Home to ancient sequoia forests, the thundering Yosemite Falls, and the iconic Half Dome rock face, Yosemite National Park boasts some of the most recognizable landscapes in the United States. The many trails in the park take you through the Sierra Nevada mountains and across meadows blooming with wildflowers. When you stay at a vacation rental near Yosemite National Park, you can easily access these hiking trails with a short drive. Whether you’re looking for panoramic photo opportunities or a close-up of a waterfall, these day hikes have you covered.

1. Vernal Falls

Rocky waterfall surrounded by trees
Source: Flickr/fortherock

The Vernal Falls trail is one of the most popular day hikes in Yosemite, and it’s easy to see why; at the end of the trail, you’re rewarded with an astounding view of the wide waterfall as it shoots over a sheer rock cliff. The trail begins at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, near shuttle stop 16. Head up the Mist Trail, which features steep climbs on stone steps; with an elevation gain of 1000 feet over 1.2 miles, this strenuous hike isn’t recommended for small children. Head back down on the John Muir Trail, which offers glimpses of Yosemite Falls and Illilouette Fall. Expect to spend about three hours on the 2.4-mile loop.

2. Bridalveil Fall Trail

Towering canyon in Yosemite National Park
Source: Flickr/ryssekkstreet

If you’re visiting Yosemite with kids, the Bridalveil Fall Trail is a great way to see one of the park’s legendary waterfalls without the intense effort. After a quarter-mile walk up a moderate incline, the paved trail pops out at the bottom of the 620-foot waterfall. The half-mile round trip takes about 20 to 30 minutes. To access the Bridalveil Fall Trail, park in the trailhead parking lot on Wawona Road in Yosemite Valley.

3. Four Mile Trail

Ariel mountain view in Yosemite National Park.
Source: Flickr/Dimitry B.

Enjoy a killer workout and unparalleled views of Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Dome, El Capitan, and Half Dome on the Four Mile Trail. Pack plenty of water and snacks for the climb, which covers a series of switchbacks and gains 3,200 feet over nearly 5 miles. Be sure to take the side spur to Union Point for a stunning look over the valley. The Glacier Point visitor center awaits at the top; from here, you can take the park shuttle back down to the valley or hike back the way you came. The full 9.6-mile loop takes about seven hours, and the one-way, 4.8-mile uphill trek takes about four hours. The trail is open from May through October, and can be accessed from the trailhead near the bottom Sentinel Rock at El Capitan Shuttle stop E5.

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4. Cook’s Meadow Loop

Reflective river surrounded by mountains.
Source: Flickr/glynnismorgan

Pack up the whole family for a stroll along the Cook’s Meadow Loop, an easy, kid-friendly trail that starts at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. Over the course of one mile, the trail takes you past vistas of the park’s most iconic sights: Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Sentinel Rock, and Glacier Point. Flat and well-maintained, the loop is accessible for both strollers and wheelchairs. If you’re staying in one of the nearby vacation rentals, it’s a good idea to arrive early to avoid the crowds and enjoy the morning light on the cliffs.

5. Half Dome Trail

Ariel mountain view in Yosemite National Park.
Source: Flickr/Todd Petrie

The most difficult and legendary hike in Yosemite, Half Dome Trail is not for the faint of heart. The full loop is 14 to 16 miles long, and takes about 10 to 12 hours to complete. A 400-foot climb up a 45-degree rock face awaits at the top of the trail; the route is so steep that the park has installed cables for safety. Hikers that reach the top are treated to a matchless view across the granite peaks. Pack plenty of water and food, bring a headlamp, and leave well before dawn to avoid being turned around by afternoon thunderstorms. When planned well and safely executed, the Half Dome Trail is one of the most exciting and rewarding outdoor adventures in the United States.

6. Cathedral Lakes Trail

Mountain behind a scenic lake surrounded by pine trees.
Source: Flickr/ccharmon

Head to the Tuolumne Meadows area of Yosemite to experience the lovely Cathedral Lakes Trail. The trail is extremely popular; avoid the crowds with an early start from the trailhead near the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. After a steady climb up through a lodgepole forest, the path emerges on the shores of two alpine lakes flanked by the dramatic, rocky pinnacles of Cathedral Peak. Plan to spend between four and six hours on the 7-mile loop, which is easily accessible for older children.

7. Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

Ariel view of a valley between mountains.
Source: Flickr/A Silly Person

If you’re short on time, enjoy some of the best 360-degree views in Yosemite from Sentinel Dome. The trail starts at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead, which lies about 6 miles east of the Bridalveil Creek Campground in the South Rim area of the park. Enjoy a stroll through the trees and through mountain meadows; if you’re visiting in the summer, look for the carpet of colorful wildflowers that blankets the hillsides. After a visit to Taft Point, climb up Sentinel Dome for awe-inspiring views. The entire loop is just over 2 miles long, so you can expect to spend about two hours hiking. The trail isn’t technical, but there are many steep cliff edges nearby; keep smaller children in hiking backpacks for safety.

8. Yosemite Falls Trail

Waterfall over a rocky cliff in Yosemite National Park.
Source: Flickr/sk

Hike to the top of the tallest waterfall in the United States on the Yosemite Falls Trail. This historic trail, which was constructed between 1873 and 1877, starts at Camp 4 in the Yosemite Valley and rises 2,700 feet over 3.5 miles. Challenging switchbacks take you through the forest, offering the occasional glimpse over the valley. Stop at Columbia Rock, to check out breathtaking views of Half Dome and Sentinel Rock, and continue to the top to see the thundering waterfall. At just over 7 miles round trip, the hike takes about six to eight hours; although the path is steep, it’s well-maintained and non-technical enough for teenagers.

 
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