This trail gains little elevation as it leads through the Merced River valley around the central Yosemite Valley of the park. This trail can be accessed from Sunnyside Campground, Sentinel Creek Picnic Area, El Capitan Bridge, Cathedral Picnic Area, Four Mile Trail and Yosemite Lodge. This description begins from the Yosemite Falls parking area behind Yosemite Lodge.
Begin the hike by following the trail that leads southwest out of the Yosemite Lodge/Yosemite Falls parking lot. The trail leads close to Northside Drive then curves westward. A half mile from the trailhead the path dissects with the Yosemite Falls Trail leading northward. The Central Valley Loop leads westward north of Sunnyside Campground, then descends toward Northside Drive.
The trail leads through a turn out below a large, streaked granite wall of geological significance then crosses the paved park road. Central Valley Loop leads along Northside Drive for approximately one and a half miles. The trail follows the Merced River path through Leidig Meadow to El Capitan Bridge. This stretch of trail provides sweeping views of the Merced River valley and the rock formations that line the valley walls.
Cross to the eastern side of the bridge along Northside Drive where the trail resumes. It leads eastward through the flood plain of the Merced River from the bridge. The trail crosses Southside Drive then leads eastward toward Sentinel Rock. Within a half mile of the road crossing hikers will note a large flat rock on the southern side of the trail. Natives living in the valley drilled holes in this rock using it to grind food.
The next stream crossing is Sentinel Creek. Shortly beyond it is the junction with Four-mile Trail. East of this junction the trail leads to and crosses Southside Drive entering a picnic area. Spanning the Merced River at this picnic area is a bridge that leads to Northside Drive. Follow this bridge and stop along it to enjoy the stunning views of the surrounding rock formations. Beyond the bridge cross Northside drive to enter the Yosemite Lodge parking area.
Directions from Arch Rock Entrance: Follow Highway 140 into the Yosemite Valley. Six and a half miles from the entrance station the road splits. Take the right fork, which becomes Southside Drive, to the Yosemite Lodge parking area. The trail begins from the western side of the lot behind the lodge.
Mid-April through Mid-December
(NOTE: Trail may be snow covered in Fall and Spring.)