The changing of the seasons in Yosemite is never so stark as the shift from the busy masses of visitors that enjoy the park in June, July and August to the early fall when a quiet calm rests over the valley. The once simmering hot summer days mellow into cool mornings and gently warm afternoons sparkling with fall colors. In short, it’s the perfect time to go hiking in Yosemite. Escape the Southern California heat and the hustle and bustle of big cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco to make the brief drive to Yosemite to experience some of the best fall hikes in California.
Everyone knows about the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail, but a few lesser-known areas in Yosemite National Park offer something special when hiking in fall. Here we have selected our favorites of the best fall hikes in Yosemite:
One of the most stunning views of Yosemite Valley is from the very famous view from Glacier Point but did you know you can get a similar view (and a lot more) from checking out Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Trails?
Both are fairly easy and short but offer amazing views. Take a headlamp and picnic dinner to enjoy the sunset, as it occurs slightly earlier while hiking in fall, and the fall colors can’t be missed.
Vernal Fall in September
Most waterfalls in the park dry up by the time fall arrives but Vernal Fall rarely disappoints. It’s also one of the best fall hikes in Yosemite for a variety of fitness levels because you can go as far as you want from a 1.6 mile roundtrip hike just around the base of the falls, to a heart-pumping 2.4 mile roundtrip with a large elevation gain to the top of Vernal Fall. If you really want a challenge push all the way to Nevada Fall, a strenuous but rewarding 5.4 mile roundtrip hike. Start at the Happy Isles trailhead (shuttle stop #16).
An easy two-mile roundtrip fall hike in Yosemite brings you to Mirror Lake, which regardless of whether there is water in the little lake or not, provides a beautiful view of Mount Watkins and a vision of Half Dome from directly below. Take shuttle stop #17 to enjoy this hike or you can even rent a bike and ride it almost to the very end of the trail where there are bike racks. This trail is also one that allows for leashed pets on the first mile, so take your furry friend along to experience one of the best fall hikes in California.
Bike or hike the Yosemite Valley Loop
Mostly flat, but covering more than 11 miles if you do the full loop, the Valley Loop trail offers a moderate fall hike in Yosemite that brings you past Lower Yosemite Fall, Three Brothers Rock formation, past Camp 4 and onto El Capitan. It is a fantastic year-round hike as well. You can start from multiple spots around the Valley but the official start is at Lower Yosemite Fall (follow signs for the Valley Loop Trail).
This great option for hiking in fall in Yosemite is open as long as the road to Tioga Pass is open (generally through mid-October). This trail is a 2.5 mile jaunt along a paved road to a little grove of beautiful giant sequoias. The autumnal weather among the trees make it one of the best fall hikes in Yosemite. You’ll find the trailhead at the Tuolumne Grove parking lot just past Crane Flat.
For more information on all of Yosemite National Park and Mariposa County’s gorgeous hiking trails, click here.
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