Yosemite for Beginners

Updated on June 13, 2017

You don't have to be a professional rock climber, skilled hiker, or adventure guru to be able to enjoy one of America's favorite vacation spots. Here are some famous and breathtaking Yosemite hikes and views that are perfect for the beginner.

Glacier Point

Glacier Point is known for being one of the best panoramic views, not just in Yosemite, but in all of California. Don't believe me? Open up your macbook—unless you've changed the default background, you'll be staring at the magnificent view from glacier point captured by an inspired photographer.

You can stand or sit at the top of the point for hours, just taking in the splendor of it all. And though you are at eye-level with the famous Half-Dome, the entire trip to the top and back is only 1 mile. Lots of reward for very little effort. Most of the hike is even wheelchair accessible!

With lots of parking, cafes and shops near by, and plenty of restrooms, this is one of the most convenient attractions in Yosemite. There are plenty of large, smooth rocks at the top that make a great spot to enjoy your lunch or dinner while taking in the panoramic view.

If you want to try something a little more difficult, Glacier Point can also be accessed from a 4-mile trail during non-icy months.

And if you're feeling even more adventurous, there is also an 8-mile trail that runs from the top down into the valley, where you can get closer to the Vernal and Nevada falls.

Bridalveil Falls

There is a song called "Bridalveil Falls" from Chris Thile's instrumental album, "Not All Who Wander Are Lost." It's one of the most beautiful songs you'll ever hear, and it's no mystery why, because it was created when the creative genius of America's favorite mandolin player was poured out at the inspiration of one of Yosemite's most beautiful waterfalls.

In case you hadn't yet figured it out, the falls were named by one poetic spectator who remarked how the flow of the water over the rocks and mist that envelopes the valley resembles a bridal veil. It may seem like an obvious metaphor for any waterfall, but the image really comes to life when you stand in front of this one yourself.

With a distance of only 1.2 miles round trip, this hike is another one of Yosemite's more merciful treks, and travelers can make the journey in 15 - 30 minutes, leaving plenty of time for you to fit more sites into your day.

Bridalveil falls can also be seen from the "Gates of the Valley," "Trail's End," "Tunnel View," and from the southside and northside drives. It flows year-round, so this is always a popular stop.

Bridalveil Falls:
Bridalveil Fall, California, USA

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Tuolumne Meadows

Nothing says easy hike like 0 feet elevation gain... You can take the walk through the Tuolumne Meadows at any pace you like and go as far as you like. Not only are the meadows themselves something of boastful glory, but there are many other site's you'll see along the path including the Tuolumne River, the Tuolumne Pools, Soda Springs, Lembert Dome, Pothole Dome, and Cathedral Peak.

Though it is gorgeous year-round, visitors say that the meadows really come alive in springtime and early summer. During particularly wet years, when the meadows can get marshy, it is advised to wear bug repellant and stay away in the evenings, unless you don't mind hundreds of mosquito bites...

There is plenty of parking near the meadows, in small lots of the side of the main road. And there is a convenient store and grill on the east side of the meadows, if you decide to enjoy your lunch out there.

You've probably heard of the Pacific Crest Trail and the John Muir Trail. They both route through the Tuolumne Meadows. You can often witness some professional rock climbers making some very daring climbs up nearby cliffs and peaks.

Though the meadows are open year round to hikers, many access roads are closed during the winter months. The meadows are generally filled with snow from November to May because of the extreme elevation. So, you'll have to plan your trip accordingly.

Mariposa Grove

The Mariposa Grove is famous for its Giant Sequoias, but unfortunately for many past visitors, it has been closed for restoration for the last few years. BUT, the grove is scheduled to reopen this Fall (2017)!

Of course there are other places in Yosemite that also have giant sequoias, but this is by far the largest AND it is home to the Grizzly Giant, a spectacle you cannot miss! The Grizzly Giant is 30 feet in diameter and more than a hundred feet tall. It is estimated to be around 1,800 years old, meaning that it has well outlived our nation, not to mention around fifty billion people.

Some other fun stops along the grove are the California Tunnel Tree, the Fallen Monarch, and the Bachelor and Three Graces.

The grove is easily accessible, with roads and railing and benches along the way. Round trip to the lower grove and back is only 2.2 miles, and 5 - 6 miles for the upper groves.

The path will also take you to Wawona Point, which has the best view of Wawona Valley than anywhere else in the U.S..

If "drive through a tree" isn't on your bucket list, it needs to be, and if it is, this is your opportunity to check off a big item.

Sentinel Dome

Sentinel Dome is is a granite peak along the south wall of Yosemite Valley, very close to Glacier Point. The Native Americans originally named the dome "Sakkaduch", but the Whitney survey later renamed it because of its resemblance to a watch-tower. It's one of the best stargazing spots in all of Yosemite.

Like Glacier Point, is home to a breathtaking 360-degree view of Yosemite. Apart from a short, steep climb at the final length of the hike, it is one of the easier treks and beyond worth the view. at a distance of 2.2 miles round trip, the hike will only take you 1 - 2 hours.

There is also an even easier hiking option if that is too much. You can take a .7 mile trailhead that is farther east, near Glacier Point.

While its view rivals Glacier point and Half Dome, the advantage it has over both of them is that it is far less crowded. There are shuttles that can take you to the base and or you can drive to the small lot at certain hours.

Access to the dome is only available during the summer months, when Glacier Point is open.

Tenaya Lake

Ever dreamed of stepping into a postcard? Well, here's your opportunity. Tanaya is a lake in the beautiful alpine atmosphere between the Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley. It was named after an Ahwahnechee chief that lived there in the early 1800s.

May through October is when the road to Tanaya Lake is open, and from the parking lot, it is a short 1-mile stroll along the north shore.

Another perk that makes Tanaka Lake so popular is that it is one of the few places in Yosemite Park that is open to water activities. You can go swimming or canoeing or even fishing. All you need is a California fishing license (if you're over 16 years of age) and you can spend a day trying to catch the various species of delicious trout that fill the waters.

Most visitors recommend the lake as ideal for an afternoon picnic and swim, especially after a long week or weekend of more difficult hiking and climbing. If you get cold easily, you may want to pack a wetsuit. Even in the summer, the lake can get very cold because of the high elevation.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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