Axle Ethington's Guide to Yosemite
Hiking in Yosemite
I think we’ve all seen those old iconic photos that Ansel Adams has taken in Yosemite. The black and whites of Half Dome and the valley floor. And if you're like me they left you with a longing desire to make your way to the park to have an adventure of your own. The only problem with showing up in Yosemite without a game plan as to which trails you want to take can leave you feeling a bit overwhelmed.
Taking any trail in Yosemite could bring you face to face with the most gorgeous waterfall you’ve ever seen, while another might have you climb high above the valley giving you vistas that stretch for miles across Yosemite Valley. Yosemite really does offer the chance for you to choose your own adventure every single day of the year. So I've decided to list a few “must do” hikes that are sure to make your experience all you could hope for.
Valley Floor Loop
Distance: full loop: 13 miles (20.9 km) loop, half loop: 6.5 miles (10.5 km) Elevation: 4,000
Difficulty: Moderate. Watch for icy conditions in winter, which may also make it difficult to find the trail.
Time: Full: 5-7 hours. Half: 2.5-3.5 hours
This trail is one of my personal favorites and really allows you to see the magnificent walls and waterfalls that surround the valley. Starting at Camp 4 (shuttle stop #7), this moderately-difficult trail offers you solitude while you pass through meadows, talus slopes and along the Merced River. One great thing about this trail is that you can hike the half loop if you pressed for time. Just cross the Merced at El Capitan Bridge and head east back toward Yosemite Village. Whether you opt for the full or the half loop, this is a great hike to enjoy views of El Capitan and Bridaveil Fall.
Cook’s Meadow Trail
Distance: 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip
Elevation: 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)
Time: 1-2 hours
This short trail is accessible year round and very flat which makes it perfect for everyone to do. It loops from Sentinel Drive parking lot and across from Yosemite Falls.The best time for waterfalls is in the early spring during the snowmelt, but this area is equally beautiful in fall when the meadow turns a golden yellow and the black oaks and elms start losing their brightly colored leaves.
Cook’s Meadow is also accessible from shuttle stop #11 (near Sentinel Bridge) or shuttle stop #6 (Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead) This walk offers incredible views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. From the visitor center, walk west along the bicycle path toward Lower Yosemite Fall. At shuttle stop #6, cross the street and follow the bike path, bearing left as the path forks. At Sentinel Bridge parking area (shuttle stop #11), walk out onto the bridge to enjoy that classic iconic view of Half Dome before returning to the parking area. Follow the boardwalk back across the meadow, cross the two streets, and turn right to return to the visitor center.
A self-guiding brochure is available in front of the visitor center describing the trail in a clockwise direction if you choose.
Half Dome Hike: Yosemite’s most iconic attraction and most prestigious hike.
Half Dome is Yosemite’s most iconic attraction in all of Yosemite Valley. The trail to Half Dome from Yosemite Valley is an extremely strenuous hike covering over 17 miles. I can't stress enough that this hike is not for everyone. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation along the trail that passes highlights such as Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, before reaching the cables on Half Dome’s steep granite incline. Steel cables and wooden planks are placed along the the dome to assist hikers to the summit in the summer months. The cables are removed every October, and replaced in late May.
Half Dome is the most sought after hiking destination in Yosemite which is why this is the only day hike in the park that requires a permit.
If you only take one thing away from this blog it should be this: Do not hike Half Dome unprepared. Despite the popularity of this hike it is not for novice or unfit hikers. Understand your limits, take plenty of water. I'd also recommend taking a water purifier with you in the off chance you need more water than you thought you'd need. Several Half Dome hikers are rescued each year due to unpreparedness. The most common first aid response issues are related to dehydration, please carry with you plenty of water, for this particular hike you should have at least 4-5 liters of water on hand per person available. Plan for cooler weather at the top of the dome. Many times the valley floor can be hot while up top you are getting cold temps. I always pack a lightweight jacket.
Permits to hike to the top of Half Dome are required seven days per week and reservations will be distributed via a lottery system. If your bid for a permit is successful, you will be notified in early April. A maximum of 300 hikers will be allowed on the Half Dome cables per day.
Reservations for the permits can be made online at www.recreation.gov or by calling 1-877-444-6777.
To learn more about the Half Dome hike please visit www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/halfdome.htm
I hope to see you all on the trail while out in Yosemite! Be sure to pack plenty of water for whatever hike you may choose to take and be sure to take some pics for all of us to enjoy.