So, you have decided that Yosemite will be your next place to visit and tick off the bucket list, and you start getting excited about the adventures that are sure to take place in this incredible landscape – watching climbers scale impossible glacial rocks, enjoying sunrise at an incredible lookout, or perhaps pushing your limit and hiking some of the most iconic peaks in the world. It’s possible to get giddy with excitement over the possibilities.

However, after doing some research you realise that the well known Half Dome, the most iconic hike in the region, attracts thousands of adventure seekers each year and that a permit is required to climb. And of course, you then learn that they have already sold out.

Don’t panic, there are so many other alternatives that you will still be able to experience during your time at Yosemite. Depending on your length of stay – these are the highlights of our latest trip to Yosemite when we found ourselves in the same situation.

Tunnel View

It was 4 pm, we had driven from Sequoia National Park and just pulled in for gas and a quick break. As we faced the road ahead, the mountains of Yosemite were covered in a plume of smoke. We quickly Googled to find out how bad the wildfires were and hoped that our plans would not have to be rearranged.

It all seemed doable, albeit potentially shrouded in haze, so we decided to keep driving towards the park and I am so glad we did. We entered the park through the Wawona and Fish Camp route and as we drove toward Tunnel View it was approaching sunset and though tired from a long day of driving, it was too fascinating to just drive past and miss an opportunity for a great shot. We huddled in the prime position with around ten photographers with their tripods attempting to all get the postcard shot.

“Tunnel view was incredibly clear with not a sign of smoke, which was surprising from the conditions we had just driven through earlier. A photographer nearby mentioned that it was the clearest he had seen it in days.”

 

Mirror Lake Trail

Trail Facts: 

  • Distance 3.2km round trip
  • Rating: Easy Peasy!
  • Starting Point:  Mirror Lake Trailhead (shuttle stop #17)
  • 1 hour round trip (end of the paved trail) OR 2 hours round trip if you do the full loop
  • Elevation: 100 feet

If you are looking for a half day trail from Half Dome Village, you can escape the village and step into the utter beauty of large boulders, and maybe spot a mountain lion lounging around during off-peak times – probably not though.

This trail is a great family friendly trail. It comprises of flatly paved conditions that will make for an enjoyable walk. There are multiple sightseeing stops along the trail. Yosemite rangers told us that we might see some brown bears strolling around this area, as it’s a popular spot for spotting wildlife. While I was there we did not cite any but was always on alert near the lake. There are multiple signs stating that there are bears in the area.

You will come to the Tenaya Creek and the lake with running water where you will find crowds taking selfies and photographs as the landscape is definitely postcard worthy. With the lake in the foreground and the granite surrounds as the backdrop. Some say this is a true reflection of Yosemite.

Mirror Lake, as the name suggests, reflects the granite rock faces in the water. You can come to the lake to take photos, take a dip with the kids or just admire the site. Being summer, there were plenty of people swimming and doing flips off the rocks into the deeper water.

This trail is the closest point in the park you can get to the base of Half Dome. 

Be Careful:

As the trail is located beside Tenaya Creek the trail can be quite slippery at times. There are no rails for support on this trail. Wear suitable footwear. 

Useful Tips: 

Drinking water is not available on the trailhead.  Please make sure you pack plenty of water with you especially over the Summer/Spring seasons

Parking is not available on this trail. You will need to the park at the Half Dome village and hike out.

 

Accommodation

Half Dome Village (formerly Camp Curry)

For the next three nights, our base camp would be Half Dome Village (formerly known as Camp Curry). Half Dome Village is populated with over 400 tent cabins, so the area is fairly busy during summer periods. If you are checking in after dark, I recommend bringing a flashlight and minimal luggage as it took us around 15 minutes to walk from the main carpark to our tent in pitch black as there are very few lights around the area. I would highly recommend this village if you are wanting to stay somewhere central to all the landmarks of Yosemite and get excited about the idea of waking up to gigantic rock formations towering over your cabin.

 

Clouds Rest

Trail Facts: 

  • Distance: 14.5 miles (23.3km) return trip
  • Rating: Difficult 
  • Elevation: 3025 metres
  • When to go: May-October

 

If you are searching for a solid day hike with an adrenaline rush, this mountain is calling your name. Clouds Rest is not for the faint-hearted. We started at Tuolumne Meadows where we stocked up on some food and water supplies and a quick egg and bacon biscuit before parking at the Sunrise Trailhead carpark near Tenaya Lake.

We had done some research on this hike and had been warned that the river can overflow so caution needs to be taken as you the trail begins with crossing the creek on a series of stepping stones. After this, the first few kilometres are relatively flat.

This trail comprises of walking through a variety of sceneries including meadows of wildflowers, lakes, giant rocks and forests of sequoias. Once you arrive at the alpine forest there are multiple switchbacks as you ascend up the rocky staircase. This section of the trail was challenging.

On the last few kilometres, there are multiple unofficial lookouts that just keep getting better the further you climb.

When you do get to the final ascent you are confronted with a narrow ridge of rocks that you need to navigate to get to the peak. Here you need to be careful with your footing as either side of the ridge are steep descents. I found the final climb quite rewarding, with 360-degree views direction and incredible granite rocks all and different textures that are simply awe-inspiring.

Once you reach the summit, you look straight ahead to Half Dome, which was just visible through the smokey haze that shrouded our view of the Valley. Regardless, we sat and looked out over the landscape for some time, simply gobsmacked by its beauty. If you have the time, it is worth sitting down on the granite and just taking in the views. We took the opportunity to take off our hiking boots and give our feet some much-needed relief. These views make you feel like you are on the edge of the earth. This was seriously one of my favourite hikes I have ever done.

I did personally find the trail quite strenuous. As I previously mentioned, careful footing is required to navigate the trail and quite intense uphill sections that your legs will not thank you for. But the perseverance is definitely with it, and when you get back to the car with sore feet and giant blisters, you won’t be complaining – this is a hike you will be talking about for a long time.

Useful Tip:  Take a sufficient amount of water as there are really no areas to fill up your water. We carried 4 litres of water with us on this particular hike and we just had enough.

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