Beautiful and majestic, Yosemite Valley boasts some of the most popular trailheads in the park. These strenuous trails lead the hiker up the seemingly sheer granite walls which form the Valley. To reach the top of such spectacles as Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point, and El Capitan, the hiker will encounter steep terrain, switchbacks, and rapidly changing weather conditions. Spectacular views from the rim of the valley reward the hiker and quickly erase memories of any hardships suffered enroute.
In winter and early spring, nearly all of the trails in Yosemite Valley remain open though some have winter routes designated. In addition to serving the hardy day-hiker, these trailheads provide access for seasoned winter enthusiasts into Yosemite's snow-covered Wilderness.
Tuolumne Meadows is located at over 8600 feet in elevation. From Tuolumne, numerous trails lead hikers to lakes, meadows and beautiful river canyons. More strenuous overnight backpacking trips allow the adventurer access to the northern-most reaches of the Park, the area between Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley, or along extended wilderness routes such as the John Muir Trail or the Pacific Crest Trail.
Because of its elevation, temperatures in Tuolumne average 15 to 20 degrees cooler than Yosemite Valley. Snow is not uncommon as late as June or as early as September. Peaks, such as Mt. Dana and Mt. Lyell retain snow throughout the summer and provide breathtaking views from their bases and summits. Once the Tioga Road closes for the season (generally in early November), this area is accessible to well-experienced winter enthusiasts via snow shoes or skis only.
Tioga Road (State Route 120 East) : This scenic 45 mile drive covers almost 4000 feet of elevation change. It begins at Crane Flat, travels through Tuolumne Meadows, and then over Tioga Pass. The road is open to vehicles from late May or early June (weather permitting) until the first major snow storm after November 1; overnight parking is not permitted after October 15th. During this 1 1/2 hour drive, visitors pass through meadows and forests, lakes and granite domes.
Day hikes from the Tioga Road are abundant. For backpackers, there are also numerous trailheads. Some trails provide one way trips into Yosemite Valley. Others, less traveled but no less scenic, head into the northern part of the park. These trails travel through forested areas, deep canyons, past lakes, and finally above tree-line. In winter and early spring, the snow covered Tioga Road serves as an ungroomed cross-country ski route for the adventurous and seasoned winter camper.
The Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, located in the northwest part of the park, serves as the portal to many beautiful, less-traveled areas in Yosemite. The Hetch Hetchy Road normally stays open year-round and the reservoir itself lies at a relatively low 3900 feet making this a good area for spring and fall wilderness travel.
High temperatures prevail along the trail during the summer months, but this is a small price to pay for the breathtaking areas that can be reached from here. Several lakes and popular valleys are all within 15 miles of the reservoir. Hikers may elect to begin longer trips here as well, either toward Tuolumne Meadows or the northern-most reaches of the park.
The Hetch Hetchy Road is open limited hours. There is no access to Hetch Hetchy trailheads while the road is closed. Visit the conditions update page for more information.
Historic Wawona at 4000 feet elevation is located just inside the park's southern boundary on Highway 41. Because of its low elevation, trails from Wawona can be accessible during the spring and fall as well as the summer. The lush open meadows, forests and lakes which abound in Yosemite's less-frequented southern wilderness can be reached from trailheads in Wawona. The abundance of water in the spring makes this an attractive area for wilderness users.
Once under snow in winter, the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is designated as wilderness. Nordic skiers and snow-shoers can obtain a wilderness permit to ski through and camp in the upper reaches of the Grove.
At an elevation of 7200 feet, Glacier Point offers a spectacular view of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Yosemite Valley and the Clark Range. It serves as the trailhead for many popular day hikes and provides access to the less traveled wilderness areas in the southern portion of Yosemite.
Driving time from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point is about one hour. The Glacier Point Road is generally open to vehicles from late May or early June (weather permitting) until the first major snow storm after November 1; overnight parking is not permitted after October 15th. In winter, it serves as a groomed cross-country ski track starting from the Badger Pass ski area. Badger Pass, located 6 miles from the Chinquapin turn off on the Wawona Road (Highway 41), also serves as the trailhead for numerous marked cross-country ski trails. Wilderness permits for overnight wilderness travel from Badger Pass should be acquired from the Badger Pass A-Frame.