Out of all the national parks in the United States, Yosemite is one of the most iconic. If you like the peace and quiet of a beautiful national park, this is an ideal stop on your next trip to California. You can breathe easy – provided you aren’t visiting during wildfire season! – and enjoy some amazing scenery without needing to do an extremely intense hike.
Visiting any national park is also a great way to support the park. Your entry fee covers expenses around staff, environmental protection, and all of the repairs associated with those nasty fires that have been devastating California recently!
If you are flying in from afar, using the Fresno airport will get you closest. The San Francisco and Sacramento airports are also good options. In any case, it’ll be a few hours of driving to get to Yosemite.
There a number of places to stay near each of the entrances, and as ever, Airbnb is one of your most cost-effective options. If you aren’t local, it would be wise to plan on arriving the night before you want to actually be in Yosemite. That way, you can get into the park first thing in the morning and maximize your time in the park.
Yosemite is a massive park, so you should go in with a plan. Luckily, you really can’t go wrong with any of the trails or campsites – some areas may be more crowded than others, but there’s certainly something worth exploring at every point.
Easy Yosemite Hikes
For an easier alternative to Half Dome, try Glacier Point
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Distance: 1 mile, round trip
Time to Hike: 30 minutes
Elevation Gain: Negligible
Elevation at Trailhead: 7,200 feet
There’s a lot to be said for Half Dome… and more for hiking it. But this option requires a lot of forethought and a bit of luck.
Half Dome hikes require permits, generally distributed by a lottery system. Even if you are lucky enough to be chosen, Half Dome is a notoriously difficult hike.
If you’re looking for an easier way to check out Half Dome, consider Glacier Point instead. The trail is only about a mile, but it boasts a panoramic view of Yosemite Valley that includes a great view of Half Dome – among other things!
Explore the Lower Falls Trail – as long as the season is right
Distance: 1.2-mile paved loop
Time to Hike: 30 minutes
Elevation Gain: 60 feet
Elevation at Trailhead: 4,000 feet
The Upper Falls are definitely scenic, but the ascent can make this option less appealing than the more easily accessible Lower Falls.
Note that In both cases, you have to mind the season of your visit. The falls are only active when there’s water flowing, and it will dry out each fall (and sometimes by mid-summer).
The hike is still beautiful, but you won’t get the wow-factor of the waterfalls. You may be better off with one of the groves if you’re visiting late in the fall or even just during a drier year.
This is only a 1.2-mile trail, which makes for an easy Yosemite hike. Along the way, you’ll find signs marking the way with facts about the park and its history.
This is a family-friendly trail: it’s paved, so it’s great for strollers, walkers, and wheelchairs alike during the late spring, summer, and fall seasons.
However, be mindful that you may get wet when the water is flowing at peak volume during spring and early summer, and that can also make the path slippery. On the other hand, if you visit in winter, parts of it may be icy or snow-packed and not recommended for those with mobility limitations.
Visit Bridalveil Falls
Distance: 0.5 miles roundtrip
Time to Hike: 20 minutes
Elevation Gain: 80 feet
Elevation at Trailhead: 4,000 feet
The Bridalveil Falls trail is short, only about a half-mile round trip.
Despite this being a short and easy Yosemite hike, take note that the path can get a bit steep towards the end, so younger travel companions or anyone using a stroller may have a bit of trouble here.
Even so, the view is iconic and well worth the hassle, especially considering how little time it will take to make the quarter-mile journey in.
This waterfall is fairly close to the entrance, so you’ll probably want to make it one of the first or last stops along your trip. Like all of the falls, this one will be more impressive if you are visiting during early on in the year, when the snow is melting and there is more water flowing through Yosemite Valley.
Hike a portion of the Vernal & Nevada Falls
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip
Time to Hike: 1-1.5 hours
Elevation Gain: 300 feet
Elevation at Trailhead: 4,000 feet
This one is a bit steep, but if you’ve got an hour you can make it to the highlight of the trail without too much trouble.
The Nevada Falls are the final endpoint, and to get here it would require a five or six mile trek roundtrip: hardly an easy hike in Yosemite!
For an easier version, stop at the Vernal Fall Footbridge and enjoy the view. That spot is just about one mile into the hike!
It will take a bit of a climb, but bring a picnic and take it slowly. If you’re interested in something a little more challenging, you can keep going along this path. There’s no shortage of scenic views along the way.
But this is also one of the more strenuous hikes in the park outside of the classic Half Dome hike. You won’t want to spend too much time going further on this trail if you aren’t up for a steep, arduous climb.
Try out one of the flattest trails in the park, Cook’s Meadow
Distance: 1 mile loop
Time: 30 minutes
Elevation gain: None
Elevation at trailhead: 4,000 feet
As the name suggests, Cook’s Meadow is one of the flatter hikes in Yosemite National Park.
It goes straight through the valley, and you’ll catch glimpses of many of the most well-known landmarks in the valley, including the falls, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock.
This is an easy 30 minute add on to your existing trip, but putting it at the start could help you get a good feel for the layout of the park. It’s also very close trailheads for several of the other hikes on this list, too, as a bonus.
Stop in at Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Distance: 2-mile loop (Giant Grizzly Loop)
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Elevation gain: 300 feet
Elevation at trailhead: 5,600 feet
If there’s one point of interest you shouldn’t miss while visiting Yosemite, it’s Mariposa Grove and the Grizzly Giant.
The site reopened a couple years ago after renovations, and is actually one of the most accessible locations in Yosemite.
You’ll need a short tram ride (note that in 2020, the shuttle is closed, so you may have to walk from the lower parking lot which can add some extra time to the hike).
It’s actually wheelchair accessible, if you have a parking placard you can drive right up.
The Grizzly Giant is a 3,000 year old sequoia tree, apparently one of the oldest and largest living things in the world. It’s hard to describe exactly how breathtaking the Grizzly Giant is, so I’ll just encourage you to go see it yourself.
Take a long walk around Mirror Lake
Distance: 2 miles roundtrip to the lake and back; 5 miles if you loop around the lake as well
Time: 1 hour; 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Elevation at trailhead: 4,100 feet
This can be one of the busier hikes in the park, but the lake is beautiful and the walk is short enough that you can bring along all the supplies you need for a family picnic.
It’s the simplicity of this one that makes is so special – if you’re looking for the perfect family hike, this is the one.
You’ll have the option to sprint through and head straight for the destination if you like, it wouldn’t take much time at all to go there and back as the trail is only about two miles to the lake, round trip.
That trail leading up to Mirror Lake is ideal for leisurely morning strolls, though, and provides an easy walk for you and pretty much anyone you love to chit chat along the way.
If you want to spend more time, you can walk the whole loop around Mirror Lake. That’s closer to five miles, though, and is best for those who really want to relax into the peace and tranquility of Mirror Lake.
Washburn Point can’t even really be considered a hike, but it is worth a stop if you’re nearby. Just head down the stairs and take in the view!
What to Pack for Yosemite Hikes
First aid kit: You’ll want to pack a small kit with the things you need — but in my opinion, it’s better to buy a pre-made first aid kit as it’ll likely cover things you might forget. I recommend this HART Weekend First Aid kit, which has extras in case you use something, so you won’t have to replace it as often.
Headlamp (and extra batteries): In case you’re planning any sunset hikes where you may come back after dark, you’ll want a headlamp to keep your hands free as you hike in the dark (trust me, you don’t want to have to rely on the flashlight funciton of your phone – I’ve learned this the hard way before!). This Petzl headlamp is highly-rated and affordable.
Water Filter Bottle: There are a wide variety of water filtration systems and treatments, but for a day hike, I recommend a water bottle with a filtration system set up inside of it. I recommend the GRAYL Geopress. It’s compact and easy to use, and you can refill from anywhere: streams, waterfalls, lakes, you name it, without getting sick. Otherwise, you can only refill at designated drinking water stations in the park.
Rain gear: A rain jacket is great to have as a just-in-case: nothing ruins a hike quite like a sudden shower without a rain jacket. I recommend Marmot brand — this men’s jacket is great and stylish, and I have the women’s Marmot Precip (and have had it for years) and love it.
Day pack: No need for a giant backpack for these easy Yosemite hikes! Just bring a comfortable day pack. Look for something with a mesh back panel, so it’s less hot and sweaty against your back, and perhaps something with waist straps and a shoulder strap to help distribute weight if you’re someone who gets back pain easily *raises 80-year-old hand*. I love the Osprey day pack – it’s cheap but durable, so comfortable, and has all the features you need for a day hike.
Sunscreen: Wear this every day of your trip — even on a cloudy day!
Sunglasses: Great for unshaded trails and sunny days!
Hiking boots: You’ll want good, possibly waterproof hiking shoes for these Yosemite hikes! I own and love my pair of Ahnu Sugarpine hiking boots and recommend it for other women – especially if you have wide feet like I do! For men, I’ve heard good things about the KEEN Durand boot, but haven’t used them personally (for obvious reasons).
If you’re only doing the really easy no elevation hikes, you can maybe get away with doing these Yosemite hikes tennis shoes, but I have really bad ankles and am always grateful for the extra ankle support. Even a pair of work boots like Timberlands are a lot better than sneakers.
Camera: I use and love my Sony A600! It’s mirrorless, so it’s lightweight and perfect for a high-quality camera that won’t weigh your pack down.
Sunhat: To keep sun off your face – I recommend a packable hat like this one which has a strap so it won’t blow off in guests of wind and you can easily wear it on your back when you don’t feel like wearing it on your head.
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Allison Green is a travel blogger, writer, and podcaster who grew up in the Bay Area of California. She has spent time living in New York, Prague, and Sofia, where she currently calls home in between visits to California. She has traveled to 60 countries before the age of 30 while running several digital travel businesses. Her writing and podcast have been featured in Forbes, CBC Canada, National Geographic, the Huffington Post, and CNN Arabic, amongst others. She’s obsessed with dogs, wine, and anywhere she can see the ocean.