Remember those old “Choose Your Own Adventure” books? You started reading a story, and then, at the end of a chapter, you were faced with a choice. If you wanted the character to do one thing, you turned to a certain page. If you wanted them to do something else, you went to a different page. The result was that every time you read the story, you could make a different decision, resulting in wildly different stories.
That’s exactly how it is when you start at nearly any point in Yosemite Mariposa County. A step onto one Yosemite hiking trail could bring you face to face with the most gorgeous waterfall you’ve ever seen, while another might afford you vistas that stretch for miles across Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Mariposa County really does offer the chance for you to choose your own adventure every single day of the year. Today, we’ll explore a few popular hikes that are tried-and-true winners with Yosemite hikers from around the globe.
View of Half Dome at Cook’s Meadow
Cook’s Meadow Trail
Distance: 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip
Elevation: 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)
Time: 1-2 hours
For this short and easy hike, start in the parking Lot off Sentinel Dome Drive or take the shuttle to stop #11 near Sentinel Bridge to enjoy stunning views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. For waterfall lovers, the best time to visit is in early spring, but don’t overlook autumn, when the
Yosemite Valley glows yellow and red with changing foliage. Among all our hikes offering views of Half Dome, this is one of the best – and easiest!
Learn more about this Yosemite hike
View topographic Yosemite Valley map click here
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Upper Yosemite Fall with a view of Yosemite Falls.
Upper Yosemite Fall Hike
Distance: 7.6 miles (12 km) round trip
Elevation: 3,967 feet (1,347m)
Difficulty: Strenuous, steep with many switchbacks
Time: 6-10 hours
With this hike, you’re treading ground that’s been in regular use since the late 1800s. Your reward for this tough hike is a vista of North America’s tallest waterfall at 2,425 above the valley floor. To begin this Yosemite Falls hike, head to Camp 4 off Northside Drive near Yosemite Valley Lodge. It’s important to stay on the marked path, due to steep drop-offs throughout the hike. Head to Columbia Rock for incredible views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Sentinel Rock. Random fun fact: did you know that, when referring to a single cascade, it’s just called “Yosemite Fall” (without the “s”), but when referring to all three, it’s “Yosemite Falls?” Now you know!
Learn more about this hike
View a topographic map of the trail
Hite Cove in Spring
Hite Cove Trail
Distance: full loop: 7.68 Miles (12.35 km) loop, best wildflowers are on the first two miles.
Elevation: 1,401′ – 1,695′
Difficulty: Easy-Moderate. Trail is flat but has steep drop offs, trail is also exposed and may have barriers on the trail early in the season.
Time: Full: 5-7 hours. Half: 2.5-3.5 hours
Park on Highway 140 across from Savage’s Trading Post, just past the Ferguson Rockslide in the Merced River Canyon. Most hikers only do the first tw miles of the trail because that is the best scenery for wildlflowers such as redbud, poppies, and lupine. The trial follows the south fork of the Merced River towards Hite Cove. Early in the season is the best time for waterfalls with the trail closing due to fire danger in early summer. Watch for rattlesnakes and be sure to bring a hat, sunscreen and plenty of water.
Valley Floor Loop
Distance: full loop: 13 miles (20.9 km) loop, half loop: 6.5 miles (10.5 km) Elevation: 4,000
Difficulty: Moderate. Watch for icy conditions in winter, which may also make it difficult to find the trail.
Time: Full: 5-7 hours. Half: 2.5-3.5 hours
Starting at Camp 4 (shuttle stop #7), this moderately-difficult Yosemite hiking opportunity offers solitude as you pass through meadows, talus slopes and along the Merced River. Alternately, you can hike the half loop. Just cross the Merced at El Capitan Bridge and head east back toward Yosemite Village. Whether you opt for the full or the half loop, this is a great hike to enjoy views of El Capitan and Bridaveil Fall.
Merced Grove Trail
Distance: 3 miles, 4.8 km round trip
Elevation: 6,000 ft., 600-foot elevation gain on return
Time: 1-3 hours
Some of the best hiking in Yosemite Mariposa County can be found on this quiet hike through the smallest and most secluded of Yosemite’s trio of sequoia groves. The largest grove in Yosemite is Mariposa Grove, but both are spectacular areas for enjoying these massive trees. Please note: the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is closed for restoration through Fall 2017. When hiking the Merced Grove trail, start at the Merced Grove parking lot on Big Oak Flat Road. You’ll eventually make your way past an old cabin, which used to be home to the park superintendents in summer. In spring, keep an eye out for dogwoods in bloom.
View topographic map of the trail
For more of the best hiking in Yosemite, visit our Featured Hikes page, which lets you search by region, along with other filters that let you find the perfect Yosemite hike.
Do you love hiking in Yosemite? We do, too! We’d also love to see what your favorite hikes are throughout this spring and summer. Share your hiking adventures by using the hashtag #WhyHikeYosemite. Along with your amazing photos, share a little about why you enjoy each hike.”
Discover the park’s most popular hiking trails including the less-traveled trails that many don’t know about to plan your perfect trip to Yosemite.
Legend has it that renowned Yosemite Ranger Carl Sharsmith was once asked by a visitor, “If you had only one day in Yosemite, what would you do?” The veteran ranger and Yosemite-lover looked solemn and replied “Madam, if I only had one day in Yosemite I’d sit by the Merced River and cry.”
Yosemite National Park is home to many incredible attractions—but what really drives visitors to make their way to Yosemite? The chance to see one of Yosemite’s famous waterfalls.