Trail: Yosemite Valley Loop
Park: Yosemite National Park
Location: Western Yosemite Valley
Length: 11.5 mile loop
Peak Season: Summer/Fall
Escape the crowds on this relatively unknown 11.5-mile loop trail in the western Yosemite Valley and be rewarded with views of Yosemite’s major icons, including El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and Sentinel Rock.
Following many of the area’s first footpaths and wagon roads, this trail varies from dirt to gravel to old pavement. While long, it remains relatively flat during the journey, leading through lush meadows, beside granite cliffs and along the rushing Merced River. The trail begins at Yosemite Village. You can start at the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead (shuttle stop 6), from Camp 4 or from just behind Yosemite Lodge.
The first major stop is the familiar monolith, El Capitan, a pinnacle for experienced rock climbers. Gaze up at the sheer rock face, imagining the climb, and then mosey along on your horizontal trail. Here, hikers with less time can opt for a 7.2-mile half loop, crossing the river at the El Capitan Bridge and heading east back toward Yosemite Village. Those wanting the full experience should continue to Bridalveil Fall, the graceful and seasonally thunderous waterfall that is well worth the extra miles.
The Yosemite Valley Loop is open year-round, but you may find some flooded parts in spring along rivers and creeks, and spots can be snow-covered in winter. Whatever the season, be sure to come prepared with plenty of water, appropriate footwear and gear.
—Kelly Smith Trimble
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