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Hiking the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail With a Bear

I had a three bear day while I snuck in some exercise checking out fall color on the Yosemite Valley Loop. Yellow Black Oaks and Maples, along with Red Dogwoods reflected along the Merced River!

Where: Yosemite National Park
Distance: 12.12 miles
Difficulty: Easy
Elevation Range: 3,869′ – 4,105′
Date: November 4, 2020
Maps: El Capitan and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Topographic Quad
Dog Hike? No
Horseback Trail? Yes

I headed into Yosemite Valley up Hwy 140 and soon after I passed the Entrance Station, the cars in front of me were stopped. What in the heck was going on? It turned out that a Park Service employee was helping a couple of small bear cubs make it across the road to their mother who was on the Merced River side. I missed seeing Mama Bear but I did watch the 2 bear cubs! No pictures but still pretty cool to see. After I crossed the Pohono Bridge, I made a wuick stop at Fern Springs. I love the way it decorates itself in fall.

But a single picture doesn’t paint the full picture of the serenity at Fern Springs so I took a short video.

I made a quick stop at the Swinging Bridge for a bathroom stop and couldn’t resist the temptation to snap a couple of pictures.

There is more than one way to hike the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail and I chose to start at the Yosemite Valley Chapel, the oldest structure in Yosemite Valley, built in 1879. You can also hike just about any part of this loop on its own if you don’t feel like hiking the 12 plus miles that I did. It was 39 degrees when I started out. Notice the wall of smoke in the photo of the Chapel. That was as bad as it got smoke-wise during my day.

The fairly level trail was well signed along the way and I just followed the signs marked “Valley Loop Trail” that long ago served as a wagon road.

In the fall, different trees color up at different times. Black Oaks were leading the color parade on the day I visited with beautiful yellow leaves.

There were a few down trees across the trail but nothing that I couldn’t step over on the south side. It was a different story on the north side of the river though and more on that later.

The trail climbed a smidge before crossing the road and the gnats started coming out. One of them photobombed my picture for you.

The trail led me along the river where more dogwoods were located but most of these had dried up leaves and no real color.

But there were exceptions.

I continued on the trail.

Bigleaf Maple leaves created a wonderful pattern on the trail along the river.

The Pohono Bridge is always a great spot to check out reflections in the Merced River and even though it is quite low, those reflections were present.

The trail crossed the road and I continued on with splashes of color along the way.

I came across another spot on the trail with a few down trees but could easily step over them. Still, this wasn’t the bad part.

Most of the dogwoods were a little dried up with very little color but every once in a while a magnificient one would sneak in.

After I had taken a picture, I glanced up the trail and there was a bear looking at me. I stayed where I was in the trail and could see that the bear seemed to clearly me and was contemplating its next move. Can you spot the bear?

I wasn’t sure what the bear intended to do as it was heading down the trail toward me, then it started veering off the trail and headed on. My experience of hiking with this bear was very short but it still an exciting thing to spot a bear and be able to observe it from a distance.

The species of bear found in Yosemite are American Black Bears. Are you curious to learn more about these bears? You are in luck because you can follow the Yosemite Bear Blog and learn all kinds of interesting information about them. Recent Blogs were about Bears Hit by Speeding Cars, The Scoop on Bear Poop and How Old is That Bear?  Bear Facts is another interesting Yosemite site and here is a tidbit from the page: In the fall, bears eat up to 20,000 calories a day—that’s 10 times the amount of food an average person eats in a day. 

This is the bad spot that I was referring to earlier, where there were the most down trees and they were larger. I don’t think a horse could get over or easily around them. They would probably need to go down to the main road to bypass this mess but a person can climb over them.

The trail led me blow El Capitan where I could hear voices way up high. I stopped for a while to try and find the climbers up there somewhere but couldn’t.

As I approached Leidig Meadow, it was close enough to lunchtime to take a break and admire the view.

One of the interesting things about fall color is that is is always changing. I headed up before our first storm of the season because I wanted to see what things looked like before wind and rain might have removed some of the leaves, but that can be pretty also. In a couple of weeks, other trees might be leading the parade in this area and that is another good excuse to visit.

Dog Hike?

There are some areas along this leaf peeping route where dogs are allowed:

  • In developed areas
  • On fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths (except when signed as not allowing pets)
  • In all campgrounds except walk-in campgrounds (e.g., Camp 4) and in group campsites


  • pets must be restrained on a leash not more than six feet long or otherwise physically restrained
  • leashed pets may not be left unattended
  • for the courtesy of other visitors, human companions are responsible for cleaning up and depositing pet feces in trash receptacles
  • remember that pet food is also bear food: store pet food as if it were human food.

Where Pets Are Not Allowed

  • On trails, including the trail to Vernal Fall (however, pets are allowed on the Wawona Meadow Loop)
  • On unplowed roads covered in snow
  • In undeveloped and wilderness areas
  • In public buildings
  • On shuttle buses
  • In lodging areas
  • In all walk-in and group campgrounds/campsites, including Camp 4
  • In any other areas, as signed

These regulations protect both pets and wildlife from disease and each other. The National Park Service has prohibited pets on trails for many years. In particular, some pets chase wildlife, pollute water sources, and can become defensive and dangerous in unfamiliar surroundings. Pet owners have the burden to assure their pet does not damage the park values for others in those areas where pets are allowed.

Yosemite Hospitality operates a dog kennel in Yosemite Valley from approximately late May through early September. Written proof of immunizations (rabies, distemper, parvo, and Bordetella) must be provided. Dogs must be at least 20 pounds (smaller dogs may be considered if you provide a small kennel). You can get more information about the kennel by calling 209/372-8326.


What is a Doarama?  It is a video playback of the GPS track overlaid on a 3 dimensional interactive map. If you “grab” the map, you can tilt it or spin it and look at it from different viewing angles. With the rabbit and turtle buttons, you can also speed it up, slow it down or pause it.

Yosemite Valley Loop Doarama

Map and Profile:

Yosemite Valley Loop Topographic Map

Yosemite Valley Loop Profile

Prior Blogs in this Area:

Hiking Through History on the Yosemite Valley Loop November 1, 2019

Leaf Peeping in Yosemite Valley and Hiking Mirror Lake Loop October 19, 2017

Mirror Lake Loop Hike April 26, 2016

Hiking Along the Old Big Flat Road December 7, 2015

Leaf Peeping in Yosemite Valley October 23, 2014

Mirror Lake Loop Hike November 7, 2012


Yosemite Valley Loop NPS

Giacomazzi, Sharon, CAMP CASCADES:  Yosemite’s “Tree Army”, Union Democrat, August 30, 2010

The Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) in Yosemite by Lois Orr

Cascades CCC Camp – Yosemite National Park CA

Yosemite National Park Pet Regulations

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