Yosemite is beautiful all year long but if you are going to see the many waterfalls in the Valley, the best time to visit is Spring/Early Summer when the snow has had a chance to really melt. This year we visited in the early spring so the waterfalls, while still impressive, where not as massive as they will be later in the season. If it’s your first time you should definitely hit up the Visitor Center when you arrive in Yosemite. It has a lot of interactive information about the valley, it’s history and the animals and plants that live there. I like stopping at the visitor center for suggested hikes since there are so many options in the park. For this visit the Ranger suggested some easier hikes since we had the baby’s with us.
Lower Yosemite Falls is a paved, fairly flat hike that loops amongst some beautiful trees to the footbridge overlooking the falls back down to a meadow. It is a really easy 30 min hike great for kids and strollers.
We felt the mist coming off of the river while on the bridge so I would assume that during the summer when the falls are at full force you could expect to get a little wet while stopping for the view.
From the falls we crossed over to the Cook’s Meadow loop another easy paved, 30 min loop that takes you through the meadow and over the river with great views of Sentinel Rock and Half Dome.
Both of these hikes are great for all ages and all abilities. They are a great introduction to the valley with some absolutely breathtaking views. The trail heads are pretty close to the Visitor Center so you don’t need to use the shuttle service to get to them.
After the two loops we headed back to our cars for lunch. We had packed up a cooler with sandwiches, chips and cookies and had a makeshift picnic under some trees we had parked around. Then headed to the shuttle stop to go to Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake Trailhead is off of shuttle stop 17. The shuttles run in chronological order so we caught the shuttle at stop 1 by the parking, got off at stop 2, and transferred to 10 which is across the road to shorten our time on the shuttle.
The first mile of the trail is a paved service road that leads right up to the lake from there you can continue onto the loop trail which is a moderate dirt path that follows the river. Its a beautiful hike amongst the trees and gives you the unique opportunity to view Half Dome from its base.
Now, when you think of mirror lake I’m sure you picture this…
But again, we were there early in the season so what we found was this
Which made us all laugh and actually turned out to be really cool since we were able to walk out into what would be the middle of the lake and view the back of Half Dome while lounging on the sandy lake bed. Late Spring and early summer is the best time to view the lake at its fullest but the hike itself is truly worth it any time of year.
A few other hikes we’ve done in the past that I would highly suggest are Vernal Falls and Mist Trail. They would be a little more strenuous with kids than the ones we did today but the waterfalls are really amazing and worth the trek. Vernal Fall Footbridge- is 1 mile from the trailhead, where the Mist Trail crosses a footbridge from the north and south bank of the Merced River. The trail itself is paved with a moderate incline but the hike up hill is worth the view. At the footbridge you will get your first glimpse of Vernal Falls as well as views of the river. Here you will find bathrooms and potable water on the far side of the bridge. From the footbridge you can head back or continue along Mist Trail up the stone steps to get a closer view of Vernal and Nevada Falls.
Warning, it is all stairs and a steep incline from here so if hiking with little ones make sure to take your time. Also if the falls are at full force you will get wet from the spray which can be wonderful on a hot day, just wear cloths that will dry quickly. The hike will take anywhere from 2-5 hours depending on how far you go. (5 if you’re heading all the way to the top of Nevada Falls.) This is understandably one of Yosemite’s most popular trails so head there around 7am to avoid crowds.
No matter where you hike in the Valley you will find absolutely breathtaking views. Remember to pack snacks and water and take your time with the kids and you’re sure to have an amazing visit.