Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Valley Merced River WinterIf you love nature and enjoy a little adventure in your life then you must add Yosemite national park to the top of your must-see list. The national park is located on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains and crosses 3 California counties. It spans an area of 761,268 acres (1,200 square miles) of mountains, steep granite cliffs, valleys, rivers, waterfalls, and lakes. It is home to groves of Giant Sequoia trees and many species of plants and animals. It is also home to the American black bear and California brown bears.

There is something for everyone at Yosemite

Spend your time hiking in the valley floor gazing at the towering cliffs, forested canyons, rivers and waterfall.Yosemite Bridalveil Fall
Go for a strenuous hike to the top of a waterfall or into the wilderness.
Take lazy bus tours through popular points of interest – visit the Giant Sequoia trees.
Ride your bike along the valley to Mirror Lake and have a picnic.
Climb one of the challenging cliff faces.
Go on a whitewater rafting adventure.
Take an informative guided tour with a park ranger.
Visit Wawona Village (Big Trees Lodge) – a historic 19th-century town.
Backpack through the untamed wilderness (95% of Yosemite is designated as wilderness).
Go Fishing.
Horseback riding.
Swimming and rafting (the leisurely kind).
And finally, you can spend some time volunteering to help restore habitats and get close to nature.

Yosemite Valley Merced RiverAmerica’s first national park is so full of beauty and wonder - it would take a lover of nature a lifetime to explore and experience its treasures. So start now. Take a day trip or spend several nights – and keep coming back for more.

Recently I spent a full week at Yosemite and enjoyed every minute. I was very disappointed when my time was up and had to say goodbye to this wonderful place. Here is an account of what I did and what I saw – and some other things I heard about.

Get lots of useful information about Yosemite National Park at the official website

Getting there

Yosemite Merced RiverI decided to drive from Anaheim to Yosemite on a July day. The trip took me around 8 hours with frequent stops along the way. If you are starting from San Francisco it takes about 5 hours.

No matter which route you take, the last few miles are difficult mountain driving and will take longer than expected – but the views are amazing.

Tip: Don’t rely on your GPS to get to and around Yosemite. This is especially true for smart phone GPS. There is no mobile Internet in the National Park. GPS directions may not know about one-way roads or changes in road signs. I for one can’t live without my GPS, but reality kept conflicting with the device directions.

Book: The Complete Guide: Yosemite National Park

Yosemite El CapitanComing from Los Angeles or other Southern California cities you will end up on Highway 41 and start climbing the Sierra Nevada foothills. You will continue climbing through a forested area until you reach the park entrance. The fee per vehicle is $20 and covers unlimited entries for 7 days. If you are planning to come back then buy the annual pass for only $40.

You can find a very nice driving guide at TripAdviser with detailed information for all main entrances to the park.

Important Warning: This is Bear country. It is almost guaranteed you will encounter a bear during your visit. So to make it a peaceful encounter, you must follow certain rules. First, make sure you totally empty your vehicle. No trash, no gum packets, nothing that may have a smell should be left in the car. And at camp you must put all your food and drinks in special metal lockers – no exceptions. If you don’t, you will come face to face with a hungry bear who is trying to break into your car or tent to find the nice smelly stuff. Close to Camp-4 you will see an old SUV with the door ripped open as a reminder of what bears can and did do.

Once you pass the park entrance you will still have some more mountain driving to do.Before you reach Yosemite Valley floor there are 2 important stops along the way. You can make one or both stops before you enter the valley or you can come back after you settle into your lodging place. The 2 places are the Giant Sequoia Grove and Wawona. More about both places later.Yosemite Mist Trail

After Wawona  (Big Trees Lodge) you will continue to gain elevation up to 6039 ft. at Glacier Point Road junction – then you start descending into the Merced River canyon and into the amazing Yosemite views.

Tip: You will be tempted to stop along the way to enjoy the views. Always use the designated pull-outs.

Yosemite Valley MeadowFor the best view, be prepared to stop at a large Vista Point right after you pass through the long Wawona Tunnel. Park your car and get down to enjoy the Tunnel View. It is so named because - from that vantage point - you can view the whole valley as a long tunnel between the canyon walls.

After the Tunnel View vista you will start descending into the valley floor and soon you will reach Yosemite Valley.

Book: The Photographer's Guide to Yosemite

At the valley floor, the main road is a loop with one-way traffic. The Southside road takes you into the valley towards Curry Village (Half Dome Village) and the visitor center – and the Northside road takes out of the valley passing by Yosemite Lodge (Yosemite Valley Lodge). If you miss your turn or destination along the way, you have to loop all the way around to try again.

In the middle of this great loop, you will see great views of the Merced River and lush meadows. Along the way, there are a few vista points and parking lots to let amazed visitors stop and admire the scenery.

What to do

Book: Top Trails - Yosemite - Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

Yosemite Camp Curry / Half Dome VillageThere are just too many choices of places to see and things to do in Yosemite, so you really need to plan ahead and book some of your fun ahead of time. Here are some resources for planning your stay

Tip: Due to a 2016 concessionaire switch, many iconic places at Yosemite have new names. Here are a few important ones:
Curry Village is now – Half Dome Village
Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is now – Yosemite Valley Lodge
Badger Pass Ski Area is now – Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area
Ahwahnee Hotel is now - Majestic Yosemite Hotel
The Wawona Hotel is now – Big Trees Lodge 

I recommend the Grand Tour as a way to get a general idea about Yosemite Valley and surrounding area. See details here.

Yosemite Village

The best way to start your stay at Yosemite is to walk, bike or drive to Yosemite Village where you will find the Visitor Center with a well-stocked grocery store, Ansel Adams Gallery, a Museum, sports shop, restaurants, ATM and a post office.Yosemite Tuolumne River Rafting

At the visitor center, you can ask the rangers for tips or buy maps and books. You can also find an exhibit about Yosemite’s geology, plants and animals. If you drive your car to the village during weekends you may end up parking far away and walking a long distance back to the center.

Tip: When you get close to the village you will see signs directing you to the main visitor parking lots. Ignore those signs and try to get inside the village. You will find some choice parking spots next to the grocery Store. This especially important when you loading up on supplies. 

Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows Sunset

Yosemite Valley Attractions

There is just too much information to share about Yosemite - so I broke it up into several sections. Read about where to stay and things to do in and around the Yosemite Valley:

Outside of Yosemite Valley

Yosemite  Mariposa GroveMost people spend the whole time at Yosemite Valley and surrounding area - missing out on wonderful nature and amazing adventures. If you have the adventurous spirit, leave the crowds behind visit places like Hetch Hetchy Valley and Dam; Tioga Pass; Tenaya Lake; Tuolumne Meadows; or go on Whitewater Rafting trip on the Tuolumne River.

Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Village - Map
CA 95389
(209) 372-0200
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Biking Yosemite

Yosemite Mirror LakeOne of the most pleasant ways to experience Yosemite Valley is to hop on your bike and follow one of the winding bike trails. If you did not bring your own bike you can rent one from the many rental places at Yosemite or outside of Yosemite.

Note: For some unknown reason bikes rented from Yosemite outfitters are not allowed on Lower Yosemite and Mirror Lake trails.

On one of my bike trips, I started from Camp-4 – next to Yosemite Lodge (Yosemite Valley Lodge) and headed towards Yosemite Falls. A nice paved road takes you around the lodge and very close to the falls. You can park your bike and go on a short hike to the waterfall.

Yosemite Valley MeadowAfter you visit the fall continue your ride going towards Yosemite Village. You can stop here to pick up some snacks, water or supplies.

Keep going towards the Ahwanee Hotel (Majestic Yosemite Hotel). You can admire the architecture from outside in passing or you can walk in for a more intimate tour.

Book: Yosemite Trails (Hiking & Biking)

Yosemite biking over wood bridgeAfter passing the Ahwanee continue due east to Mirror Lake. This is the longest stretch of this bike ride – some if it is going to be uphill. If you brought your own bike you can continue all way to the lake - but rented bikes have to be parked at the trailhead.

It is called Mirror Lake because at its peak – in spring time – you can see reflections of Half Dome in the clear waters. During summer it might be disappointing.

After spending some time at the lake take the south fork of the bike trail towards Happy. You will be able to stop at the Isles nature center or take a hike on the Mist Trail.

Yosemite Happy IslesThe next stop on your route is Curry Village (Half Dome Village). At the recreation center, you can rent a raft and spend an hour or two drifting down the river. At the bottom of the 3-mile rafting route, you can ride a free tram back to the rental place. Best times for rafting the Merced River are May to July.

After your leisurely break, hop back on the bike and continue your ride towards the Chapel. At the chapel, you can either cross the bridge and head back to Yosemite Lodge or you can continue to the swinging bridge before turning towards your starting point.

This bike trip could take you between 4 hours and a full day depending on your breaks and stops. It is almost guaranteed that you will be stopping a lot to take in the wonderful views along the way and to take lots of photos.

Tip: Due to a 2016 concessionaire switch, many iconic places at Yosemite have new names. Here are a few important ones:

Curry Village is now – Half Dome Village

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is now – Yosemite Valley Lodge

Badger Pass Ski Area is now – Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area

Ahwahnee Hotel is now - Majestic Yosemite Hotel

The Wawona Hotel is now – Big Trees Lodge 

Mirror Lake, Yosemite

Yosemite NP - Mirror LakeA visit to Yosemite National Park is not complete until you hike to Mirror Lake. The lake itself is actually a tranquil pool of water that gathers behind a natural rock dam on the Tenaya Creek. 

Before the dam, the water is so calm, it reflects the surrounding cliffs and trees - with Half Dome on one side and North Dome on the other. 

At the dam and beyond, the water gushes through several cascades and continues flowing through the creek. 

Yosemite National Park- Mirror LakeDuring my last visit in June of 2017, the water flow through the creek was so strong, it felt like a roaring river. Towards the end of summer, the lake mostly dries out and the creek becomes a trickle. 

The lake is accessible via a very easy trail which makes it very popular and crowded. This trail starts from a paved access road on the north side. But for a really rewarding hike, take the south trail.

Both trails start from bus stop #17. There is also a parking lot close by for people driving themselves. 

From the bus stop, take the dirt road into the woods and stay to the right when you reach a bridge. The trail mainly runs alongside the creek and is mostly shaded. There are some steep climbs, but it is mostly level. 

When you reach the natural rock bridge, top and enjoy the contrast between calm lake and roaring river. This a great spot for pictures.

Yosemite National Park- Mirror LakeAfter you pass this divide, you will start noticing the reflected cliffs and trees. You can take a break from your hike, have a picnic and take photos.

The south trail used to connect to the north side forming a long loop around the lake, but due to a major rock slide, the loop was cut off. 

Another way to visit Mirror Lake and enjoy its beauty is to start from the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formally Ahwahnee) and continue under the Royal Arches and North Dome.  

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Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows

Yosemite Tuolumne Meadows SunsetMost people spend the whole time at Yosemite Valley and surrounding area - missing out on wonderful nature and amazing adventures. If you have the adventurous spirit, leave the crowds behind and go visit places like: Hetch Hetchy Valley and Dam; Tioga Pass; Tenaya Lake; Tuolumne Meadows.

If you are driving to Yosemite from the east you probably already experienced this breathtaking road through the Sierra Nevada mountains (Hwy 120). The road winds through many mountain peaks, passes, meadows and lakes. It reaches an elevation of 9,945 ft. at the Tioga Pass - making it the highest Pass in California. Driving through this pass during winter could be dangerous and the road is subject to closures.

Yosemite Tioga Road at Tenaya LakeIf you missed this drive coming it, then plan on spending a day on this road trip from the Yosemite Valley.

After leaving the valley floor and finally turning into Tioga road you will first come across Tenaya Lake. The lake sits at an elevation of 8,150 ft. and provides stunning views and a sense of tranquility. It is surrounded by granite peaks and domes.

You can have a picnic by the lake or if you planned on it, you can enjoy kayaking, fishing and other watersports. Although swimming is permitted, don't plan on swimming here - the water is freezing cold.

You can also take a 2.5-mile hike around the lake for best views and photo opportunities. This hike is very easy because the trail is level - no elevation gain. Other hiking trails start here or pass by the lake.Yosemite Frozen Tenaya Lake

The next stop on the Tioga road is the Tuolumne Meadows. The meadows are a large expanse of vegetation created by shallow ground water. The water mainly comes from the Tuolumne River and its tributaries.

Start your visit at the visitor center for restrooms, information or snacks. The center also offers ranger-guided nature walks. You can keep your car at the center and go exploring through the meadows or take a longer hike.

Most of the hikes through the meadows are easy. They are more like a stroll than a hike. Some of the easy hikes are May Lake; Tuolumne River; Lambert Dome.

The Tuolumne River hike is very easy and takes through great views of the meadows and to some nice cascades and waterfalls. You can have a picnic or go for a dip in the cold water.

Book: Top Trails - Yosemite - Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

Yosemite Tenaya LakeIf you are looking for a more challenging hike you can try: Elizabeth Lake; Cathedral Lake or John Muir Trail.

Book: John Muir Trail - The essential guide to hiking America's most famous trail

The famous John Muir Trail passes through the meadows and goes all the way to Yosemite Valley - crossing Nevada and Vernal Falls and ending at Happy Isles. This hike is not for the casual hiker. It is about 28 miles long on rough terrain and large elevation changes. It could take from 2 to 4 days to complete this hike. You will need to buy a wilderness pass ahead of time from the website. Those passes are sold out quickly so get yours early.

Other points of interest along the Tioga Road are Cathedral Lakes; Mono Lake; Lambert Dome; Tuolumne (Giant Sequoia) Grove; Olmstead Point.

One way to enjoy this road trip is to get one of the audio tours at Yosemite-Tours.org. You can load the mp3 file to your phone or other player and enjoy detailed information about the major points of interest.

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Where to stay at Yosemite

Yosemite Camp 4The decision on where to spend the nights at Yosemite depends on your preference, budget and your planning skills. You can find very inexpensive tent cabins or you can go all the way and stay at the luxurious Ahwahnee Hotel (Majestic Yosemite Hotel). You can rough it at a campground or go on a backpacking trip through the wilderness.

Whatever you deciide to do, you will need to plan way ahead. All hotels, lodges and campsites are booked many months ahead of time. Some of the more popular ones are booked 12 months in advance.

Lodging

Yosemite Lodge Dining RoomIn my opinion, the best lodge for the value is Yosemite Lodge at the Fall (Yosemite Valley Lodge). It is located right on the valley floor next to Yosemite Fall. It is a large complex with about 240 rooms, swimming pool, food court, restaurant, shops, bicycle rentals and many other amenities. Rooms will run you around $200 per night depending on the season.

It is a large complex with about 240 rooms, swimming pool, food court, restaurant, shops, bicycle rentals and many other amenities. 

The main drawback is that there is no airconditioning in the rooms and if you want WiFi for your gadgets you will need to go to the main lobby. 

Rooms will run you around $200 per night depending on the season.

Tip: It is almost impossible to find a room at the Yosemite Lodge. You have to plan your trip 12 months in advance and you have to keep trying to book the room daily until you get lucky. Best time to try is 7 am every day and you will be trying for an arrival date 12 months in the future. Visit Yosemite Reservations to try to find your room.

Yosemite National Park - Half Dome VillageAnother good choice is Half Dome Village (Curry Village). This area sits right under Glacier Point and near the Mist Trail in the Valley. It has regular motel rooms, cabins and tent cabins. The motel rooms have A/C and private bathrooms. 

Like the Valley Lodge, it also has a food court, restaurants and activities center. Many of the Yosemite activities like rafting and biking can be booked here. 

If you decide you want to live it up at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, expect to pay close to $500 per night – there is always a room available at this price.

If you prefer to stay outside of Yosemite, book your lodging on Expedia.com!.

Camping

Yosemite Camp Curry / Half Dome VillageDuring my 2012 visit, I did not plan 12 months in advance so I was not able to find reservations anywhere at Yosemite Valley. I did not want to stay outside of the valley either, so I opted for the only remaining option: Camping.

Important Warning: This is Bear country. It is almost guaranteed you will encounter a bear during your visit. So to make it a peaceful encounter, you must follow certain rules. First, make sure you totally empty your vehicle. No trash, no gum packets, nothing that may have a smell should be left in the car. And at camp you must put all your food and drinks in special metal lockers – no exceptions. If you don’t, you will come face to face with a hungry bear who is trying to break into your car or tent to find the nice smelly stuff. Close to Camp-4 you will see an old SUV with the door ripped open as a reminder of what bears can and did do.

There are a few campgrounds set aside for walk-ins (no reservations). During the summer months, those camps fill up very quickly. So when I drove into the first campground to check availability I knew I might get stranded. As a backup plan, I booked a room in a motel outside the park boundaries. Thankfully I did not need to use it.

See "No Reservations Camping" for a list of such campgrounds.

The first camp I went to did not have any spots, but they called other camps for me and found a spot at Camp 4. I did not know it at the time, but I really lucked out on finding this spot. Camp 4 is a tent only camp right next to Yosemite Lodge – which also means right next to Yosemite Fall.

Yosemite Wawona HotelThe camp is very basic - it does have bathrooms but no showers. I parked my SUV in the dirt parking lot and had to carry and drag my camping equipment to the campsite. I had to make several trips to get all my stuff. I was really exhausted by the time I was settled in.

Since this camp is so close to Yosemite Lodge (Yosemite Valley Lodge), I was able to walk or bike there for a swim in the nice Olympic pool, get a shower or dine at the food court. They also have Wi-Fi service in the lobby. You have to purchase a 24-hour pass if you want to connect your device.Yosemite Ahwahnee Hotel and Half Dome

Tip: Due to a 2016 concessionaire switch, many iconic places at Yosemite have new names. Here are a few important ones:

Curry Village is now – Half Dome Village

Yosemite Lodge at the Falls is now – Yosemite Valley Lodge

Badger Pass Ski Area is now – Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area

Ahwahnee Hotel is now - Majestic Yosemite Hotel

The Wawona Hotel is now – Big Trees Lodge 

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Yosemite Grand Tour

Yosemite  Mariposa GroveIf this is your first visit to Yosemite and you are not sure what to do, spend a day on the GrandTour and let someone else do the driving and the guiding. This is a good way to visit the major points of interest and to help you make plans for the rest of your stay.

The Grand Tour combines several smaller tours and includes the Valley Floor, Giant Sequoia Trees at Mariposa Grove, a trip to Glacier Point, and Wawona hotel and village (Big Trees Lodge).

The reserve this tour or any of the smaller ones you can call the official Yosemite Tour operator at (209) 372-4FUN. You can find more information about the tour and make online reservations at YosemitePark.com.

Yosemite Mariposa GroveThe tour guides are friendly and well informed. They will point out the major attractions, tell you a bit of Yosemite lore and they will give plenty of reminders and warnings about respecting wildlife. If anyone on the tour spots bears or other animals the driver will stop and let you take pictures. On our tour, we spotted a momma bear and 2 cubs. They were close enough for great photos.

The tour includes a stop for lunch at Big Trees Lodge. You can include lunch with your reservation or you can buy lunch when you get there. Since this is a full day trip, bring a lot of water and some snacks with you.

Main points of interests on this tour are: Bridalveil Fall; Yosemite Fall; Tunnel View; Mariposa Grove Tram through Giant Sequoia; Glacier Point; and Big Trees Lodge.Yosemite Wawona Hotel

At Big Trees Lodge, you will get the chance to visit the Pioneer Yosemite History Center – a historic village on the Merced River banks. The pioneer center showcases some old cottages and stage coaches. You will also get to cross a covered wood bridge.

All bus tours depart in front of the Yosemite Lodge (Yosemite Valley Lodge) lobby. This one starts from 8:45 am and returns around 5 pm. The tour costs around $82 (or $95 with lunch) – with discounts for seniors and children.

Glacier Point

Yosemite Half Dome from Glacier PointGlacier Point offers a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Vernal and Nevada Falls, Half Dome and the high country – from a height of 7200 feet. This is one of the stops on the Grand Tour, but you can get to it on one of the Yosemite tour buses or by car. The round trip takes about 4 hours, but you can book a one-way ticket if you are planning on hiking back down to the valley (a 5-mile hike). Alternatively, you can forget about the bus ride and hike up to the top.

If you are going by car watch out for road closures due to wintry conditions. Once you are at the top you will walk a short distance to a large and exhilarating viewing area. You can get to one of the railing protected terraces or you can climb on top of the rock outcroppings for a better view.

Tip: Bring you binoculars with you to zoom in on the distant landmarks.Yosemite Vernal and Nevada Falls

If you time your trip right you can witness the changing light on Half Dome during sunset or you can spend your time gazing at the stars and the Milkyway.

Tip: the short trail from the parking lots to the viewing area is wheelchair accessible.

From 1872 to 1968 visitor to Yosemite could witness a glowing Fire Fall dropping from the top of Glacier Point to the valley floor. This was caused by owners of the Glacier Point Hotel throwing hot embers from a height of around 3000 feet. The attraction was eventually closed by park service due to the huge crowds it attracted and due to fire risk.

Giant Sequoia Trees at Mariposa Grove

Yosemite Mariposa GroveGiant Sequoia (or Giant Redwood) are the world’s largest trees - and some of the largest giant trees are located at the Mariposa Grove near Wawona at Yosemite.

Although you can drive to the Grove it is highly recommended that you hop on one of the free shuttles. The parking lot usually gets full by 10 am. If you are planning on taking the Grand Tour (mentioned above), then the Mariposa Grove is one of the main stops.

Top Trails: Yosemite: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

Once you get to the main entrance you can either hike or take the tram. The best way to experience those trees and to understand the sheer size and magnificence of those giants is to walk amongst them. So take a hike through the grove. You can make it a short walk through the lower part or you can spend half a day hiking to the Upper Grove and back.

If you don’t feel like hiking, you can ride the tram. The tram tour is about 1 hour long and costs around $26 (the cost is included in the Grand Tour). The tour is narrated with a lot of information about the notable trees and their history. The tram will pause along the way for better viewing and for pictures.

Some of the trees you will encounter on this tour are Grizzly Giant; California Tunnel Tree; Faithful Couple; Telescope Tree.

One of the most sought after giant trees is the California Tunnel Tree. It is the last standing Sequoia with a tunnel through it. The tunnel was cut into it in 1895 to allow stagecoaches to drive through. You can find this tree at the lower grove and you can actually walk through it. The tunnel is so wide and deep that a whole group of people can walk through at the same time.

Do you feel like hiking – but not too far? You can take the tram to the top (Upper Grove) then hike back down to the parking lot. The hike from upper grove to the main entrance is mostly downhill.

Tunnel View

On your way to Glacier Point, Big Trees Lodge or Mariposa Grove (or on the way back) you must stop at this Vista Point. Most tour buses will stop at this location anyway.Yosemite Valley Tunnel View

The view from this point is stunning. You can see the whole valley and surrounding iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall.

During my visit, I arrived at the Vista Point in the evening and was rewarded with a most amazing view. The whole waterfall turned into a cascading rainbow. This effect lasted for around 30 minutes and provided the backdrop for many stunning photos.

From the parking lot, you can take a hike to Inspiration Point for a better and less crowded view of the valley. The hike will take you from 1 to 2 hours and it has an elevation gain of around 990 feet.

Important Warning: This is Bear country. It is almost guaranteed you will encounter a bear during your visit. So to make it a peaceful encounter, you must follow certain rules. First, make sure you totally empty your vehicle. No trash, no gum packets, nothing that may have a smell should be left in the car. And at camp you must put all your food and drinks in special metal lockers – no exceptions. If you don’t, you will come face to face with a hungry bear who is trying to break into your car or tent to find the nice smelly stuff. Close to Camp-4 you will see an old SUV with the door ripped open as a reminder of what bears can and did do.

Video: 

Yosemite Mist Trail

Yosemite Mist TrailIf you don’t like hiking too much or you only have time for one hike, then you must take this amazing hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

You will be getting up close to two large and powerful waterfalls that flow all year long. The falls are strongest in spring and early summer and they create a cooling mist that blankets the trail continuously.

In the spring the mist is so strong that you will need to wear your rain gear.

Top Trails: Yosemite: Must-Do Hikes for Everyone

Yosemite Vernal FallYou start the hike by strolling next to the river then you begin your climb until you reach a footbridge. At this bridge you will get your first glimpse of Vernal Fall. This is a good place for photos, a bathroom break and to fill your water canteens or bottles. There are no more services along the trail.

The trail gets steeper after the footbridge and you will have to climb up a long string of rock stairs to reach the top of Vernal Fall. The stairs are difficult and can be very crowded so climb carefully and take frequent breaks along the way.

When you reach the top you can get close to the edge of the waterfall and admire the tons ofwater tumbling down 317 feet from the granite cliff to the bottom. The edge of the fall is protected by a rail but keep an eye on young children.

Yosemite Vernal and Nevada FallsAfter admiring the rushing water and the view below the waterfall, continue your hike following the river. You will first come across Emerald Pool – so named because of the water colors. Although there are a lot of warning sign banning swimming, you will see a lot of brave souls jumping into the pool or sliding along the granite slopes into the pool. It is fun to watch but I decided to pass on this small adventure.

If you still have the stamina, continue climbing the trail to reach the Nevada Fall upstream. The hike to the top of Nevada fall is another 2 miles of mostly steep trail.

The name Nevada is an old Spanish word for snow. The fall from a distance looks like a great snow avalanche. This is due to the water cascading down a steep rock slope – third of the way down from the top.Yosemite Vernal Fall Mist Trail

Book: John Muir Trail - The essential guide to hiking America's most famous trail

The twin waterfalls can also be seen from vantage points along Yosemite NP. Some of the most spectacular views are seen from Glacier point.

The total distance from the trailhead to the top of Nevada fall is around 3 miles and the total climb is around 900 feet. If you are a seasoned hiker, you can continue your hike along the John Muir Trail which takes you on a 210 miles journey through the wilderness.

Yosemite Whitewater Rafting

Yosemite Tuolumne River RaftingMost people spend the whole time at Yosemite Valley and surrounding area - missing out on wonderful nature and amazing adventures. If you have the adventurous spirit, leave the crowds behind and go on a whitewater rafting trip on the Tuolumne River. 

The same river that passes through Tuolumne Meadow at a leisurely pace in the upper elevations turns into a whitewater monster in the lower slopes. The Tuolumne River rapids are considered class-4 which means that you need to have whitewater experience before navigating those rapids.

Yosemite Tuolumne River RaftingLike all good things at Yosemite you really have to plan ahead for this adventure. Do your research and talk to the outfitters about best times and river conditions – then book your trip months ahead of time.

After doing a lot of research I decided to go on a 2-day rafting trip with Zephyr. I am very glad I went with them. It was a very well planned trip with friendly and professional guides.

Zephyr is located in the city of Columbia but the meeting place is close to Groveland - on the edge of Yosemite.

From that location, you will ride a bus to the launch point. The bus ride could be rough at times with a narrow dirt road towards the end.

Once you arrive, you get your final instructions and gear and climb on to your assigned raft. A lot of the instruction was spent on how to climb on and get off the raft – especially in the middle of the river. It is not as easy as it seems.

Yosemite Tuolumne River RaftingSome of the rafts get loaded with food, drinks, tents and other equipment - with room for 2 or 3 rafters. Others are for rafters only and can hold up to 8 people.

Book: The Complete Whitewater Rafter

I never went rafting before, so I was very reluctant to go. Zephyr guides assured me that I will be fine – and they were right. With their detailed instruction and patient guidance, we made it through the whole run without any incidents.

The weather was very warm on that day, but we stayed cool because of the sprays and splashes from the rapids. Every once in while the guides would tell us it is safe to jump in – so we would tumble out of the raft and float for a while letting the current carry us until the next rapid.

Along with running the rapids, we had a few side adventures: We hiked to an abandoned Goldmine; Jumped from high rocks to the river; Camped out overnight; Swam in secret swimming holes with natural waterslides.

Throughout our adventure, we noticed that a professional photographer was trailing us on a Kayak and taking pictures of our experience. Sometimes he would race ahead and set up his equipment on a vantage point to catch our runs through the rapids.

Yosemite Tuolumne River RaftingI also brought waterproof disposable cameras with me and took a lot of pictures along the river and at the campsite.

The guides prepared very tasty meals throughout our stay and supplied all kinds of drinks. One of the most important rules they followed religiously was to tread lightly on the environment. We always left the wilderness the way we found it - wild, pristine, beautiful and clean.

At the end of the run, our rafts were towed behind a speed boat and then lifted out of the water with a huge crane. Back at the meeting place we collected our belongings and purchased the professional photos of our adventure and said our goodbyes to the great guides.

There are other outfitters that offer similar experiences, but I highly recommend Zephyr.

Phone reservations 1-800-431-3636

Online reservations here.

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