Best Yosemite Wilderness Trails

Maria Garcia
• Tuesday, 03 November, 2020
• 16 min read

The YosemiteWilderness has over 750 miles of trail to explore with a great range of elevation, ecological zones, and solitude. This backpacking trip, be it your first or fortieth, is a uniquely protected opportunity to provide maximum freedom to roam in Wilderness.

chilnualna falls yosemite wilderness trail alltrails california map
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Remember that visiting the wilderness is an adventure: do not be afraid to explore a new area and discover what wonders it has to offer! Most trails lead to rewarding views from the north or south rim of the Valley, but water can be limited in late summer.

Trails leaving from Toluene Meadows require backpackers to hike at least four miles before camping. This mountainous high country has an abundance of peaks, lakes, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls, but temperatures will be significantly cooler than elsewhere in the park.

Trails heading south from the western portion of Toga Road lead to stunning views of the Yosemite Valley. The trails that travel to the north of Toga Road lead to lakes, ridges, peaks, and views.

The immediate area around the reservoir is a no-camping zone, but hiking over six miles will lead to wonderful cascade waterfalls or peaceful lakes. At the southern end of the park, Wagon is a quiet, forested area with trails that lead to waterfalls, lakes, and stunning granite features.

Parking can prove difficult in Yosemite, so sometimes it is best to take a shuttle from the valley to your hiking trailhead. And here’s a quick list of all the hikes we cover inside this post PLUS what number the description it correlates to.

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Don’t be discouraged if you don’t think you’re up for one of the difficult hikes, there are still plenty of moderate in easy hikes in the valley that offer great Yosemite Valley views. This parking lot fills up very quickly since practically all the Half Dome Hikers try to park here and many of them start VERY early in the morning (which you should do too if you plan to do this hike in 1 day).

However, you can also park just about anywhere in the eastern part of the valley and take one of Yosemite’s free shuttles to the trailhead. With over 16 miles round trip and over 5000 feet of elevation gain, you are in for a very long day.

Make sure to bring plenty of water, particularly if you are hiking this in the summer. Having to fuss with carabiners and your harness system is going to do you more harm than good at getting up the cables.

After finishing this hike, you may wonder why anyone even bothers with the notoriously difficult lottery system for Half Dome permits. If you start at Sunrise Lakes, it’s a little under 14 miles with around 2800 ft of elevation gain.

Make sure to bring plenty of water as this hike is extremely exposed and hot in summer months. If you live closer to sea level, keep the high elevation of the Sierras in mind.

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You will end up at around 10,000 ft which is where some people can begin to experience altitude sickness. The final push to Clouds Rest is on an exposed ridge, so if you have an extreme fear of heights you may want to consider another trail.

Upper Yosemite Falls Hike Quick Facts: Total Elevation Gain: 2,600 feet to the top of Yosemite Falls, you can continue further to Yosemite Point which will make your total elevation gain around 3,000 feet.

Epic waterfall sprays, a great workout and amazing Yosemite Valley views. Now while the Glen Auxin trail hike doesn’t have a ton of total elevation gain, it is still a difficult hike due to its longer length and time commitment.

If you continue on below Glen Auxin, you’ll wind up at three beautiful ranging waterfalls in the Grand Canyon of the Toluene. Its long, but not too difficult and meanders along beautiful streams and meadows in Toluene.

Crowd Rank: There will likely be a lot of hikers on this trail since it connects from the Valley floor to Glacier Point (a very popular viewpoint that is also accessible via an easier hike). Some people opt to hike up this trail and take a bus back to the Valley from Glacier Point.

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Glacier Point is the spot to be for unobstructed views of the iconic Half Dome and its sheer, steep face. In the summer, you can retrace your steps or hop on a shuttle back to Yosemite Valley.

The Four Mile Trail is best hiked when Glacier Point Road is closed, but before winter hits Yosemite Valley. Check before you go because this trail does get closed around December due to treacherous conditions.

Difficulty: Very strenuous, with a lot of elevation gain, some rock scrambling, as well as difficult trail-finding which might require bushwhacking Amazing & unique views of Half Dome that not a lot of people get to see.

In fact, this was actually the site where famed outdoor photographer Angel Adams took one of his signature photos, “Monolith, the Face of Half Dome.” You can only do this trail as long as Glacier Point Road is open, typically between May to November.

You’ll also get to pass along Sentinel Dome and end (or begin) at the popular tourist stop, Tunnel View (seen in the photo above). Most people don’t attempt to do this trail as a round trip hike, but I suppose you could if you were up for the 26-mile challenge.

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More amazing views of Yosemite’s epic landmarks, and an extra special lesser-known viewpoint called Panorama Point! Below you will find a list of awesome moderate hikes in Yosemite National Park.

Many people turn around at Vernal Falls, but if you choose to challenge yourself a bit and continue onward to the top of Nevada Falls, you’re in for a continued, great stair-stepping workout and even more amazing views! Just keep your eye on the prize and make your way slowly but surely to the top.

The Best Place to Park to Access Trailhead: Mariposa Grove Welcome Area has 300 parking spots and provides a free shuttle (operating March-November) to Mariposa Grove itself. The entire Mariposa Grove trail loop is a moderate hike that also takes you to Wagon Point, which offers a beautiful view of Wagon Valley.

Scenery Rank: Beautiful in its own right and a different scene then most of the hikes you will do in Yosemite Valley Sneak away from the chaos of the valley to hike this beautiful trail bordering the Sierra Nevada's.

The start of the hike to Elizabeth Lake is steep enough to keep away some crowds in Toluene, as it gains a lot of its elevation in the first mile. But if you make it through that uphill slog, you’ll find yourself crossing a lovely meadow on the way to the lake.

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You can also wander around the lake or soak in the sun on some rock slabs before heading back. A gorgeous lake with a panoramic view if you scramble up the overlook under Unicorn Peak.

Crowd Rank: Fairly Busy, this area is popular for hikers and climbers alike The parking lot fills up quickly as this is a very popular hiking area for both climbers and hikers.

The perfect easy day hike in Yosemite Valley, especially if you are really pressed for time. This can be a fun hike to go on in the peak of the waterfall flowing season when the falls are in full rage.

Scenery Rank: Beautiful Lake views the entire hike Kenya Lake is super accessible and is an awesome place to come and spend the day to explore.

If you aren’t up for one of the more difficult hikes that takes you to Glacier Point, then you can drive up to the Glacier Point Trailhead and still enjoy this epic view with a very minimal hike. This is an excellent spot to drive to at the end of the day and watch the sunset on Half Dome in the distance.

wilderness caribou area california trail alltrails trails map
(Source: www.alltrails.com)

Scenery Rank: Beautiful Yosemite Valley reflected back at you The mirror lake hike makes for a great easy day hike in the valley and takes you up close to the base of Half Dome (or about as close as you can get from the valley floor).

If you look for the right spot, you can even see the top of Half Dome reflected back at you in mirror lake. People also enjoy coming to mirror lake to swim in the summer.

Crowd Rank: On popular weekends you might find a lot of people here since it is so easy to access, but it isn’t as bad as some areas in Yosemite. Less elevation gain though, so most of your views are going to be the surrounding scenery and Soda Springs.

Trail description contribution from blogger Katherine of Bright Lights of America: We were lucky enough to book a campsite at Yosemite, even though I had a hip issue that stopped me from being able to hike very far at all.

We were determined to get at least one hike in, and the trail past Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge was perfect. It was a relatively flat, wide path at Toluene Meadows, easy to get to using the park shuttle (stop #4), and a short loop that took in a beautiful bridge and river.

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(Source: www.alltrails.com)

On our way out we saw lots of little critters scampering through the meadows, from chipmunks to ground squirrels and a family of deer. We stopped at what’s left of the Soda Springs Cabin, built back in 1889.

Carry onto Parson’s Lodge, which is used for exhibitions during the summer, but was first built as a memorial to a member of the Sierra Club back in 1915. We managed to catch an author’s reading and book signing as we passed through.

The last beautiful stop on this hike is Toluene Meadows footbridge, a low wooden bridge where you can sit and watch the water rush by after a soaking rain. Although the hike is short and sweet, you’ll get to pass through 3 unique landmarks: the Soda Springs Cabin, Parson’s Lodge, and the Toluene Meadows footbridge.

The lot is fairly small, so you may need to park your car on the shoulder of Glacier Point Road. The hardest part about the Sentinel Dome Trail hike is the final bit up Sentinel Dome itself, otherwise, you’ll find this a nice easy Yosemite day hike with epic panoramic views of the valley.

The lot is fairly small, so you may need to park your car on the shoulder of Glacier Point Road. This hiking spot is a very popular location for hikers and photographers alike.

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It provides amazing views of Yosemite Valley, including the grand El Capitan. This area gets a bad reputation because people are known to push their luck getting close to the edge for the “perfect photo”.

Use common sense when hiking here, and stay a safe distance away from the edge. Regardless of the potential danger, this is a great little easy hike in Yosemite.

Crowd Rank: Very Popular, but the trail can feel secluded when you get away from the entry hubs and out further into the backcountry of the Sierras. Ok so, the John Muir Trail isn’t entirely located in Yosemite, BUT the trail does start (or end depending on which direction you’re hiking) in the heart of Yosemite Valley.

The John Muir trail is one of the most epic and iconic California hikes, and is one of the most sough after thru-hiking achievements in the United States. Hikers compete for permits every year to spend 2-6 weeks backpacking this 211 mile long hike.

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