Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Best trails for seeing Yosemite’s wonders

Half Dome from the Yosemite Valley floor.
Among the best ways to see Yosemite National Park’s top sights is via a day hike. Just five short trails will allow you to enjoy each of the park’s highlights – towering granite cliffs, waterfalls taller than skyscrapers, sequoia groves, the pristine Sierra Nevada wilderness, and the famous Hetch Hetchy Valley.

Towering granite cliffs
Several granite monoliths line Yosemite Valley. El Capitan peaks out at 7569 feet, and hikers can enjoy several perspectives of it on the Yosemite Valley West Loop, consisting of four trails that form a 4.95-mile circuit. The iconic Half Dome rises 4,737 feet above the valley and can be seen via the short 1-mile Cook’s Meadow Loop.

Waterfalls taller than skyscrapers
Yosemite Falls – North America’s tallest waterfall – sends water rushing 2,425 feet downward into Yosemite Valley. The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail offers a number of spectacular views of the falls in a 1.2-mile loop, a must-do trail for anyone visiting Yosemite.

Sequoia groves
Yosemite’s largest grove of sequoias includes both the park’s tallest and most voluminous tree – the Columbia Tree tops out at 285 feet high while the Washington Tree takes up 35,950 cubic feet of space (In the same space, you could dump 269,298 gallons of milk.). Several footpaths at Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias allow you to see those and other impressive sights.

Pristine Sierra Nevada wilderness
Yosemite sits at the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountain range that naturalist John Muir made famous in his many writings. An easy way to experience the Sierra Nevada’s meadows and mountains is the Bridalveil Creek Trail, a 5.5-mile loop off of Glacier Point Road.

Hetch Hetchy Valley
North of Yosemite Valley, a dam holds back the Tuolumne River, creating the eight-mile long Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, whose 117 billion-gallons supplies drinking water to 2.4 million residents and industrial users in the Bay Area. The 2.8-mile Lookout Point Trail allows hikers to walk the reservoir’s edge and see a waterfall.

Learn more about national park day hiking trails in my Best Sights to See at America’s National Parks guidebook.