Have you ever hiked to the top of Yosemite Falls or Half Dome, the gigantic granite monolith? Come along with me and I’ll take you there. You can relive your memories or learn what you need to know before you go.
Located in Central California, Yosemite’s grand beauty captivates every visitor, from the early tribes that inhabited the area to explorers such as Galen Clark and John Muir. After President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant in 1864, this wonderous park has been under government protection, and to this day 95% of the park is considered wilderness.
Before it was known as Yosemite, the valley was called “Ahwahnee” which means “big mouth” in the language of the people indigenous to the area, the Ahwahneechee. The name “Yosemite” originally referred to another tribe of people who were later driven out of the area, and the name stuck from there.
The valley was carved out by glaciers over a million years ago with ice reaching 4,000 feet thick. Thanks to these glaciers, we have Half Dome, El Capitan, and numerous hiking trails to admire in Yosemite National Park, not mention the valley itself.
If you are visiting Yosemite for the first time or have visited at least once and are curious to explore the park even more, below you will find a list of 5 day trip hikes in Yosemite National Park that you must see next time you’re RVing in Yosemite.
We will start off with the easiest hike in the park. The Bridalveil Falls trail is a great warm up for the numerous hiking trails throughout Yosemite.
As you approach Yosemite Valley, the first waterfall you’ll likely see is Bridalveil Fall. Open all year round, the trail is super easy to traverse, as it is only ½ mile round trip. The hike takes less than 30 minutes to follow, making it a great spot to stretch your legs after RVing into Yosemite. Who doesn’t like easy?
The beginning of the trail starts at the bottom of the waterfall, and you will see many other day trip hikers taking the short climb and soaking in the brilliant views.
This short hike won’t require any snacks to provide extra energy, but you will want to spend some time at the top of the falls, so bring some lunch, water and sunscreen. You can see a lot of the park from the top of Bridalveil Fall, and you will easily see how explorers like John Muir were instantly captivated by this glorious place.
During the spring this waterfall is loud and thousands of gallons of water pours over the edge of the cliff every moment, while the rest of the year it’s less powerful and becomes more of a mist as the water descends to a pool at the end of the trail.
If you are hiking during the summer months, the mist coming off the falls, spraying over the trail is refreshing and its nice knowing that this water is fresh as can be (while also being quite cold, as all of the water in the park is ice melt from the higher regions of the Sierra Nevada mountain range).
This mile-long trail is another easy one to help you get acclimated to hiking in Yosemite and takes about 30 minutes to follow. This trail takes you to the final drop of Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America (take that, Niagara Falls). This final drop is 320 feet high and offers a gorgeous view of one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world.
The short trail to the falls is flat and wooded, providing an easy and shaded hike that even kids can enjoy.
There will probably a lot of tourists and first-time visitors gazing up at breaks in the trees, but don’t let that deter you. It’s a great hike and there’s plenty of room for everyone. As you approach the falls, you will be able to feel the rush of air tumbling down with the water as the mist flies over your head before fading away.
If you are RVing to or visiting Yosemite for the first time, this is a great day trip hike to stretch your legs, and it gives you a taste of the hikes that abound in this incredible park.
This trail is a more moderate-level hike; Vernal Fall trail is 2.4 miles round trip and kids can easily manage this trail (I did it when I was in 4th grade and it was awesome). This hike takes you up Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail, and as its name indicates, its name indicates, there is lot of mist.
Provided you plan this hike for a warm summer day, the mist will feel great as you make your way up Vernal Fall; its name might make you think that your clothes will be soaked by the time you reach the top of Vernal Fall, but it’s really just a light misting.
This hike may take you a couple hours but it is worth the incredible views; you can gaze at Yosemite Valley and the surrounding granite cliffs from a spectacular viewpoint atop Vernal Fall. The top of the falls makes for an unforgettable lunch spot, as you can view the valley and see Half Dome gleaming in the sun (don’t worry, we will get to Half Dome later).
Be sure to bring water and snacks to provide some extra energy for the climb up; the hike down is much quicker, but don’t rush the climb or descent, as there is no railing. This sounds scary, but the trail is wide enough for people to pass both ways without approaching the edge.
If you hiked the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, chances are you wondered what it’d be like to hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. It is a long hike, encompassing most of your day as it is about 8 hours round trip (7.2 miles round trip). If the previous hikes didn’t faze you, this is one to test your hiking skills, and isn’t for those who found Vernal Fall to be difficult. That being said, I was able to manage the hike in 7th grade (I visited Yosemite each summer for 5 years in a row) and wore some sneakers that were definitely not made for hiking.
The Yosemite Fall trail is one of the oldest in the park, which was finished in 1877. This switchback trail takes about 4 hours to traverse up and down and offers views that you will never forget (I can still picture the view atop the falls and can hear the roar of Yosemite Creek as it fell 2,425 feet to the valley floor). After you gather yourself and become acclimated with the elevation change, you will be taken aback by the grand view before you; it is truly unforgettable.
You can certainly find photos of the view online, but nothing compares to seeing the valley and practically the entire park from the top of Yosemite Falls. Half Dome is off to the left, it’s flat granite face staring at your side of the valley from its throne; the Merced River looks like a tiny stream following the valley floor, and anything smaller than the massive sequoia groves is practically unintelligible. Provided the skies are super clear, you can gaze about the surrounding area that makes up the park, from the giant granite edifices rising above the tallest trees or glimpses of the greater Sierra Nevada mountain range.
The total elevation change is 2,700 feet, so be sure to take your time hiking up and down the trail.
One final note: if you are hiking with kids, don’t let them run ahead of you; not only are some parts of trail quite narrow, it is 7.2 miles round trip. I ran up some parts and rested at certain turns on the switchback trail to let my dad and brother catch up, and soon became quite tired. We had snacks with us, but this is a hike you don’t want to rush. It will take you about 4 hours to traverse both ways, so bring comfortable shoes that are good for hiking long distances.
If you’re up for it, this is a hike you will not regret, and will surely never forget.
During my visits to Yosemite, I never climbed Half Dome. Honestly, this hike is quite dangerous and you can only hike it after entering into a lottery which is held every year, and only 50 people are allowed to hike it per day.
That being said, I found myself staring at the magnificent dome every time my view wasn’t blocked by sequoias or because I was underwater in the absolutely freezing Merced River. It’s high peak and massive size will strike awe in anyone who gazes at it, no matter how many times you’ve seen or even climbed it. As someone who has yet to climb this massive granite dome, it is truly inspiring whenever I see it, and it instantly draws you back millions of years to when truly massive glaciers slowly sliced through the valley.
14.2 miles long round trip, this is a hike for only experienced hikers, and it takes all day. You’d best leave at sunrise as you will not return until that evening; be sure to bring along plenty of water and snacks to fuel your climb, as well as any emergency supplies, and even a sleeping bag.
The trail will rise a total of 4,800 feet once you reach Half Dome’s peak, and 400 of those feet will be climbing up the back of Half Dome itself, using cables to reach the top. If you don’t reach Half Dome by mid-afternoon you will have to turn back as you will need all the daylight you can get to climb to the top.
There are plenty of spectacular day trip hikes in Yosemite that hikers of all skill levels can enjoy, and the park offers an incredible experience you don’t get at other national parks; last time I checked, there was only one Half Dome.
If you haven’t visited Yosemite before or you haven’t hiked any of the trails I’ve mentioned, I implore you to explore this incredible park the next time you are going on an RVing adventure. There are plenty of day trip hikes in Yosemite that everyone can enjoy.
Harry Vanderhoof is a sports nerd with a soft spot for free kick specialists and oversized point guards. He loves hiking and outdoors. When he’s not helping to connect RV renters to amazing RV Parks or to private RV owners on RV Rental Connection, he can be found blogging for their Adventure Blog.
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