Taking in the view from the Four Mile Trail
We only had two nights in Yosemite as part of our road trip and honestly, I wished we had longer. I completely fell in love with Yosemite Park and would love to go back one day to spend some more time here.
There are three main areas to base yourself in when visiting Yosemite National Park:
The High Sierra camp area - A series of canvas tent camping sites, which join to create one big hiking loop, for those who want to really get closer to nature
Badger Ski pass area, which as you imagine, is the palace to go in winter for skiing, snowboarding, cross-country skiing and snow tubing
Yosemite Valley - this is the heart of the National Park, with natural attractions like El Capitan, the Half dome and Yosemite falls. There are also plenty of activities which can be arranged in and around this area, including cycling, rafting, climbing, horseback riding and of course hiking.
There are varying choices of accommodation, depending on your budget, style and where in the National Park you want to base yourself. If you want to try and escape some of the crowds and are happy camping, then the High Sierra camp area might be suitable. If you want something more comfortable then there are several lodges and hotels in Yosemite Valley, as well as the canvas tent huts of Curry Village for those who want to be close to the action but have a lower budget.
If, like us, you are on a budget but didn't fancy camping, stay at a lodge outside of the National Park, where prices are cheaper. We stayed at Cedar Lodge, which was just a 35 minute drive into Yosemite Valley and we were very grateful for a hot tub, pool and comfortable bed after all the hiking!
Though we stayed outside of the National Park, we chose to base ourselves near Yosemite Valley and remain in that area for the couple of days we had here. Referred to as the ‘heart of the National Park’, there are many facilities in Yosemite Valley to keep you occupied. It’s also really easy to get around, with the free Valley shuttle bus.
Yosemite Valley visitor centre, wilderness centre and museum - for information on hiking trails, climbing routes, activities and education about the park
Village Store and gift shop for all your souvenirs and essentials including snacks for your hike!
Bike rentals to explore the 12 miles of flat cycle paths around the valley.
Informal places to eat and takeaways
There are also numerous popular hiking trails which start from within Yosemite valley.
There really is so much to do here! Because we only had a couple of days, we didn't get the chance to experience some of the other activities like rafting or cycling, so I would love to go back and stay in or around Yosemite Valley for a week and really have to chance to explore the park more.
Hiking in Yosemite Valley
At almost 1,200 square miles, the National Park has countless hiking trails, from family friendly, accessible trails, to moderate harder trails for only experienced hikers. You can find popular hiking trail routes on both the National Park Service website and the Yosemite National Park website, which is the best place to start when planning your visit.
Even though we only had two nights at Yosemite, we really did pack in the hikes! Because we were short on time, we pre-planned which hikes we were going to do so that we could ensure we could stay in the same area and not have to travel to different areas of the park.
Below are details of the Yosemite Valley hikes we completed on our 2-day trip:
Four Mile Trail - Day 1 afternoon hike
We arrived in Yosemite mid morning, so we had a full afternoon on our first day to get a hike in. We choose the Four Mile Trail, which is a 15.5 km there and back trail from the start of the trail head to Glacier Point. The trail was quite strenuous and takes 6-8 hours for the full there-and-back round trip, but the views were worth it! On this trail, you are rewarded with views over Yosemite Valley, taking in the Yosemite falls and the Half Dome, and once you reach Glacier point you can see the peaks of the Sierra mountain range.
We didn’t have time to go all the way to Glacier point so we stopped about ⅔ of the way up at a small clearing where we had amazing views over the valley, before making our way back down before we lost the sun.
Hiking the Four Mile Trail with views of the Half Dome and Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Lower Falls - Day 2 morning hike
The Lower falls trail is perhaps one of the most popular hiking trails in the park, not only because it is just a short walk from the visitors centre, in the centre of the Valley, but also because it is a short, easy walk and the paved path makes it accessible for everyone. The loop trail is only 1.6km but you get spectacular views of both the upper and lower falls as well as Yosemite creek. Yosemite Falls are the tallest falls in North America and the Lower falls make up the final 320 feet.
We set off on this trail early morning as we planned to fit in a couple more hikes throughout the day, the next one being the Upper Falls trail...
The Lower Falls
Yosemite Upper Falls - Day 2 late morning - afternoon hike
The Upper Falls trail is one of Yosemite’s oldest hiking trails, and starts just 10 minutes walk from the Lower Falls trail head, so after completing the Lower falls loop, we walked to the Upper falls trail head to start this hike. It is a much more strenuous trail than the Lower falls, and despite the route only being an 11.6km round trip to the top of Yosemite Falls, it takes between 6-8 hours due to the elevation and number of switchbacks. The trail is also quite exposed, so it can get very hot midday in the summer, which is when we went!
The forest makes way for stunning views across Yosemite Valley
As soon as you set off on this trail, it begins to climb, with a number of switchbacks through the forest for about a mile, before reaching Colombia rock, where you’ll get views of Yosemite Valley, the Half Dome and Sentinel Rock. Even if your legs are aching, end your walk here! Less than 1km further up and you’ll get your first view of the Upper Falls. From this viewpoint, the rest of the trail up to the top of the falls climbs even more and it gets tough, but is worth it for the amazing views!
Once you reach the top of the falls, you have a couple of options to extend the hike further but for us, we were ready for some shade, a sit down and some ice cream(!), so we made our way back to the valley.
The Upper Falls from the trail and later from the valley once we made it back down
Valley Loop Trail - Day 2 late afternoon/early evening hike
After the Upper Falls trail, we rested our legs and grabbed a late lunch, before enjoying an early evening stroll around the valley. The Valley Loop trail is a mostly flat trail around the valley, through meadows and along the Merced river, with stunning views. If you complete the full 18.5km loop, you’ll see Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Three Brothers and Yosemite Falls along the way.
You can start the trail from a number of places in the valley - we started near the Lower Falls area. The signs for this trail are harder to find along the way, and to be honest, I think we strayed on and off this trail several times, but it was so nice wandering around the valley for a couple of hours, surrounded by amazing mountains and waterfalls. It was so peaceful, especially as evening came and the sun started to set.
Walking the Valley trail as the sunsets
Bridalveil falls - Day 3 morning stop
With a round trip of less than 1km, i'm not sure that this can really be called a hike! The Bridalveil falls are the first waterfalls you’ll see when you arrive in Yosemite Valley and the paved path, which leads from the parking area to the base of the falls, makes it a popular walk on the way into the valley. We stopped here on our way into the park, before starting our first main hike of the day.
We visited in early summer, so the falls were at their strongest and there was plenty of refreshing water spraying on the paths. The powerful water thundered as you got closer and it really was the perfect way to start our final day in the park - sunshine, nature and a waterfall, what more could you want?!
Vernal Falls - Day 3 hike
This is a really popular hike and does get very busy. The trail to the top of Vernal fall is only a 4km round trip, but is quite strenuous so can take around 3 hours. You can take either the Mist Trail or the John Muir trail to the top of Vernal Falls - the most popular is the Mist trail. The trail starts at the Happy Isles shuttle stop and for the first mile, the paved path follows the Merced river until you reach the Vernal Fall bridge and Mist trail head.
Starting the trail nice and easy until we reached the Vernal Fall Bridge...
After crossing the bridge, take the Mist Trail and get ready to climb the 600+ steps to the top of the fall. You’ll get stunning views all the way up this trail, but the spray from the falls does make the steps very slippery, so just be aware and take your time.
Despite the business of this trail, it was perhaps one of my favourites - I loved how close you could get to the waterfall - allowing the refreshing spray to cool you off in the midday sun!
The Mist Trail to the falls are slippery and steep but the view is worth it!
I think you can agree, we really did fit as many hikes as our legs could manage in those 2 days we had here! I would have loved to have stayed for longer and hired bikes and taken a rafting trip to explore the park from different perspectives, but we loved every minute we had here.
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