1. View of Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
This popular overlook is worth visiting for the panoramic view looking down 3,214 feet into Yosemite Valley and across the mountaintops of Yosemite’s high country for miles and miles. You have a perfect view of the face and West side of Half Dome, which sits high above waterfalls and lush forests throughout the valley in every direction. The viewpoint is accessible by car, with just a short walk to the edge, and has numerous walking paths to explore. Set up your camera here at sunset for a chance to see what’s called “alpenglow,” an optical phenomenon that appears as a pink-ish glow near the horizon opposite the sunset- its effect on Half Dome is magical.
Directions: Take State Highway 41 to Wawona Road, then turn onto Glacier Point Road and follow it to its end at the parking lot. (Be sure to check out Washburn Point, just South of Glacier Point, for another similar spectacular view with fewer people.)
Open: May through October, depending on snow
2. The ultimate all-day Yosemite adventure: Half Dome Cables
The Cables on Half Dome are a must for adventure-lovers visiting Yosemite. This lottery hike is 14-16 miles round-trip and will take you nearly 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley and 8,800 feet above sea level. We recommend starting at sunrise because this hike will take about 10-12 hours. Along the way you will get stunning views of Vernal and Nevada Falls, Liberty Cap, Half Dome, and- from the subdome and summit- panoramic views of the High Sierra Mountains and Yosemite Valley. The most exhilarating portion of the hike is when you ascend up the cables 400 feet to the summit of Half Dome. We highly recommend gloves for the cable climbing and, if you want added peace of mind, a Via Ferrata harness setup.
Lottery info: Lottery permits can be obtained on Recreation.gov, and the preseason entries are due in the month of March. Results of the lottery are mid-April. Around 225 permits are issued each day through the preseason lottery. There are daily lotteries held throughout the Half Dome hiking season. Enter these lotteries two days prior to any day in the hiking season. The results are available the following day. The application window for each daily lottery is from midnight to 1 pm Pacific time. Around 50 daily permits are issued each day. One person may apply as a trip leader only once per lottery. If you enter the preseason lottery, each application lets you choose up to seven date choices. The max group size for a permit application is 6. The trip leader must be present with government identification and a copy of the permit to ascend past the Subdome Check Point. Visit this page for more information about obtaining a permit.
Directions: Since you’ll want to start before sunrise and the shuttles don’t start until 7am, your best option is to drive to the trailhead parking lot. Just past Curry Village in Yosemite Valley, take the road that’s marked “Service Vehicles Only” (yes, this is allowed, we promise) to the dirt parking lot. If that’s full, try the Curry Village parking lot.
Open: You can only access Half Dome when the cables are up, which is typically late May or early June through Columbus Day weekend in October. Avoid hiking Half Dome when there are thunder clouds in the area- both the rain and lightning can make this adventure extremely dangerous.
3. Tunnel View
Take it from Ansel Adams, Tunnel View is a must-see for any first-time visitor to Yosemite. You can see far into Yosemite Valley, with Bridalveil Falls and El Capitan in the foreground, and Half Dome standing tall in back. The vista is adjacent to the parking lot, and extremely easy to access. If you can, stop here more than once to catch views of the Valley at different times of the day.
Directions: If you’re driving East towards Yosemite Valley on State Hwy 41, you’ll see a large parking lot on your left just outside (East) of the Wawona Tunnel. It can get crowded in the peak of summer, so try to get here early!
4. Sentinel Meadow and Cook’s Meadow Loop
This flat, easy hike gives you some of the best views of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks. The trail takes you through lush green meadows, with wildflowers during the spring and early summer. This 2.3-mile-long loop offers picturesque views of Yosemite Falls from Swinging Bridge, Half Dome from Sentinel Bridge (a popular spot at sunset- get here early!), and the historic Yosemite Chapel. The whole thing will take about 1-2 hours depending on how much you linger. You can also access the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead from this loop, which is a convenient bonus.
Directions: You can access this loop from many different areas; there are parking lots at Sentinel Bridge and Swinging Bridge, or just look for a parking spot along Northside or Southside Drive near the Valley Visitor Center. If all of those are full, try the Yosemite Village day-use parking lot, which is only a short walk from the trail.
Open: Year-round; It’s ideal to visit in spring and early summer when everything is green and blooming
5. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail
Snow melt from Yosemite’s high country brings icy waters into the valley. This flat, paved 1-mile loop brings you through a beautiful forest of towering trees to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. During peak season, April through June, expect to be greeted with a heavy spray at the base of the falls.
Directions: From the Valley Visitor Center, walk along the bicycle path to shuttle stop #6. Begin at the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead, and walk clockwise for the best views of the falls.
Open: Year-round; Keep in mind that Yosemite Falls flows heavily in the spring and early summer, and is often dry from July or August through October.
6. Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall
The Mist Trail is Yosemite’s signature hike, and one of our personal favorites. It starts out along the John Muir Trail- an uphill path that meanders along the creek, through a forest of tall trees and giant boulders covered in bright green moss. After inevitably taking photos at the footbridge looking at Vernal Fall, you’ll climb a steep rock staircase to the top of the waterfall. Don’t forget to pack a rain poncho and good hiking shoes for this portion, especially in spring and early summer- it’s called the “Mist” Trail for a reason! The view from the top of Vernal Fall is spectacular, and if you have energy to spare, consider hiking on to Nevada Fall. For reference, it’s 1.6 miles round-trip to the footbridge (1-1 1/2 hours), 2.4 miles round-trip to Vernal Fall (3 hours), and 5.4 miles round-trip to Nevada Fall (5-6 hours). If you continue on to Nevada Fall, expect a strenuous, steep climb up to the top.
Directions: In Yosemite Valley, follow the signs to Curry Village. From Curry Village, find a good place to park, hike SE on Southside Drive until you reach the trailhead. Alternatively, you can catch a ride on one of the free shuttle buses to Happy Isles (stop #16).
Open: Year-round; Note that in the winter, sections of the trail may be closed due to snow or ice. Due to its popularity, plan to hike this trail before 7am or later in the afternoon to avoid crowds.
7. Bridalveil Fall Trail
Bridalveil Fall is visible from a distance at Tunnel View, but you’ll definitely want to get a closer look. A paved path takes you from the parking lot to the base of the 620-foot-tall waterfall, where you can expect to get soaked with mist in early spring and summer. In late summer and fall, it has a more light, swaying flow with less spray.
Directions: Since the shuttle is not available to the Bridalveil Fall area, you’ll need to take your own vehicle. If you’re driving into Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View on Highway 41/Wawona Road, you’ll turn right into the Bridalveil Fall Trailhead parking lot.
Open: Year-round; Exercise caution during the winter where the path may be icy or slick
8. Sentinel Dome Trail
Want 360 views of Yosemite Valley? Look no further than Sentinel Dome. The trail is fairly easy until you reach the dome itself, which is quite steep. Once you get to the top, you can see Yosemite Valley, the Merced River canyon, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Fall, Half Dome, and on clear days, all the way to Mt. Diablo. The trail is only 2.2 miles round-trip and will take 1-2 hours, depending on your pace.
Directions: Take Glacier Point Road for 13.6 miles to the small Sentinel Dome Trailhead parking lot on your left, which is also the trailhead for Taft Point.
Open: When Glacier Point Road is open (typically May through October, depending on snow)
9. Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
The Tuolumne Grove is not quite as crowded as the more famous Mariposa Grove, but still showcases some impressive sequoias. From the parking lot, you’ll hike down into the grove. The trail is 2.5 miles round-trip, and you can expect for it to take you about 1 1/2 – 2 1/2 hours to complete.
Directions: From Yosemite Valley, take Highway 120 for 10 miles to the Crane Flat/Tioga Road turnoff, then take Tioga Road 1/2 mile East to the Tuolumne Grove parking lot. If you’re coming from Yosemite’s East entrance at Tioga Pass, take Tioga Road West 47 miles to the parking lot.
Open: Whenever Tioga Road is open, typically June through October
10. Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias has been closed for restoration for quite some time, and it is scheduled to reopen on June 15, 2018. This grove holds some of the largest and oldest giant sequoias, including the well-known Grizzy Giant, The Fallen Monarch, The California Tunnel Tree, and The Bachelor and Three Graces. You can spend anywhere from 1-4 hours here, depending on how much you linger at each spectacular tree.
Directions: The trailhead is just 2 miles from Yosemite’s south entrance, and the road is well marked. If you’re approaching Yosemite from the South, turn right immediately after passing the entrance gate. If the parking lot is full, park personnel will direct you to a lot where you can park and take a free shuttle bus to the grove.
Open: Scheduled to reopen on June 15, 2018