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Ten Best Yosemite Dayhikes

Destination(s): Yosemite National Park

So much to choose from! I had to put Half Dome at the top of my list; it's so unique. For the fit and determined it's just the right amount of challenge with a great reward on top. Key: start up in the dark, drink lots of water. Be aware that for 2010 you need a day use permit for Fri, Sat, Sun, holidays on Half Dome. For an easier jaunt, almost anyone can make the pleasant grade to Mirror Lake for a more intimate view of the canyon floor. Off Glacier Point Road, the hike up to Sentinel Dome affords a grand 360-degree panorama. Do a bit less than Half Dome but with the best of the dramatic start/finish miles by hiking up to Vernal Fall and/or go beyond it to the top of Nevada Fall - good training for a Half Dome assault next summer. Another way to see this part of Yosemite is to pay for the hikers' bus up to Glacier Point and hike down the Panorama Trail. At Tioga Pass, crawl up over a steep ridge to an isolated glacial basin at Gaylor Lakes; classic Sierra alpine terrain. In Tuolumne Meadows, getting to the top of Lembert Dome is the must-do viewing platform. A fine subalpine hike gets you to the two Cathedral Lakes. In the south part of the park, take a great climb up the Chilnualna Falls Trail from Wawona; warm work, but worth it. It is truly hard to go wrong with Yosemite trails; do get a good map at the Visitor Center and ask rangers about route difficulties. Always have plenty of water, snacks and layers for the weather. read more about Ten Best Yosemite Dayhikes

Half Dome Trail

Half Dome Trail

  • Happy Isles Shuttle Stop #16
  • (Yosemite Valley)
  • tel:+1 209 372 0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite National Park, 95389


Don't try this incredible trail unless you're truly ready for a very challenging adventure.  You can do it as one-day epic or as a backpack trek but either way, you need to be in top condition, with comfortable walking shoes, start up early in the morning and take in plenty of water and food as you go.  If there's any chance of rain or lightning, do not go above treeline. 
This is a tough day not just because it is 16 miles round-trip, but because it is 4800' up and then down.  Large numbers of people are whipped before the top, almost everyone is completely thrashed when they do make it. 
Be aware that you'll need to have a new kind of permit for dayhikes every day of the week in 2011.  Get these via www.recreation.gov.  No one can go up the trail and the cables without either a day use permit or a Wilderness permit for overnighting en route.
The trail starts at Happy Isles and climbs quickly up along the Merced River, past 100m Vernal Fall, then 200m Nevada Fall and into Little Yosemite Valley at about the 4.5 mile mark.  If you reserved a Wilderness permit, or got in line at the Wilderness Center early the day before, you can pitch your tent in the campground here.  The trail then climbs up through more forest until you come out on the steep stone stairs of the 'sub-dome' and the views of the landscape below you are astonishing.  This elevator shaft does in many people, but the legendary cables come next.  There are two steel cables, held up by steel posts every 5m or so; 2x4's across the base of the posts help for resting.  Haul yourself up here and you've earned something special.  Hopefully you've saved some juice for the long descent...
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Mirror Lake Day Hike

Mirror Lake Day Hike

  • Mirror Lake
  • (Yosemite Valley)
  • tel:+1 209 372 0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite National Park, 95389

In a neat demonstration of sedimentary processes, Mirror Lake has been gradually filling up with sand, so (except in the springtime) it is not as mirror-like as it once was.  Nonetheless, the lake's banks do provide a glorious view straight up Half Dome's face. Start from Shuttle Stop 17. This is considered an easy walk, with a mild uphill grade. The distance is just about a mile, and if you didn't care about fully experiencing this nice part of Tenaya Canyon you could complete the round-trip in about an hour. This area can get crowded in summer. In winter hikers must start from Shuttle Stop 19, which adds another mile to the trip. In summer months, there is access for vehicles with current disability placards.
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Lembert Dome Trail

Lembert Dome Trail

  • P.O. Box 577
  • The trail head is at a parking lot north of CA 120 in Tuolumne Meadows at rd. marker T-32. Follow the nature trail that starts here and take off at marker no. 2
  • tel:209-372-0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite, 95389

This 2-mile round-trip trail begins from the Dog Lake/John Muir Trailhead in Tuolumne Meadows. Find it by going in on the side road to Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.  Bring water, snacks and a camera.

Begin hiking uphill and north from the trailhead. Soon you cross the highway and continue on up through forested switchbacks.  Take your time at this elevation.  The Dog Lake route continues straight ahead over the top of the ridge, while you'll go left along the ridge, still going uphill until the trail puts you onto the granite shoulder of Lembert.  A bit of easy walking then a somewhat exposed class 2 hop puts you on top of the viewing platform for Tuolumne Meadows.  Wind, sun and a lot of rock await you.  The gentle Tuolumne River winds below, and you can see its source in the Lyell Glacier miles to the south. 

Retrace your steps to descend, or go a bit further to Dog Lake, or circle around Dog Dome to come back to level ground to the west.

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The Mist Trail

The Mist Trail

  • Happy Isle Shuttle Stop #16
  • (Yosemite Valley)
  • tel:+1 209 372 0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite National Park, 95389

The Mist Trail parallels the John Muir Trail from Happy Isles to the top of Nevada Fall and many people make a loop of the two.  Here we'll describe just the Vernal Fall section. The trail is paved or granite and is very popular for a good reason - astonishing scenery, a stiff ascent and an astounding 300' waterfall.  Bring water, sun protection, and if it's May or June, consider bringing raingear, when the route beside Vernal could be called the "Firehose Trail."  The climb from Happy Isles runs steadily up a good paved surface with a few views of the Merced River's rapid descent.  You first see Vernal from below at the footbridge, where in summer there is drinking water and a restroom.  Another 10-15 minutes up and you'll reach the mistiest section.  About 600 granite steps, with steel railings where needed, get you to the top of the fall.  Peer over the edge, but be careful - too many people have been swept over the fall to their deaths.

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Sentinel Dome Trail

Sentinel Dome Trail

Cathedral Lake Trail

Cathedral Lake Trail

  • P.O. Box 577
  • The trail head is off Tioga Rd., at the west end of Tuolumne Meadows, west of Budd Creek
  • tel:209-372-0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite, 95389
Nevada Falls Loop

Nevada Falls Loop

Gaylor Lakes Trail

Gaylor Lakes Trail

Chilnualna Falls Trail

Chilnualna Falls Trail

Panorama Trail

Panorama Trail

  • P.O. Box 577
  • The hike begins at Glacier Point, at the east end of the parking area
  • tel:209-372-0200
  • Visit website
  • Yosemite, 95389