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Five Easy Hikes in Yosemite Valley

Easy Hiking in the Yosemite Valley

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Yosemite is full of hiking trails, many of them suitable only for the ultra-fit hiker with lots of stamina and determination, but don't let that intimidate you. There are some nice, short hikes in Yosemite Valley that almost anyone can manage. These are the most popular places for easy hiking in Yosemite Valley. See where they start on this Yosemite Valley map.

Mirror Lake Hike

Mirror Lake is a shallow, seasonal pool that fills with water in the spring and early summer. The rest of the year, it can be completely dry, but any time it's a popular place to hike to, especially for families. The trail can be snowy or icy in winter.

The surroundings are spectacular: huge rocks, pretty meadows, and nice views of Half Dome. In fact, this is about as close as you can get to the base of Half Dome and when the lake is full and clear, it reflects beautifully in the surface and you'll have no trouble figuring out how it got the name "mirror."

You can extend your hike on a 4-mile (6.4 km) loop trail around the lake, which re-opened in late 2012 after being closed for several years after a rockslide. The loop trail branches off to the right shortly after you start your hike. This trail is used for horseback riding and hikers sometimes report that much if it smells like horse droppings.

If you walk to the trailhead from Yosemite Village instead of taking the shuttle bus, it adds 1.5 miles (2.4 km) each way.

Leashed pets are allowed on the paved trail only and the trail is also wheelchair accessible.

Distance: 2 miles/3.2 km round trip
Starting Elevation: 4,000 ft (1,220 m)
Elevation Gain: 100 ft (30 m)
Trailhead: Shuttle Stop #17
Primary Needs: Restrooms at the first fork, about 5 minutes' walk from the trailhead

Bridalveil Fall Hike

The short hike to Bridalveil Fall is one of Yosemite Valley's easiest - and most scenic. It's most spectacular in spring and early summer, when the falls are at their peak flow and in the afternoon, you might see rainbows in the spray.

Bridalveil Fall is named for the mist that wafts off it when the wind blows, giving it the appearance of a wedding veil. During especially wet years, that mist may make you wish you had an umbrella - or a raincoat to keep you dry in the spray, which can also make the trail a little slippery.

The fall flows all year long, but at a lower rate. The walk is easy, but the trail can get icy in winter.

You can hike to Bridalveil Fall from two trailheads. The shorter trail starts from the Bridalveil Fall parking area off US Hwy 41. If that's full, you can park along Southside Drive, where you can also get a view of El Capitan and take a slightly longer trail that crosses Bridalveil Creek.

The trail from the Hwy 41 parking area is paved. From Southside Drive, the path is wide and easy to walk. From either starting point, you'll end up at a viewing platform at the base the waterfall.

Leashed pets are allowed on the paved trail

Distance: The shorter route is 0.5 miles (0.8 km) round trip
Starting Elevation: 4,000 ft (1,200 m)
Elevation Gain: 200 ft (60 m)
Trailhead: Two routes (see above)
Primary Needs: Toilets in the Hwy 41 parking lot, but not on Southside Drive

Lower Yosemite Falls Hike

The most scenic easy hike in the Yosemite Valley, starting with spectacular view of Yosemite Falls and ending at the base of the lower section of the falls. The two paved paths both lead to the viewing bridge, creating a loop trail. Views are better on the west half of the loop.

Yosemite Falls reaches its maximum flow in the spring and continues into the early summer. It's dramatic then, but you may get wet from all the mist. In dry years, the flow may almost stop from late July or August through October, reducing the falls to a trickle.

In the winter, the trail can get icy and in the morning when temperatures drop below freezing, the upper section of the falls can freeze solid. When the temperatures drop suddenly, the waterfalls' mist turns into a slushy flow called frazil ice.

If you park at Yosemite Village and walk to the falls instead of starting from the parking area, it will add about 1 mile (1.6 km) round trip. If the parking area along Northside Drive is full, try the lot at Yosemite Lodge.

Half of the loop is wheelchair accessible. Leashed pets are allowed on the paved trail.

Distance: 1 mile/1.6 km loop
Starting Elevation: 3,967 ft (1,347 m)
Elevation Gain: More or less flat
Trailhead: Begins at Shuttle Stop #6
Primary Needs: Restrooms at the trailhead

Vernal Fall Footbridge Hike

The Vernal Falls Footbridge hike is the most difficult of these easy hikes, steep enough that you may work up a sweat. It follows the Mist Trail to a bridge that crosses the Merced River with a view of Vernal Fall. It's a good way to get a little sample of the longer trail without getting onto the more strenuous portion that continues all the way to Half Dome.

In spring, it's easy to figure out where the Mist Trail got its name, as the fast-flowing waterfalls kick up a spray.

Don't be misled by older photos of the view from the Vernal Fall footbridge. Growing trees have intruded into the scene, but if you go just a few hundred meters up the trail past the bridge, you'll get a clearer view.

Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip to the bridge
Starting Elevation: 4,000 ft (1,200 m)
Elevation Gain: 300 ft (90 m)
Trailhead: Happy Isles Shuttle Stop (#16)
Primary Needs: Restrooms at Happy Isles just across the river from the trailhead and also just past the bridge

Sentinel and Cook's Meadow Hike

This flat hike has a high scenery factor, is one of the easiest hikes in Yosemite Valley and even though a lot of people take it, it seldom feels crowded. It's a loop trail that passes through two meadows, with lots of great views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Royal Arches.

The hike is most scenic in spring and early summer when the grass is green, wildflowers are blooming and the waterfalls are at maximum flow, roughly from late April to mid June. The path can be a little snowy or icy in winter.

You can start this loop trail from anywhere along its length. Good places to get started are off Southside Drive near the Swinging Bridge, the Yosemite Falls trailhead, Yosemite Lodge or

The trail is wheelchair accessible and leashed pets are allowed.

Distance: 1 mile/1.6 km loop
Starting Elevation: 4,000 ft (1,200 m)
Elevation Gain: More or less flat
Trailhead: Valley Visitor Center (Shuttle Stop #5 or #9) or other locations mentioned above
Primary Needs: Pit toilets at the Swinging Bridge parking lot, restrooms at the Yosemite Lodge and at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead

POLL: What Is Your Favorite Easy Hike in Yosemite Valley

Cook's Meadow
Mirror Lake
Vernal Falls Footbridge
Bridalveil Fall
Lower Yosemite Falls

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