12 Best Short & Easy Hikes in Yosemite National Park
With Half Dome, El Capitan, and a section of the PCT, it’s easy to wonder if there are any easy hikes in Yosemite. YES – and some of the easiest lead to the park’s best views! Keep reading to learn about the best easy, short trails in Yosemite.
Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most revered and recognizable landscapes in the entire world.
With enormous granite rock formations including Half Dome and El Capitan, waterfalls cascading hundreds of feet, and nearly 95% of the park designated wilderness, hiking in Yosemite is nothing short of epic.
As this guide proves, several easy, beginner-friendly hikes in Yosemite have spectacular rewards. Sometimes the best things really do come in small packages!
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Jump ahead to:
- Best Time to Visit Yosemite
- Using AllTrails on Yosemite Hikes
- Best Short & Easy Hikes in Yosemite
- Easy Trails in Yosemite Valley
- Easy Yosemite Hikes Off Glacier Point Road
- Other Yosemite Hikes
Best Time to Visit Yosemite
Like most national parks, Yosemite is open year-round. However, much of the park is inaccessible in the winter and spring, as Glacier Point Road and Tioga Pass close to high elevations.
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should automatically veto a trip during those months, however — it depends entirely on what you’re hoping to see and do during your visit.
In our personal opinion, the best months to hike in Yosemite are May and October.
To see waterfalls (most of which are accessible from Yosemite Valley), visit between April and June. Note that there will likely be quite a bit of snow on trails and at higher elevations in April and May.
For unimpeded access to the park, when all roads and trails are open, visit between July and September. Understand that this is peak season, so crowds will be heaviest, and most waterfalls slow to a trickle as summer goes on.
Some things to note:
- The Big Oak Flat Entrance, South Entrance, and Arch Rock Entrance are open year-round
- The Yosemite Valley Shuttle operates year-round, though it has reduced hours in the winter
- Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Ahwahnee, Curry Village, and a handful of campgrounds are open year-round
- The Half Dome cables are typically in place between Memorial Day weekend and early October
- Yosemite has a ski area and many winter activities, including ice skating in Curry Village, from November through February
- Tire chains are required during the winter months, regardless of the type of vehicle you’re driving
- Firefall occurs in February, one of the busiest times in the park, and all visitors are also required to have entry permits
Using AllTrails on Yosemite Hikes
Cell service in Yosemite is notoriously bad. It’s also huge and has nearly 300 trails, many of them interconnected, so it’s really easy to get turned around — even on easy hikes in Yosemite.
That’s exactly why I always download trail maps ahead of time on AllTrails. After hiking on the wrong trail for nearly 3 miles, I learned my lesson. Thankfully I’m a quick learner!
The free version of AllTrails is awesome, but if you’re hiking in national parks (AKA cell phone dead zones), the ability to download and access trail maps offline is well worth the $2.99 a month.
AllTrails+ even lets you try it for a week before committing, so there’s really no reason not to. At the very least, sign up for the free account and level up your hiking game.
Best Short & Easy Hikes in Yosemite
With options in every section of the park and starting at just half a mile round-trip, short hikes in Yosemite pack a serious punch.
Easy Trails in Yosemite Valley
Bridalveil Fall Trail
Although it isn’t even close to the tallest waterfall in the park (that honor belongs to 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls), Bridalveil Fall is easily one of its most iconic sights.
You’ll be able to see the 620-foot waterfall made famous by Ansel Adams from numerous spots within the park. Amazingly, though, the best viewpoint requires a hike totaling less than half a mile.
From the parking lot, you’ll hear the falls’ thunderous roar and may even feel its powerful spray. Follow the paved trail right to Bridalveil Fall’s base…and prepare to get wet!
If the main parking area is full, you can also park along either side of Southside Drive, just a few hundred yards further into Yosemite Valley. This presents an alternative trail option, adding just .25 miles and crossing Bridalveil Creek.
Note that even on relatively “dry” days, the end of the trail and the area around the viewing platform are extremely slippery. Be extra careful and wear sturdy shoes!
Despite being paved, the trail to the waterfall is not wheelchair-accessible due to a rugged and somewhat steep grade. However, Bridalveil Fall is one of the easy Yosemite hikes that’s also pet-friendly.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Lower Yosemite Falls is easily one of the best short hikes in Yosemite National Park.
The paved stroller-friendly trail makes for a pleasant 30-minute walk to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, offering spectacular views of Upper Falls, Lower Yosemite Falls, and the Middle Cascade.
To access Lower Yosemite Falls, ride the FREE Valleywide Visitor Shuttle (7:00 am to 10:00 pm year-round) to shuttle stop #6.
Note: there is also a large parking lot at Yosemite Valley Lodge, but it gets extremely busy, so riding the shuttle is highly recommended.
Although the hiking trail is accessible all year, we recommend making a trip in the spring or early summer. This is when the waterfall reaches peak volume, providing a spectacular view from the footbridge — and a bit of splashing, for good measure.
The winter months are another great time to hike the Lower Falls Trail. Though the waterfall is unlikely to be raging, it’s usually frozen. The views around this time are breathtaking and unforgettable!
From late July or August through October, the falls are usually dry.
Hiking the Lower Falls is one the best easy hikes in Yosemite, as it’s a loop trail with a series of vantage points. In addition to the falls, you can also see Yosemite Creek and visitors may spot a few deer around the base of the falls drinking water.
Stop at the many exhibits along the way to learn more about the natural and cultural history of the area.
Even though the trail is just one mile, many people consider it to be one of the most beautiful and rewarding hikes in Yosemite.
Recommended by Kaz from Travel Mad Mum
Mirror Lake Trail
Mirror Lake Trail is one of the best easy hikes in Yosemite, and also one of the most popular.
From the lake, you have a great view of Half Dome above. Once you reach it, you can stop and enjoy the views or continue on a longer five-mile loop around the lake itself.
The hike to Mirror Lake is along mostly flat terrain, nothing too strenuous. The path winds through the forest between giant granite boulders, making for an interesting pathway. Much of the trail is shaded, but bring bug spray, as it can be quite buggy.
When looking right at the lake, you’ll ideally see the peaks above reflecting in the calm water (hence the name Mirror Lake).
We visited in August and found the lake mostly dried up, so visiting in the spring or earlier in the season is ideal. Mirror lake is actually a shallow pool fed by melting snow, so its level varies greatly by season.
Being one of the best easy trails in Yosemite, Mirror Lake is very well traveled, but there are also signs warning of mountain lions, so if you’re visiting Yosemite with kids, make sure to keep them close to you.
To access the trailhead, take the shuttle to stop #17, or park at Curry Village and walk.
Recommended by Cynthia from Sharing the Wander
Sentinel Meadow & Cook’s Meadow Loop
Recommended by Anu Agarwal from Destination Checkoff
Easy Yosemite Hikes Off Glacier Point Road
The hike to Glacier Point promises a marvelous view of Yosemite Valley in Yosemite National Park, California USA.
It’s among the best easy hikes in Yosemite and a fantastic option for beginners. Thanks to the gradual elevation gain, a majority of the route is also wheelchair- and stroller-friendly.
The trailhead begins at the end of 16-mile-long Glacier Point Road. A parking lot is also available here, with enough spaces for even extremely crowded days.
This is also one of the best short hikes in Yosemite, with a length of only 0.6 miles, and there are plenty of extraordinary views. From the end of the trail, you can see Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Clouds Rest, and Half Dome.
Yosemite Valley lies 3,000 feet below Glacier Point, which is what offers those breathtaking views. Unsurprisingly, this trail is also popular as a summer stargazing site.
Apart from the beauty at the end, the entire trail is beautiful. Wildflowers and greenery grace the pathway through most of the summer.
Remember, when Glacier Point Road closes from November to May, cross-country skiing is the only option to reach this trail.
Recommended by Ruma from The Holiday Story
If you’re looking for an epic but short hike in Yosemite with low effort and high reward, then Sentinel Dome is THE trail for you. This moderate hike has you up on a rocky dome with stunning vistas over Yosemite within a single mile!
The hike starts by making a right from the trailhead. You’re going to be mostly exposed for the entire hike, so definitely pack sunscreen and a good sun hat.
While passing through a few trees, you’ll notice a large boulder up ahead. Once you make it to the base, choose your path and scramble up the rocky dome.
Read more about hiking Taft Point and Sentinel Dome, one of the most spectacular easy trails in Yosemite, below!
Taft Point and Sentinel Dome
The hike to Taft Point and onto Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park is easy-to-moderate with stunning views of the park’s jagged peaks, free-flowing waterfalls, sheer granite walls, and down into the valley below.
Other Yosemite Hikes
Wawona Swinging Bridge
Looking for one of the best easy hikes in Yosemite that’s almost guaranteed to have no crowds? Add the Wawona Swinging Bridge to your park itinerary!
Far less well-known than the bridge in Yosemite Valley, this one in Wawona is the very definition of a hidden gem. Plus, it actually swings!
This is a popular swimming hole in the summer, when the river is calm and lower. It’s accessible year-round, but use extreme caution on the bridge when the river is raging.
The trickiest thing about hiking to the swinging bridge is finding where to start.
There are two main options: a dirt lot at the end of Forest Drive (2 miles past the Wawona Store) or a small lot about 0.4 miles past the trailhead parking for Chilnualna Falls. In both cases, drive to the very end of the road.
Up for a longer hike? Park at the Wawona Store (adjacent to the hotel) and hike along the paved Forest Drive for two miles toward the Seventh Day Adventist camp. At the bridge, take Chilnualna Falls Road back to form a 4.8-mile loop.
Insider tip: grab snacks and use the nice bathrooms at the Wawona Store or hotel.
Soda Springs and Parsons Lodge Trail
Those who want to experience the magic of Yosemite outside the valley (hint: you should!) should head to Tuolumne Meadows. Specifically, the Soda Springs Trail, one of the best easy, short hikes in Yosemite.
This higher-elevation section of the park, the “high country,” is only accessible from early summer through October. Because of this, its unique granite domes, sparkling rivers and lakes, and wildflower-blanketed meadows are absolutely pristine.
Soda Springs Trail traverses right through the heart of Tuolumne Meadows, offering a spectacular overview of the area.
Start your hike from either the Tuolumne Meadows visitor center or the Lembert Dome picnic area. The hike is nearly identical in either direction, following the Tuolumne River, but Lembert Dome has more parking spaces.
Trail highlights include a picture-perfect bridge over the river, the historic Parsons Memorial Lodge, and of course, the mysterious bubbling soda springs. Most of the cold springs are contained in a log structure, but hikers will see a few up close.
The hike to Tenaya Lake is a fantastic way to discover the beauty of Yosemite and immerse yourself in its incredible nature.
If you’ve been craving some time by the beach, Tenaya Lake might just be the next best thing, if not even more exciting!
It’s one of the best easy Yosemite hikes, with little elevation change, so it’s suitable for all experience levels.
Keep an eye out for rock climbers, since this is a popular area for them, and make sure to bring a picnic to enjoy some downtime at the beach on the east end before you head back.
Note that while dogs are allowed on the trail and at picnic areas, they aren’t allowed on the beach or in the lake.
The main out-and-back Tenaya Lake trail is one of the best short hikes in Yosemite, but there’s also a 2.5-mile loop. You can swim in the lake, but it’s freezing year-round, so bring a towel and spare clothing to warm up if you decide to take a dip.
Be aware that, like Glacier Point Road, Tioga Pass is typically only open between June and October.
Recommended by Victoria from Guide Your Travel
Are you looking for easy trails in Yosemite that are also less-crowded? Look no further than the Wapama Falls trail in Hetch Hetchy Valley.
This 5-mile out-and-back hike is fun for all experience levels, and offers beautiful scenery and an unforgettable waterfall!
The hike starts by crossing over the impressive O’Shaughnessy Dam, then going through a tunnel that leads to the trailhead.
The trail itself is stunning, as it hugs the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir for almost the entire duration. Though the construction of the reservoir continues to be controversial, this section of Yosemite is undeniably beautiful.
Like many other easy hikes in Yosemite, visiting Wapama Falls is highly recommended in the springtime. This is when the trail is lined with small waterfalls, especially after a winter of heavy rain and snow.
As you hike along, you will experience varied and beautiful landscapes, with butterflies, wildflowers, and puddles perfect for jumping. At the turnaround, or “end” point, awaits stunning Wapama Falls.
In the spring, you can walk across a footbridge at the base of this roaring 1,000-foot waterfall. Prepare to get wet! Crossing the bridge in spring is like taking a shower with your clothes on.
Hikers in the summer months will have quite a different experience. The falls slow to a trickle, and you’re likely to find overheated hikers cooling off in the pools below.
Know that the summer heat (which can stretch into early October in Yosemite) will make the hike more challenging. Pack plenty of water, sun protection, layers, and hiking snacks.
For those looking for an unforgettable off-the-beaten-path Yosemite hike, Wapama Falls is the perfect trail!
Recommended by Kris from JJ & The Bug
Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
Among all the best hikes in all of the West Coast national parks, the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail in Yosemite is one of the most fun.
This two-mile loop trail packs a lot of punch for very minimal effort, making it one of the best short hikes in Yosemite.
Located in the southern portion of the park, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest sequoia grove in the park with over 500 mature giant sequoias. Imagine hugging giant trees that have been alive longer than your grandparents!
With just 383 feet of elevation gain, the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail is perfect for hikers of all ages and abilities. Expect it to take around 1.5-2 hours, depending on your pace and how much you stop to take pictures and admire the huge, awe-inspiring trees.
The trail is mostly flat and, if you’re lucky, you will spot some of the many squirrels that call these massive sequoias home. A section of the trail is paved, making Grizzly Giant Loop one of the best easy Yosemite hikes that’s also wheelchair-accessible.
Be sure to check out some of the most famous trees, including the California Tunnel Tree, Bachelor and Three Graces, and Grizzly Giant, which is 3,000 years old!
Mariposa Grove Road closes seasonally, and is generally open from early May through late October. When the road is open, a free shuttle runs frequently from the welcome plaza to Mariposa Grove itself.
Recommended by Sumeeta Seeks
So, there you have it — 12 amazing short, easy hikes in Yosemite National Park. Which ones have you done, and which ones are next on your list? Let us know in the comments!
Interested in more short, easy-ish hiking content?
- Beginner hiking tips & new hiker mistakes to avoid
- Best hiking leggings for women
- Clever family hiking tips
- Guide to the national parks annual pass (AKA America the Beautiful pass)
And if you found this guide helpful, be sure to pin it for future reference and to help others discover it too. Stay safe out there!