Have a day or weekend to explore Yosemite? Want a leisurely stroll through a golden meadow or a challenging hike to a panoramic view of the valley? How about a swimming spot, hey? Here are four very different day hikes that offer a variety of experiences, all with fine views and beautiful scenery. All but one of these hikes are along Tioga Pass, where there are fewer crowds and epic viewpoints.
Lets start with the most relaxing hike:
1. Mono Pass Hike:
At the far end of the eastern side of the park, close to the eastern Tioga Pass entrance, there is a magical hike that meanders through lush meadows and crystalline streams to a rocky pass towards the eastern Sierras and Mono Lake, hence the name Mono Pass.
The 7.8 mile roundtrip hike definitely gets your legs going, especially at around 10,000-foot elevation, though most of the trail is flat and moderate. Its more like a stroll than a hike, however, there are a couple inclines that do get your heart pumping. But the view is worth it. You will enter Bloody Canyon (great name I know), where the landscape changes dramatically, opening up into rusty-red, craggly and barren mountains. Here you'll find a small lake with oftentimes snow and ice rimming the edges, and a nice view of Mono Lake through the descending slopes of the mountains to the East.
Go whenever Tioga Road is open, usually June to November, and try to check out the wildflowers blooming through July. Bring a lot of water, snacks, sunscreen, and a camera. The hike should take around 3-5 hours, depending on how long you nap at the top. To get here from Tioga Pass entrance, drive about 1 mile west on highway 120 until you see the trailhead on the left. From the west, drive highway 120 from the western entrance and take a left onto Tioga Pass, continue 46 miles until you find the trailhead on the right.
2. Dewey/Stanford/Crocker Points:
The only hike I will highlight that is close to Yosemite Valley, these three points offer incredible views of the valley from the South. but be aware, there are multiple trailheads from various locations in the park, and they are very different experiences. I foolishly chose the route that looked more direct and closer to park to get to Dewey Point from Tunnel View, but quickly realized why there were few hikers on the trail. It was almost completely straight uphill for the entire 3 miles! The view was deifinitely worth it, but I would recommend taking the alternate rout from Glacier Point.
These three lookouts offer stunning views of El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as Bridalveil Falls (from Crocker and Stanford Points). The hike from Glacier Point to Dewey Point is 7.8 miles roundtrip, though a quick stroll half mile more to Crocker Point and another 0.7 miles to Stanford point is tempting. The hike from this direction is relatively easy, as it is a mild incline to the points.
Be aware of bears in the area, especially as there are fewer tourists around here. Stay aware and safe, and hike with a buddy.
To get here from the South Entrance, turn left and drive 17 miles to Glacier Point Road, turn right and follow it 7.6 miles to the trailhead for "McGurk Meadows." Take the trail to the north side of the road to continue to the trail.
3. Cathedral Lake
One of my favorite solo hikes of the summer was a Cathedral Lakes, right by Tuolomne Meadows on Tioga Road. This 7 mile round-trip hike has a diversity of sights, from boggy meadows to expansive granitic viewpoints to crisp blue lakes.
You start at the west end of Tuolomne Meadows, and hike upwards on moderate switchbacks that meander across streams and through shaded forests. The hike is moderate and mostly a gradual uphill climb, starting at 8,500 ft elevation and reaching 9,290 ft.
Getting to the lake is magical. You swamp through expansive bogs to the rocky edge and look up and around at the pointed Cathedral, Echo, and Tressider peaks towering above. The water is cold and crisp, and there are side trails that go around a good bit of the lake, for secluded and shaded resting spots.
For a fun and adventurous jaunt, scramble up to Cathedral Peak, to the east of the lake, or as close as you like to it, to get panoramic views of fields of granite as far as the eye can see. There is no trail there, so scramble at your own risk and be aware of your path. It is well worth it!
Best time to visit is when Tioga Road is open, usually June to October, though it is marshier and buggier earlier in the season.
4. Cloud's Rest
For a truly EPIC Yosemite experience, take on Cloud's Rest for the day! This 14.5 mile all day adventure leads to an outer-worldly 360 degree panoramic view of the entire Yosemite area and beyond. It's a long hike, and is moderately strenuous most of the way there.
For an added bad-ass bonus, hike to the summit for sunrise! It will sound like a horrible idea, as you take a 3 hour nap before heading out to the park in the middle of the night, but it is surely an unique experience. We started hiking at 2 am and made it to the peak around 5:30am to watch the sunrise around 6am. Check for when the sun will rise when you go.
At night, there are few people on the trail and the temperature is crisp and great for hiking. It is something different hiking at night, but I quite liked it. A one point, we reached some sort of rocky clearing, and just stopped to look at the sky, full of milky galaxies and stars shooting this way and that. It felt very special to be there in the still of the night like that.
Even the switchbacks were no sweat at night. Without a clear idea of what was ahead, I had no expectations for long stretches of uphills or how long it would take. It went by rather quickly and easily, even without getting any sleep. And as I neared the top, as the dawn blued the early morning sky, I could see the outlines of the ridge and the vast granitic floes on either side. I sped up and climbed up and along the narrow ridge, on pure adrenal energy.
At the top, you feel perched on the edge of the sky, looking down on a map of the entire area before you. Bring a real map if you can to point out particular points of interest you see around you, including Tenaya Lake, Half Dome, Mt. Hoffman, and North Dome.
We spent about an hour or two at the top, napping in the morning sun and basking in the surrounding view, and we only saw a handful of people. Hiking down was hot, even around 10 and 11am, and we felt pretty good getting down in the heat while others were huffing and puffing up. It was exciting to see certain parts of the trail that were dark and mysterious at night in full sunlight. We walked by a grove of lightening-struck pines on the way down, twisted and fried. It was like we were on a completely new hike!
For more information on directions to Cloud's Rest trailhead, hiking info, parking, and more, check out the Yosemite Hikes site. They'll get you where you need to go. There a couple forks in the trail that you should be aware of and some information about alternate routes that they lay out better than I can. Bring a lot of water, sunscreen food, and layers, especially if you are going up at night (its cold up there!). This hike is unforgettable! The view is out of this world and worth the tiring switchbacks. If you have a day to hike in Yosemite and feel adventurous, definitely check out Cloud's Rest.
These day hikes offer a variety of experiences in Yosemite away from the crowds, and all offer good views, nice scenery, and enough walking to feel active in the outdoors. Pick one or pick all four to explore Yosemite from in a new light.