You’ve come to Yosemite with a purpose. You have one week of vacation time and you want to hike all of the park’s most notable trails— a worthwhile mission, to be sure. Okay, lace up your boots, fill your pack with snacks and water, and let’s get started.
Better begin with something fairly easy since you’ll probably need to adjust to the high mountain altitude. Go to Yosemite Lodge first thing in the morning and pay for a oneway ticket on a tour bus to Glacier Point. The bus will drop you off at the point and you’ll hike the Panorama Trail and Mist Trail back down to Yosemite Valley. The 8.5-mile one-way hike is mostly downhill, but that doesn’t make it easy. Your knees will get a workout with 3,200 feet of descent along the way, plus one uphill stretch, which gains 760 feet over 1.5 miles. But the scenery makes it all worthwhile. You’ll hike past three major waterfalls—Illilouette, Nevada, and Vernal— and through miles of picture postcard-quality Sierra scenery.
You’re feeling good. Better do another high-elevation hike, just to make sure your lungs are ready for your big Half Dome day (tomorrow). Head up to Tuolumne Meadows and take the classic high-country hike to Cathedral Lakes. This 7.4-mile round-trip has a 1,000-foot elevation gain on the way to two glacial cirque lakes, which are set below 10,840-foot Cathedral Peak. Don’t forget your camera. The scenery, needless to say, is stunning.
Okay, you’re ready for Half Dome. You will need to have secured a permit in advance for this trip, and make sure you have your permit in your day pack when you hike. Start as early in the morning as you can because you have 17 miles ahead of you and a whopping 4,800 feet of elevation gain. This hike is no picnic, but a hiker of your stature would never be caught whining. Start at Happy Isles (ride the free shuttle bus or walk there from Curry Village) and proceed up the Mist Trail past Vernal and Nevada Falls. Above Nevada Fall, take the left turnoff for Half Dome. The trail is relatively easy to follow from this point (you’ve completed about half of the ascent already) until you reach the infamous steel cables that run up the back of the dome. It takes two hands and two feet to haul yourself up the cables, ascending 440 feet of nearly vertical granite.
An easy day is in order here. You’ve earned it. Today you’ll put together a smorgasbord of short hikes from Glacier Point Road. Start with the trails to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point, both 2.2-mile round-trips that begin at a trailhead one mile before the end of the road. Then, if you still feel energetic, hike to McGurk Meadow from its trailhead farther west on Glacier Point Road (7.5 miles from the Chinquapin turnoff). It’s only one mile to the pristine meadow, so you might as well continue another 2.5 miles to Dewey Point, one of the most fantastic viewpoints of Yosemite Valley possible in the park.
Time for another epic hike. The summit of Clouds Rest beckons, and it’s 1,000 feet higher than Half Dome, with an even better view looking down into Yosemite Valley. The hike is 14 miles round-trip from the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead on Tioga Pass Road. The good news is that the total elevation gain is only 2,300 feet, so it’s much easier than Half Dome. The final summit ascent travels along a series of granite “pancakes” and is downright breathtaking. Be sure to stop at Sunrise Lakes for a swim on your way back to the trailhead. Ah, that cold water feels good on your weary body.
So many hikes, so little time. Your week is coming to a close and you haven’t yet climbed North Dome, Half Dome’s neighbor—right across Tenaya Canyon. This 9.0-mile roundtrip is going to seem easy after all you’ve done so far, but wow—the North Dome view is sublime. It offers the best possible perspective on Half Dome of any summit in the park, plus a chance to visit Indian Rock, the only granite arch in Yosemite.
It’s your last day in Yosemite, and time to prove your worth as a true mountaineer. You’re heading for the 13,053-foot summit of Mount Dana, and after a week of hiking, the high elevation is no longer a problem for you. The grade on this trail, well, that’s a different matter. This brutal ascent gains 3,100 feet and is spread out over a mere three miles. It’s slow going, to say the least. Start at the Tioga Pass entrance station and hike southeast on the obvious use trail. You’ll climb all the way to the Dana Plateau at 11,600 feet, where it’s wise to take a rest. Another mile and 1,500 feet of elevation gain await, but the hard work is completely worth it. Your reward is one of the finest views in the Sierra, encompassing Mono Lake, Ellery and Saddlebag Lakes, Tuolumne Meadows, and an untold wealth of high peaks. After a week like this, it’s time to pat yourself on the back for being such a fine mountaineer.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Yosemite.