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Options are virtually endless from waterfalls to mountain edges
Hikers pause at Tafts Point in Yosemite National Park. - photo by Photo Contributed

It attracts millions of visitors every year, has served as a muse to some of the world’s greatest artists and is known to inspire as much awe in the lifelong companion as it does in the first-time visitor.

Welcome to Yosemite National Park.

Whether it’s the waterfalls exploding over the horizon or the majestic cliffs set against a painted blue sky, Yosemite – and all of its world-class sights – offers its true beauty beyond the beaten path.

Granted, the roads that pass through Yosemite Valley will give you a chance to marvel at El Capitan – the largest free face granite monolith in the world – and stare up at the perfectly formed edge of Half Dome.

But wouldn’t you rather be a part of it?

Hikers from children through professional mountaineers will find something suitable for their tastes inside of the boundaries of one of America’s most popular National Parks.

Here are a few worth checking out:

• VERNAL FALL – This 3-mile roundtrip hike meanders up the famous “mist trail” which gets its name from the natural effect of wind blowing the water itpounds at the bottom of the rocks below. The hike itself begins at 4,000 feet, and over the course of 1.5 miles there is only 1,000 feet of elevation gain – making it popular with families who walk up to the bridge across the Merced River or points along the trail to take pictures.

• NEVADA FALL – If you continue up The Mist Trail, and onto The John Muir Trail, a series of switchbacks will eventually lead you up to a sweeping panoramic view of the valley below and reveal the first glimpse of the 594-foot Nevada Fall – one of the perks that those headed into the Yosemite backcountry get to enjoy. The Muir Trail approach offers a lazy pass, while a steep, rock-cliff ascent up the opposite side is there for those who crossed over at Vernal Fall.

• HALF DOME – Arguably the crown jewel of hiking in Yosemite, the hike up the back of Half Dome requires stamina, skill and the authorization of the National Park Service. After crowds were making conditions for the last leg of the 14-to17-mile round-trip hike (depends on Mist or Muir Trail route) unsafe – the infamous “cables” that lead hikers a 55-degree granite incline for more than 500 feet – those wishing to ascend now have to get a permit in order to legally do so. It’s still doable, but splitting the hike into two days – or longer – is advised for safety reasons.

• MIRROR LAKE LOOP – A two-mile round-trip walk from the paved trailhead brings you right to the edge of the lake that gets its name because of the reflections of the cliffs that surround it. A five-mile loop provides the opportunity for a serene afternoon and a chance for pristine wildlife viewing.

• ANYWHERE IN THE YOSEMITE BACKCOUNTRY – While wilderness permits are required for overnight stays, and documenting the trailhead where you’re starting from is necessary in case of emergency, the world – or in this case, the mountain – is at your fingertips. Grab a backpack and a buddy and go.

209 staff  reporter