One of the best ways to see Yosemite is by foot. Here are our top picks for Yosemite hikes by region:
Lower Yosemite Falls: In Yosemite Valley, a short, very pretty hike with a great reward in the view of the falls. Trailhead: Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (Shuttle Stop #6); distance: 1 mile loop. Easy.
Mirror Lake: A two-mile trail leads to this lake and surrounding meadow, particularly pretty in early morning. Trailhead: Shuttle Stop #17. Distance: 2 mile round-trip; easy.
Vernal Fall: It's a .8-mile hike to a footbridge with a fine view of this lovely waterfall. Trailhead: Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16)
The Valley Loop Trail: A 13-mile footpath with views of Upper Yosemite Fall and Bridalveil Fall, the trail rings the western part of Yosemite Valley—and almost no one hikes it. Pick it up behind Yosemite Lodge or at Camp 4, or choose a section and then catch a free shuttle when you’re done.
Half Dome: It's on a lot of people's life list of adventures--the demanding hike/climb up 8,800-foot Half Dome. Allow at least 10 hours, and know that the last 900 feet of trail is a steep climb up the dome, with you clinging to cables for the final 400-foot ascent. Trailhead: Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16). Distance: 14-16 miles. Difficulty: hard. For more, visit http://www.nps.gov/yose.
Pothole Dome: This short climb provides an ideal vantage point for taking in Tuolumne Meadows. From the pullout on the north side of State 120 look for a big meadow that leads first into a grove of pines and then up the gently curving rock face. The 0.5-mile trip to the top takes less than 20 minutes and is easy all the way. Trailhead: State 120 at western edge of the meadows. Distance: .5 mile; easy.
Gaylor Lakes: This shortish hike climbs to give you incredible High Sierra views. Trailhead: Tioga Pass Entrance Station. Distance: 2 miles; moderate.
WAWONA AND GLACIER POINT ROAD
The Grizzly Giant: In the Mariposa Grove, an easy hike to one of Yosemite's most impressive sequoias. Trailhead: Mariposa Grove parking lot. Distance: .8 miles; easy.
Taft Point: A mostly flat walk through forest leads you to this promontory and eye-popping views of the Yosemite Valley. Trailhead: Taft Point/Sentinel Dome parking area. Distance: 2.2 miles; moderate.