Yosemite National Park offers arguably the most scenic hiking in the country. The only challenge? Picking which trail to hike. With spring in full swing, here are a few tried-and-true options.
Vernal Falls Trail
Best For: Getting Wet
On warm spring days, hiking the Mist Trail is a fun way to cool down. Starting at the footbridge, expect the spray of the falls to soak much of the trail.
Set off from the Happy Isles trailhead and continue past the John Muir Trail split. A line of more than 600 granite steps switchbacks up the rock face to the top of the falls. While the pools up there look inviting, several swimmers have been swept over the edge. Looking over the falls from the railings will make clear why a quick dip isn’t worth it.
Past Vernal, the trail continues to 594-foot Nevada Falls, another misty cataract. Rainbows in the spray make for dashing photos. To complete the loop, take the bridge back to the John Muir Trail before heading down.
Valley Floor Loop
Best For: Wildlife Viewing
Doing the Valley Floor Loop is possibly the best way to see all the highlights of Yosemite in a single day. The 13-mile trail passes Bridalveil and Yosemite falls, then winds along the crystal-clear Merced River and through many of the valley’s meadows. The views of Half Dome, El Capitan, Three Brothers, and Cathedral Spires aren’t bad either.
In the spring, expect some snow and ice. But without any major climbs, there isn’t much risk of slipping. Gators and snow boots are recommended anyway, as it’ll be wet through late April or even into May. In stormy weather, a view of Half Dome sticking its big, blunt head out of the clouds is well worth wet feet.
The other highlight of the Valley Floor Loop, wildlife sightings, is almost guaranteed. In the absence of huge summer crowds, the valley’s population of deer, bobcats, and coyotes seem most at ease: just don’t get too close.
Best For: Feeling Small
Unique to California, the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove are stunning in the rain and at their best in a light snow. Spring is perfect for spending quiet time alone with the largest trees on the planet.
The grove is partially responsible for Yosemite’s conservation. President Theodore Roosevelt camped under the well-known Grizzly Giant with John Muir, just before a May snowstorm hit the park. Roosevelt created the national park not long after.
Among the old-growth redwoods, there are countless nooks and tunnels, as well as a covered bridge, to explore. Later, stop by the Pine Tree Market to pick up drinks, snacks, or hot chocolate.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Best For: Experiencing Vertigo
Aside from Half Dome, the Yosemite Falls Trail is one of the park’s most popular strenuous trails. It’s also one of the oldest. As snow begins to melt, North America’s tallest waterfall is an amazing spectacle.
On cold spring days, mist ices the granite wall around the falls, creating a white halo. As the sun warms the rock, the giant sheets of ice crash to the ground. The sound is alarming, and the giant, white snow cone at the base of the falls will conjure visions of ice-cream mountains. But this wintry show only lasts until April, at the latest.
The trail climbs more than 2,700 vertical feet from the valley floor. Dozens of lookouts dot the trail, so it’s not necessary to summit to get a grand view. From Oh My Gosh Rock, about halfway up, you can lean over dizzying heights to spot the upper, middle, and lower sections of the cascade. Columbia Rock is a great stop for lunch, as well as a fair place to turn around in early spring, since snow can become an issue above this area.
Best For: Quiet Meditation
Though it’s unclear if some of the most famous drawings of Yosemite originated from this vantage or somewhere nearby, the spot is enough to induce hysteria in most plein-air artists. The east-facing overlook is a lot less crowded than Tunnel View or Glacier Point, but its panorama is just as marvelous.
To start your hike, leave from Tunnel View and follow the Pohono Trail toward Glacier Point. A short climb and an easy walk along old Stagecoach Road will give you with a quiet view that’s often all your own.
From Artist Point, you can continue on the Pohono Trail to several other vistas, including Inspiration and Dewey. If you’re looking for a 3,000-foot climb and view of everything Yosemite has to offer, follow the trail to where it ends at Glacier Point.
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