By Michael Lanza

Ready for your first backpacking trip in one of America’s greatest national parks for backpackers? Having backpacked several times all over Yosemite, my advice for a first-time backpacker in Yosemite who wants to hit highlights like Yosemite Valley, the Mist Trail, and Half Dome is nearly identical to the itinerary I followed on my first trip three decades ago—but modified because I know better now.

This magnificent, beginner-friendly, four- to five-day, 37-mile loop from Yosemite Valley through the core of the park includes following the Mist Trail past 317-foot Vernal Fall and 594-foot Nevada Fall, ascending the cable route up Half Dome, reaching the equally spectacular (but much less busy) summit of Clouds Rest, walking a very pretty section of the world-famous John Muir Trail, and overlooking the jagged Cathedral Range from a campsite on the edge of alpine meadows at Sunrise.


Hi, I’m Michael Lanza, creator of The Big Outside. Click here to sign up for my FREE email newsletter. Join The Big Outside to get full access to all of my blog’s stories. Click here for my e-guides to classic backpacking trips. Click here to learn how I can help you plan your next trip.

A backpacker hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.
” data-image-caption=”Jeff Wilhelm backpacking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park. Click the photo for my e-guide “The Best Backpacking Trip in Yosemite.”
” data-medium-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?fit=300%2C199&ssl=1″ data-large-file=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?fit=900%2C598&ssl=1″ width=”900″ height=”598″ src=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?resize=900%2C598&ssl=1″ alt=”A backpacker hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.” class=”wp-image-37492″ srcset=”https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?w=1200&ssl=1 1200w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?resize=300%2C199&ssl=1 300w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?resize=1024%2C680&ssl=1 1024w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?resize=768%2C510&ssl=1 768w, https://i0.wp.com/thebigoutside.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/01/Yos11-016-Hiking-Clouds-Rest-Yosemite-N.P.-CA-2.jpg?resize=1080%2C717&ssl=1 1080w” sizes=”(max-width: 900px) 100vw, 900px” data-recalc-dims=”1″ />A backpacker hiking over Clouds Rest in Yosemite National Park.

Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley is probably the most popular trailhead in the park, and the park issues backcountry permits based on a daily quota of people starting from each trailhead, so it’s hard to get a permit to start at Happy Isles. But if you get it, hike up the Mist Trail to Little Yosemite Valley (also hugely popular) to camp your first night.

Get an early start that first day so you can get ahead of the Mist Trail crowds and hike Half Dome (lead photo at top of story is from the top of Half Dome) without your gear that first afternoon; by then, most hikers are coming down, you’ll share the summit with fewer people (but make sure
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