Whether you want to plot a route from your campsite to the nearest hot shower, or take in the views from the meadows and bridges around the valley floor, the vaguely defined loop trails are an undeniably great way to get to know Yosemite Valley. Parts are wheelchair and stroller friendly, and they connect the valley’s most important historic and natural features.
In some places the trail joins the road and in others it peters out only to reappear later; it’s nearly impossible to get lost. For the ambitious, a well-marked path leads up and down the entire valley, but it’s easily broken into segments, making the journey manageable for just about any level of hiker.
You can walk a 2.6-mile loop around the eastern end of the valley by starting at Half Dome Village. From here, head east along the edge of the day-use parking area, with the tent cabins on your right. When you hit the shuttle road, turn right and follow the road into and through the trailhead parking area. Southeast of the parking lot, two trails lead to Happy Isles: one skirts the shuttle road, and another leads into the trees and across a delicate meadow area known as The Fen. After visiting the Happy Isles Art & Nature Center, cross the Merced River and follow the trail alongside the road, veering left when you can to stay along the banks of the river. Just before you reach the stables, head left (southwest) on the road across the river, past the entrances to Lower and Upper Pines Campgrounds. Then look for the sign pointing to Half Dome Village.
Further removed from the valley’s central commercial district, the 6.5-mile loop at the western end of the valley passes good swimming spots on the Merced and offers fabulous views of El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. The trail basically follows Northside and Southside Drs between the base of El Capitan and Pohono Bridge, the westernmost bridge over the Merced River.