• The Yosemite Falls as seen from the summit of Sentinel Dome

    The iconic Yosemite Falls as seen from the summit of Sentinel Dome. A moderately challenging hike affords a spectacular view of Yosemite National Park's major landmarks. (Photo: Alexandra Pope/Canadian Geographic)

"The mountains are calling and I must go."

When the naturalist John Muir penned these words in an 1873 letter to his sister describing his exploration of California's Yosemite Valley, he could not have foreseen that they would become a proverb for modern adventurers, adorning many a mug, t-shirt and Pinterest board. Yet the soaring granite cliffs and ancient forest groves that captured Muir's heart and inspired the creation of the National Park Service a century ago this year continue to hold a special fascination, and those who visit Yosemite National Park can't help but leave with a new appreciation for Muir's vision of a protected wilderness accessible to all. 

Yosemite's unique geography makes it a popular destination for rock climbers and BASE jumpers, and there are plenty of skilled local guides willing and able to help you get in touch with your inner Alex Honnold, but the park and adjacent San Francisco Bay Area also offer plenty of adventure closer to the ground. Here are three easy but rewarding ways to enjoy nature in California.

Hike the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trail

Where to start: The Taft Point trailhead on Glacier Point Road in Yosemite National Park

Difficulty: Moderate 

If the short but steep climb to the summit of Sentinel Dome doesn't take your breath away, the view from the top will. Rising to nearly 2,500 metres above sea level, the dome offers a panoramic view of Yosemite's most iconic landmarks: the stark cliff faces of Half Dome and El Capitan and the majestic Yosemite Falls. Extend your hike by a couple of (mostly downhill) kilometres and head to Taft Point, another lookout over the Yosemite Valley. A word of advice: inquire about trail conditions before heading out. Even in late spring, lingering snow can obscure trail markers and mask tripping hazards.

Bike through Yosemite Valley

Where to start: The bike rental kiosk at Yosemite Valley Lodge 

Difficulty: Easy

Biking is arguably the most fun way to see the highlights of Yosemite National Park. The park boasts around 20 kilometres of paved trails that wind along the Merced River in the shade of towering sugar pines, and the valley floor is relatively flat, which makes for easy riding. The only problem is you'll want to keep stopping to snap photos of the waterfalls that thunder down the cliff faces. 

Kayak on San Francisco Bay

Where to start: City Kayak at Pier 40

Difficulty: Easy to moderate, depending on weather conditions and length of tour

The water that plunges down the valleys and crevasses of Yosemite National Park eventually ends up in San Francisco Bay, so a kayak trip is the perfect way to inject a little wildness into a visit to the city. City Kayak offers hourly rentals if you're just interested in a quick paddle along the historic waterfront, or challenge yourself with a guided half-day tour to a Bay Area landmark like Alcatraz or the Golden Gate Bridge. The best part? After your adventure, the excellent seafood restaurants of Fisherman's Wharf are just a short walk away.