Yosemite National Park
Set within California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.
Well known for amazing granite cliffs, waterfalls, giant sequoia trees and biological diversity.
It takes about 4 hours drive from San Francisco so I would recommend on staying overnight at the very least to get a taste of the famous spots. But I would recommend a longer stay if you're keen on exploring several hiking spots.
Generally there are no toilets along the trails when you're hiking so just make sure to go at the trailhead when you spot them! Oh, and bring enough water when you hike of course.
Cost: 7 days entrance fee for a private car with up to 15 passenger seats at 30 USD per vehicle. Or if you join an overnight tour (like I did) it starts from 400 USD with transport from SF and includes accommodation, food, a tour guide and entrance fee.
Mirror Lake Trail
2 miles (3.2 km) round trip to the lake and back; 5 miles (8 km) loop around the lake - easy to moderate.
100 feet (30.5 m)
1 hour round trip to the lake (end of paved trail); 2-3 hours for the full loop
To get to this trail, first you must take the free shuttle from Yosemite Valley and begin at Mirror Lake Trailhead (shuttle stop #17). There are NO toilets along the trail so go do what you need to do at Yosemite Valley before you get on the shuttle bus!
Despite the name there is no lake, but you do get to walk through a flat meadow (there apparently used to be a manmade lake there) instead surrounded by the mountains so it's really nice! You will also walk alongside a clear stream and granite rocks.
You would most definitely spot some squirrels and deer along the trail so get excited!
Look around at the amazing view but also beware of horse poo so look down, as you share the trail with some horse riders.
2.6 miles (4.2 km) round trip
at trailhead 4400 feet (1340 m), at Inspiration Point: 5390 feet (1643 m) - total elevation gain: 990 feet (300 m)
about a 2 hour round trip
The view from the top includes El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks with the Half Dome peeking out in the background.
It seems like a short hike but it is uphill pretty much all the way with the first half of the trip quite steep so be prepared. For a novice hiker like me, I found there were moments where I felt like I was running out of breath, but I made it in the end. Just take it easy and enjoy the view.
I was wearing a normal pair of runners and it was do-able, but I would recommend wearing proper hiking boots.
Take water with you!!!
Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias
2.5 miles (4 km) round trip
at trailhead 6,200 feet (1,860 m) - elevation gain: 400 feet (120 m) elevation loss to the grove
1.5 - 2.5 hours
It's an easy hike along the smooth trail. Just be prepared though you will be walking downhill and back up to climb 400 feet on the route back to the trailhead.
Main point of difference: the giant sequoia trees! They are such huge amazing red wood trees. Also there's a dead one that you can walk through and climb over to give you a sense of how huge they are.