As we approach the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, I feel it necessary to share some insight on my favorite national park, Yosemite. Yes, you can just drive into the valley, marvel at the granite towering above you in all directions, and have your fill. Or, you can go a little deeper, embrace your inner John Muir, and spend your days hiking through Yosemite. Here’s a list of the best day hikes in Yosemite National Park to spark your wanderlust.
It’s no surprise Half Dome wins the popularity contest for best day hike in Yosemite. The infamous 14-16 mile hike delivers incredible views, exciting adventure, and hard-earned bragging rights. It’s long, difficult, and worth the exhaustion. Come prepared with plenty of water and snacks to keep you nourished. Don’t be intimidated, just prepare accordingly. For those of you with bad knees, The Muir Trail (1.5 mi longer) is a less steep alternative (especially on the way down). Permits are required so plan ahead.
The hike to Cathedral Lakes is a wonderful way to experience a stretch of the famed John Muir trail. This 7-8 mile hike through Yosemite’s stunning high country is only moderately difficult despite its high altitude. Bring lunch, take your time, and enjoy the serenity of the pristine High Sierra lakes. Don’t fret if you come unprepared, Tuolomne Meadows Grill/Store has you covered for food (and beer). Just remember, pack it in, pack it out.
Clouds Rest has all the glory of Half Dome without the crowds. I mean, you came to Yosemite to explore postcard worthy views, and be in the presence of arresting beauty, not compete with your fellow hiker for a photograph. So, if you want the physical challenge, the mind-blowing views, and the exhilaration of hiking along a narrow ridge, conquer the 14.5 mile roundtrip hike to Clouds Rest. Bring binoculars and you can watch people ascending Half Dome’s cables.
Located in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park lies the often overlooked beauty of Hetch Hetchy Valley. If you need convincing, the grandeur of Hetch Hetchy is said to have rivaled Yosemite Valley before the construction of the dam. Currently, it remains an oasis for recreational activities, a pristine water source for San Francisco, an engineering masterpiece, and the epicenter of an ongoing environmental battle. The 5.5 mile hike to Wapama Falls (ideally in Spring) is rather scenic, less crowded, and substantially easier than all the others, making it one of the best day hikes in Yosemite.
Mt. Hoffmann/May Lake
Mt. Hoffmann stands at an elevation of 10,845 ft, offering 360 degree views of Yosemite National Park, including Half Dome and Clouds Rest below. Considering no permit is required, the hike is 6 miles round trip, and the view is nothing short of breathtaking, I believe it is a must for anyone visiting Yosemite capable of breathing high altitude air. For those of you with a little extra time, consider camping. May Lake is an incredibly idyllic place to wake up or stargaze.
“Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop off like autumn leaves.”
John Muir, Our National Parks