The Ultimate Guide To Yosemite National Park
Majestic Cliffs, Deep Valleys, Waterfalls, Glaciers, & Giant Sequoias!
Yosemite National Park preserves approximately 1,200 square miles of rugged terrain in the Sierra Nevada of California.
Yosemite National Park is mostly known for its gorgeous waterfalls, but there is a lot more to see and explore in the park, including deep valleys, aged sequoia trees, glacier-carved lands, grand mountains, wildlife, and much more.
It all started in 1889, when John Muir, better known as “Father of the National Parks,” discovered that the grasslands surrounding Yosemite Valley lacked any protection and were being destroyed by domestic sheep grazing. So John Muir and his fellow environmentalist, Robert Underwood, lobbied for national park status, and it was finally approved by Congress in 1890. That is how Yosemite becomes the US’s third national park.
The gateway to pristine & awe-inspiring nature, Yosemite National Park is also a popular hiking and camping destination in the US!
Here is my ultimate guide to Yosemite National Park, featuring must-see places, attractions map, suggested itinerary, hiking trails, campgrounds, hotels, and restaurants in Yosemite National Park.
Planning Your Trip To Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is open all year-round, but some sections are inaccessible by car from November through April due to snow.
You can take your car inside the park and drive to all vista points, but I highly recommend using the park shuttles, when available, to save time and avoid the pain of finding parking near the vista points.
You can park at one of the parking lots inside Yosemite National Park and then hop onto a park shuttle bus to get to the vista points. You can find the shuttle route and the parking lots in the park on the Yosemite shuttle system map.
There are free shuttles offered by the National Park Services, stopping at all major vista points, campgrounds, and lodges in Yosemite National Park. There are also a few paid tours available in Yosemite National Park, and you can find more details about those tours on the NPS Website.
You don’t need any reservations for entering Yosemite National Park, but you must make your camping and lodging reservations in advance.
Getting To Yosemite National Park
There are quite a few airports close to Yosemite National Park, and flying to the nearest possible airport and then renting a car to visit Yosemite, is my first preference.
Airports Near Yosemite National Park: Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), Fresno, CA, 65 miles from Yosemite National Park. Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), Mammoth Lakes, CA, only 70 miles from Yosemite National Park, is recommended only during the summer months as roads to Yosemite are closed in winter. Oakland International Airport (OAK), Oakland, CA, 149 miles from Yosemite. San Francisco International Airport (SFO), San Francisco, CA, 168 miles from the Yosemite. Reno-Tahoe International Airport (RNO), Reno, NV, 223 miles to Yosemite National Park.
Train Services to Yosemite National Park: While there’re no direct trains to Yosemite National Park, Amtrak does offer many train services connecting several major cities in the US to Merced Amtrak station, from where you take a connecting YARTS bus to Yosemite National Park.
Bus Services to Yosemite National Park: YARTS offers bus services to Yosemite National Park from several cities, and you will find the schedule and route details on the YARTS website.
Like Amtrak train services, Greyhound also connects several US cities to Merced, from where you can take a connecting YARTS bus to Yosemite National Park.
Things To Do In Yosemite National Park
Top Sights & Attractions In Yosemite
Yosemite Attractions Map
While there is a lot to see and explore in Yosemite National Park, but considering that many people visit just for a day or two, I have compiled a list of a few must-see places in Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite National Park Entrances: There are five entrances into Yosemite National Park, and your choices will vary based on where you’re coming from –
- North Entrance: The Hetch Hetchy Entrance, the farthest north of all entrances in the park, is a bit of a drive but allows you to skip the traffic and enter through a quieter area of the park.
- Southwest Entrances: There are two Southwest entrances and are best suited for people coming from the Bay area:
- Big Oak Flat Entrance
- Arch Rock Entrance
- South Entrance: Via Fish Camp town, best suited for people coming from Los Angeles or San Diego.
- Northeast / Tioga Pass Entrance: Best for people coming from Lake Tahoe or the Las Vegas area.
In my travel guide to Yosemite National Park, and during my visit, I have used the Arch Rock Entrance. Depending on which entrance you take, the order you will visit these viewpoints might be different, but I highly recommend seeing all of them.
Here are the must-see places in Yosemite National Park!
With the Bridalveil Fall on the right, El Capitan on the left, and Half Dome in the background, the views from the Tunnel View are unparalleled!
Tunnel View offers some gorgeous and sweeping views of the Yosemite Valley! If you’re using the Arch Rock Entrance, you will see The Tunnel View, Viewpoint 1 on the Yosemite attractions map, on your way into the park.
The Tunnel View is a very popular viewing area in the park because of the expansive views of the Yosemite valley, comprising El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome, all three prominent landmarks of Yosemite from one place.
Valley View offers gorgeous views of El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, and Merced River!
Valley View, Viewpoint 2 on the Yosemite attractions map, is located along one-way Northside Drive, and a lot of people stop here on their way out. However, I highly recommend visiting Valley View while you’re entering the park, as it gets jam-packed later in the day.
To visit Valley View, you can park at a small parking lot located near the Pohono Bridge. Once there, you will see the bed of Merced River with El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks in the background.
El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan Meadow is the best place to view the towering & iconic granite walls of the El Capitan!
El Capitan, more than three thousand feet tall, is visible from several places in the park. However, El Capitan Meadow, Viewpoint 3 on the Yosemite attractions map, provides an awe-inspiring straight-up view of El Capitan and the Cathedral Rocks.
Visitor Center/Parking, Viewpoint 4 on the Yosemite attractions map, while stopping here is not essential if you plan to drive to all vista points in the park. However, I highly recommend that you stop here, park your car, and then take the park shuttle to the rest of the viewpoints in Yosemite National Park.
There’s no glacier at Glacier Point now, but you will see jaw-dropping views of the entire Yosemite valley from the top!
Glacier Point, Viewpoint 5 on the Yosemite attractions map, is one of the most famous vista points in the park, offering some spectacular views of the Yosemite valley from the top.
Glacier Point, located more than seven thousand feet above sea level, portrays a complete picture of Yosemite, including the valley, Half Dome, and the three waterfalls in Yosemite National Park.
Glacier Point is also the starting point of a few popular hiking trails in Yosemite. I will cover all the hiking trails in Yosemite in the section below – Hiking in Yosemite National Park. However, keep in mind that the road to Glacier Point is only open from late May through early November.
Sentinel Bridge, Viewpoint 6 on the Yosemite attractions map, is famous for its views of the Half Dome reflected in the Merced River and the distant views of the Yosemite Falls. The Sentinel Bridge is flooded with photographers trying to capture the reflection of the Half Dome. However, it isn’t easy to find parking close to the Sentinel Bridge, and I highly recommend using the park shuttle to get to this point.
Lower Yosemite Fall
See the Yosemite Fall up close and feel the mist from the waterfall all over you!
Lower Yosemite Fall, Viewpoint 7 on the Yosemite attractions map, provides a closer view of Yosemite Falls, so close that you will feel the mist all over you. There’s a small parking lot at the Lower Yosemite Fall, and a short walk from the parking lot will take you right to the bottom of the fall.
Finding parking can be difficult, so I recommend using the park shuttle service to get to the Lower Yosemite Fall.
There you have it, these are the must-see places in Yosemite National Park and your best choices if you’re visiting just for a day or two!
However, there are several other things to see and do in the park, including several hiking trails and great camping opportunities amid beautiful nature. If you’re planning to spend more time in Yosemite, I definitely recommend continuing reading the post and adding a few hikes to your Yosemite itinerary.
Hiking in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is home to several natural wonders, but not all vista points are accessible by car. Hiking is the only way to get to some of these surreal places.
There’re several hiking trails in Yosemite National Park! To help you select the best hike for your trip, below, I have listed the popular treks in Yosemite and have categorized them by difficulty level.
Taft Point: Though the hike to Taft Point is an easy 2.2 miles roundtrip, there are no guardrails, and I don’t recommend this hike to families with kids and people scared of heights.
However, the views from Taft Point are breathtaking! You would actually be looking down on El Capitan from Taft Point and see beautiful views of Yosemite Falls. Taft Point Trailhead is located on Glacier Point Road; GPS coordinates Lat: 37.71302, Long: -119.58641.
Lower Yosemite Falls: A short 1.5 miles roundtrip easy hike takes you to the bottom of Yosemite Falls, so close that you will feel the mist all over you. There’s a small parking lot at the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead, and it can be challenging to find parking, so I recommend using the park shuttle service to get to the Lower Yosemite Fall trailhead. Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead is Viewpoint 7 on the Yosemite attractions map.
Bridalveil Fall: This is another short and easy hike, 1.2 miles roundtrip, leading to the base of Bridalveil Fall. The trailhead is accessible from Wawona Road or Southside Drive and has a small parking lot. GPS coordinates: Lat: 37.7173, -119.6509.
However, the parking lot at Bridalveil Fall trailhead fills up quickly, and there’s no shuttle service to the trailhead. In that case, the only option is to park at Yosemite Valley and then take a slightly longer trail, an additional 0.5 miles roundtrip, that crosses Bridalveil Creek and takes you to the base of Bridalveil Fall.
The Mist Trail (Vernal & Nevada Falls): This is one of the signature hikes in Yosemite National Park, leading to two gorgeous waterfalls in the park, along with spectacular scenery on the way.
There are two hiking options on the Mist Trail in Yosemite (i) 3 miles roundtrip hike to Vernal Fall (ii) 7 miles roundtrip to Nevada Falls. Many people do the first part and return from the Vernal Fall, but if you can continue the hike and make it to Nevada Falls, you will see some sublime nature.
The Mist Trail trailhead is located east of Curry Village and has a small parking lot. If you don’t find parking there, you can park anywhere in the park and then take a shuttle to The Mist Trail trailhead. The Mist Trail trailhead Address: GPS: Lat: 37.7355, Long: -119.5662.
Inspiration Point: The 2.6 miles roundtrip hike to the Inspiration Point offers some grand views of the El Capitan and Half Dome. The hike is quite strenuous and uphill, but views are rewarding from the Inspiration Point. The Inspiration Point trailhead is located at the Wawona Tunnel overlook and has adequate parking. Inspiration Point trailhead Address: GPS: Lat: 37.7134, Long: -119.6728.
Columbia Rock: The Columbia Rock trail, 3 miles roundtrip, is part of the 7.6 miles long Upper Yosemite Falls trail. Columbia Rock offers some great views of the Yosemite Valley but not the Yosemite Falls. You have to continue on the Upper Yosemite Falls trail to see the Yosemite Falls, a highly strenuous hiking trail in Yosemite.
The Columbia Rock trailhead is just a short walk from the Yosemite Village parking lot. You can also park anywhere in the park and then use the shuttle bus to get to the Columbia Rock trailhead.
Upper Yosemite Falls: This is a very strenuous hike, about 7.6 miles roundtrip, and can take 8-10 hours. However, the hike is highly rewarding, with a close encounter with Upper Yosemite Falls and gorgeous closeup views of Half Dome.
The Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead is just a short walk from the Yosemite Village parking lot. You can also park anywhere in the park and then use the shuttle bus to get to the Upper Yosemite Falls trailhead.
Half Dome: The Half Dome trail is extremely strenuous but a very popular trail in Yosemite, letting you climb all the way to the top of Half Dome. The Half Dome trail is 14.2 miles round trip via the Mist Trail and takes 10-14 hours.
The final part of the trail, the climb up the Half Dome, is extremely challenging and dangerous. To ensure visitors’ safety, the park has installed cables to help visitors do the final climb. However, only a certain number of hikers are allowed to do the Half Dome climb, managed via a permit system managed by National Park Services.
You can park at the Half Dome trailhead parking lot located just ahead of the Curry Village. To complete the entire hike, you would need to start very early in the morning, and the shuttle buses may not be the best choice.
Do remember, you need a permit to do the final climb up the Half Dome!
Lodging & Dining In Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park has several campgrounds providing an excellent opportunity to stay within the park and close to sublime nature. The campgrounds in Yosemite are spread all over the park, and a few are seasonal.
Camping is fun anywhere in Yosemite, but I recommend getting a campsite in one of the campgrounds close to the Yosemite Valley!
Campgrounds Close to Yosemite Valley:
- Upper Pines Campground: Open year-round, has 283 campsites and can accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers.
- North Pines Campground: Seasonal campground with 81 campsites and welcomes tents, RVs, and trailers.
- Lower Pines Campground: Seasonal campground with 60 campsites and can accommodate tents, RVs, and trailers.
- Camp 4: The historic Camp 4 is a very popular campground among rock climbers and has 35 campsites that are walk-in only and allocated via a lottery system (May-Sep) and on a first-come-first-served basis (Oct-May).
All campsites close to Yosemite Valley, except Camp 4, can be reserved online on recreation.gov.
Other campgrounds in Yosemite: There are several other seasonal campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, located within an hour’s drive from Yosemite Village.
These include three major campgrounds located in the extreme corners of the park: Wawona Campground, Hodgdon Meadow Campground, and Tuolumne Meadows Campground.
There are also a few other small and seasonal campgrounds scattered around the park, including Bridalveil Creek Campground, Tamarack Flat Campground, Yosemite Creek Campground, Crane Flat Campground, and Porcupine Flat Campground.
If you’re not a big fan of camping, there’re a few other great lodging options in Yosemite, including a few hotels, lodges, and cabins. However, you have to plan ahead and make your lodging reservations in advance. In fact, I recommend making your Yosemite lodging reservations before booking your flights and other transportation.
There are lodging options available outside the park, but I highly recommend staying within Yosemite National Park to avoid driving long distances.
Hotels in Yosemite National Park
The Ahwahnee: The Ahwahnee hotel in Yosemite National Park is a National Historic Landmark and the pinnacle of luxury accommodation within the park. The Ahwahnee is located amid Yosemite’s iconic landmarks, including Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point, and is known for its beautiful rustic interior decor.
The Ahwahnee offers various accommodation types, including standard hotel rooms, suites, parlors, and cottages. The Ahwahnee is also known for its excellent dining room serving breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
However, to get a room in The Ahwahnee, you will have to plan your trip and make your lodging reservations in advance. You can find all the hotel amenities and make your reservations on The Ahwahnee website.
Yosemite Valley Lodge: The Yosemite Valley Lodge is another excellent lodging choice in Yosemite with fabulous views of the Yosemite Falls, access to several tour & shuttle buses, and a few great dining options.
Wawona Hotel: The Wawona Hotel, a rustic Victoria-era building, is located 27 miles from Yosemite Valley. The Wawona Hotel has an onsite dining room, a golf course, and riding stables.
Cabins & Canvas Tents in Yosemite National Park
Curry Village: There’re several accommodation options at the Curry Village, including canvas tent cabins, standard rooms, and wooden cabins. Curry Village’s canvas tents & wooden cabins are an excellent choice if you want to experience what it feels like camping in Yosemite without having to bring all your camping gear.
Housekeeping Camp: This is another great choice for people who want to experience camping in Yosemite without hauling all of their camping gear. The Housekeeping Camp has semi-enclosed camping units with bunk beds and patios and offers gorgeous views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome.
White Wolf Lodge: Located 30 miles from Yosemite Valley, White Wolf Lodge offers canvas tents and wooden cabins. You can find more details and make reservations online on the White Wolf Lodge website. However, cooking is not allowed inside or outside the tents and cabins at the White Wolf Lodge.
I’m sure you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the several dining options in Yosemite National Park!
Fine Dining: You will find fine dining options in Yosemite in most of the hotels in the park, including The Ahwahnee Dining Room at The Ahwahnee hotel, Mountain Room at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, and Curry Village Pavilion at Curry Village.
Light Fare & Drinks: You can enjoy drinks and appetizers in a casual environment at The Ahwahnee Bar at The Ahwahnee hotel, Mountain Room Lounge at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, The Loft at Degnan’s in Yosemite Village, and at the Curry Village Pizza Patio & Bar in Curry Village.
Quick Bite / Food Courts: You can grab quick bites and food to go at several places in Yosemite, including Base Camp Eatery in Yosemite Valley Lodge, Village Store and Village Grill in Yosemite Village, and the Meadow Grill in the Curry Village.
Some of these restaurants and cafes are seasonal, so I recommend verifying the hours online.
Other California Attractions & Related Posts
I hope you enjoyed reading the post, The Ultimate Guide To Yosemite National Park, and I hope this will help you plan your perfect trip to the Yosemite National Park. If you enjoy nature, I am sure you will love Yosemite!
Happy feeding your soul!
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