If 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 bear.
The first national park in the USA - was established as a grant in 1864
The Yosemite Valley was home to the Ahwahnechee people for more than 3,000 years
At the Valley, you can enjoy the towering cliffs, forested canyons, rivers, peaceful meadows, and waterfalls.
Outside the Yosemite Valley, you can go on long hikes, visit the Giant Sequoia trees, or go whitewater rafting
In winter, Ski lovers can hit the slopes at Badger Pass
Must-see places: Mirror Lake, Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Mist Trail, and Glacier Point
There is something for everyone at Yosemite
Spend your time hiking on the valley floor, gazing at the towering cliffs, forested canyons, rivers, and waterfalls.
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).
Swimming and rafting (the leisurely kind).
And finally, you can spend some time volunteering to help restore habitats and get close to nature.
America’s first national park is so full of beauty and wonder - it would take a nature lover a lifetime to explore and experience its treasures. So start now. Take a day trip or spend several nights – and keep returning for more.
Recently, I spent a full week at Yosemite and enjoyed every minute. I was very disappointed when my time was up, and I had to say goodbye to this wonderful place. Here is an account of what I did and saw – and some other things I heard about.
Get lots of useful information about Yosemite National Park at the official website.
No matter your route, 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.
Coming 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 seven days. If you plan to come back, buy the annual pass for only $40.
You can find an excellent driving guide at TripAdvisor with detailed information for all the 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 the Yosemite Valley floor, there are two important stops along the way. You can make one or both stops before entering the valley or returning after settling into your lodging place. The two places are the Giant Sequoia Grove and Wawona. More about both places later.
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 the amazing Yosemite views.
Tip: You will be tempted to stop along the way to enjoy the views. Always use the designated pull-outs.
For 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.
On 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 you out of the valley, passing by Yosemite Lodge (Yosemite Valley Lodge). If you miss your turn or destination along the way, you must loop all the way around to try again.
In the middle of this great loop, you will see magnificent 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
- Start with the informative pages at http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/things2do.htm.
- Then see what people are saying at TripAdvisor http://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g61000-Activities-Yosemite_National_Park_California.html.
- Review the Yosemite guide at parenting magazine website http://www.parenting.com/gallery/things-to-do-at-yosemite-national-park
- Read a book or two. See The Complete Guide: Yosemite National Park for a good one.
- Contact tour operators and book a guided tour.
- Contact the official Yosemite Tour operator at (209) 372-0200 to choose your tour and make reservations.
Tip: Happy to report that Yosemite went back to the traditional place names. The concessionaire dispute was resolved in 2019.
I recommend the Grand Tour to get a general idea about Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area. See the details here.
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, a sports shop, restaurants, ATM, and a post office.
You can ask the rangers for tips or buy maps and books at the visitor center. 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 is especially important when you are loading up on supplies.
Yosemite Valley Attractions
There is too much information to share about Yosemite, so I broke it into several sections. Read about where to stay and things to do in and around the Yosemite Valley:
Outside of Yosemite Valley
Most people spend the whole time in Yosemite Valley and the surrounding area - missing out on wonderful nature and amazing adventures. If you are adventurous, leave the crowds behind and visit places like Hetch Hetchy Valley and Dam, Tioga Pass, Tenaya Lake, and Tuolumne Meadows, or go on a Whitewater Rafting trip on the Tuolumne River.