The 12 Best Dayhikes in Yosemite

By Michael Lanza

The natural beauty, variety, pristine quality, and scale of America’s National Park System have no parallel in the world. Still, a handful of flagship parks rise above the rest—including, unquestionably, Yosemite. Created in 1890, our third national park harbors some of the most breathtaking and inspiring wild lands in the entire parks system. And best of all, you can reach much of Yosemite’s finest scenery on dayhikes.

Here are my picks for the 12 best dayhikes in Yosemite, from popular hikes like Half Dome, the Mist Trail, and Upper Yosemite Falls to some trails and peaks you may not have heard of—including the nearly 11,000-foot summit reputed to have “the best 360 in Yosemite.”

This list of Yosemite’s best hikes is drawn from my numerous trips dayhiking and backpacking all over the park going back more than 30 years, including the 10 years I spent as a field editor for Backpacker magazine and even longer running this blog. Use this story as your guide and you will see the best scenery in Yosemite that’s accessible on a moderate to full day of hiking.

Yosemite is requiring a reservation to drive into the park between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m., from May 20 through September 30, 2022. You don’t need an entry reservation if you have certain other reservations, including a permit to hike Half Dome; but to stay overnight in the park, you do need a lodging or campground reservation or a wilderness permit. See details at

Please share your thoughts on any of these hikes or your own favorites in Yosemite in the comments section at the bottom of this story. I try to respond to all comments.

Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

May Lake in Yosemite National Park.
May Lake in Yosemite National Park. Click photo for my e-guide “The Prettiest, Uncrowded Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

Table of Contents

May Lake and Mount Hoffmann

From the 10,850-foot summit of Mount Hoffmann (lead photo at top of story) in the geographic center of Yosemite—often described as having “the best 360 in Yosemite”—you’ll look out over virtually the entire park, seeing Half Dome, Clouds Rest, and Yosemite Valley, the Clark and Cathedral Ranges, and the sea of peaks sprawling across northern Yosemite. The hike culminates with a steep, third-class scramble up the final 200 feet to the summit, where you stand at the brink of cliffs with serious exposure (although you don’t have to stand at that dizzying edge).

A hiker on the summit of Mount Hoffmann in Yosemite National Park.
The summit of Yosemite’s Mount Hoffmann.

May Lake alone is a worthwhile destination, tucked into a bowl ringed by cliffs and forest, and an easy hike of 2.4 miles round-trip with 500 feet of elevation gain; it’s reached on a good trail that begins at the top of a road signed for May Lake, off Tioga Road west of Tenaya Lake. Scaling Hoffmann adds another 3.6 miles and 1,600 vertical feet round-trip (six miles and 2,100 feet total), following a steep, unofficial trail not shown on maps but marked by cairns.

See more photos and a video in my story “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite.”

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A hiker on Half Dome's cable route in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm hiking Half Dome’s cable route in Yosemite.

Half Dome

One of the most iconic and sought-after dayhikes in the entire National Park System, Half Dome is an incredibly scenic, challenging, long day that will validate every step of effort you put into it. A roughly 16-mile round-trip from the Happy Isles Trailhead in Yosemite Valley, with 4,800 feet of elevation gain and loss, the hike ascends the Mist Trail past the shower constantly raining down from 317-foot Vernal Fall and past thunderous, 594-foot Nevada Fall. Climbing the cable route up several hundred feet of very steep granite slab to the summit plateau delivers a thrill that largely explains the hike’s enormous popularity.

A hiker on "The Visor" of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Todd Arndt on “The Visor” of Half Dome in Yosemite.

The 8,800-foot summit of Half Dome—where many hikers complete the experience by standing on The Visor, a granite brim jutting out over Half Dome’s 2,000-foot Northwest Face—delivers an incomparable view of Yosemite Valley, and a 360-degree panorama of a big swath of the park’s mountains. Descend via the John Muir Trail for a classic look back at Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall (and it’s less steep than descending the Mist Trail). Tip: Start at or before first light, because it’s a very different experience if you beat the crowds to the top.

A permit is required for this popular dayhike, and a lottery for most of the permits issued throughout the hiking season takes place March 1-31; there’s also a daily lottery for far fewer available permits during the hiking season, which for Half Dome runs from late May through mid-October, depending on conditions. See lottery details and apply at

See more photos from Half Dome and a video in my stories “Best of Yosemite, Part 1: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows,” and my expert tips for hiking Half Dome. Find info on permits for dayhiking Half Dome at , and see for statistics on permit applications that will help you choose dates for which to apply.

Want to backpack in Yosemite? See my e-guides to three amazing multi-day hikes there, including “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.” which features Half Dome.


A backpacker hiking Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.
Mark Fenton backpacking up Clouds Rest in Yosemite. Click photo for my e-guide “The Best First Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”

Tenaya Lake to Clouds Rest

Of all the hikes on this list, maybe one other begins with a view as soul stirring as the one you get standing on the beach at the southwest corner of Tenaya Lake, gazing across its waters—often mirror-like in the calm of early morning—at a turbulent sea of granite domes and cliffs.

A backpacker hiking Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite.

This 14-mile, round-trip hike is one of the least busy on this list, partly for the distance, no doubt, but also because Clouds Rest just isn’t as well known as Half Dome—even though its 9,926-foot summit offers an even bigger and more dramatic view than its more famous sibling to the southwest. But it’s not as strenuous as the distance suggests, with just under 1,800 feet of elevation gain and loss.

This ascent culminates in 300 yards of the most gripping hiking you may ever do on a maintained trail, traversing the sidewalk-width summit ridge, with a drop-off of several hundred feet on the left and a cliff on the right that falls away a dizzying 4,000 feet—that’s a thousand feet taller than the face of El Capitan. And you get to walk it a second time on the descent. Start early to get off the summit by midday, to avoid possible thunderstorms.

Bonus: For a really big and spectacular day, link up Clouds Rest and Half Dome on a 21-mile traverse from Tenaya Lake to Yosemite Valley.

See more photos from Clouds Rest and a video in my story “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking South of Tuolumne Meadows.”

I can help you plan the best backpacking, hiking, or family adventure of your life. Click here now to learn more.


A hiker on North Dome, overlooking Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm on North Dome, overlooking Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park.

North Dome

Hiking down the nearly treeless southern end of Indian Ridge, you gaze, transfixed, at the sheer face of Half Dome looming enormous just across the deep chasm of Yosemite Valley. Reaching the broad summit of North Dome—at 7,542 feet, some 3,000 feet above the Valley—you step into a heart-stopping panorama spanning from Clouds Rest and Half Dome to Glacier Point, El Capitan, and beyond.

A backpacker hiking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite National Park.
Jeff Wilhelm backpacking Indian Ridge, overlooking Half Dome in Yosemite.

But here’s the unique quality of this hike: Unlike other, popular trails around the Valley, you might share North Dome with just a few other hardy dayhikers and backpackers. It feels like a little secret—despite the fact it’s widely recognized as one of the best overlooks of Yosemite Valley.

There are a few ways to reach North Dome. Most direct and easiest: Hike south from the Porcupine Creek Trailhead at 8,100 feet on Tioga Road, a short distance east of Porcupine Flat, about 10.4 miles out-and-back, with about 3,200 feet of both uphill and downhill. Add 0.6-mile out-and-back and 400 feet up and down to see Yosemite’s only natural arch, Indian Rock at 8,522 feet.

Coming from Yosemite Valley, it’s a stout round-trip hike of nearly 16 miles with about 5,000 feet of both up and down from the Upper Yosemite Falls Trailhead—but you’ll add spectacular Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point plus other overlooks from the Valley’s North Rim.

See more potos in my story about backpacking through this part of Yosemite, “Yosemite’s Best-Kept Secret Backpacking Trip.”

Vernal Fall, beside the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park.
Vernal Fall, along the Mist Trail in Yosemite National Park. Click photo to get my help planning your Yosemite adventure.

Glacier Point to Happy Isles

This is the one hike on this list whose first steps arguably deliver a finer view even than the one across Tenaya Lake—but that’s thanks to the fact that you drive (or take a shuttle bus) up to Glacier Point at 7,200 feet (which conveniently eliminates the need for a vehicle shuttle if you’re staying in Yosemite Valley). The flat, easy, 20-minute, out-and-back walk to Glacier Point rewards you with one of the best views of Yosemite Valley, taking in a sweep from Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls to a gorgeous vista looking up Tenaya Canyon at Half Dome, North Dome, and several other peaks.

Then backtrack for the 9.1-mile, 3,000-foot descent via the Panorama Trail and Mist Trail (or optionally take the easier John Muir Trail) past 370-foot Illilouette Fall as well as Nevada and Vernal, with almost constant views of the dramatic canyon of the Merced River and the Valley. Bonus: It’s all downhill.

Get full access to my Yosemite stories and ALL stories at The Big Outside, plus get a FREE e-guide. Join now!


Upper Yosemite Falls and Half Dome (far right) in Yosemite Valley.
Upper Yosemite Falls and Half Dome (far right) in Yosemite Valley.

Upper Yosemite Falls

After climbing this sometimes hot and dusty trail for about 90 minutes, you’ll turn a corner to see Upper Yosemite Falls, a curtain of water plunging a sheer 1,430 feet off a cliff, ripping through the air and showering hikers on the trail below with the mist rising from the rocks at the waterfall’s base (which is not very close to the trail). Yosemite Falls, consisting of the upper falls, the 400-foot-tall Lower Yosemite Falls (reached on a separate, flat, one-mile loop trail), and several hundred feet of cascades in between is the tallest in North America at 2,425 feet. The hike to a ledge at the very brink of Upper Yosemite Falls is 7.2 miles round-trip and ascends 2,700 feet, finishing with an exciting catwalk along a ledge where the trail crosses the face of a cliff.

Young children hiking near the brink of Upper Yosemite Falls in Yosemite National Park.
My kids near the brink of Upper Yosemite Falls.

Tip: If you’re fit and fast, start in the afternoon, when you’ll have shade for much of the hot ascent, and most other hikers will be coming down (bring a headlamp). Bonus: Continue 0.8 mile beyond Upper Yosemite Falls to Yosemite Point, overlooking Yosemite Valley and the Lost Arrow Spire—where, if your timing is right, you may see rock climbers scaling that slender blade of rock, or crawling across a rope strung between its summit and the rim.

See more photos and a video in my story “The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls.”

Got a trip coming up? See my reviews of the best hiking shoes and 10 best daypacks.

A hiker on the John Muir Trail in Yosemite overlooking Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall.
My wife, Penny, on the John Muir Trail in Yosemite overlooking Half Dome, Liberty Cap, and Nevada Fall.

Mist Trail-John Muir Trail Loop

The Half Dome hike without Half Dome—that’s this classic and very popular, 6.3-mile lollipop loop, with 2,000 feet of vertical gain and loss, to Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. But that makes it sound like a letdown, and it’s anything but. Fun for kids when you walk through the rain falling from an often-blue sky—created by Vernal Fall pounding the rocks at its base—this beautiful hike passes by slabs at the top of both Vernal and Nevada, either of them a good lunch spot with a great view down the canyon.

Depending on the Merced River’s volume—generally at its peak between late May and late June—Vernal’s “mist” can vary from just that to a fire hose of water slamming into you (which I’ve experienced). A swimsuit on a hot day or a rain jacket is appropriate attire for passing below Vernal Fall. From the Happy Isles Trailhead, ascend the Mist Trail and descend the John Muir Trail from the top of Nevada Fall.

See more photos and a video in my story “The Magic of Hiking to Yosemite’s Waterfalls.”

Want more? See “The 25 Best National Park Dayhikes”
and “Extreme Hiking: America’s Best Hard Dayhikes.”


White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls), near Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park.
White Cascade (Glen Aulin Falls), near Glen Aulin in Yosemite National Park.

Tuolumne Meadows, White Cascade, and Glen Aulin

Glen Aulin and the upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite.
Glen Aulin and the upper Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River in Yosemite.

While hiking all the way to the Glen Aulin High Sierra camp and back constitutes about 10.5 miles, the first few miles are nearly flat, following the Tuolumne River across pretty Tuolumne Meadows, with views of domes and the distinct, sharp crown of Cathedral Peak and other peaks of the Cathedral Range to the southwest. The trail ultimately descends only about 800 feet—which you will reverse coming uphill on the return—as it passes White Cascade and other waterfalls before reaching Glen Aulin. Many hikers could knock off this hike in four to five hours round-trip.

At Glen Aulin, walk a few minutes northwest down the trail into the upper end of the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne River for a quieter spot to have lunch on granite slabs and enjoy views that will make you want to backpack through there on a longer trip. (See my e-guide to a multi-day hike through northern Yosemite.) From the trailhead on the Lembert Dome road off Tioga Road, make your way to the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) north.

See more photos and a video in my story “Best of Yosemite: Backpacking Remote Northern Yosemite.”

Lembert Dome

Our son was two when my wife and I hiked with him up Lembert Dome, the major geologic feature towering over the eastern end of Tuolumne Meadows on Tioga Road, and he made it most of the way under his own power—and promptly took a nap as soon as I stuck him in the kid-carrier pack. That’s the kind of hike Lembert is: short and family-friendly at under three miles round-trip, with a decent climb of 850 feet, and a big payoff at the 9,450-foot summit, looking out over Tuolumne Meadows to the granite domes and jagged peaks of the Cathedral Range beyond. I’ve also enjoyed the pleasure of rock climbing Lembert, and either way, its summit feels surprisingly thrilling for such a short outing.

Climate change threatens Yosemite’s waterfalls. Read my book about family adventures in national parks.

Matterhorn Peak

The view of Yosemite National Park from Matterhorn Peak.
The view of Yosemite National Park from Matterhorn Peak.

On a recommendation from a friend who knows the High Sierra well, I hiked Matterhorn Peak by myself and delighted in the wildflowers, creek-fed alpine gardens, and a short, easy scramble to the blocky summit. Unlike Jack Kerouac, who wrote about his failed attempt of Matterhorn Peak in Dharma Bums, I reached the top. My bird’s-eye view spanned much of the park—and from up there, you get a real sense of Yosemite as a vast expanse of jagged peaks and deep, granite-walled canyons.

At 12,264 feet, Matterhorn is the highest peak on the serrated Sawtooth Ridge in northern Yosemite, the northernmost Sierra peaks to exceed 12,000 feet and, according to, the northern terminus of what’s generally referred to as the “High Sierra.”

A mecca for technical rock climbers and couloir skiers, Matterhorn can also be climbed on a partly off-trail hike that’s steep but not technically difficult. It gains more than 3,200 feet in elevation over roughly six miles (one-way), most of it not on a maintained trail. Starting at the west end of the Twin Lakes resort area, the route follows a maintained trail partway up the valley of Horse Creek. Beyond it, a rough user trail continues to a saddle between Matterhorn and Twin Peaks, and the route then ascends the mountain’s southeast face.

Be ready for your next hike. See my story “Training For a Big Hike or Mountain Climb.”

Heather Dorn hiking the John Muir Trail below Cathedral Peak, Yosemite.
Heather Dorn hiking the John Muir Trail below Cathedral Peak.

Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Peak, at nearly 11,000 feet high, with sheer walls and two summits, cuts a distinctive profile from any direction—but one of the most photogenic spots to view it is the Cathedral Lakes.

Reached via the John Muir Trail heading south from Tuolumne (starting at the trailhead 1.5 miles west of the Tuolumne Meadows campground entrance), the seven-mile hike, with 1,000 feet of up and down, follows the JMT south for three miles, through mostly lodgepole pine forest, until reaching open meadows with a view of Cathedral Peak. A half-mile-long spur trail leads to Lower Cathedral Lake, at over 9,300 feet, with its magnificent reflection of its namesake peak and Tresidder and Echo peaks; reach the upper lake by continuing south on the JMT. Visiting either is seven miles round-trip, and combining them makes it eight miles.

Bonus: Taking advantage of the free park shuttle buses that run regularly throughout the Tuolumne Meadows area, hike a traverse of about 13 miles from the JMT Trailhead in Tuolumne south to Cathedral Lakes and Sunrise Lakes and finish at Tenaya Lake.

Dewey, Crocker and Stanford Points

A retired backcountry ranger who hiked all over Yosemite for decades told me this was his favorite dayhike in the park—a pretty solid recommendation, I figure. These three overlooks offer different perspectives on Yosemite Valley features like Bridalveil Fall and the Leaning Tower, Cathedral Rocks, and El Capitan, and beyond to Clouds Rest, Mount Hoffmann, and even distant, 12,590-foot Mount Conness on the park’s northeast boundary. Each point is breathtaking, and you can do part or all of this hike, or go at it from different directions.

From McGurk Meadow Trailhead on Glacier Point Road, it’s 8.2 miles out-and-back to Dewey Point, the first of the three you’ll reach from that direction—and possibly pretty enough to satisfy a lot of hikers by itself. From Dewey, it’s 0.7 mile farther to Crocker Point, and then another half-mile to Stanford Point; tagging all three from McGurk Meadow is 10.6 miles out and back.

You can also have someone meet you at the Wawona Tunnel and make it a one-way, mostly downhill hike from McGurk Meadow, of roughly the same distance. The hardest approach is up and down from Wawona Tunnel, about 11 miles out-and-back and about 3,000 vertical feet.

See all of my stories about Yosemite National Park and California’s national parks at The Big Outside.

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