by Megan Pacella

When my husband and I were invited to a wedding near Los Angeles, we immediately started brainstorming ways to turn the wedding trip into a backpacking trip. After lots of planning and researching, we decided to fly into San Francisco, rent a car, and drive to Los Angeles by way of three National Parks. First on our list was Yosemite.


To avoid elevation sickness, we decide to start out by camping at Yosemite Valley (approximately 4,000 feet) before moving up to Tuolumne Meadows (approximately 8,700 feet). When we arrived to our campsite at North Pines campground, we were a little disappointed to find that it was full of RV campers. With plenty of electricity available, the site never got dark, and we didn’t really feel like we were in the woods yet.


The valley is great if you’re doing a major backpacking trip and you want to end your time in the park with a shower, a hot meal, and a cold beer. Since we spent our first two days there, we weren’t ready to have all the comforts of home just yet. This isn’t the place for you if you want a rustic, secluded retreat to Yosemite.


To get away from our fellow tourists, we decided to try a few different hikes. Here are our picks for great, moderate to strenuous hiking trails in Yosemite Valley:


Vernal Fall Trail. Avoid the lower trail completely. It’s a paved path that takes about 20 minutes to complete, and you’ll be surrounded by iPhones and cameras the entire time. The upper trail offers better views and secluded areas—however, the falls are completely dry by the end of summer. This is a great trail for spring and winter hiking when the snowmelt has produced an incredible waterfall. It’s easy to get to the trailhead: Just hop on the shuttle and get off at stop Happy Isles, stop number 16. 4.8 miles (round trip), moderate.


Four-Mile Trail. This is one of the best ways to get sweeping views of the entire valley. From Four Mile Trail, you’ll catch views of El Capitan and Half Dome, as well as several lesser-known mountain ranges and the valley below. It’s not a long hike, but it’s tough. During the four-mile hike, you’ll climb about 3,200 feet on switchbacks and rocky terrain. Around the 3-mile mark, Union Point provides a great resting area and overlook, but I’d recommend completing the rest of the trail and making your way to the top. The way down is faster, but hiking poles are highly recommended. 4.8 miles (one way), strenuous.


There are so many great trails that it was hard to stick with two, but time didn’t allow us to spend any more time in the valley. Next time we visit, we hope to attempt these two trails:


Half Dome. Hiking Half Dome involves some advanced physical training to prepare your body for a long day of hiking and strenuous climbing. The 14- to 16-mile round trip trail takes hikers anywhere from 8 to 12 hours to complete, so most people start around sunrise. The trail takes hikers up almost 5,000 feet, so the views are worth the trip. We would have attempted the hike if I hadn’t found out I was pregnant shortly before our vacation (whoops!). 14 to 16 miles (round trip), strenuous.


Snow Creek Trail. This is supposed to be a pretty grueling hike that starts out on the valley floor and climbs up 2,700 feet to the rim of Tenaya Canyon. Parking isn’t available at the trailhead, so plan to park at Curry Village and take a shuttle to the trail. Once you’re there, allow about 8 hours to complete the hike. It gets hot as you climb, so prepare with plenty of water. 9.4 miles (round trip), strenuous.   


After a day and a half in the valley, it was time for us to retreat to Tuolumne Meadows, where the crowd thinned out and our camping conditions were rustic. But that’s for another post on another day. In the meantime, here are some shots of our time in the valley:


Our view from the Yosemite Valley floor.


Another view from the valley floor.


We stopped for a rest about one mile in on Four Mile Trail.


This is what you’ll see after climbing about 1,000 feet on Four Mile Trail.


Overlooking Yosemite Valley from about 6,000 feet.


The view from Union Point on Four Mile Trail.


Standing on the edge of Union Point.