Everybody wants to visit Yosemite National Park at least once, but with so much attention given over to hiking Half Dome, or even scaling El Capitan without ropes, you may be wondering if the whole experience might be a little beyond your capabilities? The answer, you’ll be glad to hear, is a resounding no. Yosemite features 750 miles of hiking trails and they range from short, paved, wheelchair accessible paths to epic wilderness treks. Having guided several yoga and hiking retreats here, I’ve found hikes that worked for me after a knee surgery and accommodated many novice walkers, a heavily pregnant hiker, and even my 70-year-old mother.
If you’re looking to spend less time huffing and puffing up the trail and more time taking a nature bath in this magnificent park, these eight hikes are my top picks to get you started. Not only do they entail largely flat and sometimes paved trails, they still deliver some of the most dazzling views in the park. You’ll be able to tackle these hikes in the summertime wearing lighter hiking shoes or even trail running shoes, so you can save those hiking boots for the tougher hikes, pack yourself a nice lunch and enjoy an easy day in nature’s embrace.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Distance: 1 mile
Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, tumbling 2,425ft from a tributary of the Merced River over the high walls of Yosemite Valley. If you only have time for one Yosemite waterfall hike on your trip, this one comes highly recommended, especially during spring runoff.
The Falls is actually a set of three waterfalls forming a cascade of mist and near-constant rainbows that can be seen from vantage points all over the park. The lower falls are reached by a paved, wheelchair accessible path, and you’ll get the fall experience, with a clear shot of both the lower and upper falls and lots of refreshing spray to remind you that you’re alive.
Distance: 0.5 miles
Bridalveil Falls is a 620ft cascade that is often the first waterfall you see as you drive into Yosemite Valley. The Ahwahnechee tribe believed it to be a spirit protector of the valley and thought that inhaling the mist from the falls would increase your chances of marriage.
The falls themselves form a threadlike, wispy mist that on a breezy day looks like a bride’s veil. The viewing platform is a mere quarter mile from the trailhead, so this can barely be described as a hike, but it’s certainly as accessible as they come and makes an easy but picturesque stop.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Few visitors to Yosemite get far out of the valley, but the drive up to Tuolumne Meadows is worth it for the postcard-worthy serenity you’ll find at Tenaya Lake. Not only will you escape the crowds up here, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with perfect reflections of the surrounding granite rocks in the scenic lake, plus a beach where you can hang out and enjoy lunch.
From the valley, drive up 120 to Crane Flat (you can stop here and take in Tuolumne Grove if you’re in the mood), then it’s another 30 miles on Tioga Road. Plan on this taking the full day, and understand that it’s only accessible in summer and fall when the road is open. Once you get there, you can walk a full loop around the lake if you have your water shoes and don’t mind doing a little wading, or just stroll along the western shore for the best views.
Lower Mariposa Grove
Distance: 0.3 - 2 miles
If it’s giant sequoias you’re after, Mariposa Grove is one of the best places in the world to view them. Located near the southern entrance, it is the best-known and most popular grove in the park, featuring some 500 giant trees including the 1,800 year-old Grizzly Giant, and lots of hiking trails.
The easiest option is the paved Big Trees Loop Trail, but for a little more distance, consider the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail, which takes in Bachelor and Three Graces, the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Tree. Giant sequoias are an endangered species so tread lightly.
Distance: 2 miles
Mirror Lake trail offers a moderate hike that’s perfect for when your legs need a rest from climbing to all those waterfalls. The trail isn’t paved, like some others on this list, but it’s wide and flat, and most importantly, it offers a stunning vista. The hike takes you along Tenaya Creek to the lake and offers a true nature walk feel with abundant flora and fauna.
Mirror Lake is the last remnant of a glacial lake that once filled the entire valley. Surrounded by pine and wildflower meadows, it sits in Tenaya Canyon between North Dome and Half Dome, and on a still day it offers near-perfect reflections of the surrounding cliffs. There are ample spots around the lake to sit in the shade and enjoy a picnic lunch, and if you discover you have more energy than you thought, you can keep going around the lake to turn this hike into a five-mile loop.
Distance: 2.5 miles
The shade of giant sequoias offers great respite from the hustle and bustle of the valley, and Tuolumne Grove is much quieter than Mariposa, but still spectacular. Tuolumne Grove is home to nearly two dozen giant sequoias, a species of redwoods which are the biggest trees in the world. Getting to the grove involves a ten-mile winding scenic drive – you’ll definitely want to stop at the viewpoints for photo ops on the way – and by the time you arrive, you’ll be at almost 6,000ft above sea level.
Enjoy the cooler air here as you hike downhill from the parking lot into the grove and then take your time to feel the powerful presence of these immense trees. This is an incredibly peaceful place to enjoy a quiet walk and a picnic.
Distance: 2.2 miles
Standing on the valley floor is a great way to feel small, but if you want to feel like an eagle soaring above it all, head up Glacier Point Road to Taft Point. A longish (26-mile) drive and a short hike gets you close up views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls from the south rim and exhilaratingly close to the Fissures, which lead to drops of up to 2,000ft. This hike is pretty high on the excitement scale, but not for those afraid of heights.
Valley Loop Trail
Distance: Up to you
The Valley Loop Trail offers a level trail along the valley floor that takes in many of the great sights of the park on a level trail that is accessible in most conditions. The entire trail is up to 20 miles long but you can access it from points all over the valley and make it as long or short as you like. The relatively quiet dirt trail follows many of the old wagon roads established by early settlers in the valley taking you across meadows, along the banks of the Merced and under the hulking presence of El Capitan.
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Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book Restorative Yoga for Beginners. She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.