park.
The Classic Hike ~ This is an extraordinary hike that knocks out three of Yosemite’s best features. You start out at Glacier point with sweeping views of Half Dome and the valley. No matter what pictures you have seen, or stories you have read, nothing will prepare you for your first view from Glacier Point. You can then choose to do a strenuous uphill hike to start the trek to Taft Point, or you can cut time by driving up the road to the Taft Point Trail Head. Taft Point is a mile from the trail head, shrouded in tall green trees with granite compilations everywhere. From Taft Point you are greeted with more sweeping views of Yosemite Valley, along with a dramatic look at El Capitan, affectionately known as “El Cap”. This granite monolith extends 3000 feet into the sky and has earned its reputation as a rock climbers dream.
Moving on to Sentinel Dome, you will head back to the trail head and move in the opposite direction. This trail is pretty straight forward with a steeper incline once you hit the dome. The first thing your senses pick up is the scent of fresh pines, as if you have walked into Santa’s secret magical workshop. You gradually lose the scent as you ascend Sentinel Dome, at 8,100 ft elevation. To the north you will see Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls (depending on season) and El Capitan, then to the East you’ll see Nevada Falls, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest.
The Classic Hike can range from 5-7 miles depending on your route, and you can cross off Taft Point, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Dome ~ all with magnificent views of one of America’s great National Parks.
The Mist Trail ~ This is a 7-8 mile trek, depending on your route. On the way down you can link up to the John Muir Trail and have stunning views of Liberty Cap and Nevada Falls. This trail is one of the most impressive trails I’ve done in terms of beauty. The first four miles are straight up, literally straight up. About a mile in you will reach Vernal Falls, where you continue up a steep granite stair case consisting of over 600 steps to reach the top of falls. Here you are rewarded with extensive views straight down falls following the Merced River through the valley. The trees were full of deep greens and golds from the October chill, which was welcome during the hike uphill.
Most people stop at the top of Vernal Falls and seeing the Emerald Pool ~ but why stop there? Continue winding through enormous rock slabs, and arduous switchbacks until you start to hear water streaming down 594 feet of rock, coming onto Nevada Falls. After a few moments of enjoying the view it’s back to the strenuous granite switchbacks to reach the top of Nevada Falls, where you will find a foot bridge over the Merced and enchanting views of Yosemite.
This hike has it all, the granite cliffs, two waterfalls, sweeping views, and gorgeous greenry, thus making it one of Yosemite’s most popular hikes.
Tunnel View – Although this is not a trail, it gets worth mention due to its jaw-dropping views. Set aside at least one night to watch the sunset at tunnel view and watch the sun dance slowly amidst waterfalls, as the shadows creep in over the trees in the valley to meet in a spectacular array at half dome.
Tioga Pass ~ Most visitors that flood Yosemite only meander in the valley, but the real wild Yosemite is held in the North along Tioga Pass. Usually closed from end of October until end of May due to snow, this Highway Pass is the highest pass in California. It’s remote beauty is unsurpassed, and the number of hikes off Tioga far out number the hikes in the valley. Driving down the windy road full of secret trails to alpine lakes, quiet granite alcoves would be any nature lover’s dream. Here’s a quick run down of what I did:
May Lake ~ This quick 2.5 mile hike is one of Yosemite’s most scenic alpine lake trails, and I was the only one of the trail, most likely because it was October and snow was already on the ground. The brisk 35 degrees felt invigorating and I was able to cross paths with multiple large buck. Although this hike is short, the elevation climbs steadily and you are at 9,270 feet when you get to the lake. The color of blues vary between deep azul to emerald greens depending on where the sun hits, and Mount Hoffman adds to the dramatic surroundings. On the low side of May Lake you have impressive views of Cloud’s Rest and Tenaya Lake. Be careful on this trail – there is a granite section where the trail becomes unclear and you are basically winging it, at a couple of points I ended up rock scrambling to get back on the path.
Tenaya Lake ~ Slightly further down Tioga Pass is Tenaya Lake, another pristine Alpine Lake with an easy 2.5 mile trail with zero elevation gain. This trail was definitely more crowded because you can pull over at multiple points along the pass to start the easy, yet gorgeous walk.
Tuolumne Meadows ~ Still further down the pass is Tuolumne Meadows. Plenty of space to pull over and admire the view or hop on the trail for a quick 2 mile trip. They were doing work on the trail so mine was cut short, but it still didn’t take away from the beautiful back drop of snow capped mountains and vivid blue skies.
If you make it to Yosemite you have to schedule in at least two days for Tioga Pass, I only had one day scheduled and I regret it. At some point I will return and back pack through this ruggedly scenic area of the Sierra Nevadas.
See more of Tioga Pass here!