Distance: 2.25 miles (3.6 km) round trip
Elevation at trailhead: 4,000 feet (1,200 meters)
Elevation Gain: practically none
The red line marks the main trail. It takes you around the edges of the meadows for the most part, but there are lots of detours you can take if you're a freelancer. The yellow line marks one that takes you across the southern end of Cook's Meadow and includes fine views of Yosemite Falls. There are several other trails that you can see the outlines of on the map (please do stick to the trails).
The blue line escaping off the top of the map marks the Lower Yosemite Falls trail. It's not officially part of this hike, but you'll go right past the trailhead and it's only a quarter mile to the falls viewpoint, so you might as well take it.
1. Yosemite Falls View: You'll see Yosemite Falls from all over this trail, but this detour across Cook's Meadow includes a view of both the upper and lower falls at the same time.
2. Sentinel Bridge is famed for its view up the Merced River to Half Dome. You'll find it awash in photographers around sunset.
3. Yosemite Chapel: Devoting a building to religious services in a national park would seem to present constitutional issues of church & state separation, but Yosemite Chapel probably gets a break because of its historic significance - it was built in 1879 and is Yosemite's oldest building. It's an especially charming sight in late afternoons in the autumn.
4. The Swinging Bridge has glorious views upstream to Yosemite Falls.
5. Yosemite Lodge isn't really a highlight, unless you'd like to interrupt your hike for a drink at the bar. But that's what the collection of buildings under the big number '5' is.
6. Lower Yosemite Falls Trailhead: the view here is arguably as good as the view at the end of the Lower Yosemite Falls trail, and you'll walk right past it on this hike. The lower falls trail itself is short enough (half a mile round trip) that you might as well do it on this trip.
7. Cook's Meadow: This stretch of the meadow usually spends June covered with wildflowers, especially Cow Parsnip. At the spot marked on the map, there are also likely to be some large Western Azalea bushes. Western Azalea in bloom is a treat for anyone in possession of a nose.
8. Lower Yosemite Falls viewpoint: This isn't officially part of the hike, but it's worth the detour when the falls are high. Scroll north to find it on the map.
The Sentinel Bridge parking lot, marked by the giant green hikers above, is the ideal spot from which to launch yourself onto this trail, but there are lots of other options if it's full. You can park along Southside Drive, the one-way road going east along the southern edge of the trail. There's also a parking lot at the Swinging Bridge (see the number '4' on the map). If you're a guest at the Yosemite Lodge (number '5' on the map), you can park there. You can also park along Northside Drive where it runs along the northern edge of the trail. It's a two-way road here, though it turns into a one-way westbound road farther west.
There's a chance that you won't find parking at any of these places, especially if it's a weekend. If that's the case, try the Yosemite Village day-use parking lot, which is a short walk from the trail. Scroll a bit to the east and you'll see it marked by a giant letter 'P'. If even that lot's full, head for Curry Village, just over a mile away. (It's marked on the map with another letter 'P'; scroll southeast or zoom out to find it.) From Curry Village, you can catch one of the free shuttle buses back to the trail area, or just hike it for that matter - when you look back on your life, you probably won't regret any of the time you spent walking through Yosemite Valley.