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Easy day hikes, children’s programs make Yosemite a popular destination for fall

By Heide Brandes

The hike up the Sentinel Dome in the Yosemite National Park seemed impossible from a distance.

The huge rounded dome of limestone jutted up from the trail like an intimidating monolith, and as we hiked past the conifer trees that smelled like vanilla, we wondered how on earth anyone would be able to scale that giant, round rock face to get to the top.

Of course, passing elderly hikers who raved about the view from the top of Sentinel Dome not only proved that it could be done, but that if older visitors with canes could do it, anyone could.

Luckily, the backside of Sentinel Dome isn’t as sheer as the side viewed from the trail, and after scrambling up the structure, you stand frozen in awe.

You are on top of the world. The top of Sentinel is a 360 degree view of the great Sierra Nevada Mountain range with some of Yosemite’s most recognizable mountains on one side and an endless, craggy and foggy mountain tops going on for what seems forever on the other.

The great Yosemite Falls is a tiny ribbon of white from this view. El Capitan and Half Dome still reign as the kings of the Yosemite Valley, but from as high up as we were, the green, gray and purples of California’s Yosemite National Park were laid before us like blanket.

Yosemite National Park, located in eastern California, is one of the most impressive wilderness areas in the world – and the most popular.

First protected in 1864, Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, but within its nearly 1,200 square miles, you can find deep valleys, grand meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area and much more.

Yosemite gets 2.5 to 3 million visitors a year and is considered an ultimate family experience.

The summer is the peak season for Yosemite, and the crowds can be overwhelming. However, early fall presents a perfect time to explore on of America’s treasures – and you might even be able to get a reservation at the Yosemite Valley campgrounds.

Yosemite offers an adventure for everyone – You can go rafting, hiking, backpacking, horseback riding, bicycling, swimming, fishing, climbing, exploring, downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, ice skating, camping, picnicking, engage in photography, art, astronomy and nature studies.

I was only in Yosemite for two days, and that wasn’t nearly enough time to explore the 1,200 miles of mountains, valleys, lakes or cliffs. So, for those with only a few days to spare, here are the best day hikes in Yosemite that give you a taste of the waterfalls, vast meadows, breathtaking vistas and more.


If you do only one hike at Yosemite, this is the one to do. The Lower Yosemite Falls trail runs from the Yosemite Visitors Center along a well-paved path to the base of one of America’s tallest and most magnificent waterfalls. This waterfall is a total of 2,425 feet from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall, making it the sixth highest waterfall in the world.

The Lower Yosemite Fall is the final 320-foot drop of this. The sound of roaring, falling water is deafening in the spring and early summer when the snows create astonishing melts, but this short, easy walk leads to one of the most spectacular views of the park.

Though fall is a wonderful time to explore Yosemite National Park, this waterfall is often dry from late from August through October, but still worth the hike.

When visitors drive into Yosemite Valley, the spraying, ethereal Bridalveil Falls is often the first waterfall they see. This 620-foot waterfall is famous for its swaying and light flow, and the trail to its base is short, but very steep.

The trail runs from the parking area to the base of this waterfall, which is open year-round. When the water is at its peak in spring and early summer, you can expect to get wet, but it gets very icy and very slick in winter.

If you love waterfall views, this is a great little hike – stay off the boulders at the base of the fall, because they are incredibly slick all year round.

This longer day hike trail is one of the most popular hikes of Yosemite, and it’s easy to see why.

Hikers are treated to a vast view of Yosemite Valley on this trail, which climbs from the valley floor near the Swinging Bridge to the south valley rim at Glacier Point. Hikers pass all the landmarks that Yosemite Valley’s famous for.

From Swinging Bridge, travel a mile or so in to see Yosemite Falls in its all its magnificence. The trail also gifts hikers with little-known views of Cathedral Rocks and El Capitan. From there, the path heads righty under Sentinel Rock up to the remarkable views of Tenaya Canyon to Half Dome, Clouds Rest, North Dome and the Royal Arches

The trail to the base of Sentinel Dome is a somewhat easy 1.1-mile hike that begins at the same trailhead as the Taft Point trailhead. These trailheads are located 6 miles from Bridalveil Creek in Yosemite Valley on the Glacier Point road.

Once you reach the base, you can hike the less-intimidating northeast granite slope to the summit. Spend an hour on the summit enjoying the view of the stunning surroundings, gaze upon the skeletal remains of the famous Joshua Tree that was killed by lightning and face the wind.

Watch out for the ground squirrels though – they’ll sneak right up to you to snatch a bit of lunch if you aren’t watching.

If your idea of heaven is a pleasant valley full of shining lakes and rainbow wildflowers, this is the hike for you.

It’s an easy hike on a paved service road for the first miles that leads directly to Mirror Lake. For those who want to experience more of the magic, access a loop trail at this point that runs along a gurgling creek past the lake and crosses two bridges.

The trail then passes the Snow Creek Trail junction before returning to Mirror Lake. The lake is at its fullest during spring and early summer, but the lake reflects the surrounding mountains and cliffs in its surface.

In the summer, the lake dries up and is given the nickname “Mirror Meadow” due to the waving grasses that grow in the lake bed.
Still, it’s an easy, lovely little hike.

Yosemite National Park offers numerous programs for kids and families, from night tours to nature study.

Programs for Families in Yosemite National Park include storybook hours that include stories about the plants, animals and people of Yosemite; a fireside storytelling time and a Night Prowl, where kids can explore Yosemite under the night sky on a guided nocturnal adventure.

The Great Yosemite Family Adventure brings families to Yosemite Valley on a guided treasure hunt with GPS units through September. The award winning Junior Rangers Programs, one of Yosemite’s top kids’ attractions, allows kids ages 3 to 13 to explore the park and earn the badge of honorary park ranger.

Another fun attraction for children is Ranger Ned’s Big Adventure, an interactive and educational children’s play by The Traveling Lantern Theatre Company at the Curry Village Amphitheater through September. 1

For the dreamers in the family, the Starry Skies over Yosemite / Wawona event allows kids and their family to take a cosmic journey under the stars in Yosemite Valley or the Wawona Hotel.

For more information on Yosemite National Park or the children’s programs, visit http://www.yosemitepark.com/

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