Standing at the base of the Yosemite Falls, the country's tallest, it doesn't look possible that a trail leads to the top. But there is a great path that snakes around and brings you up 2,700 feet from the valley floor to the brink of the falls. The hike begins at Sunnyside Walk-In Campground. The shuttle bus stops here, so no need to drive to the trailhead. This is your last chance to use a restroom before starting on the trail. Otherwise you'll have to do as the proverbial bear does.
Almost immediately, the trail rises steeply over a series of switchbacks. Don't despair -- the whole ascent is not like this. After a mile or so, you'll get to catch your breath at Columbia Rock and enjoy the wonderful views of the valley below and the Three Brothers formation behind you. Less ambitious hikers might want to turn around here, but I recommend continuing to the top.
Soon after Columbia Rock, a less-steep section brings you close to the Lower Falls and Middle Cascade. I hiked this trail in late September when crowds are lighter. Unfortunately, so is the water flow -- mighty Yosemite Falls is reduced to a trickle in late summer. Still, you can imagine feeling the spray from the falls if you hiked the trail in May or June. For the last uphill mile, the trail winds and steepens again. As you reach the top, a short spur path brings you to the brink of the falls. (A railing here keeps you from falling over as well.) Watch for soaring hawks here.
Continuing on the trail, a wooden bridge carries you over the creek feeding the falls and points you toward Yosemite Point, which offers sweeping views of the valley. Most hikers turn around at this point for a 7-mile round trip, but with a lot of water, energy and daylight left, I decided to continue on to North Dome. Here the trail retreats a bit into the forest and you lose the valley vistas for the next 2.5 miles until you reach the North Dome spur. This short path puts you on top of the granite dome and provides dead-on views of Half Dome across the valley. It's a great place to break for lunch. Returning from here, it's about a 12-mile round-trip hike. But. . . .
Continued in Part 2