Yosemite National Park set the standard for all American national parks. Despite not being the oldest national park, its establishment in 1890 contributed to the formation of the National Park System. Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains began to see a large influx of inhabitants, miners, and tourists in 1849 as a result of the California Gold Rush. Conservationists lobbied President Abraham Lincoln to declare Yosemite Valley a California public trust to prevent human-caused damage to the region. For the first time, the American government protected a piece of property so that tourists could enjoy it.
Yosemite National Park, which was first protected in 1864, is most renowned for its waterfalls, but it also contains a vast wilderness region, deep valleys, big meadows, ancient giant sequoia trees, and much more within its nearly 1,200 square miles. The park’s 759,620 acres span an elevation range of approximately 2,000 feet to 13,114 feet. Yosemite National Park contains granite cliffs, massive sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, glaciers, waterfalls, and streams. The park’s wilderness designation encompasses more than 95 percent of its land area, which is home to a diverse array of animals and vegetation.
It is famed for millennia-old Sequoia trees, deep valleys, grand meadows, a vast wilderness area, towering waterfalls, daunting cliff faces, ancient giant sequoias, and striking, and unique rock formations in the United States. Most of the tourist activities take place within the 8-square-mile area of Yosemite Valley because it is very large.
Here you have excellent landmarks like Half Dome, El Captain, and extremely good hiking trails through the natural monuments. Even the people who are not experienced in hiking enjoy this place. Like other tourist destinations, the crowd is huge to enjoy the vacation in Yosemite, and around four million people visit every year. If you go at the right time, nature will show itself to you in a tranquil and miraculous way. The place is fantastic for photography and you can click amazing pictures. So just don’t wait to enjoy it!!
How to get to Yosemite National Park?
Yosemite National Park is located in central California, about two hours east of San Francisco. While there are several regional airports in the area, the nearest major hub is Fresno Yosemite International Airport. Amtrak and Greyhound also provide service to the park, with trains switching to regional buses operated by the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System as you approach the park’s boundary. A scenic drive north from Fresno along State Route 41 will take you first to Wawona and then to the Valley.
You can also get there by taking State Route 140 northeast through Merced or State Route 120 east through Groveland before connecting with the park’s Big Oak Flat Road. Known as Tioga Road in the park, SR 120 cuts through Yosemite to emerge at the park’s northernmost entrance, Tioga Pass, where it connects with the equally scenic U.S. Route 395, which leads south to Mammoth Lakes and the Owens Valley and north to Bridgeport. Click here to know more about park’s location and how to reach it.
Best time to visit Yosemite National Park
This is peak vacation time. Traffic and crowds are at an all-time high, shuttle buses are at capacity, and any lodging options within a 100-mile radius are fully booked. While you avoid the Valley during such chaos, it’s the ideal time to escape to the high country near Tuolumne Meadows, where temperatures are cooler and crowds are thinner. Long days allow you to extend backpacking trips, and cooler rock surfaces make for better climbing conditions higher up.
This is one of the visitor’s favorite time to visit the Valley because they can take in the sights without having to compete for space. As the temperature drops, so do the waterfalls, which come to a halt until replenished by winter precipitation. On the plus side, it’s a great time to find backpacking permits, though you will need to bring sturdier gear than you would in the summer.
Asking all waterfall fans: now is your chance to shine! While higher elevations remain buried under snow, lower elevations and waterfalls come to life as the snow melts, typically peaking in May. On the other hand, flooding and high water are serious issues not only in the backcountry but also in the Valley, where the Merced River occasionally overflows into meadows, roads, and even campgrounds. When you’re in the backcountry, use extreme caution when crossing rivers; what was a simple rock hop in late summer can quickly turn into a deadly torrent in the spring.
Winter is a stunning time in the park if you can handle the temperatures, which routinely drop below freezing in the evenings at all elevations. Keep in mind that, in addition to the high country being inaccessible for anyone who is not well versed in winter alpine travel, some Valley routes typically portions of the Mist Trail, John Muir Trail, and Four Mile Trail close once they become slick with snow and ice. Tire chains are required on snowy park roads, but not all of them are open all year, Tioga Road typically closes in November and reopens between May and June, depending on the snowpack. Bring the right gear, skills, and mindset, and you’ll have the place mostly to yourself.
Best things to do in Yosemite National Park
Many of Yosemite National Park’s best hikes are well-known. If you’re reading this, chances are you want to climb Half Dome via the world-famous three-mile Mist Trail, which gets its name from the spray delivered by the Merced as it barrels down toward the Valley floor via a series of waterfalls. Except when the metal cables are down, permits are required for this hike every day of the week. Take this hike very seriously, no matter when you attempt it; people have died after slipping and falling on the polished granite that makes up the final steep and exposed climb. Avoid the trip if rain is expected or if it is forecast.
Aside from that, the park is littered with legendary hikes, some more popular than others. A paved trail in the valley’s eastern reaches leads to the seasonal and surprisingly quiet Mirror Lake, which was formed by a swell in Tenaya Creek. Closer to the action, it’s well worth the two-mile hike up the steep path to the top of Yosemite Falls, a three-part cascade that is North America’s tallest. And the Valley Loop Trail, which is criminally underappreciated, offers nearly 12 miles of surprising solitude amid the hubbub. Tuolumne Meadows is the starting point for a stroll through bucolic Lyell Canyon, which is especially lovely in early summer when its subalpine meadows are awash in chlorophyll and wildflowers abound. Start early to avoid crowds and make the seven-mile round-trip trek to Upper Cathedral Lake, which provides a front-row view of its toothy namesake peak.
Tioga Road is also dotted with trailheads, allowing for easy access. If you can’t get permits for Half Dome but still want to experience some vertigo, consider the 14-mile round-trip hike to Cloud’s Rest from the Sunrise Lakes Trailhead near Tenaya Lake, which has an excellent swimming beach on its northeast end if you make early enough. The trails near the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are even less traveled, except for a worthwhile jaunt around the waterfront to catch the spray from nearby Tueeulala and Wapama Falls. If you have a full day, consider making the 13.5-mile round-trip journey to the summit of Smith Peak, which provides a bird’s-eye view of this remote section of the park.
Yosemite’s magic, particularly in its southern reaches, can be experienced without breaking a sweat. If you enter via State Route 41, the first opportunity is at Tunnel View, where some of the park’s most iconic features Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall appear magically as you exit the darkness of its namesake tube. Sorry, but it’s almost mandatory that you stop here to gawk for a moment. Further south, take Glacier Point Road and note that it will be closed for the entire year in 2022 for repairs to its namesake vista, which is often crowded with photographers of all stripes just before sunset. For an equally stunning view with less crowding, park a few miles south on the road and hike the 2.2-mile round-trip to Taft Point. Visit the Mariposa Grove near Wawona to strain your neck while admiring an ancient cluster of giant sequoias, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant.
The mighty Merced’s power is somewhat diluted as it meanders along the Valley floor, making it the ideal natural lazy river. Take a swim or float in the pool. Kayaking is an excellent way to explore the park’s numerous lakes, all of which are accessible to paddlers except Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. Remember to bring your flotation device.
For much of their journey through the park, the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) and John Muir Trail (JMT) join forces, except that the former heads north from Tuolumne Meadows and the latter dips south into the Valley. Aside from these long-distance highlights, my favorite short route is the less traveled 13-mile one-way Pohono Trail, a one nighter that traces the high cliffs south of the Valley and offers jaw-dropping viewpoints every few miles.
Wear your pack for a traverse of the deep gouge known as the Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, which spans approximately 33 miles between its namesake meadow and the White Wolf area to the west. If you’re more interested in smiles than miles, save your pennies for a chance to win a spot on the famed High Sierra Camps Loop, a summertime hut-to-hut circuit that drops you at a series of fully outfitted tent cabins each evening, complete with catered meals. All backpacking trips in the park require a permit. Most trailheads maintain a 60/40 split of reserved permits for walk-ups; reserved permits can be applied for online beginning 24 weeks before your start date. Expect fierce competition, particularly for Half Dome and JMT permits, which must be applied for during a special lottery period that runs from December to March. It’s worth bookmarking the Yosemite Conservancy’s list of permit availability, which is broken down by park area.
Visitors can fish in nearly every body of water in Yosemite, with the majority of them teeming with trout and other species. When given the option, I’ll always go for one of the glacier-carved lakes deep in the backcountry, but I wouldn’t turn down the chance to cast into any length of the Tuolumne River, particularly its enchanting Lyell Fork. While lakes can be fished all year, casting in streams and rivers is only permitted from late April to mid-November; a California fishing license is required.
One of my favorite nights in Yosemite was spent camping in the Valley on a rare occasion. Just before bedtime, I wandered off and found a log to sit on at the edge of Stoneman Meadow, and then I looked up. It was late enough that traffic had slowed to a crawl, making it easy to let the vast darkness and silence fold in like a blanket. Of course, that’s not the only place with such expansive views; just about any lakeside or peak top vantage point will provide you with the same million-dollar show.
Yosemite is one of the world’s premier year-round climbing destinations, made even more well-known by a recent wave of adrenaline-pumping documentaries such as Free Solo, The Dawn Wall, and Valley Uprising. But you don’t have to live in Camp 4 or spend months planning a route on El Cap to appreciate the park’s legendary granite. The Valley and Tuolumne Meadows areas are its main climbing draws, with plenty of opportunities to boulder, clip bolts, and place gear at all levels of the game. The alpine backcountry offers endless opportunities for scrambles and peak bagging for more advanced climbers, and the Valley’s big walls offer some of the world’s longest and most iconic trad routes. Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service offer beginner classes and guided adventures. If you don’t want to dangle off the side of a cliff, you can still participate by relaxing in El Capitan Meadow with a pair of binoculars.
Where to stay?
Getting a campsite in Yosemite is a competitive sport, especially if you want to sleep in the Valley. Half of the park’s 13 campgrounds are first come, first served, so arrive as early as possible in the morning to secure a spot. Both White Wolf and Yosemite Creek Campgrounds, located near Tioga Road, are beautiful, quiet, and slightly off-the-beaten-path options. The remainder of the campgrounds, including the Valley’s sought-after Pines trio, require reservations, which can be made through Recreation.gov. A 30-day block of sites is released at exactly 7 a.m. PST on the 15th of the month, and you can reserve up to five months in advance; I highly recommend enlisting some friends to tag-team the effort, as availability for summer bookings typically evaporates within minutes. Camp 4, a walk-in campground that has long served as a base camp for hardcore climbers, is an exception. During the summer, sites are distributed through an online lottery system daily.
Many of the park’s campgrounds have a few accessible sites, with Upper Pines in the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows having the most. Many are open all year, though higher-elevation campgrounds close during the winter when mountain roads are also closed to traffic. If you just want to rough it, stay at the Valley’s Housekeeping Camp or Curry Village, both of which offer rustic canvas-and-wood structures as well as communal shower facilities. These, like the park hotels listed below, are run by an outside concessionaire.
Furthermore, there is plenty of camping on all sides of Yosemite in the Inyo, Stanislaus, and Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forests. If you don’t mind sleeping in your car, a quick online search for “free camping” or “boondocking” near Yosemite will produce results as well. Just keep in mind that you are not permitted to sleep in your vehicle overnight anywhere within the park.
The most affordable options in the Valley are the Curry Village cabins and motel, followed by the Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you’re looking to splurge, book a room at the Ahwahnee, an stunning Craftsman-style retreat on the National Register of Historic Places. For those on a tighter budget, grab a drink at the hotel bar before curling up with a good book by the massive fireplace in the stunning Great Lounge. The Wawona Hotel was closed for a while to update the wiring, but the Victorian charmer a National Historic Landmark is now open for business. Further north, the tent cabins that make up the seasonal White Wolf Lodge and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge are more simply appointed but put you right in the heart of high country magic. Outside of the park, there are plenty of cabin rentals available on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, though they can be just as expensive as lodging inside the park. Most gateway towns have a few basic roadside motels as well as some slightly more upscale options. Tenaya Lodge in Fish Camp stands out from the crowd with its Ascent Spa, where you can drag your tired bones after a day of adventure. For a more rustic experience, the 100-year-old Evergreen Lodge near Hetch Hetchy Valley offers a variety of rustic cabins, or you can sign up for an all-inclusive camping package that includes both gear and setup.