Summary. Whether you are coming from abroad or within California or other States, the trip through the Valley, alone, is comparable to none. This UNESCO World Heritage site is home of spectacular rock formations and some of the best hiking in world. Be sure to also stop at the Visitor Center to see their great historical exhibits and videos of Yosemite's history. Yosemite, of course, is a hiker's dream. There are epic backpacking trips available and of course plenty of day hikes. We went to Yosemite while the kids were younger so our recommended hikes (see blog) are both under 8 miles each. Still though, they are challenging and do require some fitness. The Valley floor has plenty of easy trails for younger kids, including the popular 1 mile Lower Yosemite Falls trail. We have hiked Half Dome on previous, pre-kids trips to Yosemite, but since this website is dedicated to our family travels, those hikes are not included here. Yosemite is a popular hiking destination so there are plenty of resources available online.
Upper Yosemite Falls Hike. This is family friendly hike, though it is strenuous and more suited for the kids that like to hike. The total length is 7.7 miles, with a somewhat brutal first half consisting of switchbacks and a 3,200 feet elevation gain. We noticed kids as young as 7 and 8 making the trek, albeit slowly and with lots of rest breaks and water. The hike starts at the Yosemite Valley floor and depending on where you park, this stretch may add another few miles to your hike.
Sections of the hike are without shade and require climbing up boulders. As you make your way to the top, though, you are treated with some pretty spectacular views.
Photo below is of Yosemite Falls about mid-way through the climb.
Once at the top, we stopped and ate our picnic lunch in the shade and enjoyed the views of the Valley below. The hike down, except for a couple dicey boulder areas, is easy and a welcome break from the climb. As would be expected, coming down is much faster than coming up. While hiking times vary wildly, we would plan on this being at least a five hour excursion unless you are hiking without kids and can hike at a fast pace.
Vernal Falls Hike. From the closest available parking lot, this hike is more like 6 miles and not the posted 4 miles. It is difficult in some places but adventurous kids should be able to manage. The hike starts out at the Valley floor and takes you through meadows. Eventually, you set off on a regular trail that has approximately 1,200 feet in elevation gain. You can continue on via several difficult routes from here if you want to add more miles to your hike. We ended up turning around at the Falls because the trail was too slippery from the mist coming from the Falls. Even so, the hike was fun and a great family adventure.