There is access to Yosemite year-round as crews keep a few highways open in order to enter Yosemite Valley, but not all entrance stations remain open. Tioga Road closes around November to late May or early June depending on snow. It snowed while we were there so Tioga Road was closed. The entrance station checked cars to make sure they were carrying tire chains in order to enter the park.
Consider taking the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation (YARTS). The shuttle offers transportation from Fresno to Yosemite Valley. It’s a great way to avoid the parking lot crowds.
Trailhead Directions: There is a parking area at the trailhead.
Length: 0.5 mile RT
Elevation gain: less than 100 ft
Bridalveil Fall is an iconic waterfall that falls almost 620 feet. As we drove into the Valley it was the first waterfall we could see.
Mirror Lake Trail
Length: 2 miles RT
Out & Back
Elevation gain: 250 feet
The hike to Mirror Lake is on an easy 2 mile nature trail. The lake is known for its reflection of Half Dome and surrounding peaks.
Trailhead Directions: We parked in a parking lot and walked 0.5 mile or so to the Mirror Lake Trailhead. It’s also Shuttle Stop #17. Depending on the time of year, the water levels in the lake will vary.
Tuolumne Grove of the Giant Sequoia Trail
Length: 2.5 miles
Elevation gain: 400 feet
Type: Lollipop Loop
There are three sequoia groves in YNP. This grove is located outside of Yosemite Valley off of Tioga Road. You can still access the trailhead even when Tioga Road closes, as the barrier is just beyond the parking lot.
The trail to the grove is an old road which gradually descends over a mile until you reach the first part of the loop. It was icy when we walked down it, so we used our micro spikes in areas. The sequoias can quickly humble you. There is a path that leads off the road and you can follow it through the grove. Once you are finished with the loop, head back out the way you came down.
Four Mile Trail
Four Mile Trail is actually not 4 miles, but 4.6 miles one way.
Trailhead Directions: Four Mile Trailhead park along the road or take the shuttle to stop #7.
Length: 9.2 miles RT
Elevation gain: 3,228 feet
Type: Out & Back
Union Point is 3 miles from the valley floor. Continue on for 1.6 miles to reach Glacier Point.
If I’m being honest, the trail itself isn’t my favorite, BUT it offers one of the best views at the end of a trail that I have ever seen. There are great views of Yosemite Falls during the climb, too. It’s worth every switchback, and there are a lot of switchbacks.
Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail
Trailhead Directions: Start and finish the hike at the Vernal & Nevada Falls – John Muir Trailhead. We parked at the Curry Village parking lot. You can also take the shuttle to stop #16.
Length: 6.5 miles
Elevation gain: 2,162 ft
If you only have time for one hike, this is “THE” springtime hike to do! Snowmelt makes the Merced River full and the waterfalls flow well.
There are two options to hike this trail. We hiked up the Mist Trail and down the John Muir Trail. The JMT can close due to winter weather, so if that is the case just treat it like an out & back rather than a loop. Hiking it clockwise will save your knees on the descent which also means you hike up the section named the Giant Staircase.
This is easily one of the most popular hikes in the park, based on the amount of people who made it to the bottom of Vernal Falls. The crowd thinned out significantly at the footbridge located 0.8 miles from the trailhead. Here you can find restrooms, water, and a junction with the John Muir Trail.
We took a left at the junction and hiked the short, steep side of Vernal Falls. It’s likely you will find yourself sprayed by the mist coming off the falls, hence the trail name.
Once you climb to the top of Vernal Falls, the trail levels out along the shore of Emerald Pool, an area known as the Silver Apron. This is a great spot to stop and take in the views of Liberty Cap.There are plenty of warning signs posted to stay out of the water. Although it looks calm on the surface strong undercurrents lurk below. Unfortunately, people have met their fate by getting in, only to be swept down the pool and over the falls.
From there, continue up the trail another 1.3 miles. This section of the trail is steep switchbacks of granite stairs, known as the Giant Staircase.
There are incredible views at the top. If you are brave enough, peak over the granite cliffs to see Nevada Falls flow over and down 594 feet.
A short distance later the JMT begins. After heading down the trail at the first switchback are turns back towards Nevada Falls. That spot offers stunning views of both Nevada and Yosemite Falls (if it’s flowing well).
Trailhead Directions: Park at the Tunnel View parking lot which is located off of Highway 41, walk back across the street to find the marked trail. This is a steep trail but offers an amazing view of Yosemite Valley including Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and Half Dome.
Length: 2.5 miles RT
Type: Out & Back