Take This Trail For Some Of The Best Views Of This Popular West Coast National Park

With more than 275 trails spanning more than 800 miles of scenic wilderness, it's no surprise that Yosemite National Park would rank as the best national park for hiking in 2023. As reported by USA Today, Yosemite topped the list in 2022 from KURU Footwear based on the number of trails and other factors like distance, acreage, and yearly visitors. The park occupies upwards of 750,000 acres in California's Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it's known for its beautiful waterfalls, like Yosemite Falls (which is among the world's tallest). You might have also seen it in movies, with Captain Kirk climbing its sheer rock formation, El Capitan, in "Star Trek V: The Final Frontier."

With so many trails and so many amazing features, however, it does raise the question of where to begin with Yosemite National Park. Luckily, Yosemite is beginner-hiker friendly. You needn't be a daredevil climber like Alex Honnold, the man who really did scale El Capitan without a rope, as seen in the National Geographic documentary "Free Solo."

One place you might start in Yosemite is the Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge trail. This seasonal trail veers off from Tioga Road and is open from late May, at the earliest, to whenever the road closes for snow in November. On weekends and holidays, especially during the peak summer months, Yosemite can get quite crowded, but the Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge trail comes recommended as a hidden gem with fewer hikers and some of the park's best views.

Hike the Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge trail

The trail can also be reached from the parking lot of Lembert Dome, another one of the most beautiful places in Yosemite National Park. This granite dome holds a sweeping view of Tuolumne Meadows from 850 feet up, and it can be a rewarding hike as well, but it cuts across at a steep, imposing angle, and the National Park Service labels it moderately strenuous, with up to three hours needed for a round-trip. The rock face is also bare, so it can be slippery, forcing you to mind your footing while you clutch your hat to keep it from blowing away.

By contrast, the Soda Springs and Parsons Memorial Lodge trail will take you down into the meadows for a shorter, easier hike across flat ground. Here, you'll have a view of a lovely, wide-open space, dotted with evergreen trees and surrounded by mountains like Cathedral Peak. As you look back on the trail and see Lembert Dome towering over the trees, you may find that it's best enjoyed as a ground-level view, too.

This is a gentle, one-hour, there-and-back hike you can enjoy with your family. The first part of it dovetails with the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, which stretches all the way from Mexico to Canada. Tens of thousands upon millions of years ago, the landscape here was shaped by glaciers, but you'd never know it now, looking out across this peaceful green meadow in the summertime.

Two historic spots in Yosemite National Park

Soda Springs is a place where naturally carbonated water comes bubbling up from the ground in a big orange puddle. While the spring itself might not be as impressive as the sight of a geyser erupting in the Idaho city that shares its name (yes, there's more than one Soda Springs), it's really just an excuse to hike out across the meadows and take in the gorgeous views.

There's a roofless enclosure around the spring, an old log cabin built by John Baptist Lembert, the first European homesteader in the meadows and the namesake of Lembert Dome. It's listed in the National Register of Historic Places and was likely meant to keep animals out so they didn't contaminate the water while grazing. Nearby Parsons Lodge is also a National Historic Landmark, one of the earliest stone buildings to be erected in a national park. It's dedicated to Edward Taylor Parsons, a former director of the Sierra Club, which sought to protect the adjacent springs.

As you hike back to the parking lot from the lodge, you can stop by the bridge over the Tuolumne River and enjoy the picturesque sight of it snaking out across the meadows toward the line of trees and mountains. Both Yosemite National Park and landmarks like El Capitan have served as the desktop background for many Mac users, but there's nothing more beautiful than being in the actual park and part of the living scene on this trail.