Some of the day hikes discussed below can also be done as overnight backpacking trips.
These lakes are set in granite bowls cut by glaciers. The peaks and domes around both Lower and Upper Cathedral lakes are well worth the 1,000-foot climb. Lower Cathedral Lake is next to Cathedral Peak and makes a good place to stop for a snack before heading up the hill to enjoy the upper lake.
7 miles/4-6 hr. Moderate. The trail head is off Tioga Rd., at the west end of Tuolumne Meadows, west of Budd Creek.
This hike descends through a wooded area, heading toward Sunrise Lakes. Ascend out of Tenaya Canyon and bear right at the junction (watch for the signposts); the vistas will appear almost at once. The sightline to your destination will be clear -- a good thing, since the trail is sketchy at this point. The last stretch to the top is a little spooky, with sheer drops on each side, but your perseverance will be amply rewarded with spectacular views of the park's granite domes. Overnight stays (backcountry permit required) offer the added incentive of beautiful sunrises.
14 miles/7 hr. Strenuous. Take CA 120 to Tenaya Lake. The trail begins at the parking area on the east side of the road near the southwest end of the lake.
This 600-foot climb through forests offers great views of Mount Dana. Dog Lake is warm, shallow, and great for swimming.
2.8 miles/1 hr. Moderate. Take CA 120 to the access road for Tuolumne Lodge. Pass the ranger station and park at the parking lot on the left. Walk north (back toward the highway) up an embankment and cross CA 120 to find Dog Lake Trail.
This popular day hike attracts a slew of people, which can be a bummer, but it's magnificent and beautiful nonetheless -- Elizabeth Lake glistens like ice. Don't forget your camera: The route is one long Kodak moment.
4.8 miles/3 hr. Moderate. Take CA 120 to the group camping area of Tuolumne Meadows Campground, where the trail begins.
This trail begins with a 500-foot climb, then descends to an alpine lake. It's a particularly pretty hike in summer, when the mountainsides are dotted with wildflowers.
2 miles/3 hr. Moderate. Take CA 120 to Tioga Pass. The trail head is on the northwest side of the road.
This hike takes you to an impressive waterfall with grand views along the way. Start by heading across a flat meadow toward Soda Springs and Glen Aulin. The trail is well marked, and signs along the way do a good job of describing the area's history. This was once the old Tioga Road, which was built in 1883 to serve the Great Sierra Mine in Tioga Pass. The walk offers a view of the landmarks of Tuolumne Meadows. Behind you, Lembert Dome rises almost 900 feet above the meadow. About a quarter-mile from the trail head, the road forks; head right up the grassy slope. In less than 500 feet, you'll see a trail that leaves the road on the right and a steel sign that says GLEN AULIN IS 4.7 MILES AHEAD. This is the trail to take. Along the way, you'll pass Fairview Dome, Cathedral Peak, and Unicorn Peak. The crashing noise you'll hear in early to midsummer is Tuolumne Fall, a cascade of water that drops 12 feet, then 40 feet down a series of ledges. From here you can see a nearby High Sierra Camp. There's also a hikers' camp if you want to spend the night.
11 miles/1 long day. Strenuous. Take CA 120 toward Tuolumne Meadows, about 1 mile east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center and just a few yards east of the bridge over the Tuolumne River. Follow a marked turnoff and take the paved road on your left. The trail head begins about 1/3 mile ahead, at a road that turns right and heads up a hill toward the stables.
This hike offers a bird's-eye view of Tuolumne Meadows -- a great vista. A well-marked trail leads you to the top of the dome, 850 feet above where you began, and from there you'll see the peaks that encircle the valley, plus get good views of this lovely meadow. It's a great place to watch sunrises and sunsets. You can combine it with the hike to Dog Lake for a 4-mile round-trip.
2.8 miles/2 hr. Moderate. The trail head is at a parking lot north of CA 120 in Tuolumne Meadows at road marker T-32. Follow the nature trail that starts here and take off at marker no. 2.
This section of the John Muir Trail follows the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River up an idyllic green canyon to the rocky Donohue Pass, 12 miles from the trail head and over 2,000 feet above it. While this is a good starting point for a backcountry expedition, a shorter hike up Lyell Canyon -- say, 3 miles each way -- is perfect for a picnic-centered day hike for most any group of hikers. Backpackers can continue from here into the Ansel Adams Wilderness Area; day hikers can loop back through the Vogelsang area.
Up to 12 miles one-way/5 hr. one-way. Easy to strenuous. The trail head is at the Dog Lake parking lot near Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
Winding through forests and granite, this picturesque hike offers ample opportunities to fish, but swimming is not allowed. Located in the center of Yosemite National Park, it is a good jumping-off point for other high-country hikes. There are numerous peaks surrounding the lake, including the 10,855-foot-high Mount Hoffman, which rises behind the lake. There is a High Sierra Camp here, as well as a hikers' camp on the south side of the lake.
2.4 miles/1 hr. Easy. Take CA 120 east past White Wolf; turn off at road marker T-21 and drive 2 miles to the May Lake parking area.
You'll pass some historic cabin sites, then hike down to Walker Lake, and return via the same route. The hike loops into the Inyo National Forest and the Ansel Adams Wilderness and climbs to an elevation of 10,600 feet, 1,000 feet above where it started. There's a stupendous view of Mono Lake from the top of the trail.
8 miles/4-6 hr. Moderate to strenuous. The trail head for this hike is on the south side of CA 120 as you enter the park from Lee Vining. Drive about 1 1/2 miles from the park entrance to Dana Meadows, where the trail begins on an abandoned road and up alongside Parker Creek Pass.
This climb is an in-your-face reminder that Mount Dana is Yosemite's second-highest peak. The mountain rises 13,053 feet and the trail gains a whopping 3,100 feet in 3 miles. The views at the top are wonderful, and once you catch your breath, you can stand upright again and stare at them in awe. You can see Mono Lake from the summit. In summer, wildflowers add to this hike's beauty.
7.0 miles/5 hr. Very strenuous. The trail head is on the southeast side of CA 120 at Tioga Pass.
Walk south down the abandoned road toward the Porcupine Creek Campground. A mile past the campground, the trail hits a junction with the Tenaya Creek and Tuolumne Meadows Trail. Pass a junction toward Yosemite Falls and head uphill toward North Dome. The ascent is treacherous because of loose gravel, but from the top you can catch an all-encompassing view of Yosemite Valley, second only to the view from Half Dome.
10.4 miles/5 hr. Moderate. Take CA 120 east to Porcupine Flat Campground, past White Wolf. About 1 mile past the campground is a sign for Porcupine Creek at a closed road. Park in the designated area.
Polly Dome Lakes
This hike is easily the road least traveled. The trip to Polly Dome Lake is a breeze, and you'll find nary another traveler in sight. There are several lakes beneath Polly Dome that can accommodate camping. The trail fades in and out, so watch for markers. It crosses a rocky area en route, then skirts southeast at a pond located just after the rocky section. Polly Dome Lake is at the base of -- you guessed it -- Polly Dome, a visual aid to help hikers stay the course.
13 miles/6 hr. Easy to moderate. Take CA 120 past White Wolf to Tenaya Lake. Drive about 1/2 mile to a picnic area midway along the lake. The trail head is across the road from the picnic area.
This trail crosses Tuolumne Meadows and then crosses Tuolumne River on a wooden bridge. It's peaceful and beautiful, with the sound of the river gurgling along as it winds slowly through the wide expanse of Tuolumne Meadows. The trail leads to a carbonated spring where you can taste the water, though it gets mixed reviews. Parsons Lodge, an activity center, is close by. Also nearby is the historic McCauley Cabin, which is used for employee housing in the summer.
1.5 miles/1 hr. Easy. Two trail heads: The 1st is at a crosswalk just east of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. The 2nd leaves from a parking lot north of CA 120 at road marker T-32. Follow the gravel road around a locked gate.
This hike leads through quiet wooded glades while affording occasional glimpses of distant vistas. Look for a sign that says SUNRISE; then follow the level road to Tenaya Creek, cross the creek, and follow the trail to the right. The hike parallels Tenaya Creek for about 0.3 miles, then moves away through a wooded area and climbs gently up a rocky rise. After awhile, the trail descends quickly to the outlet of Mildred Lake. Here you'll be able to see Mount Hoffmann, Tuolumne Peak, and Tenaya Canyon. At the halfway mark, the trail passes through a hemlock grove and comes to a junction. Head left (the trail on the right goes toward Cloud's Rest). About 0.3 miles from the junction, you'll reach Lower Sunrise Lake, tucked into the slope of Sunrise Mountain. The trail climbs past Middle Sunrise Lake and continues upward along a cascading creek coming from Upper Sunrise Lake. The trail follows the lake's shore and opens in less than 0.5 miles onto a wide, bare, sandy pass. Before you is the snowcapped Clark Range. The trail begins its descent, sharply switching back and forth in some places. There is a High Sierra Camp and backpackers' camp a short distance above Upper Sunrise Lake.
6.6 miles/5-8 hr. Moderate to strenuous. Take CA 120 to Tenaya Lake. The trail begins in the parking area on the east side of the road near the southwest end of the lake.
Tioga Lake to Dana Lake
This is a less crowded alternative to the above hike to Mount Dana. This particular trail doesn't reach the summit of the mountain, although experienced hikers can reach it on the Mount Dana Trail. The trail is not maintained, although it is fairly visible. This area is easily damaged, so be sure to tread lightly. Mount Dana looms large from the lake's shore.
4.6 miles/2 hr. Moderate to strenuous. Take CA 120 to Tioga Lake. The trail head is on the west side of the lake, about a mile east of the pass.
Near Hetch Hetchy
This trail off the road to Hetch Hetchy takes visitors through a nicely treed river canyon to a year-round waterfall and a picturesque swimming hole.
4.5 miles/2 hr. Easy. From the turnoff to Hetch Hetchy, park immediately after the 1st bridge and take the trail running west of the river.
This trail takes you around the shore of Hetch Hetchy from O'Shaughnessy Dam to the powerful Wapama Falls. It is very misty here -- be prepared to get drenched. If you continue another 4.2 miles, you make it to another waterfall and popular backpacking destination, Rancheria Falls.
5 miles/2 hr. Moderate. The trail begins at O'Shaughnessy Dam at the end of Hetch Hetchy Rd.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.