The iconic Yosemite National Park and its surrounding region offer one of the most impressive and abundant areas of natural beauty in all of the United States. The park itself covers a massive area of nearly 1,200 square miles (over 3,100 Square kilometres) filled with dramatic waterfalls, sheer granite peaks, and giant sequoia trees.
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The region is a spectacular wilderness area in California’s Sierra Nevada.
Despite its vastness, the park isn’t visited equally. We were shocked to find out that most visitors spend just 1 day in the park, rarely exploring beyond the Yosemite Valley Floor. Many see the park’s towering peaks as an extreme challenge, suitable only for experienced hikers and rock climbers. But the reality couldn’t be far from this.
The beauty of Yosemite region is that it offers something for everyone, with trails ranging from short wheelchair-accessible strolls to challenging all-day accends. And with five different climate zones in the park and even more outside of the park’s borders, the terrain and trail options are seemingly endless!
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We really loved hiking in the Yosemite region and want to share our favourites with others.
Here are five easy hikes in Yosemite that we really loved on our recent visit that you can add to your itinerary.
Yosemite Responsible Hiking Tips & Etiquette
Before we get into the nitty gritty of each trail, we wanted to take a few minutes to highlight responsible hiking etiquette inside and outside of the park.
The fragile environment in Yosemite region is threatened by climate change through forest fires, flooding events and other natural disasters, as well as by human impact. Whether it’s your first time in the park or you are a seasoned visitor, we encourage you to be responsible on and off the trail.
Here are just a few hiking tips and etiquette to be aware of when exploring Yosemite.
- Stay on the marked trail. Going off trail can damage and kill certain plant and animal species, as well as hurt ecosystems that surround the trail.
- Take nothing but photographs. Leave nothing but footprints. Leave rocks, flowers, vegetation, and other natural items behind, and don’t pick any wildflowers.
- Refrain from building rock cairns or rock stacks. They not only damage the surrounding ecosystems and river systems but can also mislead other hikers.
- Carry all your garbage out with you and leave no trace. Use the bins provided in parking lots, picnic areas and towns.
- Be extra careful on rocks and boulders, as they can be slippery even when dry. Scrambling off-trail in these areas, especially around the waterfalls, can lead to serious injuries.
- Don’t disturb any wildlife. Give them plenty of space and keep your distance for the safety of the animal and yourself.
- Respect guard rails. They indicate a cliff or dangerous location and are there for a reason. Stay behind them even if you are trying to get a photograph.
What is the easiest hike in Yosemite National Park?
Lower Yosemite Falls or Glacier Point are two of the easiest hikes in Yosemite National Park. They are both just 1 mile long with very minimal elevation gain.
Are there easy hikes at Yosemite?
There are plenty of easy hikes in Yosemite. These include those that lead to famous viewpoints and attractions such as Yosemite Falls and Taft Point.
What is the easiest waterfall hike in Yosemite?
The Lower Yosemite Falls hike is definitely one of the easiest walks to do in the national park. It’s just a 1-mile loop with minimal elevation on a well-paved track.
Now let’s get into the juicy details!
Best Easy Hikes in Yosemite
Our list of recommended easy hikes in Yosemite includes a few options both in and out of the park. It’s not a comprehensive list by any means as there are many more hiking trails to find in the area. But, these are the ones we have been on firsthand and can recommend without a doubt.
Follow these to get the best views without too much effort! From stunning panoramas to beautiful valleys filled with wildflowers, these hiking trails all offer incredible scenery within a few miles of walking.
Location: Yosemite Valley Floor
Distance: 2.4 miles (3.8 km) round trip
Time: 1 hour
Elevation gain: 100 feet (30 m)
Mirror Lake trail offers a great introduction to hiking in Yosemite National Park. It’s a fairly flat and easy 2.4 mile (3.8km) trail leading to the beautiful Mirror Lake. Every angle of the lake offers picturesque views, but one spot, in particular, allows you to get a beautiful reflection of Half Dome in the still waters of the lake.
The trail begins from Yosemite Valley Shuttle Stop #17 and follows a paved path alomst all the way to the lake. There is a small uphill at the end of the trail, and the paved path eventually turns into dirt, but it definitely one of the most easily accessible trails in the park, suitable for families with kids and the elderly. The trail offers views of Tenaya Canyon and Mount Watkins (8,500 feet/2,600 meters), which rises above the far north end of Tenaya Canyon.
It’s worth noting that Mirror Lake is a seasonal lake. It’s a wide opening in Tenaya Creek that ebbs and flows depending on the season.
During our visit, in the Spring, the “lake” was completely full. But, in the warmer summer months, it tends to dry up and becomes more of a meadow. In fact, in the summer months, this area is sometimes referred to as Mirror Meadow. When the lake is full, the trail is busy with lots of people wading or swimming in this section of the river.
If you are looking for a bit of a challenge, consider getting here by bike. As the trail is mostly flat, many people opt to take their mountain bike instead to reach Mirror Lake. There are bike racks towards the end, as bikes are not allowed past a certain point.
You can also extend this hike to Tenaya Creek. The longer hike is 4 miles (6.4 km), it goes all the way to the end of the trail in Tenaya Canyon and loops around.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Location: Yosemite Valley Floor
Distance: 1 mile (1.6km) loop
Time: 30 minutes
Elevation Gain: 50 feet (basically no elevation change)
The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is arguably the most popular and easiest of all hikes in Yosemite Valley. This trail leads to the bottom of Yosemite Falls (hence the name Lower Falls), North America’s tallest waterfall, which drops 2,425 feet. The short 1-mile loop walk rewards you with views of both the Upper and Lower parts of the falls. Also, it gets you up close to the final 320-foot drop.
The trail starts at the Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead and follows a short loop along a flat and fully paved trail. The eastern part of this loop trail is wheelchair accessible (when not covered in ice or snow).
To reach the trailhead, you can take the Free Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus and get off at Shuttle Bus Stop #6 or by following the bicycle path from the Valley Visitor Center.
There are a variety of different vantage points and perspectives of Yosemite Falls along the way, with some information boards to fill you in on the natural and cultural history of the area. We recommend completing the loop in a clockwise direction if you want to appreciate the best views of the falls.
The trail is at its best in the Spring or early Summer when the waterfall is at its peak volume from spring runoff. This is when you can truly feel the power of Yosemite Falls. Be prepared to be sprayed with water and mist from the thunderous falls when standing at the footbridge near the bottom. Peak volume typically occurs up until May or June; after that, the water begins to slowly dry up. By August, you can expect Yosemite Falls to have slowed to only a trickle or be completely dry.
Thanks to its easy access, the trail does get busy and draws busloads of visitors. You won’t be alone on the Lower Yosemite Fall trail at any time of the year. But, to get the best chance of experiencing this powerful waterfall, plan your visit for early in the morning or late in the afternoon.
Upper Yosemite Falls (to Columbia Rock)
Location: Yosemite Valley Floor
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) return
Time: 2-3 hours
Elevation gain: 1,050 feet
If you’re looking for a more challenging trail inside Yosemite National Park but one that doesn’t require a full-day hike, check out Upper Yosemite Falls to Columbia Rock.
The name might sound confusing because the complete Upper Yosemite Falls hike is 7.5 miles long, takes 6-8 hours and is rated as difficult.
However, in this scenario, we are talking about the shorter section of this hike, the first 2 miles to Columbia Rock, which takes only about 2-3 hours return and offers a stunning view of the Yosemite Valley below.
In our opinion, this 2-mile return hike is one of the best hikes in Yosemite National Park for those looking to break a bit of sweat to be rewarded with spectacular views.
The trailhead for Columbia Rock starts at Camp 4 and is the same trailhead as the Upper Yosemite Falls and Valley Loop Trail. The easiest way to get to Camp 4 is to hop on the Free Shuttle. Then, get off at Shuttle Stop #7.
If you are driving, note that unless you’re camping at Camp 4, there is no public parking right at the trailhead. You can park across the road in the Yosemite Valley Lodge parking area. Then, walk the extra 500m to get to the trailhead.
The hike begins with a steep ascend, with over three dozen switchbacks along the 1,000-foot incline. It sure does get the heart pumping. But, you’ll find many viewpoints along the way which are perfect for a little break.
About a mile into the hike, you’ll reach Columbia Rock. This giant rock offers a viewing platform with a metal railing where you can enjoy the expansive view of the valley below. The vista encompasses Yosemite Valley and Merced River, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock near Glacier Point and Eagle Peak (appears similar to El Capitan). You can also see down to Yosemite Village.
A little tip that we discovered, thanks to other hikers on the trail, is that if you continue just a little bit further past Columbia Rock (about half a mile more), you’ll reach a spot to admire the Upper Yosemite Falls. It’s a beautiful spot for a close-up of the falls and a perfect place to turn around and head back if you are not doing the full trail.
From Columbia Rock, the trail continues for another 2.4 miles to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls. This full trail has 2,715 feet of elevation change. It is a very strenuous option best reserved for those who are fit and have a full day to dedicate to the hike. This trail is also subject to weather conditions. During our visit, the upper part of the trail still had snow and was only recommended to those carrying crampons.
The descent from the viewpoint of Upper Yosemite Falls took us about 30-40 mins. Keep in mind that what comes up must go down. So the descent is quite steep and can be challenging on the knees.
Despite being rated as moderate, the trail does get quite busy during the day, even in the shoulder season. If you are looking for a bit of solitude, consider starting your hike early in the morning when the weather is cooler and fewer people are on the trail.
Stockton Creek Preserve
Location: Mariposa, Califonia
Distance: 3.2 miles loop
Time: 2 hours
Elevation Gain: 500 feet
This beautiful hiking trail is located outside of Yosemite National Park, just minutes from the town of Mariposa, and provides a very different feel compared with the more popular trails inside the National Park. The well-maintained trail is great for both exploring on foot and mountain biking.
The 3.2 mile loop winds through the foothills of the Sierra Nevada and the Stockton Creek Watershed area. This short hike is often overlooked by visitors but is a favourite with locals, as it offers a wonderful stroll with sights that include Stockton Creek Reservoir, Stockton Creek, and a small waterfall.
It’s the perfect easy hike for nature lovers, with a wide variety of flora and fauna on display. You might see deer, squirrels and lots of birds, such as the California Quail, Ravens and Redtailed Hawk. Rattlesnakes are also known to inhabit the area, so on a warm day, look out for them on the trail.
Throughout Spring and into Summer, the preserve is filled with a blanket of wildflowers. It was actually the Spring blooms that got us particularly excited about the trail. We had the path all to ourselves and got to enjoy so many beautiful wildflowers along the way. We spotted spider lupines, fiddlenecks, western azalea, dogwood, and more. California Poppies can also be spotted on the trail, but these typically pop up a bit later in the season.
Two trailheads offer access to the preserve. One is on the western side of town on Trabucco Street ( search for “Stockton Creek Reservoir Trailhead” in google maps to find this access point). The other trailhead is off Slaughterhouse Road, further east on Hwy 140. Take note that the access point off Old Hwy N street is now off-limits because the private property easement is under new ownership.
Location: near El Portal, Mariposa County
Distance: 9 miles (can do just 2-4 miles)
Time: 1-4 hours
Elevation gain: 100 feet
Difficulty: Easy – Moderate
Hite Cove is arguably one of the best wildflower hikes in all of California. It is located outside the national park in the wild Merced River Canyon in Sierra National Forest.
This fairly flat and easy trail starts at the trailhead behind Red Bud Lodge, with a parking lot across the highway from the lodge. The trail rolls through the canyon of the south fork of the Merced River, starting high above the valley floor and eventually descending gently to the river.
The canyon is one of the spots in Mariposa County to get wildflowers, so you can expect plenty of colours from February until the start of summer. We hiked this trail in early April, and it felt like a super bloom! There are over 60 varieties of wildflowers blanketing the hillsides. Although we didn’t catch the California Poppy, they do tend to show up on the trail a bit later than the rest of the flowers.
Keep in mind that the trail is exposed to the sun and, thus, can be closed during wildfire season. The path along the canyon can get quite narrow, at times forcing you to jump off to let others pass. But it never really gets too crowded. Even at the height of the wildflower season, we only met a dozen or so hikers on the tail.
The beauty of this hiking trail is that you can hike for as long or as little as you like. The hike follows an in-and-out trail that stretches to 9 miles in length. The first 2-3 miles are the most popular, with many hikers, us included, choosing to turn around and head back somewhere around the 3-mile mark.
Other Hikes to Consider
As mentioned earlier in the article, there is no shortage of other hikes in the area. While we didn’t get a chance to sample them all, these were some other hikes on our sort list that are worth adding to your list.
This short one-mile hike inside Yosemite Park is one of the most popular walks to do in the summer months when Glacier Point Road is open. It leads to the stunning overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Clouds Rest, and other peaks in the valley. You can also reach Glacier Point View via the more challenging Four Mile Trail, which begins near the base of Sentinel Rock and climbs to the top of Yosemite Valley at Glacier Point.
Another of the easy hikes in Yosemite National Park that start on Glacier Point Road, Taft Point is 2.2-mile return to arguably offering some of the best views in the entire valley. Starting at the same trailhead as the Sentinel Dome Trail, the dirt trail climbs up to a dramatic overlook that includes views of El Capitan. Note that this hiking trail is not recommended for those who are scared of heights.
Mist Trail is a 3-mile return hike to Vernal Falls. It’s a bit steep, climbing 1,000 ft (304 m) in elevation, but still rated as moderate. It is definitely one of the most popular waterfall hikes in Yosemite National Park. The stunning views it offers along the trail are worth it.
If you time it for spring, you’ll be able to get “misted” by Vernal Fall. There’s also the option to continue to Nevada Fall, which is another 2 miles along.
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
This short 2-mile hike is undoubtedly one of the most well-known in Mariposa Grove, the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite. It’s located near Yosemite’s South Entrance and starts at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza.
While it requires a bit of climbing, the trail features jaw-dropping giant sequoias, including the Grizzly Giant, the world’s oldest sequoia, as well as the Bachelor and California Tunnel Tree. If you don’t want to complete the entire loop, you can opt for a shorter, 0.3-mile Big Trees Loop instead.
Tuolumne Meadows is another great spot for easy hikes in Yosemite. This is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada, with a couple of accessible and easy hikes.
Try the popular 1.5-mile return walk to Soda Springs or the 2-mile return moderate hike to Gaylor Lakes. You could also stop at Tenaya Lake on the way to the Meadows off the side of Tioga Road and complete the 2.5-mile loop around the lake.
No matter what time of the year you are visiting the area or what hikes you have planned for the day, it’s a good idea to check in with a Yosemite National Park ranger or Yosemite Mariposa Visitor Center in the town of Mariposa to double-check trail conditions, closures and other hazards.
With frequent road closures, flood risks, wildfires, landslides and other challenges, the trail status can change almost daily, so plan ahead but stay flexible during your visit to the region.