Updated: Jul 1, 2022
Yosemite: 70 miles in 7 days
Yosemite is one of my favorite places to visit. It has great hiking and great scenery. This trip was September of 2019. To challenge myself to be active when I get there, I track the mileage and the elevation.
I like to break the park into three sections;
Section 1. Tioga Road
Section 2. Yosemite Valley
Section 3. Mariposa Grove
Each time I have gone either in September or October. It has not been overly crowded. The weather has been great. The waterfalls are much dryer in the fall than they would be in the spring.
Breakdown of Days
Day 1 Tioga Road sights 4 miles, no elevation
Day 2 Glacier Point 11 miles, 3200 ft
Day 3 Mirror Lake 10 miles, 40 ft elevation:
Day 4 Upper and Yosemite Falls, 7.5 miles 2700 ft
Day 5 Tuolumne Grove, Hetch Hetchy 8.6 miles
Day 6 Mariposa Grove, 3 miles, 1000 ft
Day 7 Half Dome hike to base, 21 miles, 4800 ft
Day 1. Tioga Road great for sight-seeing and driving, 4 miles
I typically drive out to Yosemite to the Big Oak Flat entrance. Then, since it makes sense logistically, I like to drive out Tioga Road heading east. The drive is beautiful and is at about 6000 to 8500 ft above sea level. The valley floor by contrast is at 4000 ft above sea level. So, the experience is much different. Olmsted Point is a great place to stop and take in a southwestern view of the valley parallel to the face of Half Dome. It also has a great dome of granite on the northern side.
Tuolumne River walk 4 miles with minimum elevation
We stopped at Tuolumne Meadows with a view to Lembert Dome to the east. We had a nice first day hike/walk to Tuolumne River. The trail starts along the side of pothole dome with a lot of gently-sloping granite.
There is a great view of Unicorn Peak, Cathedral Peak and Echo Peak to the south. The river is beautiful. The water is clean. It winds. It cascades. It has pools and views all around. There are also flat grassy meadow sections along the river.
After the hike, we drove the rest of Tioga Road east. Then, we enjoyed the return trip, seeing scenic Tenaya Lake, and heading down into the valley.
We were staying the week at Yosemite Lodge. Each night we walked the valley floor. There are wide cart paths and wood rail fences. Evergreens and tall grass give warmth and intimacy to the valley floor.
Since it was shaped by glacier and a lot of sediment was placed there, the valley floor is very flat. We had views of the sun setting – creating shadows moving up the wall of El Capitan along the north side. We crossed the swinging bridge. A wide beautiful wooden bridge with wide, solid wood rails.
Day 2 Glacier Point 11 miles, 3200 ft of elevation
Day 2 in Yosemite National Park. We started with a hike up the Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point. Near the start of the hike, we saw a bobcat (LynxRufos) enter the trail. He turned up the trail and did not notice us.
The trail starts moderate, then has multiple switchbacks, then a long straight away, then a lot more switchbacks, then it is a more moderate wooded walk until the exposed top.
Once we reached enough elevation, we had stunning views of Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, and El Capitan. Some parts of the trail get a little bit rugged.
From the top, there is a view straight across at the face of Half Dome and along Tenya Creek and Mirror Lake. To the east of Half Dome, it’s easy to see Vernal and Nevada Falls. To the west, the view is of the main portion of the valley floor with El Capitan to the left and Sentinel Dome to the right with Merced River at the bottom.
That evening, after dinner we headed east on the valley floor. We went to the base of Yosemite Falls. An easy walk with great access. It had large boulders at the base the falls. We continued our walk along the base of the north side of the valley. Yosemite Valley Stable is visible from the trail.
Day 3 Mirror Lake 10 miles, elevation 40 feet
Day 3 we hiked to Mirror Lake. It is located along Tenaya Creek and is at the base of the face of Half Dome. It is part of the Valley Loop Trail. We enjoyed the lake, the creek, the trees, the grasses and vegetation around the trees.
The base of Half Dome is a slope of fallen boulders, small rock and sand from years of freezing and thawing. Some wildflowers decorate the park in the fall. The flowers might have been the Tufted Poppy and the Applegate’s Paintbrush.
There were three deer grazing on the beach sand adjacent to Tenaya Creek.
For our evening walk, we walked west again to get some more views of Merced River and Half Dome. We stopped directly in front of El Capitan to admire the iconic wall.
The grand finale for the evening was driving to the “Valley View” location. This is a spot off of the Northside Drive which is one way. It is near the turn to head back on Southside Drive at Pohono Bridge.
Then, we drove out on El Portal Road, heading west out of the valley, to the beautiful stone bridge at Tamarack Creek and then parked just beyond where there is a waterfall.
Day 4 Upper and Yosemite Falls, 7.5 miles and 2700 feet of elevation
We were ready for a strenuous hike again. This day we would head to Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. We started out by walking the valley floor from Yosemite Lodge where we staying. Upper Yosemite and Lower Yosemite falls are on the north side of the valley.
The trail starts moderate, then, almost immediately and has multiple switchbacks. Next it becomes a long slightly curving trail with steep and sandy drop offs. It steepens again and has more switchbacks. Then the trails has more moderate until the exposed top.
Andrea and I started getting hot around the 1st mile. We wanted to shed some clothing so Andrea sat down on a large rock on the downhill side of the narrow trail. Then, Andrea, facing downhill, was removing the leg portion her hiking pants to turn them into shorts. I was standing below her facing uphill. She placed her backpack down on the rocks between us.
Once she finished the changeover to shorts, she started to lift her backpack. Then, I saw a two to three-foot long snake crawling out from underneath her pack. Surprised, I said “snake!” – “Rattlesnake!” – as I saw the markings and shape. Andrea looked down and grabbed her backpack. She was very alert and looking to leave the rock and the snake. Fortunately, it was a small snake and moving non-aggressively to leave down the rocky slope.
Surprised and feeling a bit lucky, we continued up the trail. The views are great along the north wall of the valley, across towards Glacier Point, east towards Half Dome, and the meadows in the valley floor below. The trail had an arid feel. Part of the trail was at the base of shear granite walls with a lot of vegetation below where the moisture was captured. Once at the top of the valley rim, it is another 0.2 miles to go down to view where Yosemite falls begins. There is a long set of stone stairs with an iron railing to reach the viewpoint. Part of the stairs are very narrow with an iron rail mounted on the wall.
At the viewpoint, there are large swimming holes with granite walls and two or three cascades before the water drops over the falls.
Day 5 Mariposa Grove, and Chilnualna Falls, 3 miles
Mariposa Grove is my favorite spot to experience the Sequoia trees. Two of the Sequoia trees are among the thirty largest in the world. One tree, Grizzly Giant is 1900-2400 years old.
The grove has flat areas near the entrance, with sturdy and beautiful boardwalks and rail fences. The Sequoia trees are everywhere you look. Some have evidence of the fires that they have endured – which are necessary for them to regenerate. One had a tunnel carved through for a horse and carriage. There are some iconic sets of trees like the Bachelor and Three Graces – a very large sequoia with three smaller. We walked a 3 mile loop up to the cabin near the top of the grove.
A great lunch or dinner stop heading back to the valley from Mariposa Grove is the Wawona Hotel. The hotel is set in time. It is white with long porches on the first and second floors. It has a little pond in front with a nice wrap around drive.
For another stop, we hiked Chilnualna Falls just north of Wawona Hotel. It’s a short but adventurous hike to the rocky and flume like falls.
On the drive back we stopped at Tunnel View. It is a view down into the valley looking east from half way up the southern valley wall.
We finished the day with a meadow walk with views of Half Dome by heading over the Sentinel Bridge and took in the view from the middle of the valley floor.
Day 5 Tuolumne Grove 2.5 miles, Lukens Lake 1.5 miles, Hetch Hetchy, O’Shauhgnessy Dam 4.6 miles out and back to Falls Creek.
Tuolumne Grove is one of three groves in Yosemite, along with Mariposa and Merced Grove.
It is near the west end of Tioga Road. The Grove heads downhill from the trailhead. Although, it is not as large as Mariposa Grove, it is similar, including having its own tree that was tunneled through for a stagecoach.
Then, we continued out on Tioga Road for a small hike around Lukens Lake. Lukens Lake is very still and peaceful. There are good views and it is a relatively flat walk around the lake. There is nice meadow at the discharge area at the east end of the lake.
The next stop was backtracking to O’Shauhgnessy Dam and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. This reservoir provides drinking water to San Francisco. The dam flooded a great valley. It’s interesting to visit. It looks so different than a vibrant valley. O’Shauhgnessy Dam was built in 1907. The dam has power houses associated with it that provide electricity. Although, hydroelectric power is considered renewable energy, there are a lot of environmental costs to dams. They also have diminishing returns on the power and water supply, along with increased maintenance.
Day 6 Half Dome hike to base, (no cable permit acquired) Mist Trail, 21.8 miles, 4800 ft
Our last major hike for the week was up to Half Dome base. Having learned that we would need a permit to hike the cables to the top of Half Dome, we attempted to get a permit as many times as possible. We missed out on the lottery each time. So, we decided to do as much of the hike as we could up to the base of the cables.
We walked from Yosemite Lodge to the trail to the Mist Trail. The Mist Trail follows the Merced River up the Vernal Falls and then Nevada Falls. Following the signs, we made our way to the base of Half Dome.
The Mist trails has a foot bridge that crosses over the Merced River. It has some hard stone paved areas, asphalt paved areas, and stone steps leading to Vernal Fall. A rocky and grassy slope is between the path and the falls. Higher up there is a narrow iron rail section with a drop off on the other side of the rail. At the top of the fall there is a great view looking down at the trail and Merced River as it descends to the valley. At the top of Vernal Fall is wavy granite and view of where the falls spill over the edge.
Later there are beautiful, clear, pools of shallow water on granite. Then, another footbridge as the trail crosses back to the north side of the Merced. The view from the bridge down is over water flowing over the granite – gently flowing in the fall and likely gushing in the spring.
The trail gets sandy and flat before ascending rock and some vegetation with views along the left side of Nevada Falls. Both Nevada and Vernal falls are steep to nearly vertical.
Next, we were above Nevada falls and at the desert like high elevation with rock, trees and shrubs that were loosely grouped. The views all around were beautiful with some water, Half Dome above, looking steep and enormous even from that location. The trail heads wide to be able to get around the steep sections. Heading up to the ridge, the views are rewarding with openness on either side for quite a distance. We looked across at the Royal Arches.
A ranger was there to make sure that everyone had their permit for the cables going to the top. We were so close. The views were still stunning with granite everywhere decorated by evergreens wherever water and soil could be captured by the trees.
We thoroughly enjoyed the long walk back taking fewer photos and enjoying the easier walk down than up. We appreciated the view of Liberty Cap, the flow Merced River as it lazily headed to the drop off, then Mt Broderick with Liberty Cap to the right. To finish the hike and our day, we walked from the trail back to Yosemite Lodge.
Part of what made this trip so intimate was walking the valley floor most nights. The park is grand. Yet, it is close together, due to the valley walls. There are so many elements in the valley. There are campgrounds, hotels, lodges, tent lodges, tent-only campgrounds, rivers, a lot of granite, wildlife – big and small, bear boxes, buses, cars, and waterfalls. It is and may always be my favorite or one of my favorite places to be for that reason.