Trail running in Yosemite national park
Trail running junkie David Byrne tells us why Yosemite National Park is a trail runner’s dream: from epic scenery, with towering mountains and cascading waterfalls, to forests of Giant Sequoias and wildlife that can kill you…
Ok, maybe not so much the killer wildlife part, that said, wild bears do get the adrenaline pumping! Most folks visit Yosemite National Park to camp, climb the famous walls of Half Dome and El Capitan, or to enjoy the many day hikes. However, being a runner I couldn’t help myself but plan my entire trip around tackling as many of the trails as possible. The hardest part was choosing which ones to do!
DAY #1- LOCAL TRAILS
The first day was all about settling in and ticking off some of the most famous local trails like Glacier and Taft Point and Sentinel Dome before heading to the valley floor. I was staying in a cabin at Yosemite West, a small residential spot inside the edge of the park. It’s a short drive away from the tourist hub, which actually proved a blessing because it can get pretty hectic in The Valley. The ‘town centre’ is located in The Valley and essentially it’s the only hub within the park where you can stay at a resort (bookings are really hard to get), buy food supplies and get tourist information. It’s crazy busy with day-trippers so my top tip would be to arrive early in the morning to hit the trails.
DAY #2 – THE MIST TRAIL
Day two was when the fun really began. The Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls was the first mission and boy was it spectacular! It’s one of the most popular hikes in the park, mainly the first part to the top of Vernal Falls. The are incredible views of the huge waterfalls to be enjoyed but it’s a lung-buster of a hike, thanks to the steep terrain and countless stairs! You can link it up with other trails to make a it a day trip, or do a return trip which takes about 2 hours in total (factoring in time to take photos along the way). If hiking the trail at a casual pace, then you should plan for about double that time (4 hours).
After the Mist Trail I took a loop around the valley floor to check out the meadows and waterfalls. There are free tourist buses that shuttle people around so I took advantage of these to get to a few of the vantage points.
DAY #3 – ‘THE LONG MARCH’
Day three was dubbed ‘The long march’. It started with the haul up the escarpment to the top of Yosemite Falls, which included about 800m of vertical gain in 6km. The falls are the tallest in North America and from the top you have epic views of The Valley and Half Dome. From here, I continued across the mountaintop to North Dome. It’s a relatively unchallenging section of trail, however, can be sun exposed and very hot in parts.
At the end you’re rewarded with what’s said to be the best view of Half Dome you can get. It’s a remarkable vantage point and the perfect spot to stop for a while, get some fuel (maybe a Chief Bar), drink some water and take a few photos before continuing onwards.
Next stop was Indian Rock before connecting up with the Snow Creek Trail and heading down the steep descent to the valley floor. This final section was another highlight as it provided another perspective of the various dramatic mountain formations that the park is famous for. What made it even sweeter was the late afternoon light.
The loop was about 40km in total with around 1,500m vertical gain and descent. It’s not a huge an amount of climbing, but it comes with a lot of stairs, exposure to the sun and the possibility of bear sightings! I actually saw a cub during the day as well as several deer and marmot plus, of course, the ever-present squirrels! There were plenty of natural water sources to fill the bottles but the only bathroom facilities, other than those at the trail heads, were provided by Mother Nature. The best thing about the experience of day three was that it meant I left the crowds behind. I saw only a couple of folks the entire day and when I finally did get back to civilisation down in The Valley, it was timed perfectly for a couple of cold beers while watching the sunset and resting the pins in the river.
You don't have to go as far as Yosemite to enjoy a scenic trail run! Why not start closer to home and try one of Australia's top 3 trail runs?