Many people like to visit Yosemite National Park for intimidating adventures, like the thrilling hike to the top of Half Dome, but for others, an easy hike with incredible views will do the trick. Here are three easy incredible day hikes that are easy on the legs and pack a ton of amazing views.
1. Bridalveil Fall Trail
Distance: 0.5 mi (0.8 km) round trip
Elevation gain: Approximately 80 ft (24 m)
Time: 20 minutes
Begin at: Bridalveil Fall Parking Area
Plunging 620 feet (189 meters), Bridalveil Fall is often the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley. In spring, it thunders; during the rest of the year, look for its characteristic light, swaying flow. A paved trail leads from the parking area to the base of this waterfall, which flows year-round. Although paved, this is trail is not wheelchair accessible due to its grade.
Seasonality: The trail to Bridalveil Fall is open year-round. When the water is at its peak in spring and early summer, you can expect to get wet! In some cases the spray is so strong, you may not even be able to easily access the end of the trail. Expect icy and very slick conditions in winter.
2. Mirror Lake Trail
With a fresh perspective looking up at Half Dome directly from its base, you’ll be rewarded with views of Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins, Washington Column, and more.
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip to lake and back; 5 miles (8 km) loop around lake
Elevation: 100 feet
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: 1 hour round trip to the lake (end of paved trail); 2-3 hours for full loop
Begin at: Mirror Lake Trailhead (shuttle stop #17)
This trail begins at shuttle stop #17. The first mile of this trail is a paved service road that leads directly to Mirror Lake. You may access the loop trail from the end of the paved path. The loop follows Tenaya Creek beyond the lake, and crosses two bridges after the Snow Creek Trail junction before returning past Mirror Lake on the south side of Tenaya Canyon. (There is no safe access to the north side of Mirror Lake directly from the south side of the loop, except via bridges at the west and east ends of the trail).
Mirror Lake has little water much of the year and, while pleasant at any time of year, it is fullest in spring and early summer, when Tenaya Creek flows freely with fresh snowmelt. When water is calm, the lake offers beautiful reflections of surrounding cliffs. Exhibits along the trail tell the story of Mirror Lake’s lake-to-meadow succession, and also highlight some of the cultural history of the area. Mirror Lake is often referred to as Mirror Meadow in late summer due to the lack of water and the influx of grasses and sandy areas.
Seasonality: This trail is open year-round. In winter it can be icy and snowy, especially along the south side of Tenaya Creek.
3. Lower Yosemite Fall Trail
Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km) loop
Elevation gain: Approximately 50 ft (15 m)
Time: 30 minutes
Begin at: Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6)
Part of North America’s tallest waterfall, Lower Yosemite Fall is the final 320-foot (98-meter) drop. Deafening in spring and early summer when the waterfall peaks in volume, you can expect to get sprayed with water when standing on the footbridge near its base. This short, easy walk rewards with spectacular views of both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. This paved loop trail offers different vantage points of Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Creek, and you can stop at the many exhibits to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the area.
If walking from the Valley Visitor center, follow the bicycle path to shuttle stop #6 and begin the trail. Consider walking the loop in a clockwise direction for best views of Yosemite Falls. This eastern portion of this loop trail is wheelchair accessible (when not covered in ice or snow).
To learn more about this Yosemite icon, view a 10-minute video podcast episode about Yosemite Falls.
Seasonality The trail to Lower Yosemite Fall is open year-round. When the water is at its peak in spring and early summer, you can expect to get a little wet. This waterfall is often dry from late July or August through October. Expect icy conditions in some areas during the winter, especially on the short climb leading to the footbridge on the western trail.
Northern California’s Outdoor Digital Newsmagazine