Hikes easy as can be

Lower Cathedral Lake near Yosemite National Park's Tuolumne Meadows is a great place for a novice hiker to challenge oneself: It's a 7-mile hike with a 1,000-foot climb.
Lower Cathedral Lake near Yosemite National Park's Tuolumne Meadows is a great place for a novice hiker to challenge oneself: It's a 7-mile hike with a 1,000-foot climb.

Summer's here, and the mountains are calling. Problem is, you're not in good enough shape (or have no inclination) to be trudging for 15 miles over terrain that would make a llama whimper.

And that's OK. There are many hikes -- more like strolls, really -- where you can experience the great outdoors without busting a lung.

Here are a few favorites:

Sunset Rock

Location: Giant Forest, Sequoia National Park

Length: 2 miles

A perfect hike for beginners because it offers scenery, hardly any climbing, and proximity to one of Sequoia's most popular destinations.

Sunset Rock, a gigantic chunk of flat granite, stretches about the size of a football field and provides views of Little Baldy and the heavily forested Marble Fork Kaweah River Canyon.

Tokopah Falls

Location: Lodgepole, Sequoia National Park

Length: 3.5 miles

The wide and easy-to-follow trail proceeds gradually uphill, never strays far from the Marble Fork of the Kaweah River and culminates in a 1,200-foot waterfall. What more can one ask from an easy hike?

Afternoon is the best time to view the falls, though you'll encounter fewer people in the morning. There's also a good chance you'll encounter a few yellow-bellied marmots intent on sharing your lunch.

River Trail

Location: Cedar Grove, Kings Canyon National Park

Length: 2.7 miles (one way)

This lightly trodden path connects two of Cedar Grove's finest features -- Roaring River Falls and Zumwalt Meadow -- and can be accessed from the Roaring River Falls parking area or Road's End.

Rarely do hikes of this length offer such variety. In a few footsteps, you'll pass through incense cedar, fir and pine forests; moraines left by an ancient glacier; and Zumwalt Meadow, one of the prettiest in the Sierra.

Balsam Forebay

Location: Shaver Lake

Length: 2.5 miles

Most people drive past Balsam Forebay on Highway 168 without even knowing it exists. Don't be one of them.

From the trailhead near the Balsam Sno-Park on the left side of the highway (about 8.5 miles above Shaver Lake), it's an easy, mostly level walk to the forebay, which offers picnic tables, restrooms and views of the Kaiser Wilderness. (Pssst ... the fishing is pretty good, too.)

Indian Pools

Location: Huntington Lake

Length: 2 miles

The trailhead, tucked behind Sierra Summit near the bank of Big Creek, can be tricky to find. But that doesn't prevent anyone from going. Most bring towels.

After 0.7 miles, the "official" trail ends at a large pool deep enough for jumping and swimming. There also is a large shallow area for wading. To escape possible weekend crowds, follow a "use" trail that continues upstream to more pools and waterfalls. Rock cairns help hikers navigate a couple hard-to-follow sections.

Rancheria Falls

Location: Huntington Lake

Length: 2 miles

From the signed turnoff along Highway 168 a half-mile above Rancheria Creek, drive 1.3 miles on a well-graded dirt road to the trailhead located around a sharp curve.

Relatively flat and easy to follow, the trail leads through a forest of pines, firs and berries. Just when this starts to become repetitive, you stumble onto the base of a 150-foot waterfall lined with glistening boulders. Pick one with a clear view of the falls and have a picnic.

Mirror Lake

Location: Yosemite Valley

Length: 4.6 miles

You barely have to walk uphill (or touch dirt) to reach this Yosemite treasure, set beneath the sheer faces of Half Dome and Mount Watkins. No wonder it's one of the most popular (and crowded) hikes in the park.

Recent rockfall has closed the southern portion of the loop indefinitely, but that shouldn't prevent anyone from going. For some solitude, keep walking past the lake and into the lower reaches of Tenaya Canyon.

Lower Cathedral Lake

Location: Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

Length: 7 miles

For novice hikers looking for the next challenge, this is it. You'll have to work a little (1,000 feet elevation gain) to get there, but the reward is as scenic as you'll find in the Sierra.

Follow the historic John Muir Trail for about 3 miles before reaching a spur trail that leads to Lower Cathedral Lake, tucked into a classic glacial cirque. Kicking back on the granite slabs that surround the lake, it's easy to imagine yourself as a fly in the bottom of a giant saucer.

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