One of the most loved (and most visited) national parks in the USA, Yosemite National Park offers visitors unlimited outdoor adventures. From rafting the Merced River to conquering the cables of Half Dome, there is truly something for everyone.

This guide covers eight of the best outdoor adventures in Yosemite, with something for all ages and fitness levels. Most of these activities are best experienced during late spring or summer when the weather is warm, and rainfall is minimal.  While some activities require permits (and therefore advance planning), others don’t and are completely free.

If you’re in need of Yosemite accommodation, this Yosemite Lodging Guide and this Yosemite Cabins Round-Up are great places to start.

Time to add to your Yosemite outdoor adventure bucket list.

1. Climb Half Dome

Half Dome - Yosemite National Park

The crown jewel of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, is a massive granite dome at the valley’s eastern end. The Half Dome trail reaches an elevation of 4,800 feet (1,460 km), after which hikers must use steel cables to reach the summit. 

You can expect exquisite views of Liberty Cap, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls from the top. The best time to climb Half Dome is from the end of May through the middle of October when the cables are up and the weather is warm and sunny.

Need to Know

Length: 17 miles / 27.3 km
Time: 10 – 12 hrs
Elevation: 8,842 ft / 2,695 m
Style: Return
Further Info: A permit is required to hike Half Dome, distributed via a highly competitive lottery system. Hikers can apply via the preseason lottery (which typically runs through March) or a daily lottery that runs two days before your intended hike date. To learn more about climbing Half Dome, visit the NPS website.

2. Spot Climbers on El Capitan

El Capitan - Yosemite National Park

El Capitan is an iconic vertical rock formation that looms over the north side of Yosemite Valley, near its western end. Standing more than 3,000 feet above the valley floor, it is one of the main attractions in the park and one of the world’s ultimate challenges for rock climbers. As a result, spotting climbers ascend the wall has become an outdoor activity all on its own. The best place to view climbers is from El Cap Meadow, though binoculars are recommended due to El Cap’s massive scale. 

Need to Know

Interesting Fact:  Alex Honnold was the first to complete a free solo (no ropes or harnesses!) ascent of El Capitan in 3 hours and 56 minutes. The award-winning film Free Solo captures his jaw-dropping feat.
Further Information:  Climbers can be spotted on El Capitan year-round, though “big wall climbing season” runs from May to September when temperatures are relatively mild and rainfall is minimal.

3. Hike to the Top of Yosemite Falls

Hike Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls Trail is the oldest historic trail in Yosemite and leads to Upper Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park. The waterfall is a magnificent attraction in late spring when the water flow is at its peak.

From the top of the trail, you can extend your hike east to Yosemite Point, which offers stunning views of Half Dome and Lost Arrow Spire. Alternatively, head west towards Eagle Peak to reach the highest point on the north rim of Yosemite Valley.

Need to Know

Length: 7.6 miles / 12 km
Time: 6 – 8 hrs
Grade: Strenuous
Style: Return
Access Point: Camp 4
Further Info:
No permit is required for this epic Yosemite outdoor adventure.

4. Try Your Hand at Rock Climbing El Capitan

El Capitan Rock Climbing - Yosemite National Park

An excellent Yosemite outdoor adventure for those wanting to get up close to El Capitan, Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service is the only company authorized to lead and teach climbing in Yosemite Valley. Guided tours are presented as private lessons by a professional guide who will show you Yosemite-specific climbing techniques.

Need to Know

Meeting Point:  Curry Village, Yosemite Valley
Duration:  Guided Rock Climbing – ¾ day (6 hours) / Full day (8 hours).
Equipment Rental: The Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service rents equipment on a first-come, first-served basis, and all levels are welcome.

5. Get Wet on the Mist Trail

Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Mist Trail

While many Yosemite trails have a single spectacular destination, the Mist Trail has stunning views throughout its entire length with numerous turnaround points, making it a great outdoor adventure in Yosemite for all types of travellers. 

Vernal Fall is seen from the footbridge, just 0.75 miles (1.3 km) from the trailhead. However, if you continue your hike, the Mist Trail and John Muir Trail (JMT) diverge, leading to the top of Vernal and Nevada Falls. You can also combine the Mist Trail with a section of the John Muir Trail to create a strenuous yet rewarding loop hike. To proceed directly to the top of Vernal Fall, follow the Mist Trail 0.5 miles (0.8 km) up a steep granite stairway of over 600 steps and get misted by the falls along the way.

Need to Know

Length: 3 miles / 4.8 km (round trip to Vernal Fall) or  7 miles / 11 km (round trip to Nevada Falls)
Time: 2 – 5 hrs
Grade: Moderate to Strenuous
Style: Return or Partial Circuit
Access Point: Happy Isles, shuttle stop No. 16
Further Info:
Prepare for slippery footing and a tremendous amount of water spray in spring and early summer. The trail is usually accessible throughout the fall season. Vernal Fall Mist Trail is closed in winter, but access is available via the John Muir Trail. 

6. Skydive Over Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley - Yosemite National Park

For an eagle-eye view of Yosemite Valley and Yosemite National Park, book a skydiving experience with Skydive Yosemite. Skydive Yosemite offers a jump over the valley from 14,000 feet that promises nearly 60 seconds of freefall. Before the jump, the pilot flies a loop over Yosemite Valley, which offers a magnificent perspective of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite National Park.

Need to Know

Age Restriction: You must be 18 years or older on the day of your jump and bring a valid ID with you.
Equipment / Clothing: Skydive Yosemite provides all necessary equipment. It is advisable to wear comfortable, loose-fitting clothes and athletic shoes. 
Cost: USD $299 (as of 2023), plus options to add photos and video.

7. Raft Down the Merced River

Merced River Rafting - Yosemite National Park

After a day of adventuring around Yosemite Valley, treat yourself to an afternoon rafting down the Merced River. You’ll have fun cooling off and get the chance to take in some alternative views of the valley. The Yosemite rafting season varies annually depending on annual snowpack and rainfall. With a good snowpack year, the season can last anywhere from the middle of July to the end of August.

Need to Know

Cost: $30.50 per person (as of 2023) – for adults and children.
Ticket Purchase: Visitors can book a four-person raft at the Curry Village Tour and Activities Kiosk.
Safety Information: Each raft requires two capable paddlers, including at least one adult. Children under 50 pounds (22 kg) are not permitted in rental rafts.

8. Feel Small Amongst Giants

Mariposa Giant Sequoias - Yosemite National Park

Located on the southern section of Yosemite National Park, you’ll find the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the largest sequoia grove in Yosemite and home to over 500 mature giant sequoias. Mariposa Grove is a national landmark protected by federal legislation signed by Former US President Lincoln in 1864. You can reach Mariposa Grove via a two-mile hike on the Washburn Trail or via Mariposa Grove Road.

Need to Know

Shuttle Service: A free shuttle provides service from Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza, near the South Entrance of Yosemite National Park, to Mariposa Grove.
Further Information: Pets are not allowed on shuttles, trails, or roads in Mariposa Grove.

Have you been to Yosemite? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.