Yosemite National Park
An UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yosemite National Park is home to granite domes, giant sequoia trees that can live to be more than 3,000 years old and 5 of the world's highest waterfalls. So many great sights to see also means this park is very popular, but I have a few hikes that can get you away from most of the crowds for some good old peace, quiet and beautiful scenery. Be warned though, you're going to have to work hard to complete one of them.
Half Dome: One of the hardest, longest hikes you'll ever love, this hike is 14 miles roundtrip and gains nearly 5,000 feet in elevation. You must be in good health and in good shape to be able to complete this full day adventure. The trail takes you up many steps and switchbacks, past Vernal Falls and then Nevada Falls. Not far from Nevada Falls, Merced River in Little Yosemite Valley is the last reliable water source before reaching Half Dome. Since this hike requires about 4 liters of water, I definitely recommend refilling at the river before heading up to Half Dome. After passing an area referred to as the Sub Dome, you'll reach the famous cables that lead up the side of Half Dome to the spectacular 360% views. It's at this point (the end of Sub Dome) where a permit is required and the National Park Service (NPS) gives them out via a lottery system. The NPS has an entire webpage that explains the process and when to apply, so I recommend giving it a good read HERE. If you're afraid of heights, this hike is probably not for you.
- Bring rubber dipped gloves and wear boots with good tread on the bottom. The gloves will help you hold onto the cables when you make your way up Half Dome and the boots are necessary for the slick granite rock.
- Start early in the morning when it's dark and be sure to bring a headlamp - this will be an ALL day hike. Starting early will also help you avoid part of the traffic jam along the cables (at least on your way up).
- Make sure you have enough water and food for the entire day. This is no joke - one Nalgene bottle will not be enough, so make sure you bring a water filter to fill up at Merced River along the way up the trail.
- Keep a good eye on the weather - it can change quickly at this location and can become very dangerous very fast. There is no coverage on the upper part of the trail and trying to go down the cables while its wet and lightning out is a death wish.
Cathedral Lakes: Most people only hike up to the first lake on this trail and totally miss out on the best part - Upper Cathedral Lake. It's only at this lake where you can truly see why these lakes were given their name - just take a look at the photo below and you'll see what I mean. The hike covers a total of 8 miles (roundtrip) with only 1,100 feet of elevation gain. You can find the trailhead for this hike along Tioga Road. When hiking up, you'll eventually reach a fork in the trail. Taking a left will bring you to Upper Cathedral Lake and taking a right will lead you to Lower Cathedral Lake. If you have the time, do both!
- Make sure you take food and anything with a scent out of your car and place them into the bear lockers at the trailhead. The last thing you want is a broken window and a bear in your car - it's happened to folks before.
- When you reach Upper Cathedral Lake, scramble up the rocks opposite Cathedral Peak for some great views.