Length: 28 miles one-way
Days on the Trail: 2 to 5
Sure, Yosemite is world-famous for its big-wall climbing scene, especially on the iconic granite faces of El Capitan and Half Dome. And the culture of climbing has become integrated into the fabric of the park itself. But this place is home to a lot more than extreme sports and hippies with haul bags.
Centered on the cliffs of the Yosemite Valley, the park also protects vast tracts of the moody and secluded Sierra. This backpacking trip begins at Tuolumne Meadows and climbs up onto the granite backbone of the range, stopping at lakes and wandering through giant stands of pine before heading back down to the iconic valley. The trail serves up some stunning views of Half Dome and at night hikers can even spot the tiny pinpricks of the headlamps of climbers camping in portaledges thousands of feet above the valley floor.
Dive Deeper: Spend a night at the Merced Lake High Sierra Camp, a historic institution on the blue waters of Lake Merced. This area was explored by wilderness sage John Muir, who said of the national parks: “Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity.”