6 Pretty Backpacking Trails in Yosemite National Park

Backpacking in yosemite national park
Backpacking in yosemite national park

Yosemite National Park in California is one of the most must see locations in the state and it’s also one of the most popular parks in the US.


In Yosemite, you can see granite walls and domes carved by glaciers, meadows, wildflowers, wildlife, waterfalls, lakes, and so much more. It’s no wonder that it’s a favorite! The park can get crowded, especially in the Valley in the middle of the day. But you can avoid crowds on hiking trails, in the early morning hours and towards sunset.


In this blog, we’re going to go over some of the prettiest hiking and backpacking trails in Yosemite.


Half Dome and the Mist Trail

Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most popular trails. It’s 16.4 miles round trip and can be done as a long day hike or as a backpacking trip. You will need permits to climb up the dome, regardless if you’re backpacking it or day hiking it. This is a hike you should definitely add to your bucket list! For the full trail report and the breakdown of how to get permits, read through this blog post.


If you don’t want to do the full Half Dome trail (or you don’t have permits) you can also hike the Mist Trail, which is the start of the Half Dome trail. Here is a blog post with more info on hiking just the Mist Trail.

view of half dome in yosemite

Donahue Pass Trail

This trail starts in Tuolumne Meadows follows along the John Muir Trail and can be done as a long day hike, but to really soak it in, turn it into a backpacking trip. This hike is 13.3 miles and 2,736 feet of elevation gain.


You can also either hike the full John Muir Trail and start in Tuolumne from here and go over Donahue Pass, or you can even hike it! Read the full blog on my section hike from Toulumne Meadows over Donahue Pass and to Mammoth Lakes.

toulumne river on the john muir trail

Cathedral Lakes Trail

Cathedral Lakes is an 8.6 mile hike with 1,551 feet of elevation gain. You can do this as a day hike or as a backpacking trip. Remember, permits are required to backpack inside of Yosemite National Park. Make sure to get them ahead of time or try for walk up permits.


This trail starts in Tuolumne Meadows. If you want to do a section of the John Muir Trail and turn it into a longer backpacking trip, you can get a permit to hike to or from Yosemite Valley and past Cathedral Lakes.

Glen Aulin Trail

This trail starts in Tuolumne Meadows and goes to Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp making the trail 12.1 miles round trip with 1,200 feet gain, or if you want to make the trail longer, you can hike to Waterwheel which makes it 17 miles with 2,372 feet.


You’ll see beautiful waterfalls fed by the Tuolumne River. To get the most out of this trail, go backpacking! Then find a great place to take a swim.


Upper Yosemite Falls Trail

Upper Yosemite Falls is not an easy hike, but at the end, you’re rewarded with beautiful views of the Valley and the top of Yosemite Falls. It’s a 7.2 mile round trip hike with 3,175 feet of elevation gain.


Part of the trail is exposed since you’re hiking up the side of the granite wall next to Yosemite Falls, so get an early start. It gets hot and it adds to the challenge of the hike.


Clouds Rest Trail

This is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite with beautiful views of the Valley and Half Dome. It’s a 12.3 mile round trip hike with 3,113 feet. It can be done as a long day hike, but to really get the full experience go backpacking!


Getting Backpacking Permits in Yosemite

All backpacking trails inside Yosemite National Park require a backcountry permit. It can be difficult to get some of the permits, especially for more popular trails, but there are rangers on the trail that check. So I caution against going without a permit.


Thankfully getting a permit, although it can be challenging, it doesn’t need to be! Just make sure to understand the steps and rules of how to get one and apply. If you can be flexible and get a mid-week permit or go in the offseason, like later in September when kids go back to school, you stand a better chance of getting one.


To apply, first decide which trailhead you want to start at. Then you apply through the online form 24 weeks before your ideal start date. If you missed getting one 24 weeks before your ideal start date, check the trailhead report to see what dates are still open and apply. You can also try to get walk up permits. To read through Yosemite’s full breakdown of how to get a backpacking permit, click here.

Follow the “Leave No Trace” Rules

When visiting any national park or wilderness area, it’s so important to follow Leave No Trace Principles.


Please pack out all of your trash, I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve seen and picked up trash off of the trail. Don’t be that person and leave these areas we all share better than we found them. If you see someone else littering, take the opportunity to politely educate them.


Don’t feed wildlife. Please store the food from your car and campsite correctly in the bear lockers provided at the trailhead or the campground. And don’t feed the squirrels and chipmunks on the trail. I know they’re cute, but it hurts the ecosystem. For more information on why you shouldn’t feed wildlife, read this blog post.


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