Hiking the Valley Loop Trail in Yosemite
The Valley Loop Trail runs along the majority of Yosemite Valley and is relatively flat. This is the perfect trail to see waterfalls, domes and possible wildlife. You can start from Half Dome village and get great views of Half Dome, North Dome, Glacier Point, and the Royal arches and make your way over toward Yosemite Lodge. Starting at Yosemite Lodge you will have views of Upper and Lower Yosemite falls, and Half Dome. It is also possible to start on the west side of the valley for great views of El Capitan and Cathedral rocks. Wherever you choose to start or if you do the whole loop you there is a lot to see.
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History of the Valley Loop Trail
The Natives of Yosemite Valley, the Ahwahnechee, deserve credit for establishing the first trails within Yosemite Valley. Most of these trails were either walkways between villages or possible hunting trails. Part of the Valley Loop trail may have even been old wagon roads first established by the Euro-Americans in the Valley. While most of the trail takes you through lush meadow at times you are following the Merced river or walking near the road. Route finding can be a little difficult so its best to bring a good map of the Valley. For the purpose of simplicity all routes below start from the Lower Yosemite falls area near Yosemite Valley Lodge. You can park at the Lodge for free even if you are not a current guest.
3 Best Day Hikes on the Valley Loop Trail
The Valley Loop trail encompasses much of Yosemite Valley area and can take several hours to hike the entire loop of the trail. There is also a great half loop option that takes much less time. No matter what option you choose you will still likely see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls and El Capitan from our recommendations below.
Below are the primary options for day hiking the Valley Loop Trail:
|Lower Yosemite Falls to El Capitan||5.6||30 ft||Moderate||Out and Back|
|Half Loop||7.2||60 ft||Easy-Moderate-Strenuous||Loop|
|Full Loop||11.5||60 ft||Easy-Moderate-Strenuous||Loop|
1. Lower Yosemite Falls to El Capitan
This hike starts at Lower Yosemite falls area near Yosemite Valley Lodge. It is an out and back option giving you views of the falls as well as Half Dome and El Capitan. Start by first following the trail to Lower Yosemite falls, there is a footbridge you can sit and take in the view. Continue on over the foot bridge to loop back toward the Lodge for a great View of Half Dome. Then you will continue west toward El Capitan. Follow signs for the Valley Loop trail toward El Cap, from here it is roughly 3 miles to the El Capitan Meadow. Once you reach the meadow make sure you cross the road for some stunning views of El Capitan and Cathedral rocks. Simply head back the way you came toward the lodge.
2. Valley Loop Trail- Half Loop
This hike starts at Lower Yosemite falls area near Yosemite Valley Lodge. You can park at the lodge for free, best advice is to get there early. From here we suggest checking out the Lower Falls viewing area and footbridge. Its a less than 1/4 mile walk from the parking area at the Lodge. After you make your way back from the Lower Falls follow the Valley Loop trail signs toward El Capitan. You will be heading west and eventually pass Camp 4. From Camp 4 it is a 2.4 mile hike along the Merced river toward El Capitan Meadow, this spot should be labeled if you have a good map. Definitely take a second at the meadow to take in the view of this massive granite Monolith, the largest in the world. From El Capitan meadow, cross the footbridge heading south across the road. Now you will have done a 180 and will be heading back east toward Yosemite Village, about 2.4 miles away. There are many stops along the way. Make sure you check out the Swinging bridge for great views of Yosemite Falls, and make a quick stop at the Yosemite Chapel. Cross the Sentinel Bridge and now you are steps away from Yosemite Village. Stop here for a quick snack or check out the Visitor’s Center. From the village, head west again and in less than 2 miles you will be back at Yosemite Lodge where you started.
3. Valley Loop Trail- Full Loop
This hike starts at Lower Yosemite falls area near Yosemite Valley Lodge. You can park at the lodge for free, best advice is to get there early. From here we suggest checking out the Lower Falls viewing area and footbridge. Its a less than 1/4 mile walk from the parking area at the Lodge. After you make your way back from the Lower Falls follow the Valley Loop trail signs toward El Capitan. You will be heading west and eventually pass Camp 4. From Camp 4 it is a 2.4 mile hike along the Merced river toward El Capitan Meadow, this spot should be labeled if you have a good map. Definitely take a second at the meadow to take in the view of this massive granite Monolith, the largest in the world. From El Capitan meadow, continue on the Valley Loop trail toward Bridalveil Falls. Head west 1.4 miles to the Pohono Bridge along the trail and cross the bridge, you will have done a 180 and will be heading back east toward Bridalveil Falls. Make sure you stop and check out the falls and then continue on in an easterly direction. From the small footbridge at Bridalveil Falls it is 3 miles to the junction of the 4 mile trail, head that way. There is a lot to look at along the way including Cathedral Rocks and the Southern Rim of the Valley including Taft Point and the Fissures. Continue east from the junction of 4 mile trail and make sure you check out the Swinging bridge for great views of Yosemite Falls. Cross the Sentinel Bridge and now you are steps away from Yosemite Village. Stop here for a quick snack or check out the Visitor’s Center. From the village, head west again and in less than 2 miles you will be back at Yosemite Lodge where you started.
Maximize Your Visit to Yosemite National Park on Hiking Tour
Guided day hike tours and multi-day packages allow visitors the opportunity to make the most of their time in Rocky Mountain National Park and to do it hassle-free. Guided tours include gear (backpack, trekking poles, crampons in winter), meals, accommodations on multi-day tours, local transportation, and a professional Colorado hiking guide. Through their knowledge, stories, and personal passion, guides can bring a place to life in a way that’s much more difficult to do on your own. Read more about Yosemite National Park Hiking Tours.
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Join a Guided Yosemite National Park Backpacking Trip
Joining a Yosemite backpacking tour is a worry-free, adventurous way to experience [national park]. With your gear, meals, local transportation, permits, and fees taken care of for you, you can travel light and focus 100% on enjoying the hiking experience, while the guide company takes care of everything else. Also, by going with local experts you’ll enjoy a greater level of safety and gain a much better understanding of the history and ecology of this remarkable region. Read more about a guided Yosemite backpacking trips.
When to Hike and Seasonal Considerations
The best time to visit Yosemite Valley is anytime. The month’s of May-Oct are ideal for weather. The days can be hot (70-90F) with cool nights (40-50F). There is little rain in the summer months although the Sierra Nevada is known for unpredictable weather so best to always be prepared. Winter is cold and temps during the day can range from 10-30 degrees F. Sierra Nevada translates to the “Snowy Range” in Spanish, so you can expect there to be snow if visiting in wintertime. Despite the cold and the wet, winter is a lot quieter than the busy summer months with a lot less people. Keep in mind you may need Tire Chains to enter the Yosemite Valley in the winter. To find out about current road conditions in the park click here. Or call (209) 372-0200 (press 1 then 1).
Day Hike Permits
You do not need a permit to Day Hike in Yosemite National Park.
You will need to secure a permit to backpack in Yosemite National Park. Permits are reservable 6 months in advance to the date you wish to start hiking. You can also try and secure a permit the day before your trek in person at any wilderness permit center before 11 am. For more information on Yosemite’s permit system, click here.
Getting to the Valley Loop Trailhead
There are multiple places one can access the Valley Loop trail. Once you arrive in Yosemite Valley choose to park at either the Visitor’s Center, Yosemite Lodge or Half Dome Village. All three of these places are great starting points to access the Valley Loop trail. For simplicity, all of our recommendations start at the Lower Yosemite Falls area near Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you are interested in El Capitan, then head west from the Yosemite Lodge and park on the side of the road near El Capitan, its the massive Granite wall on your right, you can’t miss it. From here you can access the Valley Loop trail and hike around the Captain. To check out a map of the Valley Loop trail click here.
Suggested Packing List
Day Hike Packing List (edit)
- 3-6 liters of water (more in summer)
- Salty, calorie-rich snacks
- trekking poles
- crampons (in winter)
- wide-brimmed hat
- sunscreen, sunglasses
- cotton t-shirt (spring-fall)
- non-cotton t-shirt (winter)
- rain jacket
- warm non-cotton layer
- 1st-aid kit
Backpacking Packing List (edit)
- all items listed for day hikes PLUS
- multi-day backpack
- 3-season tent
- sleeping bag
- sleeping pad
- backpacking stove and fuel
- backpacking meals
- 3 pairs wool socks
- extra t-shirts
Please Respect Our National Parks – Leave No Trace
We strongly recommend abiding by all Leave No Trace ethics guidelines and practices so that our national parks and public lands are preserved for the enjoyment of future generations and for the people and animals who call these places home. Simple things like packing out your trash, obeying national park rules, and respecting the peace and quiet of our national park trails is a great start. If you’re going on a backpacking trip, you can read about more about the 7 Leave No lTrace Principles.