Trekking Through Yosemite and the Gold Country: 5 Awesome Hikes You Shouldn’t Miss

Yosemite National Park, and surrounding area, is famous for its breathtaking panoramic views, rich history, and intimate encounters with nature.  No trip to the California wilderness is complete without a visit to this beautiful nature preserve.  One of the best ways to fully enjoy this destination is through one or more of its unique nature trails or scenic backpacking hikes.

Half Dome and the Mist Trail

  • Distance: 14-16 miles (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet
  • Time: 10-14 hours (round trip)

This unique hike is typically offered only from May to October; it joins two separate hikes into one for a beautiful and adventurous experience.  This hike has become so popular that hiking permits are required for the last half of the trek.  So be sure to plan your reservations well in advance for access to this unforgettable hike. The journey begins on the Mist Trail where hikers gain an up-close-and-personal look at two of Yosemite’s greatest waterfalls:  Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The Mist Trail leads to the famous climbing cables that take visitors up the sheer rock face of the Half Dome summit.  This iconic peak is one of Yosemite’s greatest features.  Although the cable system and sheer climb are challenging, every hiker will attest that the breathtaking view from the summit is well worth it in the end.


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Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock

  • Distance: 2 miles (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Moderate (first half only)
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet
  • Time: 2-3 hours (round trip)

Completed in 1877, this trail is one of Yosemite’s oldest and most historic.  This trail is actually composed of two separate sections, the first is moderate and best for less experienced hikers.  Hikers start their journey at Camp 4 where the trail quickly takes them through switchbacks and dense woods.  The trail breaks at several plateaus for rest and great viewing opportunities of the valley below. This trail ends at Columbia Rock, the perfect spot for viewing the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Peak. Hikers that choose to continue through the second half of the trail will find a drastic increase in difficulty.  However, hikers that complete the optional second half are rewarded with an amazing view from the top of Yosemite Falls.


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Four Mile Trail

  • Distance: 9.6 miles (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Very Challenging
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet
  • Time: 6-8 hours (round trip)

This trail runs alongside a historic toll road dating back to the 1870’s.  Although nicknamed the “Four Mile Trail,” hikers find it to be closer to 5 miles just one way, with the distance doubling if they return the same way.  This challenging hike is not for the faint of heart.  Although hikers experience wonderful views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome, the trail maintains a steep grade nearly the entire way, making it a true workout and challenge, even for experienced hikers. This hike technically ends at Glacier Point, but hikers who aren’t ready to end their day often continue on to one of the adjoining trail options such as the “Panorama Trail” or the “Happy Isles Trailhead.”


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North Grove Big Trees Trail

  • Distance: 1.5 miles (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Time: 1 hour

Located adjacent to Yosemite Park, California’s “Gold Country” is home to a rich assortment of historic wilderness, including the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. This nature reserve shelters two groves of giant Redwoods.  Legend states that a hunter named  Augustus T. Dowd chased a bear into the North Grove of these amazing giants.  He was so shocked by the giant trees that he carried news of his adventure back to his base camp.  The fame of these trees quickly spread.  The North Grove is more frequented by visitors; its hiking trail is gentle and easy for most to enjoy.  Hikers that wish to explore this park in more detail should continue their hike in the South grove, a more densely-wooded, scenic portion of the park with much less visitor traffic.


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Rae Lakes Loop

  • Distance: 41.4 miles (round trip)
  • Difficulty: Moderate to Challenging
  • Elevation Gain: 6,943 feet
  • Time: 3-6 days

A close rival to Yosemite, Kings Canyon National Park also offers an impressive array of untouched natural beauty.  This park is located within Gold Country and also includes its own grove of towering Redwoods, similar to that of the Calaveras Big Trees State Park. For hikers that wish to experience more than traditional day hikes, consider taking a backpacking adventure on the Rae Lakes Loop. Plan your adventure for summer or Autumn to ensure good camping and hiking conditions.  The popularity of this hike requires hikers to procure permits prior to beginning their trip.

This looping trail offers a complete look at the park’s natural ecology. Hikers will experience the dry desert-like beauty of the canyon walls and valleys but also enjoy the lush, green beauty of the woods and lake. One of the biggest highlights of the trail is Mist Falls, a beautiful waterfall that keeps the surrounding area shrouded in damp, cool mist.  Backpackers have several prepared locations for camping overnight.  Hikers that keep to the trails and reach these campsite check-points enjoy secure campgrounds and safe overnight stays.  Backpacking through the Rae Lakes Loop is the perfect Summer camping and hiking adventure.


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Although the Yosemite and the Gold Country region offer an endless array of camping and hike destinations, these 5 choices represent some of the best, most memorable outdoor adventures.  Whether scaling the rock face of the Half Dome Trail or spending the week on Rae Lakes Loop, begin planning the perfect hiking adventure today! The memories you create on one of these trails will last a lifetime!

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