Majestic granite-faced peaks, the highest waterfall on the continent, towering Sequoia forests, and everything in between, Yosemite National Park should be on everyone´s bucket list of places they need to visit. Located only a couple hours from San Francisco, this unique and one of a kind national park is also extremely accessible for people looking for a weekend getaway to reconnect with Nature and recharge their batteries.
While you can enjoy Yosemite by driving through the hundreds of miles of roads that traverse the park, lacing up the hiking shoes and hitting the trails is by far the best option for getting a true taste of everything that Yosemite has to offer. In this short article, we´ll offer five quick tips to help get you prepared for hiking in Yosemite National Park.
1. Choose the Best Time of Year
Imagine rounding a bend in a trail to find a beautiful prairie filled with elk grazing placidly. As you reach for your camera to capture this perfect moment, a family of hikers with several children comes noisily around the bend as well and scare off the dozens of elk ruining the perfect moment and the perfect picture. If you choose to visit Yosemite during the peak summer months, chances are that you´ll meet a pretty hefty crowd as well.
According to the National Park Service, an average of close to 1.7 million people visit the park each year during the peak summer months of June, July and August. That´s a lot of visitors in a short period of time. If you have the scheduling flexibility, consider visiting Yosemite earlier in the year. The spring months, especially mid to late April, is a unique experience as the snow melts turn the entire park into a verdant, lush green color. Only 6% of visitors to Yosemite go in April so you´ll most likely have plenty of time to sit and contemplate the elk grazing in the prairie.
2. Get Outside of Yosemite Valley
Yosemite is a huge area, but the vast majority of visitors stay within Yosemite Valley which makes up less than 1% of the total land area of the national park. While the Valley is certainly beautiful and offers stunning views of some of the most iconic images of the park, there are definitely other places worth exploring for a hiker in Yosemite.
Over 95% of the park is designated wilderness, so consider exploring some of the best trails outside of Yosemite Valley. Check out this site for some quality recommendations for hiking options around the park.
Related: Top Camping Tips for First Timers
3. Choose Wisely Between Day Hikes and Backcountry Trips
While some people long for extended periods away from any sign of civilization, others prefer a quick jaunt into the wilderness that day hikes offer. Fortunately, Yosemite National Park offers the best of both worlds. For families and people who don´t want to carry a 50-pound bag with the essentials for surviving a night in bear country, there are dozens of day hikes that can be done around the park. In fact, one of the most stunning features of Yosemite, Half Dome, can be hiked in one day if you have a good amount of stamina.
Other quality day hikes include trips to such places such as Yosemite Falls, the Mariposa Grove of Sequoia Forest, Taft Point and Ostrander Lake. Even if you´re not in the best physical condition, the park also offers shorter nature hikes for people who want to experience the beauty of the park but aren´t physically able to pull themselves up 17 miles of grueling trails.
If you are wanting to head into the wilderness for an overnight or several day backpacking trip, there are virtually an infinite number of routes that you can weave together through the thousands of miles of hiking trails that crisscross the park. Make sure to apply ahead of time for your backcountry permit which is free of charge. You can find more information about getting this permit at the National Park Service website here.
4. Bring a Camera
When you plan a trip to Yosemite, you´ll also want to bring a quality camera. There are unlimited opportunities for snapping the perfect picture. From beautiful overlooks of fog-filled valleys, to great sunset shots where the setting sun lights up the granite faces of the massive mountains, to the serenity and mystery of gigantic Sequoia forests, one of the treats of hiking through Yosemite is finding the perfect place for that once in a lifetime photo opportunity.
Tunnel View Lookout Point is a great place to start as it offers perhaps the best panoramic view of Yosemite Valley and all the most iconic features of the park. Also consider taking a trip out of the valley up to Tuolomne meadows. This less visited part of the park is also overflowing with natural beauty waiting to be captured by your lens.
5. Pack the Right Bag
Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you want to have the right gear. Nothing is worse than not being able to fully enjoy the wonder and beauty of a hike up to Yosemite Falls because your back pack is rubbing a blister onto your shoulder or because your cheap external frame pack is driving you crazy with an annoying squeaking sound with every step you take.
Before planning your trip to Yosemite, make sure to do your research on which bag is best suited for the type of hiking you´ll be doing. For starters, check out this comparison of backpacks from LiveOnceLiveWild
Hiking in Yosemite, whether you only do an hour-long stroll through a nature trail or take on the challenge of hiking hundreds of miles through the Yosemite wilderness, will leave you memories for a lifetime. By planning your trip at the right time of year, getting out of Yosemite Valley, planning the best hikes for your skill level, and bringing the right camera and bag along with you, your trip will surely be epic.