Best Day Hikes at Yosemite

The easiest way to determine if there’s a campground that’s right next to specific trials in Yosemite is campground location. Unfortunately, there’s no such map that makes this easy. There are many campgrounds in Yosemite that are scattered throughout the park. To make it faster to pinpoint a campground near a trailhead, I’ll give you a trail name. Then along this trail, I’ll further let you know what you can expect to see.

Bridalveil Fall trail

This trail is considered very easy to walk on and takes you up a half-mile trial. The total incline of this trail takes you up just 80 feet from your starting point. This is the iconic waterfall that you first see when entering the park. On this trail, you can get right up to and nearly under the falls. This trial has no wheelchair access but you should have decent walking shoes for this.

For one of the best day hikes in Yosemite with a low impact workout, you can’t miss this one. The closest campground to this trailhead is the Bridalveil Creek Group and Horse Camp. Normally, these camps are open from July 15, 2021, to September 5th, 2021.

Lower Yosemite Fall trail

This is another trail that’s considered easy and only covers 1 mile for the entire loop trip. This trial has an elevation that takes you up 50 feet along the path. This is an incredible double waterfall that’s quite loud in the spring. Later in the fall the water is less if not totally gone by September and October. This trail does have partial wheelchair access and is paved part of the way.

There are two campgrounds close to this fun and picturesque trail. The closest one is the Housekeeping camp and the other is the Lower Pines campground. Lower Pines is open from September 20- October 11 2020 for this year’s season. The housekeeping camp is different since this location doesn’t require a tent. These are three-sided walls with a privacy curtain and a bunk bed.

This location offers 266 units. Each unit can allow up to 6 people inside and has electricity, mirrors, and shelving. You can also see Half Dome and Yosemite falls from this camp. There is also an additional River camp close by for those who want to be by the river. It’s a smaller version of the Housekeeping camp. Even though there are beds, bring a sleeping bag.

Cook’s Meadow Loop

This is yet another easy trail to walk that gives a very impressive view of the center of Yosemite Valley. The Cook’s Meadow Loop trail is only a one-mile round trip and is a flat trail and bike path. You only need to have walking shoes to enjoy this easy to walk trail. Along this particular trail, you can see Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Glacier Point. When you reach Sentinel Bridge, you can also see a very nice view of Half Dome near the parking area.

Campgrounds near this trail include Backpacker’s campground and Housekeeping Camp. The Housekeeping camp is described as being an easier way to camp without needing a tent. The backpacker’s camp does need a tent but isn’t a typical campground. It’s an open area where anyone with a wilderness permit can set-up their tent. It’s good for those who want to stay in the park for cheaper than other tent-oriented campsites. It costs 6 dollars per night.

Mirror Lake Loop

Those who are a bit more in shape will enjoy the Mirror Lake Loop. This is considered easy to moderate and is 2 miles to the lake and back. If you travel the entire loop it will take 5 miles to walk. The incline takes you up 100 feet to the lake, and the whole loop goes upwards of 200 feet. Only the first mile of this trail is a paved service road, while the rest is moderately rocky. You’ll certainly need good hiking shoes for this trail.

This trail gives you a great tour of Mirror Lake, Tenaya Canyon, and creek. There are two bridges that you cross when you reach the Snow Creek junction. The best time to visit is in spring to early summer when the lake has fresh water. Two campsites are close to this loop trail including Yosemite Creek campground and Porcupine flat campground.

Yosemite creek campground has 75 campsites and is open July through early October. This site is strictly a tent campground only that’s fairly primitive. There are vault toilets, and you have to boil water if you take it from the stream. Porcupine Flat campground is similar since it’s nearly the same primitive camping. There are 52 campsites at this location when it opens July-October.

Valley Loop Trail

Now we step up the game a bit with a moderate trail. While this is a flat trail you certainly need good walking shoes for this one. Just the half look is 6.5 miles, whereas the full loop is 13 miles! This is an all-day sightseeing tour that takes you along the Merced River and through meadows and forests. The big highlights are seeing El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil Falls, Three Brothers, and Yosemite Falls.

The trail itself will change from old pavement to rock, gravel, dirt, and a mixture of everything in between. The best camp to catch this trail is at the Backpacker’s camp and Camp 4. As mentioned earlier, the Backpacker’s camp is an open area that is best for those who want to set-up a tent anywhere in this free-for-all area. It costs 6 dollars a night. At Camp 4, this allows just 36 shared campsite areas.

Because it’s a site that is popular with climbers, there is a lottery system worked out. You pay 10 dollars ahead of time and if you win that daily lotto, you can support a group. This can include 12 people but at this camp, they have to share a space. It may not be in the same area as the camp either. Bring plenty of drinking water for this trail adventure.

Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall trail

As the trails become more exciting, the level of difficulty goes up too. These two trails are often called the Mist trails and they take you to the tail heads of the two most impressive falls in Yosemite. Both start with moderate to complex in their hiking ability. On the trail, it stretches 1.6 to 8 miles and takes you from 400 feet up to 2000 feet! You will certainly need good hiking shoes and plenty of drinking water.

Just getting a good look at these two falls is amazing but these split off at two points. After you walk the first 1.6 miles you can choose to go to the top of each. Vernal Falls takes 2.4 miles, and Nevada Falls goes up 5.4 miles. These two trails are pretty rough and require excellent hiking and climbing boots. You will need to be in very good shape to make this trail because it’s more strenuous than other trails.

Two campgrounds are close to these Mist trails. There is the Backpacker’s campground and the Upper Pines campground. At the backpacker’s campground, you can find an open spot to pitch your tent. It’s friendly for students who are backpacking their way through Yosemite. For 6 dollars a night, it’s also budget-friendly. Upper Pines campground is one of the three largest campgrounds that require a reservation.

It’s normally open all-year but the opening is announced on the 15th of each month. This camp has 238 spots for camping and RVs. It cost 26 per night and can take 6 months in advance to book your reservation.

Yosemite Falls trail

This is a double-sided coin as this trial starts out moderate it gets progressively difficult. The first trail takes you up 2 miles to the top of Columbia rock. You get a great view of the falls and this trail is moderate to walk. As far as Yosemite day hikes, these trails offer a great combo if you’re feeling adventurous. You do need decent hiking shoes or boots. The second trail is 7.2 miles and takes you all the way to the top.

This trail is rough and you need very good hiking and climbing boots for this. The starting point for this trial is Campground 4 and you can walk to the trailhead from this campsite. Because campground 4 is hard to get into for obvious climber and hikers who are doing the same, there’s hope. The backpacker’s campground is just a couple miles down the road and might be easier to pitch a tent.

While you’re in the park, you might consider doing the Campground 4 lottery. It doesn’t mean you’ll get a space but does give you a chance to win a spot for the night. Both of these campgrounds only allow tents to be set up so there’s no RV access to either of these. As you can expect, this trail offers two different views depending on your ability to climb up the trail. They both offer excellent panoramic views that show a different view of the entire valley.

Other trails that are advanced hiking only

Some trails in Yosemite offer a chance of a lifetime experience, but for those who have experience. These aren’t recommended for the general public since they are rough and often dangerous. You need to bring special hiking boots that are meant for the wilderness. I want to tell you briefly about them since they are part of the park itself.

Snow Creek trail

This is a backcountry trail that starts at the Mirror Lake trailhead. It spans a distance of 9.4 miles and takes you up to 2700 feet in elevation. This is a breathtaking view of the eastern Yosemite Valley that’s tucked behind Tenaya canyon. Unless you have the equipment to spend 6-7 hours in the wilderness, this is a hiker’s dream. You need to bring provisions that will help you to make the full trip.

There are two campsites close to this trail that include Yosemite Creek campground and Porcupine flat campground. Yosemite creek campground has 75 campsites and is open July through early October. Porcupine Flat campground is similar since it’s nearly the same primitive camping. There are 52 campsites at this location when it opens July-October. To get to the Snow Creek trail you have to walk up to the Mirror Lake trail.

Four Mile Trail

This is also a strenuous trail but only takes 4.8 miles to complete. It starts from the base of Sentinel Rock and goes up to the top of the entire Yosemite Valley. This is an elevation that’s 3,200 feet. So yes, you need to be in serious shape to make this hike. Great gripping trail and hiking shoes are an absolute must. Once you reach the top of Glacier Point there is a parking lot up there where you can buy a park bus ticket back to the valley.

The closest campsite to this trail is the Upper Pines campground and Backpacker’s campground. You may have to walk from each of these to the trailhead but not so far to reach the Sentinel Rock trail.

Half Dome Trail

As if I could save the best for last, the Half Dome trail is a Mecca for advanced hikers. Sadly it’s the most common mistake for anyone who doesn’t know a thing about hiking. Every year dozens or hikers are air-lifted off this trail for making the wrong step. This trail spans 14 miles and continues to reach 16.4 miles to the top of Half Dome. To reach this trail you have to have a wilderness permit first. This allows you to stay at the Little Yosemite campground.

This campground is not part of the regular park and is only available for those hiking up Half Dome. It’s a rugged trek and requires some serious power to climb this beast. You can apply for this permit or enter the lottery to win that pass. For any lucky hiker who reaches the top, the view is an otherworldly experience. It’s a full 8,800 feet above the valley! But sadly hundreds try the trip unprepared for the level of climbing needed.

If you have what it takes, this climb up to the top of Half Dome is more than just a picture. It’s an achievement in making an all-day climb that starts when the sun first rises. This is also one of the best day hikes in Yosemite for the most experienced hikers. Most people who come down from this trial will likely see a sunset when they reach the valley. For more information on these trails be sure to check these sites to learn more on all of these hikes:

https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/valleyhikes.htm
https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/campgrounds.htm