Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (2023)

Mount Watkins Hike: A Guide To The Best Trail in Yosemite National Park- The Mt. Watkins Hike is one of the must do hikes if visiting Yosemite National Park in California. This hike is great for any type of hiker looking for the best views of the Yosemite Valley. The Mount Watkins hike can be easy, family friendly, and a great alternative to some of the more difficult hikes in the park. This article will give you all the information you need to complete the mt. Watkins Hike, where to stay, how hard, how long, tips, tricks and much more.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (1)


Length: 6 -7 miles miles (9-11 kilometers) round trip

Time: 3-4 hours

Difficulty: Moderate

Elevation Gain: 1,200 feet (366 meters)

Trailhead: Small parking lot near Olmstead Point


When To Go

Where To Stay

How Hard Is The Hike?

The Route

Other Options to Hike to Mount Watkins

Tips For The Hike

What To Bring

Other Hikes In The Area That You Might Like

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

When To Go

The best time to go on Mt. Watkins hike is June through October. We went at the very end of September and a few weeks later there was a snowstorm that closed Tioga Road.

Tioga road can get snow before the valley and can close to visitors before the Yosemite Valley does.

Going in the shoulder seasons provides cooler weather and less crowds but you will need to keep an eye on storms.

Thunderstorms are another event you might want to avoid. There are not many areas for coverage as a lot of it is granite stone along the trail.

Where To Stay

We booked this trip just a few months out and had a hard time finding affordable accommodations. We ended up in Mariposa, California. We enjoyed our time there and there were many options for restaurants. It was about a 1 hour drive to the Yosemite National Park entrance and about 2 hours to the Parking Lot.

We stayed at the Gateway to Yosemite AirBnB.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (2)

How Hard Is The Hike?

I did not find this hike to be difficult. Yosemite has a lot of high incline and decline hikes. The Mount Watkins Hike was pretty smooth. I found it very enjoyable and brought us to some of the best views of our trip to Yosemite National Park. Make sure you check out what we brought, and tips for the hike below. The end has an option hike out to see the Valley closer, I highly recommend this. If you have a fear of heights you can still walk out farther and stop when you are uncomfortable. But it is a very wide area to stop and rest at.

How To Get There

To get to the trailhead you will need to go on Tiago Road. This road is above the Yosemite Valley and typically takes longer from the main entrances to get to.

We used the Yosemite Valley Central Entrance since we were coming from Mariposa, CA. From the entrance it took us about another 1 hour and 10 minutes to get to the trailhead. So make sure you plan for that extra time.

From the West Entrance it may take 1 hour and 40 minutes.

From the East Entrance it may take only 25 minutes.

You will need to get a National Park entrance pass or use an America the Beautiful Park Pass for this hike as it is in park grounds.

When we went in the Fall of 2021 they were still using the reservation system during the busy season. They ended reservations in October and used them again in the winter for the famous Horsetrail Fall glow.

I would believe that they would continue to use the reservation system in the high season, check their website to see if you need one.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (3)

The Route


When we went on this trail in the Fall of 2021, there were a few parking spots at this parking lot. And a few spots across the road. We went early in the morning and there was only one other car in the parking area.

Some people even hike this from Olmsted Point.

There are no restrooms located at this trailhead or along the hike. There are bear bears located at the trailhead though.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (4)


The beginning of the trail was a little confusing for us as there was some construction going on when we went. We started at the sign stating ‘Yosemite Valley 8.7 miles’. The best way to stay on the correct trail is to look for the license plate marks on the trees.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (5)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (6)

From the small parking lot facing the Yosemite Valley you will immediately head right up a small hill. Then it will turn towards the left towards the Valley.

The trail dips into pine trees and has some open areas of sun exposure to make sure you wear plenty of sunscreen.

The trail is a pretty easy trail to hike, there are not too many big elevation climbs or descents. It is well maintained and easy to follow once you are on it. I thoroughly enjoyed this hike ion the brisk morning.

We only saw a handful of people on this trial the entire time.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (7)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (8)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (9)

Mount Watkins Peak

You will actually reach the peak of Mount Watkins soon out of the woods, but I would recommend walking the extra half mile to see the best views of this hike, the Yosemite Valley below.

Once through the trees you will have a slight incline and it will open up to the Yosemite Valley. You will be able to see Cloud’s Rest on your left. And as you walk further you will see Half Dome on your left after Cloud’s Rest.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (10)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (11)

Hike Extension

As you walk closer to Half Dome the Yosemite Valley will come into view. We could point out some places we went the days before, Sentinel Dome, Washburn Point, Taft’s Point and more.

This is a great place to eat lunch, take some photos and rest your feet before heading back.

Once ready you can take the same trail back to your car.

This hike is truly a great hike for any novice hiker.

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (12)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (13)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (14)

Other Options to Hike to Cloud’s Rest

A Through Hike

You can actually hike from Mt. Watkins down to the Yosemite Valley Floor, or vice versa. Which would be a steep 2,500 vertical full of switchbacks and is very exposed. You can read on Summit Post for more about hiking to Mount Watkins from the Yosemite Valley floor

Split it into a Two Day Hike

We saw a few people setting up camp along the hike. It would be awesome to spend the night here checking on the dark sky and stars at night.

Tips For The Hike

Leave No Trace

Make sure you practice Leave No Trace 7 principles to leave minimal impact on the trails.

Be Bear Aware

Make sure you are Bear Aware while in any part in Yosemite. We did not carry bear spray while on any hikes in Yosemite. We did not see any moose or bear along these hikes. Stay alert, make noise, and seal food in containers. I also used a bear bell since we are usually pretty quiet hikers.

Watch For Weather

There is not much storm coverage at the top of this trail. Make sure you keep in eye on the weather before heading out on any of these hikes.

Go Early

Going early will help you beat the crowds and the heat. And maybe even give you a better chance at seeing some wildlife if you are interested in that. Going early also helps you secure a parking space as well.

What To Bring

Water– we each carried 2 liters of water in our hydration bladders with an additional collapsible water bottle on most longer hikes.

Hiking Polesmy husband never used hiking poles but I find them very valuable to me knees for those uphills and downhills at the beginning of the high elevation hikes.

LayersYou never know what the weather and high elevation hikes may bring you. Dress in thin layers and make sure you bring a raincoat as well.

Sunscreen– Sunscreen is essential, being on the rock face with not much shade can be a bad combo on a sunny day.

Bear Spray– We did not bring any during this trip but some people like to, and I had attached a bear bell on to my backpack.

Bug Spray– Although we didn’t seem to get bitten by bugs much during this time of year it is always smart to carry some with you.

Hiking ShoesGood sturdy hiking shoes are a must. I love my Ahnu’s.

Snacks/Food– This is a long hike, we packed many snacks such as granola bars, jerky sticks, fruits strips and more. We also packed a sandwich to eat at the top.

Sunglasses/Hat– Again it is very bright at the top of some wide open areas. I would pack sunglasses and maybe even a hat if you are sensitive to the sun.

Other Hikes In The Area That You Might Like

Cloud’s Rest Hike– One of the more difficult hikes in Yosemite, but some of the best views. If looking for a more difficult, all day trek check out Cloud’s Rest. This is a great alternative if you were not able to hike Half Dome.

Other Articles You May Be Interested In

One Week Out West: Exploring Utah National Parks

10 Days in Washington State: A National Park Guide

1 Week in Colorado: A Guide To The Best Hikes

The Cloud’s Rest Hike in Yosemite National Park

Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (15)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (16)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (17)
Mount Watkins Hike in Yosemite National Park: A Complete Guide - aliciamarietravels (18)

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What is the biggest hike at Yosemite? ›

Top Peak-Bagging Hikes in Yosemite
Mount DanaStrenuous7
North DomeStrenuous8.8
Mount ConnessStrenuous13.4
Clouds Rest & Half DomeStrenuous23
2 more rows
Jan 9, 2020

How do I prepare for Yosemite hike? ›

What to Bring
  1. Map & compass.
  2. Trash bag.
  3. Sunglasses and sunscreen.
  4. Food and water.
  5. Storm gear.
  6. Headlamp/flashlight (with extra batteries)
  7. First-aid kit.
  8. Fire starter.
Sep 25, 2019

Is hiking in Yosemite hard? ›

The hardest hikes in Yosemite Valley are, on average, more difficult that the hardest hikes in other National Parks. Owing largely to the elevation change, the giant, sheer granite walls, and fast changing weather patterns, hiking in Yosemite is a challenging affair.

What is the hardest day hike in Yosemite? ›

One more thing to keep in mind: Half Dome is probably Yosemite's most strenuous day hike, and although camping in Little Yosemite Valley allows you to spread it over multiple days, it also means you'll have to do all but the section from LYV to the top of Half Dome while packing a tent, sleeping bag, and other creature ...

Which two trails in Yosemite are most popular? ›

The two most popular trails have to be the Yosemite Falls Trail — to the tallest falls in North America — and the Mist Trail, whether you turn around at the footbridge at Vernal Fall or carve out hours to do the full route to the top of Nevada Fall.

What is the best month to hike Yosemite? ›

May through September is the most popular time in Yosemite

These months correspond with the best weather and are also when all the roads, trails, lodging, shuttles and attractions in the park are open. That includes its most famous drive, Tioga Rd, a 64-mile-long scenic byway that closes when the snow begins to fall.

Are there beginner climbs at Yosemite? ›

Like YMS, SYMG's guides are top-notch and have climbing options for beginners and experts alike. Whether you are excited to try something new in a beautiful setting or looking to challenge yourself on Yosemite's legendary rock climbs, you'll love your experience in Yosemite.

How much water do I need to take on Yosemite hike? ›

Water. Drinking water is not available along the trail. A drinking fountain is available near the trailhead in Camp 4. Bring 4 quarts/liters of water if hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls.

Is it safe to hike with food in Yosemite? ›

Hanging food is illegal throughout Yosemite. Certain bear-resistant portable containers designed for backpackers to store food are allowed for use in Yosemite (however, only the Garcia Backpackers' Cache 812 is available for rental in Yosemite). Find out where to rent and return a bear canister.

What is the most famous trail in Yosemite? ›

1. Half Dome via the Mist Trail. If there's one hike to do before you die, Half Dome is it. Not only is it one of the most photographed natural wonders in the world, but the journey to its summit (8,842 feet) goes by several Yosemite Top 10 destinations, too.

Do you need bear spray in Yosemite? ›

(Bear spray/pepper spray is not allowed in Yosemite.) If you have food out and are having trouble scaring the bear away, pack up all your food and leave the area. Throwing food at the bear or leaving food behind will only encourage its behavior and likely result in the bear's death.

Are there bears in Yosemite? ›

American black bears found in Yosemite National Park have long been of intense interest to park visitors and managers. Seeing one of the approximately 300 to 500 black bears in Yosemite can evoke excitement, awe, and fear. If visitors spot a bear while in the park, it is a black bear-not a brown or grizzly bear.

How many hikers have gone missing in Yosemite? ›

These 13 people went missing in Yosemite National Park and haven't been seen again. Joel Thomazin, 31, of Denair in Stanislaus County was last seen on Sept. 6, 2021. With more than 750 miles of trails, Yosemite National Park is a vast, unspoiled wilderness, making it a hiker's dream.

What are the least crowded days at Yosemite? ›

Weekdays (Monday-Thursday) are historically least crowded during the summer season in June, July, and August. Weekends attract more tourists and vacationers.

What time of day is Yosemite least crowded? ›

Wake up Early

Sunrise is an incredible experience in Yosemite. But most visitors, snug in their hotel rooms or tents, sleep right through it. Wake up early and you'll avoid the crowds, even at the most popular sights.

What is the most scenic view in Yosemite? ›

Glacier Point, some would say, is the most spectacular viewpoint anywhere. Most people agree that its views of the high country and breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and three waterfalls, are the most spectacular in the park.

What is Yosemite most photographed spot? ›

Tunnel View is the most popular viewpoint in Yosemite National Park. From here, you have an iconic view of El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and the entire valley. The Tunnel View vantage point is only steps away from the parking lot, just before the Wawona Tunnel.

Which entrance to Yosemite is most popular? ›

Located just off Highway 20, the Big Oak Flat entrance is one of the busiest and most popular entrances to Yosemite National Park. This is the entrance to use if you're coming from the west but are trying to get to the Tioga Road entrance.

What month is best for waterfalls Yosemite? ›

Yosemite is home to countless waterfalls. The best time to see waterfalls is during spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs. Peak runoff typically occurs in May or June, with some waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) often only a trickle or completely dry by August.

What is the least crowded month at Yosemite? ›

The Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park for Avoiding the Crowds. The park is open year-round, but nearly 75% of visitors come from May to October, ensuring a wonderfully quiet and crowd-free park from November through April.

What is the best day of the week to go to Yosemite? ›

This popular park will be busy, but a Monday-Friday trip will see a slight dip in attendance levels. Arrive Early: Plan on starting and arrive prior to 9 a.m., even better before 8 a.m., you will see the lowest crowds, and snag the best parking opportunities which will give you more time to explore.

What is the easiest waterfall trail in Yosemite? ›

At 620 feet, Bridalveil Fall is often the first waterfall visitors see when entering Yosemite Valley. As one of the easier hikes in the Valley, Bridalveil Fall is the perfect attraction for visitors looking for minimal effort in return for maximum views.

What is a good snack for Yosemite? ›

Beef jerky, trail mix, granola bars, and dried fruit all make great trail snacks. Depending on the length of your hike, you might pack a whole lunch, just be aware of the temperatures. If you plan on packing sandwiches, you could use hummus or mustard instead of mayonnaise.

What shoes are good for Yosemite? ›

Footwear: While heavy hiking boots may be preferred by some, light hiking shoes like trail runners also work well for the terrain in Yosemite. (A simple shoe like the La Sportiva Bushido II Trail Running Shoe works great.)

Do you need hiking shoes in Yosemite? ›

Waterproof hiking shoes and boots are necessary for hikes during spring and winter when trails are wet and snowy. All Season Hiking Clothes: Dressing in layers is always suggested when planning an outing in Yosemite.

Do you need mosquito repellent in Yosemite? ›

Avoid contact with mosquitoes and ticks.

Many mosquitoes are most active at dusk and dawn, mainly during the summer. Be sure to use insect repellent and wear long sleeves and pants or consider staying indoors during these hours.

Are mosquitoes bad in Yosemite? ›

If there is any standing water, mosquitos will breed. In the high country, July can be pretty bad but most are gone in the heat of August. Lower water levels in September mean no mosquitos, but this also means some falls are dried up completely.

Should you bring snacks on a hike? ›

Hiking burns a lot of calories, so it's important to pack the right kind of snacks to keep your energy up on the trail.

Can a beginner hike El Capitan? ›

For the easiest access to El Capitan, it is recommended that hikers take the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This can be accessed by parking at Camp 4. In some months, advanced registration is required.

What is one of the toughest hike? ›

Everest Base Camp (EBC)

The Everest Base Camp Trek in the Himalayas in Nepal is one of the most famous and also, the hardest hikes in the world.

Is Yosemite the prettiest National Park? ›

Without a doubt, Yosemite is one of the best national parks in the USA to visit. With its iconic landmarks such as Half Dome and El Capitan, its beautiful valley, and long list of hiking trails, this is a park that should go at the top of your list.

What is the famous half one in Yosemite? ›

Half Dome is one of the most well-known rocks in Yosemite, perhaps even in the entire United States. Its sheer face gives it the appearance of being a large rock that's been cut in half – hence the name Half Dome.

What is the most famous thing about Yosemite? ›

Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, towering granite monoliths, deep valleys and ancient giant sequoias. On October 1, 1890, Yosemite became a national park, and more than 125 years later, it's still wowing visitors.

What is the world famous peak in Yosemite National Park? ›

Mt. Lyell. Located on the southeast boundary of Yosemite National Park, Mt. Lyell is the tallest peak in the Park (and all of Tuolumne County) at over at 13,100 feet.

What are the best and worst months to visit Yosemite? ›

The best times to visit Yosemite are May and September, when the park is accessible, but not too crowded. It's important to know that many roads and trails in Yosemite are closed for the majority of the year due to snow.

What is the controversy with Yosemite National Park? ›

Current threats to the integrity of the Yosemite National Park World Heritage site include over-development, unregulated day use, air pollution, invasive species and altered fire regimes.

What is the dilemma with Yosemite National Park? ›

One of the major problems caused by overcrowding in Yosemite National Park is the degradation of the natural ecology, which threatens the safety of both the environment and its visitors. Trampled vegetation severs the habitats of native plant and animal species.

What is the biggest fall in Yosemite? ›

Yosemite Falls, one of the world's tallest, is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet).

What is the most massive tree in Yosemite? ›

The Columbia tree: The tallest tree in the grove and in Yosemite National Park at 286 feet (87 m).

What is the biggest rock face in Yosemite? ›

El Capitan (Spanish: El Capitán; "the Captain" or "the Chief") is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park, on the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. The granite monolith is about 3,000 feet (914 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is a popular objective for rock climbers.

What is the best month to see Yosemite Falls? ›

Generally, the waterfalls in Yosemite are most spectacular in the spring when the snow melts and the water flow is at its peak. The peak flow of waterfalls typically occurs in May and June, but this can vary depending on the year's snowpack and weather conditions.

Did a 21 year old climber fall in Yosemite? ›

Anna Parsons was on the trip of a lifetime with climbing friend Jack Evans when she fell 80 feet at Yosemite National Park on 1 August. The 21-year-old broke her neck, spine, pelvis, ribs and feet. Her left foot was beyond repair and was amputated shortly after the accident.

What is the best fall color in Yosemite? ›

In general, look for mostly golden yellows to dark orange/brown on the black oaks; reds, pinks and yellow on the dogwoods; brilliant yellow on the black cottonwood; and reds, oranges and yellows on shrubs and low-growing herbaceous plants.

What is the most photographed tree in Yosemite? ›

The Grizzly Giant is the most renowned giant sequoia in Yosemite National Park. Standing at a solid 209 feet (63.7 m) it is the second largest tree in the Yosemite, and one of the most photographed.

Are there giant redwoods in Yosemite? ›

Yosemite is home to the world's most massive tree species, the giant sequoia, which is sometimes (and increasingly rarely) called the “Sierra redwood.” (You may also know it simply as the "bigtree.") The largest sequoias—which are found south of Yosemite in and around Kings Canyon and Sequoia national parks—may grow ...

What is the oldest tree at Yosemite? ›

The oldest Yosemite giant sequoia may exceed 3,000 years in age! Among the most popular specimens in the grove is the Fallen Monarch which is made famous for an 1899 photograph of U.S. Cavalry officers on their horses up on top.

Did a huge rock fall on El Capitan? ›

British artist, painter and sculpter Alex J Wood (@al3xjw on Twitter) happened to have his camera in hand as an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 cubic yards (764 to 1,528 cubic meters) of rock came crashing down from iconic El Capitan in Yosemite National Park in California. It happened on February 20, 2023.

Where is Spider Cave in Yosemite? ›

Spider Cave

Some of the most cherished but hidden caves in Yosemite Valley are the Spider Caves. They're found off the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail and feature stunning formations and intricate pathways.

Are there feral people in national parks? ›

Despite the viral videos you may see circulating the internet, there's no evidence of feral people in national parks.

How many people go missing a year in Yosemite? ›

Hundreds of people go missing at national parks across the United States every year. Some of these disappearances are never solved. Yosemite National Park holds the notorious position as the national park with the third most missing persons per year (233). Lake Mead National Recreation Area wins the top spot with 563.

Was Sandra Hughes ever found? ›

At this time, the disappearance of Sandra Hughes remains a mystery that will not be forgotten.

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