HIKING IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK:
With over 800 miles of trails, Yosemite National Park has a wide range of hiking opportunities ranging from short family-friendly hikes to longer strenuous day hikes and long remote backpacking trips in the wilderness. Several roadside viewpoints scattered throughout the park also offer outstanding views with little effort beyond fighting for a parking space. Bring the National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map with you to find your way through the different sections of Yosemite National Park.
No fees or permits are required for any single-day hike along any of Yosemite's trails, but wilderness permits are required for:
- any overnight hike in the Yosemite Wilderness. (Reservations and quotas are set per trailhead and some hikes have specific regulations.)
- any hike to the top of Half Dome while the cables are up. (Different permit systems are in place for dayhikers and backpackers who want to go to the top of Half Dome.)
Specific hikes are discussed on the following Favorite Hikes and Viewpoints page.
Hiking terrain ranges widely in difficulty, from the tranquil forested paths and bike trails in Yosemite Valley to the strenuous constructed trails that climb relentlessly up to exposed viewpoints looking down from the rim. And in Yosemite's higher elevation wilderness areas, many long and remote trails wander though the granite wonderland of the High Sierras. Most trailheads have large prominent signs, and all trail intersections are marked with several metal signs that show mileage to important destinations down the trail. Yosemite's trail system does not use any markers on trees however, so following backcountry trails that are still covered in snow is typically extremely difficult even with map/GPS aides. WARNINGS:
- While many of Yosemite's more popular trails and viewpoints may have guardrails and warning signs, most do not. Be extremely careful at exposed viewpoints and do not get too close to the edge; many cliffs have outward sloping edges with loose debris on top. Do not let young children run around unsupervised.
- Do not swim or wade any water that is upstream from rapids or waterfalls. Over the years, many people have died getting in what seems like calm water only to get pulled away and swept over a waterfall.
- Pay attention to and be prepared for the weather. Even on a warm summer day, a serious storm with sudden drops of temperature can cause hypothermia. Stay off of exposed peaks at the first sign of a thunderstorm.
- Think twice about hiking any trail that is still covered in snow unless you are properly prepared for the physical and navigation challenges.
What to Bring on Hikes:
- Footwear: While heavy hiking boots may be preferred by some, light hiking shoes like trail runners also work well for the terrain in Yosemite. (A simple shoe like the La Sportiva Bushido II Trail Running Shoe works great.)
- Drinking Water: While many people get away with taking only a small bottled water with them on long hikes, it isn't recommended. Bringing water in Nalgene bottles or hydration reservoirs in a compatible backpack are both good solutions. The Osprey Stratos 24 is a great little hydration-compatible backpack for day hikes and it still has quite a bit of room for supplies.
- Sun protection: To protect from sunburn, sunscreen and a wide-rimmed hat is recommended. (A baseball cap will not protect the back of your neck.)
- Food/Snacks: For longer hikes, bring any food that helps keep you going, from energy bars to fruits and sandwiches.
- Navigation Aids: The National Geographic Trails Illustrated Map is extremely useful for navigating the trails and identifying peaks and waterfalls in the distance.
- Headlamp: It's a good idea to bring a headlamp on day hikes as well as backpacking trips, just in case you get caught out after dark. Two excellent lightweight models are the Petzl Actik Core (dual LEDs with settings up to 300 lumens) and the Black Diamond Cosmo 350 (dual buttons to turn on/off without having to cycle through different modes and IPX8 waterproof rating).
- Hiking Poles: While hiking poles aren't always necessary, they come in handy on long hikes, especially when a lot of elevation gain is involved. (The Black Diamond Trail Back Trekking Poles are a good model.)
- For a more complete list of useful outdoor items, please see Hiking and Backpacking Gear.
Ethics of Hiking in Yosemite:
Since Yosemite National Park gets over five million visitors each year, minimizing the effect of human impact is crucial. Please practice the "leave no trace" ethic, including these specifics:
- Pack out all garbage and don't take any rocks or other souvenirs, and don't pick any flowers.
- Do not build any decorative cairns or stack rocks. Do not scratch or carve your name or any other words into the rock formations or trees.
- While the front-country has many trails-of-use that wander off the main trails, please obey any "do not hike here" signs and don't cross any roped-off restoration areas.
- When exploring off-trail in the more remote backcountry, travel on durable surfaces as much as possible to minimize impact.
- Do not throw stones from the top of peaks or cliffs. Several areas are popular with climbers and a rock in the head could be fatal.