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Where should you hike in Yosemite? These are the 8 best easy and moderate trails

Check out how big the waterfalls are in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite's famous waterfalls are running extra strong this year after a wetter-than-normal winter and spring. Most will hit their peak in late spring or early summer.
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Yosemite's famous waterfalls are running extra strong this year after a wetter-than-normal winter and spring. Most will hit their peak in late spring or early summer.

The number of hikes in massive Yosemite National Park, encompassing nearly 1,200 square miles, can seem endless.

So what to see on your next Yosemite vacation?

Here’s a list of some of the park’s classic trails to help you decide.

Easy, short Yosemite hikes:

Lower Yosemite Fall Trail

Yosemite Valley is full of gorgeous waterfalls that are all flowing extra strong this spring, and Yosemite Falls is arguably the most iconic and best-known of them all. And, it’s incredibly accessible! A nearly-flat, one-mile loop leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall. The eastern side of the loop, from the shuttle stop to the base of the waterfall, is wheelchair accessible.

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Tourists walk around the base of Lower Yosemite Fall as it thunders down the cliffs at Yosemite National Park on Thursday, March 23, 2017. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Bridalveil Fall Trail

A half-mile round-trip hike will take you to the base of another icon, Bridalveil Fall, located near where Highway 41 (called Wawona Road in the park) enters Yosemite Valley. The short paved trail gets steep, however, near the base of the falls. Expect to get wet if visiting in the spring!

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Bridalveil Fall flows into Yosemite Valley at near peak levels on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The Sierra Nevada snowmelt is in high gear after a bigger than normal snow year. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

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Cook’s Meadow Loop

This flat, 1-mile loop trail saunters through the meadow closest to roaring Yosemite Falls. You’ll also enjoy views of Half Dome, Sentinel Rock and Royal Arches as you walk through the heart of Yosemite Valley. If you want to get more oriented first, you can easily start this walk at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center.

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Rochelle Stiles, conservation supervisor with the San Francisco Zoo, carries threatened California red-legged frogs for release in Cook’s Meadow Friday, May 3, 2019 in Yosemite Valley. ERIC PAUL ZAMORA ezamora@fresnobee.com

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Glacier Point

See Yosemite Valley and the High Sierra from Glacier Point, located 3,214 exhilarating feet above Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) via a short, paved, wheelchair-accessible trail from the Glacier Point parking area at the end of Glacier Point Road. There are guardrails at this heavily-visited, popular overlook. After being closed for the winter, Glacier Point Road will reopen to all vehicles Friday, May 10.

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Half Dome in Yosemite Valley in January of 2010, as seen from Glacier Point. CRAIG KOHLRUSS Fresno Bee file

Moderate hikes:

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

It’s about 2 miles round-trip to go to either Sentinel Dome or Taft Point, or combine them to make a 5-mile round-trip loop. Sentinel Dome might be the most rewarding of the two if you have to pick one. The walk up Sentinel Dome is nowhere close to as steep as Half Dome and is a much easier way to summit a Yosemite dome with panoramic views of the High Sierra. The trailhead parking is along Glacier Point Road.

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Half Dome and High Sierra Yosemite, as seen from the top of Sentinel Dome, located along Glacier Point Road, summer 2015. CARMEN GEORGE cgeorge@fresnobee.com

Grizzly Giant Loop Trail

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The Grizzly Giant in Yosemite National Park’s Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias on June 12, 2018. CRAIG KOHLRUSS ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

This 2-mile loop trail will take you to the gargantuan Grizzly Giant tree in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Visitors with a valid disability placard can drive as far as the Grizzly Giant parking area and take a short wheelchair-accessible path.

The grove was extensively renovated and reopened in 2018.

To get here, park in a lot just inside Yosemite’s south entrance, along Highway 41 near Wawona, and take a short, free tram ride to the grove.

Vernal Fall

This is a busy and popular trail, but if you make it to the steep rock steps near the end that snake alongside Vernal Fall – aptly named the Mist Trail – you’ll be happy you bothered to do all that monotonous uphill climbing on pavement to see this massive waterfall. Yosemite officials describe the trail to the Vernal Fall Footbridge – your first glimpse of Vernal – as moderate (a 1.6-mile round-trip), but once you get there, you’ll likely want to keep going to the top, a strenuous 2.4-mile round trip (or even farther, to Nevada Fall above it). Or, just get a little wet on the scenic Mist Trail alongside Vernal.

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Hikers maker their way along the steps on the Mist Trail near Vernal Fall on Tuesday, April 30, 2019. The Sierra Nevada snowmelt is in high gear after a bigger than normal snow year. Craig Kohlruss ckohlruss@fresnobee.com

Cathedral Lakes

If you’re up for more involved hiking, this steep 7-mile round-trip hike will take you to stunning High Sierra lakes, bordered by the dramatically-pointed Cathedral Peak. There’s a 1,000-foot elevation gain, but the trail does flatten out a few times. Near the top of the climb, there’s a spur trail worth taking to Lower Cathedral Lake (0.5 miles to the lake). The trailhead is a half-mile west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. The seasonal Tioga Road, which leads here, is still closed as snowplowing continues. New construction is planned in Tuolumne Meadows, including no roadside parking along Tioga Road starting next year.

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Lower Cathedral Lake above Tuolumne Meadows in Yosemite National Park, fall 2015. CARMEN GEORGE cgeorge@fresnobee.com

Want more Yosemite hikes? Check out the park’s full list at nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/hiking.htm.

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Carmen George is a features and news reporter for The Fresno Bee. Her stories have been recognized with Best of the West, George F. Gruner, and McClatchy President’s awards, and nine first or second place awards from the California News Publishers Association. She has a passion for sharing people’s stories to highlight issues and promote greater understanding.
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