Yosemite National Park   Travel Guide

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best places to visit yosemite national park

22 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park, California

Yosemite was first protected in 1864 and naturalist John Muir advocated for its continued protection through his many writings. Brimming with natural wonders worth writing home about, travel experts and visitors agree spending one day at Yosemite is

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Yosemite Valley Yosemite Valley free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Traffic is hectic in and out of Yosemite Valley. The National Park Service advises travelers to arrive before 8 a.m. to avoid hourslong delays. – Catherine Parker

Unless you are solely planning a backcountry expedition during your trip to Yosemite, chances are you'll end up in Yosemite Valley at one point or another. That's because Yosemite Valley features many of the park's top attractions, including Tunnel View and a handful of Yosemite's most famous waterfalls, including Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall , Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls , to name a few. One of the world's largest granite monoliths, El Capitan , along with Half Dome are also located here. 

best places to visit yosemite national park

Tunnel View Tunnel View free

Tunnel View is just that, the viewpoint from the Wawona Tunnel along one of the main roads into  Yosemite Valley . Wawona Road leads visitors into the park's hub from the park's south entrance. Along with Glacier Point , Tunnel View is widely considered to be the most popular viewpoint in all of Yosemite. From its vantage point, travelers get an eyeful of the majestic Yosemite Valley, complete with views of famous park sights, such as Half Dome , El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall .

Recent visitors agreed Tunnel View is a truly amazing sight to behold and shouldn't be missed. Some even suggested visiting Tunnel View first, as many said it's the perfect introduction to Yosemite's incredible landscape. Keep in mind that the viewpoint is popular and this area is always busy with vehicles and pedestrians, especially during the summer. Several drivers said they waited for a few minutes to snag a parking spot from departing visitors.

best places to visit yosemite national park

El Capitan El Capitan free

As one of the most recognizable features of Yosemite National Park, El Capitan is one of the first features that visitors see, as it is visible even before travelers enter Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View . Called Tutokanula by the Ahwahneechee people, El Capitan is one of the greatest areas in the world for climbing. Experienced rock climbers can often be seen clinging to the side of El Capitan at all hours of the day and night from spring to fall. If you want to gaze at its 3,000 feet of sheer rock face, the El Capitan Meadow is the place. You'll find the meadow on Northside Drive, near the west end of Yosemite Valley.

El Capitan is a big climb – the NPS labels it a "Big Wall Climb." As such, overnight climbing trips require a special permit (the Wilderness Climbing Permit). The good news is it is free and climbers apply for it in person (unlike Half Dome that's only available via a lottery system). Climbers need to check in at the Climbing Management Office, located in the Yosemite Museum building. Yosemite National Park also has climbing rangers that can assist climbers with routes.  

best places to visit yosemite national park

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Yosemite Full Day Private Tour and Hike

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Mariposa Grove Mariposa Grove free

U.S. News Insider Tip: If your trip included a stop at Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks , feel free to skip this area; the views are likely redundant. – Catherine Parker

"Giant" seems to be an understatement for this grove of sequoia trees in the southernmost section of Yosemite. Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoia is one of three groves in the park where visitors can view sequoia trees. The distinction between the Mariposa Grove and the others is that Mariposa is the largest, housing about 500 mature giant sequoia trees, each thousands of years old. Featured sights include the Fallen Monarch and the Grizzly Giant, which is estimated to be around 3,000 years old and is about 90 feet in circumference. There's also the fun California Tunnel Tree, which is the only living sequoia in Yosemite that features a human-made tunnel carved out the middle of the trunk.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Half Dome Half Dome

A prominent feature of the Yosemite Valley , this granite rock face rises up 4,737 feet above the valley floor (8,844 feet above sea level). In 1875, George Anderson scaled the rock face and drilled the holes for cabling. It is those cables that guide hikers to the summit of Half Dome. While most visitors are content to gaze at the iconic Yosemite site from the valley floor, the best viewing is at Sentinel Bridge, which features views of Half Dome and its reflection in the Merced River. You can access Sentinel Bridge, which is located on the eastern side of Yosemite Valley, on Sentinel Drive (near Cook's Meadow) from shuttle stop No. 11.

To hike Half Dome, the trail is about 14 to 16 miles long and features elevation gains totaling 4,800 feet (for reference, the elevation gain on the Mist Trail is between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, depending on which waterfall you visit). On this hike, the challenge begins immediately with a steep ascent up the Mist Trail, which serves as a good litmus test to see if you're in adequate condition for the remaining journey. The hike then continues to the top of Nevada Fall , followed by a long, flat section through Little Yosemite Valley near the Merced River. The trail then ventures up the sub dome. When you finally reach the base of the Half Dome, a steep rocky climb finally takes you up the Half Dome Cables, a vertical, exposed rock face scalable by two steel cables for the final 400 feet to the summit.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Yosemite Falls Yosemite Falls

Standing at 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the U.S. and one of the tallest in the world. Made up of three separate falls, Yosemite Falls is divided into an Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet) and the Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet). Visible around Yosemite Valley, the best places to see Yosemite Falls without a hike are Sentinel Meadow and Yosemite Chapel (home to Sunday services and wedding ceremonies).

For an up-close view of Yosemite Falls, a hike is required. Starting with an easy trail, the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is a well-traveled 1-mile level paved loop that's partially accessible. Restrooms and potable water are available on the western portion of the loop. For optimal flow, visitors should come in the spring when snowmelt is at its peak.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Tioga Road Drive Tioga Road Drive free

For summertime visitors looking for a scenic drive with lots of Yosemite's epic scenery, then Tioga Road is a great option. The 47-mile road will take you from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, an elevation of nearly 10,000 feet, offering beautiful panoramic views along the way. Visitors will pass Olmstead Point, Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows , along with mountain peaks, forests and summertime wildflowers. The road originates from the Tioga Pass entrance station in the east end of the park and ends near the Crane Flat campground in the west.

There are plenty of pullouts along Tioga Road, so drivers can stop to take photos of the stunning scenery. Visitors can stop at Olmsted Point to watch hikers climb the iconic Half Dome . Other top sites include swimming and sunning at Tenaya Lake, located next to Tioga Road. Tuolumne Meadows offers alpine hiking and a seasonal visitor center that's close to the east entrance.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Mist Trail Mist Trail free

Located at the eastern edge of Yosemite Valley , the Mist Trail is one of the park's most popular trails. What makes The Mist Trail so unique is not its sights – Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall – but how you get there. To get to the top of both falls, hikers must climb a 600-step granite staircase that snakes right up alongside Vernal Fall, where mist from the fall sprays out onto the trail. Hence the name, the Mist Trail.

Because the hike is predominately uphill, many hikers tend to take the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Fall and back down – a 2.4-mile round-trip hike with a 1,000-foot elevation gain, which the NPS estimates will take three hours. For a greater challenge, you can continue your hike farther upward to Nevada Fall, a 5.4-mile round-trip hike with an elevation gain of an additional 1,000 feet. To see both falls, travelers will spend five to six hours hiking. For a peek of Vernal Fall without the stairs, consider the Vernal Fall Footbridge – a nearly 2-mile round-trip hike with a steep 500-foot elevation gain. If you don't want to hike up the often slippery Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada falls, you can always take the John Muir Trail, which features vantage points of the falls, as well as fantastic views of the surrounding forest and valley. 

best places to visit yosemite national park

Jeep 4 X 4 Yosemite Park Tour with Hotel Pickup

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Waterfalls of Yosemite - Customizable Private Tour

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4-Day Half Dome Backpacking Adventure

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Glacier Point Glacier Point free

U.S. News Insider Tip: With ongoing construction along Glacier Point Road, drivers can wait up to 30 minutes during their drive to the lookout point. Pack snacks and drinks for the trip. – Catherine Parker

Glacier Point is considered one of the best views accessible by car in Yosemite. From Glacier's high country vantage point, visitors are treated to panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley , including landmarks like Yosemite Falls and Half Dome . Unlike many lookout points in Yosemite, Glacier Point is accessible via roadway, allowing visitors to forego a difficult hike. This is particularly appealing if you're traveling with young children who would otherwise be unable to enjoy a scenic, high-elevation view of the Yosemite Valley.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Tuolumne Meadows Tuolumne Meadows free

In the east section of the park you'll find Tuolumne Meadows, known as one of the Sierra Nevada's largest high-elevation meadows at 8,600 feet. Noted for its scenery (and lack of crowds), the Tuolumne River runs through the subalpine, wildflower-dotted meadow with evergreen forests at its edges that give way to granite mountaintops. You can experience the scenery from the comfort of your own car, thanks to the seasonal Tioga Road – a 47-mile scenic route connecting Crane Flat and Tioga Pass with turnouts for accessing viewpoints.  

Luckily for hikers, there are a plethora of trails available. The least time-consuming trail is the flat, 1.5-mile hike from Soda Springs to Parsons Lodge, which goes right through the meadows. Another relatively flat trek is the 8-mile round-trip trail to Lyell Canyon via the John Muir Trail. Glen Aulin is an 11-mile hiking trail and offers more variety in terms of landscape, including Tuolumne Waterfall and a whitewater section of the Tuolumne River. If that's too long of a trek, consider a more moderate hike to one of the region's many alpine lakes , including the Gaylor Lakes hike, a 2-mile trail that takes visitors to a stunning collection of small, alpine lakes about 500 feet above Tioga Pass. There's also Cathedral Lakes, one of the area's most popular trails (7 miles) and Mono Pass (8 miles), the latter of which goes straight into the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For more information about hiking in Tuolumne Meadows, visit Yosemite National Park's website . 

best places to visit yosemite national park

Tenaya Lake Tenaya Lake free

If you're looking for crystal clear waters surrounded by mountain peaks away from Yosemite Valley , head to the largest lake in the park – Tenaya Lake. This mile-long lake creates a postcard-worthy scene. Named after the last chief of the Yosemite Indians, it is popular with paddleboarders, kayakers and swimmers.

In the summer heat, Tenaya Lake is a great place to cool off, as swimming is allowed. Plus, it's bordered by sandy banks, perfect for relaxing and sunbathing. If you're interested in a bit more activity, consider hiking around the lake or paddle boarding or kayaking in the water (note that you'll have to bring your own nonmotorized equipment). Fishing is also permitted (with valid California license), so bring bait and tackle if you'd like to cast a line. 

best places to visit yosemite national park

Bridalveil Fall Bridalveil Fall free

Note that an ongoing rehabilitation project may limit access to the parking lot at the Bridalveil Fall trailhead. 

For an easy, family-friendly hike with beautiful views, head to Bridalveil Fall. Located near the Yosemite Valley , it may be the first waterfall you see in the park. You'll only have to walk half a mile to the majestic waterfall, which towers at 620 feet. If you visit in the spring or early summer, the spray is at is strongest because of the snowmelt, so you can expect to feel the mist as you watch the falls.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Nevada Fall Nevada Fall free

U.S. News Insider Tip: This area is undergoing much-needed maintenance in 2023, so check its availability on the NPS website before departing. – Catherine Parker

One of Yosemite's signature waterfalls, Nevada Fall stands 594 feet tall. Its water tumbles over the edge near the granite dome, Liberty Cap, and forms part of the Giant Stairway (Vernal Fall is the lower step). Part of the Merced River system, the falls continue throughout the year (many other falls within the park run dry by mid-summer). To view the falls from afar, the high-country Glacier Viewpoint and Washburn Viewpoint offers glimpses of both.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Yosemite Valley Discovery Walk

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Private Guided Hiking Tour in Yosemite

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Yosemite Valley Tour with Transport from Oakhurst

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Taft Point Taft Point free

Often described as Glacier Point without the guardrails, Taft Point affords spectacular views of Yosemite Falls and El Capitan . The 2.2-mile round-trip hike travels through forest and summertime wildflower meadows before reaching narrow granite factures called The Fissures in an area with 2,000-foot drops. According to the National Park Service, the hike will take about two hours and features an elevation gain of about 200 feet. The NPS advises hikers to carry water and snacks, and wear hiking shoes that provide traction and support. Stay away from this area during thunderstorms as it is exposed.

According to recent hikers, the viewpoint from Taft Point is better than Glacier Point. Visitors were amazed at the view of El Capitan, directly across from Taft. Due to its outstanding and dramatic viewpoint, this is a popular hike. In fact, some reviewers reported that the parking lot was full by 8 a.m., so plan to arrive early (before 7 a.m.). Though the hike is short and relatively easy, families with young children will want to avoid this trail due to the steep drop-offs at Taft Point.

best places to visit yosemite national park

The Ahwahnee The Ahwahnee

The signature hotel of Yosemite National Park, this majestic property has welcomed U.S. presidents and it's a National Historic Landmark. Positioned to impress its guests, visitors can enjoy views of Half Dome , Yosemite Falls and Glacier Point from The Ahwahnee. Construction started in the 1920s at a time when transporting the necessary building materials – 1,000 tons of steel, 5,000 tons of stone and 30,000 feet of timber – was a feat in itself. Even if you don't have a room booked, you should still stop by to take a stroll through the public areas of The Ahwahnee, which fuse art deco, Native American and Middle Eastern art and architecture.

Another way to enjoy its interiors? With a dinner reservation. The hotel's Dining Room sports 34-foot-tall log truss ceilings and sweeping views of the surrounding landscape. Just a walk through The Ahwahnee's Great Lobby is a treat, thanks to its stone fireplace and cozy seating. Other spaces to explore include the Mural Room and the Winter Club Room.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Indian Village of the Ahwahnee Indian Village of the Ahwahnee free

A reconstructed Native American village, this area was made to look as it would have in the late 1800s. Visitors can walk around the village to get an idea of what life was like for the people who inhabited Yosemite Valley before it became a national park.

Part of the exhibit includes a Bark House, made with bark, pine and cedar and used by the Miwok people. Located in the Indian Village of the Ahwahnee, the Chief's House is bigger than the rest and it was built in the 1920s. There is also a replica of a sweathouse, which would have been used by hunters before leaving for their hunting trips. A ceremonial roundhouse used for religious purposes also sits in the village.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Yosemite Museum Yosemite Museum free

Built in 1925, the Yosemite Museum was the first museum constructed in any U.S. national park and acted as a foundation for all other park museums. The building is constructed of native logs and rocks, and it was designed to blend into its natural surroundings. Inside, visitors will learn about the area's geology. It also features exhibits and demonstrations on basket-weaving and beadwork, along with other arts and crafts from Yosemite's associated tribes. Outside, a reconstructed Ahwahnee village sits behind the museum.

Previous visitors say the museum is a must-stop for groups of all ages. Adults can admire artifacts like traditional headdresses that date back hundreds of years. Meanwhile, children can watch basket-weaving demonstrations. Visitors also rave about the landscape paintings and photographs on display. They also appreciated the opportunity to learn more about Yosemite's tribes.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Lembert Dome Lembert Dome free

U.S. News Insider Tip: Simple activities like short walks might seem overly tiring in Tuolumne Meadows. To counter the effects of altitude sickness (breathlessness, headaches, fatigue), drink lots of water (no alcohol) and find a park ranger if conditions worsen. – Catherine Parker

Thanks to its location in the high country of Tuolumne Meadows , glacier-carved Lembert Dome is a popular hike due to its spectacular views: It sits at an elevation of 9,450 feet and it overlooks the pristine Tuolumne Meadows. To reach its summit, hikers take a 3.4-mile round-trip trail that features an 850-foot elevation gain. The trail climbs through the forest before reaching the granite dome where hikers make their own trail to its summit. The views from Lembert Dome include the meadow below, dotted with wildflowers along with the Tuolumne River and Dog Lake. The NPS estimates this hike takes about three hours and rated it as moderately strenuous. This hike can be combined with a jaunt to Dog Lake to make a 5-mile loop.

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Yosemite Valley & Glacier Point Adaptive Tour

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Semi Private Yosemite Tour with Ahwahnee Lunch and Hotel Pickup

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Yosemite Valley Private Hiking Tour

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Happy Isles Art and Nature Center Happy Isles Art and Nature Center

This area is a destination for nature and art lovers and geared toward families. Outside, visitors will find short trails showcasing different environments: forest, fern, river and talus. Additionally, the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center features natural history exhibits. Between April and October, the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center offers adult art classes and drop-in kids classes in watercolor, charcoal drawing and more. Operated through the Yosemite Conservancy, a nonprofit that helps with education programs and park rehabilitation, visitors connect with the natural world via artistic expression.

Adult art lessons are held Monday through Friday and last four hours; students will get the chance to create art outdoors and learn from a trained professional. For kids, ages 4 to 11, free drop-in classes are available from June to August. If you're visiting with a group, you can also schedule a customized art lesson. For those interested in a more intense experience, opt for an overnight art retreat workshop where you'll immerse yourself in Yosemite's natural surroundings for several days.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Clouds Rest Clouds Rest free

Experienced hikers will revel in awe from Clouds Rest as they take in Yosemite's iconic attractions, including Half Dome , Tenaya Lake and Sentinel Dome. The 12.2-mile round-trip hiking trail with a 3,100-foot elevation gain brings you to the top of a thin granite peak. To get to a view 1,000 feet higher than Half Dome (and without those cables), you'll have to scramble up rocks at its ridge, where it seems as if the clouds sit upon the top of this mountain, hence the trail name.

Several recent hikers used Clouds Rest as a backup plan after failing to secure a permit for Half Dome. For the hikers able to do both, most said the 360-degree views were better at Clouds Rest. According to visitors, the hike alternates between steep inclines and flat sections and the spine at the end is wider than some expected. Most advised lots of water for this hike.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Wapama Falls Wapama Falls free

A bit off the typical Yosemite road trip itinerary, a trip to the Hetch Hetchy Valley in the northwest corner of the park surrounds visitors in solitude. One if its signature features is Wapama Falls, a towering 1,400-foot year-round waterfall near the O'Shaughnessy Dam. To get an up-close view of the falls, you can take a 5-mile round-trip hiking trail that hugs the reservoir's shore. Visitors will be hiking up and down along the Wapama Falls Trail, which features a 507-foot elevation gain and loss (downhill hiking). Additionally, hikers will see Tueeulala Falls during the hike. Located at a lower elevation than the majority of Yosemite (3,300 feet), this area is free of snow earlier in the season.

According to recent visitors, the water flow off Wapama Falls is the greatest in spring. Many reported the falls had dried up by October and November. All mentioned this area was quiet in contrast to Yosemite Valley . Many hikers enjoyed the scenery, the falls and the views of the reservoir. Several mentioned that the campground had availability during their visit and was located close to the parking lot.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Wawona Hotel Wawona Hotel

U.S. News Insider Tip : If visiting Mariposa Grove or entering the park from the south entrance, the Wawona Hotel is a convenient stop. Otherwise, to save time, visitors can continue to Yosemite Valley. – Catherine Parker

Where The Ahwahnee offers refinement in the middle of the rugged Yosemite Valley, the Wawona Hotel is a Victorian-era outpost located near the south entrance. The first establishment on the spot opened in the Gold Rush era. The present Wawona Hotel opened in 1879 and attracted the likes of President Theodore Roosevelt. Along with its six whitewashed Victorian buildings, the Wawona Hotel still sports its open-air veranda, outfitted with Adirondack chairs for enjoying the surrounding landscape. Though it is the most developed lodging inside of the south entrance, half of its rooms share a bathroom, some of which are located down the hall. Park visitors can arrange a round of golf on its nine-hole golf course (green fees start at $20 with clubs and carts available for rent). The Wawona Hotel also features horse stables with seasonal two-hour rides available from May until September from $85 a person. There is even a tennis court at the Wawona, the only one in Yosemite (available for $5 an hour for nonguests).

best places to visit yosemite national park

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best places to visit yosemite national park

The Ultimate Yosemite Guide, from a National Park Aficionado

It may be crowded, but It's iconic for a reason—and truly worth a visit.

The first time I hiked in Yosemite National Park , I was blown away. Sure, you see Yosemite in pictures and videos on YouTube, but that's nothing compared to experiencing it in person. The vast size of the park, the granite cliffs, stunning waterfalls—including Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America—and sprawling meadows astounded me.

Yosemite National Park has since become my favorite national park (and place!) in the U.S. I've made it my vow to visit it every year, and it sparked my mission of visiting all of the national parks in America. (I'm currently at 18 of 63!)

Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California, Yosemite offers visitors an enticing blend of natural wonders and outdoor activities. It's home to iconic landmarks like Half Dome and El Capitan , which attract climbers and photographers from around the world.

Whether you're seeking hiking trails, camping spots, or simply a peaceful retreat in nature, Yosemite National Park has something to offer everyone. Ready to plan your visit? Consider this your ultimate guide to optimizing your trip to Yosemite.

What Should You Visit Yosemite?

A landscape view of a U-shaped valley at Yosemite National PArk

Kendra Tustin for Wide Open Spaces

The fascinating topography of Yosemite National Park formed through a series of geological processes over millions of years. The park's iconic features, such as its granite cliffs and deep valleys, can be traced to the uplift and erosion of the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Around 10 million years ago, tectonic forces caused the uplifting of the Sierra Nevada, creating a high plateau. Over time, erosion from ice, water, and wind shaped the landscape.

During the last Ice Age, approximately 2 million years ago, glaciers sculpted the valleys and carved out U-shaped canyons. The immense pressure and movement of the glaciers resulted in the iconic features seen today, including Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan.

The exposed granite cliffs, such as those in Yosemite Valley, are the result of erosion stripping away the surrounding rock layers.

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The ultimate adventure guide to yosemite national park, the kid-friendly itinerary to yosemite national park, 18 awe-inspiring trails in yosemite national park for hikers at all levels.

Yosemite's diverse landscape is a testament to the complex geological history that has shaped the park into the natural wonder it is today.

Where Is Yosemite National Park Located?

A map of Yosemite National Park

National Park Service

Yosemite National Park is located in the western Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The park covers an area of about 1,200 square miles and is primarily located in Mariposa County but extends into Tuolumne and Madera counties as well.

It's about four hours from San Francisco, three hours from Sacramento, and eight hours from Las Vegas.

How Do You Get to Yosemite?

Arch rock entrance (highway 140).

This entrance is located northwest of Mariposa and is accessed via Highway 140 from Merced. It provides direct access to Yosemite Valley.

South Entrance (Highway 41)

Located near the town of Fish Camp, this entrance is accessed via Highway 41 from Fresno. It provides access to Wawona, Yosemite Valley, and Glacier Point.

Tioga Pass Entrance (Highway 120)

Situated east of Groveland, this entrance is accessed via Highway 120 from the west or east. It provides access to Tuolumne Meadows, Tioga Pass, and other high-country areas. (FYI: Tioga Pass road is typically closed during winter months due to snow. Sometimes it can remain closed into July!)

Fresno Yosemite International Airports (FAT)

Located in Fresno, California, FAT is the closest airport to the south entrance of Yosemite National Park. It's approximately a 1.5- to 2-hour drive to the park. This airport is served directly by public transportation in the form of Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) .

Merced Regional Airport (MCE)

Located in Merced, California, MCE is the closest airport to the Arch Rock Entrance of Yosemite National Park. From there, it's approximately a 2-hour drive to the park.

Sacramento International Airport (SMF)

Located in between Sacramento and Woodland, California, Sacramento International Airport is another option when traveling to Yosemite National Park. The airport is roughly three hours to the south entrance of the park.

When Is the Best Time to Visit Yosemite?

The mountain landscape at Yosemite National Park

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park largely depends on your own preferences. Each season has its own charm, so it's important to consider your preferred activities, weather conditions, and crowd levels when choosing when to visit Yosemite. Here's what you might expect, by the seasons:

March to May: Spring brings blooming wildflowers and rushing waterfalls as the snow melts. The park is less crowded during this time, and you can enjoy moderate temperatures. However, some higher-elevation areas may still have snow, limiting access to certain trails.

June to August: Summer is the peak tourist season with warm temperatures, open trails, and longer days. The valley is bustling with visitors, and popular attractions can get crowded. You'll need to make reservations for accommodations and activities well in advance.

September to November: Fall is a beautiful time to visit Yosemite as the foliage transforms into vibrant hues of red, orange, and gold. The weather remains pleasant, and the park sees fewer crowds compared to summer. September is a great time for hiking and rock climbing.

December to February: Yosemite's winter offers a serene and snowy landscape. Some roads and facilities may be closed due to snowfall, but you can enjoy winter activities like snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating (at Curry Village). Just keep in mind that Yosemite Valley may experience occasional closures due to storms.

Yosemite Reservations, Passes, and Entrance Fees

Some good news: Yosemite National Park no longer requires reservations . However, keep in mind that does mean more crowds, particularly during the peak summer season.

There are five days throughout the year that you can visit any national park for free —make sure to check the NPS website for the most up-to-date information. But, otherwise, you'll need to pay an entrance fee to Yosemite . The current rates for a pass good for seven consecutive days are $35 to enter by private vehicle, $30 for a motorcycle, and $20 per person if entering on foot, by bicycle, or on horseback.

If you want to visit Yosemite numerous times throughout the year, you can purchase an annual pass to visit the park for $70. You can also purchase an America the Beautiful annual pass for $80 for access to all of the national parks for 365 days.

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is so vast, which means that there are a ton of options for accommodations. Keep in mind that the hotels in Yosemite National Park are pricey and get booked up extremely fast, especially during the summer, so try to get a reservation at least 2-3 months in advance.

Best Places to Stay While Visiting Yosemite

Located near the park's southern entrance, Wawona features the historic Wawona Hotel. It offers a rustic charm and is close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.

Yosemite West

Situated just outside the park's western boundary, Yosemite West offers vacation rental homes and condos with easy access to Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, and Badger Pass Ski Area.

Located just outside the western entrance, El Portal is home to a few hotels and lodges, providing a convenient base for exploring the park.

Mariposa and Oakhurst

These nearby towns offer a range of accommodation options, including hotels, motels, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals. They are within a reasonable driving distance from the park's entrances.

Campgrounds in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park has several campgrounds within the park, including Upper Pines, Lower Pines, and North Pines. These can be reserved in advance—an absolute must if you want to camp in the summer—and provide a more immersive camping experience.

Getting Around Yosemite National Park

You can easily drive your vehicle into the park, which has tradeoffs. As I learned on a trip to Yosemite this summer, if you visit during the busy season, parking fills up fast . Because Yosemite did away with the reservation entry system, that means more people vying for spots. The biggest tip I can give you is to get to the park as early as you can—I arrived at 5:45 A.M. and had plenty of parking to choose from.

The caveat: You may want your vehicle to get to other parts of the park. And if you leave your parking spot, you could have a difficult time finding another. My advice is to leave your car once you find parking. Luckily, there are a few ways of getting around the valley without moving your car from your parking space.

Yosemite National Park offers a free shuttle system that provides transportation around Yosemite Valley, the busiest area of the park.

  • If you're looking to visit Mariposa Grove, the free shuttle is the primary way to get there. It provides service from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza near the park's south entrance to the Mariposa Grove. The shuttle is seasonal, starting around April 2 and ending November 30.
  • The Yosemite Valley Shuttle System takes visitors through various points in the valley including lodges, food services, campgrounds, and trailheads. It's available year-round, subject to weather, and with shorter hours come winter. During peak season, the buses arrive every 12 to 22 minutes from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M.
  • The East Valley Shuttle connects Yosemite Village, Curry Village, Pines Campgrounds, and Trailheads in eastern Yosemite Valley. Buses arrive every 8 to 12 minutes and from 7 A.M. to 10 P.M.

I used the shuttle and while it was convenient, it got packed very quickly in July, which could mean waiting up to 30 minutes in line for the next one. (Somehow, I got lucky and never had to wait longer than 10 minutes!)

You also have the option to bike around the park! You can bring your own or you can rent a bike from any of the three locations in the park: Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, or Yosemite Village. The rental locations are open from 8 A.M  to 7 P.M., with the last bike rental of the day at 5:45 P.M.

You can choose among a few options in terms of your needs. Current rates include a full day for $40 for a standard bike or $75 for a bike with trailer to haul your gear.

Things to Do In Yosemite National Park

Author walking through Yosemite National Park

Probably the most sought hike in Yosemite National Park, Half Dome is the one visitors descend upon from all over the world to trek. It's not for the faint of heart, however. This hike requires a permit to tackle the steep ascent using cables near the summit. (If the cables are down, or you don't want to attempt them, no permit is required.) At the top, you'll be rewarded with panoramic views of the valley.

  • Duration: 10 to 14 hours
  • Length: 14 to 16 miles round-trip
  • Skill Level: Very strenuous
  • Elevation Gain: 4,800 feet

Yosemite Falls

The Falls trails are broken up into two sections. Lower Yosemite Falls is a quick easy walk through the forest until you reach a bridge, where you can watch the falls thundering down over giant rocks. If you don't mind getting wet, you can even climb the rocks to get close to it.

Upper Yosemite Falls is strenuous, but it takes you to the very top of the falls and you are rewarded with amazing views of the valley. FYI, Yosemite Falls is very popular and gets crowded quickly during peak season.

  • Duration: 3 to 6 hours
  • Length: 1-mile loop for Lower Falls, 7.2 miles round-trip for Upper Yosemite Fall Trail
  • Skill Level: Easy (Lower) to strenuous (Upper)
  • Elevation gain: 2,700 feet (Upper)

This iconic trail takes you up close to two breathtaking waterfalls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, with misty sprays and scenic vistas. This hike is beautiful, but take your time. It gets steep and the rocks are very slippery due to the mist from the falls.

  • Duration: 3 to 5 hours
  • Length: 7.2 miles round-trip
  • Skill Level: Moderate
  • Elevation gain: 1,000 feet to Vernal Falls, 1,900 feet to Nevada Fall

Glacier Point

My favorite spot by far in Yosemite is Glacier Point. Starting at the Glacier Point trailhead or via the Four Mile Trail (see below), arriving at Glacier Point rewards you with panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra. You'll find a stunning view of Half Dome smack dab in the center—it's so close, you feel like you can jump on it. If you're like me, it might just bring you to tears!

  • Duration: 4 to 6 hours
  • Length: 9.6 miles round-trip
  • Elevation Gain: 3,200 feet

Tuolumne Meadows and Lembert Dome

This hike takes you through the scenic Tuolumne Meadows and offers a climb to the top of Lembert Dome, providing sweeping views of the surrounding mountains.

  • Duration: 2 to 4 hours
  • Length: 2 to 5 miles round-trip
  • Skill Level: Easy to moderate
  • Elevation gain: 900 feet (if you climb to Lembert)

Four Mile Trail

This trail starts at Yosemite Valley and leads to Glacier Point where you'll enjoy breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, and Half Dome.

  • Skill level: Moderate to strenuous
  • Elevation gain: 3,200 feet

Mariposa Grove

This trail explores the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove, home to some of the largest trees on earth, including the famous Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.

  • Duration: 2 to 3 hours
  • Length: 0.3 to 7 miles round-trip
  • Skill Level: Easy
  • Elevation gain: Varies

Cathedral Lakes

This hike takes you to the stunning Cathedral Lakes, nestled beneath granite peaks. You'll encounter pristine alpine lakes and scenic vistas along the way.

  • Duration: 5 to 7 hours
  • Skill level: Moderate
  • Elevation Gain: 1,000 feet

Clouds Rest

This challenging hike rewards you with 360-degree views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding peaks from the summit of Clouds Rest. Some choose this hike as a worthwhile consolation prize if they cannot obtain permits to hike Half Dome.

  • Duration: 7 to 10 hours
  • Length: 14.5 miles round-trip
  • Skill level: Strenuous
  • Elevation gain: 3,100 feet

Panorama Trail

This trail offers an unforgettable journey from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley, passing through (yes) panoramic viewpoints, waterfalls, and diverse landscapes.

  • Duration: 6 to 8 hours
  • Length: 8.5 miles round-trip

Additional Hikes

Craving more exploration? These Yosemite hikes are also worth your consideration:

  • Mirror Lake Loop : 2 miles round-trip | Skill level: Easy
  • Sentinel Dome : 2.2 miles round-trip | Skill level: Moderate
  • Upper Gaylor Lake : 3.5 miles round-trip | Skill level: Moderate
  • May Lake and Mount Hoffman : 5.2 miles round-trip | Skill level: Moderate to strenuous
  • Chilnualna Falls : 8.2 miles round-trip | Skill level: Strenuous
  • Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and Wapama Falls : 5.6 miles round-trip | Skill level: Moderate
  • Taft Point and The Fissures : 2.2 miles round-trip | Skill level: Easy to moderate

Scenic Viewpoints and Drives

A scenic viewpoint of mountains within Yosemite National Park

Tioga Road (Highway 120)

This scenic drive spans approximately 46 miles and takes you through the high country of Yosemite. You'll pass through meadows, alpine lakes, and granite peaks, and enjoy panoramic views along the way. Some of the notable viewpoints on Tioga Road include Olmsted Point and Tenaya Lake.

Keep in mind, this road always closes for winter. Make sure to double check the NPS website for the most up-to-date road closures.

Glacier Point Road

This 16-mile road takes you to Glacier Point, one of the most famous viewpoints in Yosemite. From here, you can admire stunning panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding mountains. The road is typically open from late spring through fall.

Tunnel View

Have you ever seen a picture of Yosemite that shows all the granite rocks with a bunch of trees below? This is the spot and it's a must on your itinerary when visiting Yosemite National park.

Located near the Wawona Tunnel entrance, this viewpoint offers an awe-inspiring view of Yosemite Valley. From Tunnel view, you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and the valley's granite cliffs.

El Capitan is a massive granite monolith located in Yosemite National Park. It's one of the most famous landmarks in Yosemite and attracts climbers and sightseers from around the world. El Capitan stands approximately 3,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, and its sheer rock face is considered one of the ultimate challenges for rock climbers.

One of the best locations to get a cool view of El Capitan from below in Yosemite National Park is the El Capitan Meadow. It offers a relatively close vantage point and provides a stunning perspective of the sheer rock face.

To access the El Capitan Meadow, drive or take the free shuttle bus to the El Capitan Picnic Area parking lot. From there, take a short walk to the meadow. It's especially impressive during the golden hours of sunrise or sunset when the granite catches the beautiful light. Bring some chairs, sit back, and relax. You may see a few people climbing, so bring some binoculars as well!

Valley View

This viewpoint, located on Northside Drive near El Capitan, offers a picturesque scene of the Merced River flowing through Yosemite Valley. It's a great spot for capturing reflections of the surrounding cliffs and foliage.

Valley Floor Loop

The 13-mile Valley Floor Loop is a scenic drive that takes you around Yosemite Valley. You can experience the park's iconic landmarks, meadows, and forests from the comfort of your vehicle.

Other Activities in Yosemite

kendra tustin visiting yosemite valley

Visitor Centers

Yosemite National Park has several visitor centers that provide information exhibits, and educational resources to visitors.

  • Yosemite Valley Visitor Center : Located in Yosemite Valley, this is the park's main visitor center.
  • Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center : This visitor center in Tuolumne Meadows provides information specifically for the high country of Yosemite.
  • Big Oak Flat Information Station : Situated near the Big Oak Flat entrance, this information station offers general park information, maps, and guidance for visitors entering Yosemite from the northwest.
  • Wawona Visitor Center : If you enter Yosemite from the south, the Wawona center is the one that will greet you.

Rock Climbing

Yosemite is a renowned destination for rock climbing. Experienced climbers can challenge themselves on iconic granite formations such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Cathedral Peak. Beginners should take advantage of the climbing schools and guides available for hire.

Yosemite Valley offers bike rentals and several paved trails within the park where you can enjoy cycling. Biking is a great way to explore the valley floor and its beautiful surroundings.

Ranger-Led Programs

Joining the many ranger-led programs is a fantastic way to learn more about the park's natural and cultural history. Options include guided walks, campfire programs, stargazing sessions, and educational presentations offered by park rangers.

Winter Sports

During the cold season, Yosemite transforms into a winter wonderland. Visitors can enjoy activities such as snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, and ice skating (conditions permitting) in designated areas.

Water Activities

When things thaw out, the Merced River and various lakes within Yosemite offer opportunities for swimming, fishing, and rafting during certain seasons and water conditions. Remember to check for any restrictions or permits required for fishing.

Picnicking and Relaxation

Numerous picnic areas are available throughout Yosemite, providing peaceful spots to enjoy a meal amidst nature. Relax, unwind, and savor your lunch in the tranquility of the park.

What to Pack for Visiting Yosemite

Author wearing a backpack and sitting on a rock in Yosemite National Park

There are some hiking essentials you'll want to bring, as you would on any hiking trip—such as a good backpack or daypack , first aid kit , sunscreen , and insect repellent —to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

After three visits to Yosemite, here are some other things I suggest you bring along.

  • Clothing you can layer: Yosemite's temperatures can vary throughout the day and at different elevations, so dress in layers to accommodate changing weather conditions. Include items such as a lightweight jacket, long-sleeved shirts, pants, a hat, sunglasses, and sturdy footwear suitable for hiking or walking.
  • Plenty of water and snacks : Don't forget to carry an adequate supply of water to stay hydrated during your visit. Snacks and/or a packed lunch are also recommended, especially if you plan on spending a significant amount of time exploring the park. If you don't bring enough or forgot, there are several stores in the valley where you can purchase additional water and snacks, but my advice is to bring your own as the valley store can be expensive!
  • Park pass: Ensure you have a valid Yosemite National Park pass or pay the entrance fee when you arrive. This pass provides access to the park and supports its conservation efforts. FYI, some facilities within the park may accept only cash, so it's recommended to carry some cash for small purchases. However, major credit and debit cards are generally accepted in most locations.
  • Navigation tools : Cell service is poor, so I recommend carrying a detailed map or guidebook of the park and a compass to help you navigate trails and find points of interest. (I bring a whistle that has a built-in compass.) A GPS device or smartphone with offline maps can also be useful; be sure to download them before entering the park.

Can I Bring My Dog to Yosemite?

Pets are allowed in Yosemite, but with limitations in order to protect them, other people, and wildlife. Dogs are permitted in developed areas, on fully paved roads, sidewalks, and bicycle paths (except when signage says otherwise), and in some campgrounds but not walk-in or group campsites.

Keep in mind that pets are not allowed:

  • On many trails, including the trail to Vernal Fall, even if carried (Pets are allowed on the Wawona Meadow Loop)
  • On unplowed roads covered in snow
  • In undeveloped and wilderness areas
  • In public buildings
  • On shuttle buses
  • In lodging areas
  • In all walk-in and group campgrounds/campsites, including camp 4
  • In any other areas, as signed

Is a Trip to Yosemite National Park Worth It?

Without a doubt, it's  so worth it! I've found Yosemite's beauty unparalleled and it truly inspires awe and appreciation for the wonders of the natural world.

With so many trails, viewpoints, and activities, there's something for everyone at this park. As noted, Yosemite's popularity means that certain areas and trails can become crowded, especially during peak seasons. Planning ahead, making reservations when required, and exploring lesser-known areas of the park can help enhance your experience.

READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide To Visiting Arches National Park

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14 Top Attractions & Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

Written by Lana Law Updated Mar 20, 2024 We may earn a commission from affiliate links ( )

Author Lana Law has spent many happy days hiking and camping in Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite has long been a place of inspiration for artists, climbers, and nature lovers, and remains one of California's most popular places to visit . Beginning in the 1920s, Ansel Adams' stunning black-and-white photographs of Yosemite drew attention to the park's breathtaking landscapes and iconic sights like never before.

El Capitan, Yosemite

For the adventurous, climbing has always been one of the most popular things to do in Yosemite. Following WWII, climbers descended on the park and agonized over how to ascend the magnificent sheer walls. In their attempts, failures, and eventual successes, they created a cult following in Yosemite like no other climbing area in history.

And all along, campers and hikers have been coming here to lose themselves in the park's magnificent mountains and valleys.

The most famous and beautiful section of the park is Yosemite Valley , home to big-name tourist attractions, like Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Falls.

Outside the valley, Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road provide seasonal access to other areas of the park. Glacier Point Road allows access to stunning views over the Yosemite Valley. Tioga Road crosses the park in an east-west direction and runs through alpine scenery, where you can find lovely, and often less busy, hiking trails . Due to the altitude, Tioga Road opens later in the spring than Glacier Point Road.

For more details, have a look at our list of the top attractions and things to do in Yosemite National Park.

See also: Where to Stay near Yosemite National Park

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Yosemite Falls

Tumbling over a granite wall and pounding the rocks at the base of the cliff, Yosemite Falls is one of the most memorable and striking features in Yosemite Valley. It's also among the best waterfalls in California .

Repeatedly popping into view over treetops and around corners as you drive through the valley, the falls look different from every angle, and it's impossible to take your eyes off.

You don't have to hike or even get out of your car to appreciate this waterfall, but the most complete view, and one of the best views , of the falls is from the start of the Yosemite Falls hike , along the non-handicapped route on the left side of the river. You can walk right to the base of the falls with minimal effort and feel the mist sweeping over you.

Another outstanding perspective is from the picnic site at the Swing Bridge .

View of Half Dome from Mirror Lake Hike

Half Dome is one of Yosemite's most famous sites and particularly well-known in the climbing world for being one of the first "big climbs."

This granite icon looks much different depending on the angle you are viewing it from. Looking up at the sheer rock face from the valley, the enormity of the wall is obvious, and you can appreciate why climbers have been drawn here.

You can also see Half Dome in the distance from Tunnel View, but the best place to view it is from the lookout at Glacier Point . From here, you get a true picture of the rock, how it looms over the valley, and how much higher it stands than the surrounding mountains. The dome shape is clearly evident, and you can easily see why it's called Half Dome.

For close-up views, the Mirror Lake hike is the best option. From this trail, you look almost straight up the rock face.

Adventurous souls can hike up Half Dome . The last portion of this hike takes you up the bald back side of the formation. This isn't your average hike, and it's not for everyone. It is considered one of the best hikes in Yosemite , but be sure to look into the details before attempting it.

El Capitan

Legendary among climbers, El Capitan is a 3,000-foot sheer rock face on the north side of Yosemite Valley. Although it may not seem like it, El Capitan is actually 1,000 feet higher than the face of Half Dome.

El Capitan gained interest with the free solo climb of Alex Honnold in June of 2017, and the Academy Award winning documentary film, Free Solo . He became the first person to climb El Capitan without ropes, and completely unaided. The climb took three hours and 56 minutes.

From the Tunnel View lookout, El Capitan is the massive cliff on the left side of the valley, standing notably higher than everything else in view from this vantage point.

You can see the wall as you drive through the valley, but many people stop and view it or photograph it from El Capitan Meadow off the North Drive through Yosemite Valley. Since this is a one-way road, it's best to view it on your way out of the valley. At certain times of day, rangers set up in the meadow and offer talks on El Capitan.

If you want to get up close to the wall or even touch it, you can park on the right side of this same road, beyond the El Capitan picnic area, and walk up to the wall .

The short trail is marked as far as an open field, not far from the face, and rudimentary trails from here lead up through trees and boulders to the base of the wall. Climbers are almost always set up here. This trail is not promoted by the park.

Tunnel View

The most classic view of Yosemite Valley is from Tunnel View. This vista, which will feel very familiar to most visitors, stretches out to El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right, Half Dome in the distance, and also takes in the lush valley at the base of the huge granite walls.

Although it's an incredible sight at any time of day, in the morning, the walls are mostly in shadow. The best time to appreciate this scene is in the afternoon , when the walls are bathed in sunlight.

The parking area is just beyond the tunnel as you enter Yosemite Valley from Wawona Road. If you are heading out to Glacier Point from the valley, you will pass Tunnel View just before you enter the tunnel.

Glacier Point

A drive through Yosemite Valley generally entails looking up to see the sites. Glacier Point, at an elevation of more than 7,200 feet , gives you the grand view over the entire valley, as well as many other sites beyond, and provides a whole new perspective.

This is one of the most incredible views in Yosemite National Park and is an absolute must-see sight.

In 2022, the Glacier Point Road closed for a massive construction project. The road, dating from 1936, requires significant structural rehabilitation. The work continues into 2023, however, vehicles will be allowed on the road but significant delays of 30 minutes or more are expected from January through to October. The portion of the road leading to Badger Pass Ski Resort will be open during the ski season.

Typically, the drive from Yosemite Village to Glacier Point takes about an hour, but you'll also find hikes and other lookouts in the area worth exploring.

Four Mile Trail hike runs from Glacier Point down 3,200 feet to Yosemite Valley, coming out near Sentinel Rock. Despite the name, the trail is almost five miles. It's also a steep grade and in relatively poor condition.

Not far from Glacier Point, Washburn Point is an equally spectacular lookout with incredible views over Vernal Fall.

Bridalveil Fall

Another classic sight in Yosemite National Park is Bridalveil Fall, on the south side of Yosemite Valley.

In 2019 the park undertook a two-year but long-overdue project to rehabilitate and revitalize this trail, which was truly showing the signs of overuse. It's expected that the new trails will still deliver you to the base of the falls where you can feel the spray hitting you and hear the pounding water as it crashes on the boulders.

From Tunnel View, you can also get a good look at the falls from a higher vantage point.

Read More: Best Waterfalls in California

Base of Yosemite Falls

It's hard to imagine visiting Yosemite without hitting some of the best hiking trails .

The park has a full range of hikes, from quick and easy, including some with wheelchair accessible paths, to full-day or multi-day hikes. The most popular trails involve hiking to waterfalls or out to high overlooks, but you can also hike to alpine lakes and meadows.

The shorter and easier trails in the valley are always the busiest, but it is possible to escape the crowds if you tackle some of the longer hikes, or those with more elevation gain. Hikes along the Tioga Road are also less busy, but only accessible in summer.

One of the park's most well-known hikes is the hike up Half Dome ; a huge day hike with 4,800 feet of elevation gain and an open section with cables (reservations required).

Easier, more family friendly hikes include Mirror Lakes , the hike to the Vernal Fall Footbridge , and beyond the footbridge to the Mist Trail .

In summer, when the Tioga Road is open, you can hike through some beautiful alpine scenery. Also seasonal, but usually with a longer season, the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point hikes along the Glacier Road are popular sunset trails.

If you don't want to hike alone or would prefer to go with a guide, you can sign up for a Yosemite Hiking Excursion designed to meet your ability .

Read More: Top-Rated Hiking Trails in California

Climbers in Yosemite

Yosemite is the most famous rock climbing destination in the United States , and for many climbers, it is the pinnacle of their climbing careers. Half Dome and El Capitan have been luring climbers for decades.

Climbing legends and leaders in the sport, like Royal Robbins, Warren Harding, Jim Bridwell, and Alex Honnold, all made names for themselves on Yosemite's walls.

Camp 4 campground , the place where climbers have been pitching their tents since the 1950s, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for its significance in the sport of climbing. It's hard to imagine another location so closely associated with the sport of climbing.

Rock climbing is still as popular as ever in Yosemite, even more so since the release of the documentary film Free Solo , following Alex Honnold's historic free solo climb of El Capitan in June of 2017.

View from Olmsted Point

The stunning alpine scenery along Tioga Road, Highway 120, running in an east-west direction through Yosemite, is a wonderful place to visit for summer hiking and camping. Wildflowers bloom in the open meadows, and pristine lakes reflect the mountain peaks.

Due to the elevation, this road is only open in the summer , and it opens later than Glacier Point Road. At the east entrance to the park is Tioga Pass, with an elevation of 9,945 feet.

Highlights along here include the views from Olmsted Point, and Tenaya Lake and the surrounding hiking trails.

Near Tuolumne Meadows , you can hike to Lembert Dome and walk up the swooping back side of the dome.

Grizzly Giant at Mariposa Grove

Although Mariposa Grove is located quite a distance from the main attractions in Yosemite, it's well worth the effort to get there. The size and grandeur of the trees, many of which are over 2,500 years old , is hard to explain unless you've actually seen them.

A variety of trails wind their way through the grove and past iconic trees like the Grizzly Giant, the California Tunnel, and Telescope Trees.

If you are up for it, consider hiking the seven-mile round-trip all the way to Wawona Point . Along the way, you'll pass stunning trees that most people never get to see and be rewarded with incredible views at the end.

To avoid congestion, a shuttle system has been put in place from the main parking area to the trailhead, a distance of two miles.

Camp 4 Campground

Tourists, families, and climbers have been camping in Yosemite for decades. It's a great way to experience the park, and it allows you to wake up on-location, ready for a day of exploration or hiking.

The park has some excellent campgrounds to choose from. The most popular campgrounds for visitors are North Pines, Upper Pines , and Lower Pines . Climbers head to the infamous Camp 4. It's also possible to rent tents and cabins at Curry Village .

If you have your heart set on camping but can't get a campsite in the park, you can find a few good campgrounds or RV parks outside the gates. For complete details on campgrounds in the park and nearby, see our guide to the best campgrounds at Yosemite National Park .

Yosemite Museum and Indian Village

While most people only think of Yosemite's natural wonders, the Sierra Nevada region in and around Yosemite has been inhabited for more than 3,000 years.

You can learn all about the first peoples of the valley at the Yosemite Museum and Indian Village . The museum displays artifacts, and docents are on hand to give demonstrations and answer questions.

Behind the building are some bark-covered dwellings, built in the traditional style used by the Miwok people, who once lived in the area, as well as their later, Euro-American-style buildings.

The museum is free and conveniently located in Yosemite Village.

Road to Mirror Lake

Families looking for things to do in Yosemite may want to consider some easy bike riding. In addition to biking on the roads, the park offers 12 miles of paved paths .

One of the most popular areas for casual biking is along the paved service road on the north side of the river, which leads to Mirror Lake . Many people walk this stretch, but you can easily bike in to the start of the lake and walk the final short portion to the upper section of the lake.

Another loop, east of Curry Village (formerly Half Dome Village), skirts the Upper Pines Campground and runs past the trailhead for Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and the John Muir Trail. This road is only open to bikes, pedestrians, shuttle buses, and wheelchair-transporting vehicles. Bicycle rentals are available at Curry Village.

Ansel Adams Gallery

Although Ansel Adams' photography went far beyond Yosemite, his name and works are closely associated with this park, where he created many famous images. His powerful black and white images of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and Jeffrey Pine are some of his most well-known works.

The small Ansel Adams Gallery makes an interesting stop if you are in Yosemite Village. Even if you are not looking to buy a piece of art, you may be inspired to create your own masterpieces after seeing some of the artwork on display in this store. The shop sells Ansel Adams original photos, reproductions, posters, books, and more.

The best place to stay, if it falls within your budget, is right in the park. This allows you to bypass the traffic getting in and out of the park, forget about having to find a parking spot, and it takes the stress out of almost every aspect of a visit to Yosemite.

If staying in the park doesn't suit your spending plan, you will have to commute. Hotel options near Yosemite are surprisingly limited, but you can find a few good hotels in the nearby small towns.

In the Park:

  • For a combination of luxury, convenience, and history, you can't beat The Ahwahnee , classified by the National Parks system as a Premier Lodge. Built in 1927, this outstanding property, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and also a National Historic Landmark, is set in the heart of the Yosemite Valley, surrounded by the iconic sites of the park. The stone façade and open-beamed ceilings blend beautifully with the scenery, while the rooms offer modern comfort and elegance.
  • Another classic choice is the Wawona Hotel. The hotel was built in 1876 and has been in operation ever since. The rooms are decorated in Victorian style, and many of the 104 rooms have balconies. A nine-hole golf course is across the street.

El Portal :

  • One of the best options for people day tripping to Yosemite is the Cedar Lodge in the small town of El Portal, just 30 minutes from Yosemite Village, along Highway 140. This is a mid-range motel-style property with a pool. Rooms are large, and some come with full kitchens and a separate bedroom.

Highway 120 and Groveland:

  • Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite is located along Highway 120, about 50 minutes west of Yosemite Valley. The hotel features rooms and suites with balconies, a large outdoor pool, games room, and restaurant.
  • Farther on, in Groveland, The Groveland Hotel is modest but cute.
  • Although commuting this far makes for a long day trip, you can find some decent hotels in Oakhurst, about a 1.5-hour drive from the main section of the park. Two good options here include the Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn and the Yosemite Southgate Hotel & Suites .

Showcasing the splendor of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite National Park is a beautiful place to visit no matter the time of year. The months between Memorial Day and Labor Day are the peak visiting season at Yosemite . Between June, July, and August, the park receives over a million-and-a-half visitors each year.

Yosemite's high country and Tuolumne Meadows are snowcapped throughout the winter. Tioga Road, which accesses this northern part of the park, is generally open to vehicles between May and November. Places at lower elevations of the park, like the illustrious Yosemite Valley, are open the entire year. Looming rock formations like El Capitan and Half Dome are also impressive features to see no matter the season.

Perfect summer weather and the full accessibility of a snow-free park make summer a great time to go to Yosemite. Visitors in summer will need to pack some patience and plan for crowded conditions. Spring and fall in Yosemite feature fewer crowds and pleasant weather, and the months of May and September are some of the best times to visit Yosemite .

Winter visits are often deterred by road closures, variable driving conditions, and cold weather. With the right preparation and warm layers, though, the winter is the best time to visit Yosemite to avoid the crowds . Alongside a fraction of park visitors, Yosemite in winter provides scenic appeal with fresh layers of snow.

Sequoia National Park

Looking for inspirational travel ideas to add to your bucket list? How about hiking below the tallest trees on the planet in Redwood National and State Parks or camping with the largest trees on Earth in Sequoia National Park and Kings Canyon National Park ? These are experiences you won't forget!

Hit the hiking trails at Lake Tahoe to wander along the shores of the deepest alpine lake in the United States.

To discover the wonders of the desert , head over to the fascinating landscape of Joshua Tree National Park . This park is a true gem, and one that people often forget to include on their itinerary. The park is home to outstanding hiking trails of varying length, perfect for all levels of hikers. Or, plan a bit of time here and camping under the star-filled sky

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A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park 

By Emily Pennington

A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park

All products featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. However, when you buy something through our retail links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

As America’s first swath of public land set aside for protection, Yosemite National Park is often credited as the site that birthed the entire national park idea. Home to enormous ancient sequoia groves, glacially-carved granite domes, roaring waterfalls, and over 800 miles of developed trails, Yosemite is not only one of the best national parks in California —it's the kind of place that continually amazes, whether it’s your first time visiting or your fiftieth.

The park has dark spots on its history too, from the removal of the Ahwahneechee people , to the controversial damming of  Hetch Hetchy Valley to provide drinking water to the city of San Francisco in the 1920s. Though not always a perfect model, the park continues to be a living laboratory for conservation and stewardship to this day.

Also noteworthy: In 2023, Yosemite has elected to do away with its COVID-era  vehicle permit system , meaning that day-use visitors can enter and exit the park with ease (after paying the $35 entrance fee; valid for seven days). As such, it’s sure to be an excellent season to visit this legendary park, for locals and out-of-towners alike.

Keep scrolling for our favorite hikes, sights, and stays in Yosemite National Park.

All listings featured on Condé Nast Traveler are independently selected by our editors. If you book something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission.

Snow covered scene in Yosemite National Park

Come winter, Yosemite's icons, like El Capitan, take on a whole new personality. 

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park

Like many of America’s iconic national parks, Yosemite is a land of vastly different elevations and, as a result, extremes in conditions across the park’s different zones.

The valley, home to jaw-dropping granite walls (like Half Dome and El Capitan) and sky-high waterfalls, sits at a sensible 4,000 feet. It gets hot in the summer (50 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit) and sees minimal snowfall most winters. The “high country,” located off Tioga Road to the north, is a sprawling high-altitude expanse of snow-capped Sierra peaks, dense stands of conifers, and glittering alpine lakes. As such, these byways are  typically only open from late May through October, depending on the weather.

Spring is a phenomenal time to go chasing waterfalls in Yosemite Valley, while summer brings crowds down low and excellent hiking weather up high (stick a pin in Tuolumne Meadows for some of the prettiest hiking paths). In autumn, fall colors start to shift along the Merced River in the valley, waterfalls run dry, and cooler daytime temps can make for wonderful backpacking trips across the entirety of the park. Winter is Yosemite’s quiet season, though the  Curry Village ice rink and  Badger Pass Ski Area liven things up once the first snow arrives.

How to get there

There's no sugarcoating it. California is a big place, and the Sierras are a big, protected mountain range. For better or worse, the closest airport to Yosemite is the  Fresno Airport . That’s still roughly 90 minutes from the park boundary and 2 hours and 20 minutes from its fabled valley cliffs, so you’ll want to rent a car, put on your favorite playlist, and enjoy the drive. On the plus side, you’ll be able to easily access Yosemite’s best trailheads with ease.

A handful of flights touch down in the tiny  Merced Airport , which boasts year-round  YARTS public transportation into the park. Yosemite offers a  free park shuttle around its popular valley. Those taking public transit can also opt for a paid  hiker’s bus between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, if you'd like to hike the high country.

Things to do in Yosemite

Girl with Small Backpack Taking photo of Yosemite

Half Dome is one of Yosemite's most popular hikes, but there are also lesser-known backpacking trails perfect for escaping the crowds. 

Hiking and backpacking

Hands down, the best way to get out and see Yosemite is to go for a hike, and this park is home to some of the most spectacular trails in the country. If you’re looking for quick, family-friendly options, take in the powerful spray of California’s tallest waterfall on the one-mile, wheelchair accessible   Lower Yosemite Fall Trail , then head to the  Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias and go for a romp along the .3-mile Big Trees Loop or the two-mile Grizzly Giant Loop.

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Yosemite is also a bastion of calf-burning all-day adventures for serious hikers. Along the road to Glacier Point, trekkers can soak up gobsmacking views of the valley on the five-mile  Sentinel Dome and Taft Point Loop . Or, head for the high country on a seven-mile (round trip) up to  Cathedral Lakes , two postcard-worthy sapphire tarns that sit beneath a toothy granite summit.

Want to escape the crowds? Planning an overnight backpacking trip is a surefire way to experience the pristine magic of Yosemite’s wilderness, and at 747,956 acres, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Reserve a  wilderness permit for your preferred trailhead, double-check your gear, and be sure to pack (or rent) a bear canister to store your food (it’s required by law). Need some inspiration? We recommend the stunning, 6.5-mile alpine journey to  Ten Lakes or the 4.5-mile romp to  Sunrise Lakes .

Get more tips on Yosemite hikes in our complete guide.  

Scenic drives

For travelers who don’t want to dirty their loafers on a national park visit, Yosemite is full of top-notch stretches of  scenic pavement . In summer, when Tioga Road is open, visitors can motor across the “range of light,” from Lee Vining all the way to El Portal, on the western edge of the park. Along the way, enjoy purple spider lupine and brilliant pink penstemon in  Tuolumne Meadows , stopping to admire the sweeping view of Half Dome and Clouds Rest from  Olmstead Point .

If you’re dead set on exploring  Yosemite Valley by car, go early in the morning to avoid traffic jams and enjoy the peaceful light as deer graze in  Cook’s Meadow . Be sure to stop at the incomparable waterfalls (Vernal, Yosemite, and Bridalveil are our top picks), then pull over at El Capitan and try to imagine Alex Honnold scaling the 3,000-foot-tall cliff face, sans-rope.

You could go way off the beaten path and avoid crowds altogether in Yosemite’s gorgeous  Hetch Hetchy area, which sits in the park’s northwestern corner and features that aforementioned massive reservoir, punctuated by cascading waterfalls.

The road leading to Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park California USA with the Half Dome in the background

Cycle or drive through Yosemite National Park for miles and miles of views. 

Cycling the Valley Loop

Yosemite’s breathtaking valley is home to one of the best (and flattest)  multi-use bike paths in the national park system. BYO-bicycle or  rent one at Curry Village, Yosemite Village, or Yosemite Valley Lodge, then wheel onto more than 12-miles of designated bike trails, which wind past Half Dome, Happy Isles, Mirror Lake, Merced River, and Lower Yosemite Fall.

Guided tours

For travelers hoping to dig a little deeper or venture a little further, there are a wealth of expert-led guided tours in Yosemite, too. Those hoping to follow in Honnold’s footsteps (roped up, of course), should check out  Yosemite Valley Mountaineering School , which has been in business since 1969 and offers courses ranging from the beginner-focused “Welcome to the Rock” to big wall seminars for experienced granite aficionados. Nearby,  Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides also offers day- and weekend-long outings for budding climbers, plus day hikes and backpacking excursions.

If you’ve only got one day inside the park, book a  Grand Tour with Aramark, the park’s licensed concessionaire, for an all-day adventure (lunch included) that takes in the majestic rock domes of Yosemite Valley, the skyscraper-sized trees of Mariposa Grove, and panoramic views at Glacier Point. Just outside the valley,  Rush Creek Lodge offers a bevy of great day trips as well, ranging from sunset happy hours to view-filled snowshoe excursions.

Don’t want to overnight alone, or just prefer to hike in a group? REI offers a pretty fantastic  lodge-based hiking tour that explores the park’s most noteworthy nooks and crannies, from Budd Lake and to Glacier Point, to the Middle Earth-esque Mist Trail. However, the best stargazing (and most pristine solitude) can only be soaked up on an overnight backpacking trip, and  Wildland Trekking can throw down with the best of ‘em. Test your nerves and attempt to summit  Half Dome’s slick spine or do a deep-dive into Yosemite’s high country on the seven-day “ Wonders of Yosemite ” journey.

Rent an Airstream at AutoCamp Yosemite for connection to the outdoors—and the comforts of home.

Rent an Airstream at AutoCamp Yosemite for connection to the outdoors—and the comforts of home. 

Where to stay in and around Yosemite

Hoping to car camp under the stars? Sleep in a vintage Airstream? Or perhaps you’d prefer a top-notch lodge, complete with a delicious dinner menu? No matter your style, there’s sure to be something to suit even the choosiest traveler in your crew.

Yosemite is home to thirteen, yes,  thirteen   car-accessible campgrounds , all of which book up within minutes and are on a reservation system from April through October. Reserving a primo spot (especially in the coveted valley) can be a bit of a headache, as  some campgrounds become available five months in advance, some two months in advance, and others just two weeks out from a trip. Plan ahead, triple-check the park website, and book early, especially if your heart is set on pitching a tent under Half Dome–at the popular Upper, Lower, or North Pines campgrounds.

In winter, many campgrounds close, but a few (Camp 4, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow) switch over to a first-come, first-served system. Upper Pines, located in Yosemite Valley, has reservations available year-round for those who don’t mind the cold.

Read more about camping in Yosemite in our complete guide.  

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Hotels, glamping, and vacation rentals

As one of the most-visited sites in the NPS system (over 3.6 million visited in 2022), Yosemite has a wealth of posh accommodations just outside the park boundary.  Rush Creek Lodge & Spa , located a mere five minutes from the Big Oak Flat Entrance, is a haven for foodie families looking for a post-hike massage and epic cocktail menu (there’s even an on-site pool and zip line for the kiddos). Discerning travelers seeking white glove service and excellent fine dining should head south for  Château du Sureau , a European-style castle with a phenomenal restaurant ( The Elderberry House ), set on nine private acres in the mountain town of Oakhurst.

As far as historic park lodges go,  The Ahwahnee , in Yosemite Valley, is considered the crown jewel of the bunch. Built to complement the park’s soaring granite walls and verdant conifers, it first opened in 1927 and is known for its stately dining room and incomparable location.

Intrepid park-goers craving the comforts of home (think hot showers, luxe linens, and private patios) in a more adventurous setting might prefer a chic Airstream stay at  AutoCamp Yosemite . Or, of course, you could always splurge on a vacation house rental inside the park, like  this breezy craftsman in Yosemite West or this plush log cabin in Wawona .

Read more on the best places to stay in Yosemite National Park.  


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The Atlas Heart

31 Things to do in Yosemite National Park (Ultimate Bucket List)

* This article contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you.

TL;DR: The best things to do in Yosemite National Park are hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls and the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls; taking a scenic drive to glacier viewpoints like Glacier Point and the iconic Tunnel View; and walking among ancient giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

We’ve all been there – you’ve spent years dreaming up a vacation. You finally make it happen, start planning, and book the trip. 

Finally, the time comes to actually enjoy it, and you want to maximize every second of your hard-earned vacation. 

Or maybe your vacation rolls around, and suddenly the weather doesn’t cooperate, or the visitor center is closed, or your knee hurts, and you can’t do the big hike you planned. 

Maybe you’ve never been to Yosemite and want to know what the must-dos are, or perhaps you’re a long-time visitor looking for something new to do. 

No matter which camp you fall in, we’ve rounded up the top and unique things to do in Yosemite. 

Not only will this article help you maximize your long-awaited trip, but we’ve included links directly to the Yosemite National Park webpages most relevant to you. 

By the end of it, you’ll get vacay inspo AND have all the most updated and accurate information at your fingertips. 

So go ahead, bookmark this site, and use it for all your Yosemite planning needs. This is the ultimate bucket list for the best things to do in Yosemite National Park!  

Note: this article contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.

What to do in Yosemite National Park

Table of Contents

Map of Things to do in Yosemite

Get your FREE California Travel Planner – including printable checklists and my favorite two-week itinerary for the state. 

Practical Info

Practical info for Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is located in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in Northern California . 

It’s home to famous sights like El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls and is one of America’s first national parks. 

And Yosemite National Park is huge! With 800,000 acres (aka about the size of Rhode Island), there are a million fun things to do here. 

Yosemite is most easily accessed by car or public transportation. San Francisco International Airport and Reno-Tahoe International Airport are the two biggest airports near Yosemite. 

There are several entrances to the park, which you can read more about in our complete guide to California National Parks . 

Top Things to do in Yosemite National Park

Take in the majestic viewpoints on a scenic drive, tunnel view.

Scenic viewpoint - Tunnel View

Hands down, one of the top things to see in Yosemite National Park is the vista from Tunnel View . 

I remember the first time I emerged from the tunnel and saw Yosemite Valley for the first time – I literally gasped. 

Tunnel View is perhaps one of the most iconic landscapes in America. It overlooks beautiful Yosemite Valley and is accessible from Highway 41 towards Fresno, CA . 

Tunnel View also offers one of the best vantage points to see El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, and Half Dome. 

Glacier Point

Take in the scenic viewpoints, like Glacier Point

Another excellent location for Yosemite sightseeing is Glacier Point . 

Glacier Point is located at the end of Glacier Point Road, off Highway 41, and gives an unparalleled view of the iconic Half Dome. 

Glacier Point not only features some of the most dramatic drop-offs in the park but also the Geology Hut, with informational signs about the incredible geology of Yosemite. 

Glacier Point is also a particularly good spot to watch the sunset or sunrise in Yosemite. 

Olmsted Point

Scenic yosemite viewpoint - Olmstead point

Olmsted Point is located along Tioga Road in the Tuolumne District of Yosemite. 

From Olmsted Point, you’ll get to see Yosemite Valley from the back, with Half Dome in the distance. 

Olmsted Point is also a great place to get out and stretch your legs if you’re on a long road trip around the park. 

Yosemite Valley View

Yosemite valley view

Yosemite Valley View is another beautiful location to see El Capitan and Bridal Veil Falls, but a little closer than you would see them at Tunnel View. 

Valley View is a small, unmarked pullout on Northside Drive in Yosemite Valley. It’s located just before the Northside Drive splits into Highway 140/Southside Drive. 

Taft Point

Taft Point is not accessible by car, but it’s only a 2.2-mile round trip hike with minimal elevation gain to another stunning vista in the park. 

You can look across Yosemite Valley to El Capitan from this vantage point. 

Another cool thing you’ll see if you hike Taft Point is “the fissures,” which are large cracks in the rock along the edge. 

These are neat geological features, but, of course, be careful near the edge!

You can access the Taft Point trailhead from the Sentinel Dome parking lot on Glacier Point Road. 

Walk Along Cooks Meadow

Walk Along Cooks Meadow

One of the best views of Yosemite Falls is from Cooks Meadow . 

Walking along Cooks Meadow is one of those fun things to do in Yosemite that many people miss out on because they’re set on hiking mountain peaks. 

Cooks Meadow is located near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and is a combination of paved sidewalk and wooden boardwalk with interpretive signs. 

Chase Some Waterfalls

Chase some waterfalls in Yosemite

Although Yosemite might be best known for its breathtaking viewpoints and mountainscapes, it’s also home to many stunning waterfalls. 

Yosemite is the perfect place to do a waterfall hike to immerse yourself in the natural misty beauty. 

These are a few of the waterfall hikes I’d recommend (usually best seen in the spring when the snow starts melting).

Vernal Falls

The Vernal Falls hike is one of the top things to do in Yosemite Valley because it takes you to a giant, beautiful waterfall – Vernal Falls!

Vernal Falls is located on the Mist Trail and is a 2.4 mile round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain (it’s strenuous!). 

The Mist Trail is very heavily trafficked in the peak summer months, so the best time to see Vernal Falls is in the spring, early summer, or late winter. 

Always check for trail closures before you plan your hike!

Nevada Falls

Nevada Falls is another one of the most popular waterfall hiking trails in Yosemite and is also located on the Mist Trail past Vernal Falls. 

To get to the top of Nevada Falls is a 5.4-mile round trip hike with 2,000 feet of elevation gain.

This is a very strenuous hike, but if you go prepared with enough water and the proper footwear, the views of the waterfall are spectacular. 

The route to Nevada Falls is not open year-round due to icy, dangerous trail conditions; the best time to hike it is early summer or late fall. 

Remember to check the trail conditions before you go!

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite falls hike [to go in chase some waterfalls section, for Yosemite falls)

Yosemite Falls is one of the top Yosemite attractions because it takes you to the top of one of the tallest waterfalls in North America!

The Yosemite Falls trail, also sometimes called the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, happens to be one of the oldest historic trails in Yosemite (1877). 

The top of Yosemite Falls gives a unique vantage point of Yosemite Valley in that you can see the valley from the north side (whereas most other viewpoints are from the south side). 

This trail is not for the faint of heart or knees. It’s 7.2 miles round trip with 2,700 feet of elevation gain and is rated as strenuous. 

Lower Yosemite Falls

The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is one of the best things to do in Yosemite with a dog or young kids because the trail is entirely paved. 

This is an easy, 1-mile loop trail located directly across from the Yosemite Valley Lodge that offers a close-up vantage point of the lower and upper portion of Yosemite Falls. 

The best time to walk the Lower Yosemite Falls trail is early spring, when the lower falls are roaring.

Bridalveil Falls

Bridalveil Falls is undoubtedly one of the most iconic waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, but as of December 2021, this short, 0.5-mile round trip hike was closed to rehabilitate the area. 

Once this trail reopens, it’s a sight to see. It’s rated easy and usually takes people about 20 minutes to enjoy. 

The best part is that you can enjoy Bridalveil Falls any time of year; just be aware that the mist from the waterfall makes the trail very icy in the winter. 

With that said, the best time to walk the Bridalveil Falls trail is early spring, when runoff is at its highest. 

Keep an eye out for the trail opening date here . 

Tackle an All-Day Hike

Tackle an all day hike like the Half Dome hike or Clouds Rest Hike

There are plenty of amazing hikes to enjoy in Yosemite. However, if you’re looking for a bucket list hike that’s as challenging as it is rewarding, these are the top two all-day hikes in Yosemite. 

Hike Half Dome

If you’re lucky enough to score a permit, hiking Half Dome is an experience of a lifetime. 

The Half Dome trail is a 16-mile round trip hike with 4,800 feet of elevation gain (in other words, it’s extremely strenuous). 

Much of the hike takes place in designated wilderness, and while beautiful, it should only be hiked by those in good shape. 

Permits to hike Half Dome are available for the year starting in March, but there are a few permits available two days in advance as well.  

Rangers at the base of Half Dome will check permits to make sure you have the proper paperwork. 

The route to the top of the dome takes place on the Half Dome cables, which are thick metal cables strung up on either side of wooden boards. 

The only time to hike Half Dome is between late May/early June and early October when the cables are up. 

Learn more about the permit system and how to prepare for a Half Dome hike here . 

Clouds Rest

Clouds Rest Hike

The Clouds Rest Trail is said to rival Half Dome in terms of views, and you don’t need a permit to do it. 

This 14-mile out-and-back trail begins at the Sunrise Creek Trailhead, adjacent to Tenaya Lake on Tioga Road. 

The trail for Clouds Rest features 3,166 feet of elevation gain and is rated as strenuous. 

The reward for all your hard work is a stunning 360-degree view of Yosemite’s granite peaks and the lush Yosemite Valley. 

The best time to hike Clouds Rest is early summer to early fall due to some exposed parts of the trail that may become icy during the colder months. 

Explore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is Yosemite’s largest grove of giant sequoia trees and is located near the south entrance to the park, near Fish Camp, CA. 

Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 giant sequoias and walking among them is truly an awe-inspiring experience. 

The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is typically accessed via shuttle bus. 

However, due to the pandemic, you must park your car at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Center and walk the rest of the way on a paved road. 

The total trip is 5.5 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain and is considered moderately difficult. 

Road Trip Along Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows via Tioga Road (Tioga Pass)

Tuolumne Meadows is one of the best places to visit in Yosemite National Park by car because it’s about an hour and a half from Yosemite Valley. 

This section of the park is located along Tioga Road and is situated at the highest elevation in the park – making it much cooler than the valley during the summer. 

Tuolumne Meadows also has a much quieter and peaceful atmosphere than Yosemite Valley, so it’s an excellent place to get away from the bulk of the crowds.  

Tioga Road, also known as Tioga Pass, is one of the few roads that cross the Sierra Nevada from east to west and is the only way to access Tuolumne Meadows. 

Along Tioga Pass to Tuolumne Meadows, you’ll take in stunning scenery, including sparkling alpine lakes and white granite mountains. 

There are many hiking trails, picnic areas, parking areas, and trailheads along the way. 

To make a day out of your trip to Tuolumne Meadows, make a stop at the Olmsted Point parking area and read about the geology of the Sierra Nevada. 

Next, take a dip in Tenaya Lake, then grab a burger at the Tuolumne Meadows Grill.  

Hike to a Lake

If you’re looking for more water-focused hikes, hiking around a lake is another must in Yosemite. These are two of my favorite lake hikes.

Mirror Lake

If you want a close-up view of Half Dome, Mirror Lake is your destination. 

Mirror Lake is a 2-mile round trip, flat hike located on the east end of Yosemite Valley, right at the base of Half Dome. 

The trail is named “Mirror Lake,” after the fact that you used to see the reflection of Half Dome in the lake. 

Over the years, the dam that once created the lake has eroded, and today the gully features more of a peaceful river than a standing lake. 

Cathedral Lakes

Hike to a lake - cathedral lakes

Cathedral Lakes are located at the base of the majestic Cathedral Peak in the Tuolumne District of Yosemite. 

The hike is moderately strenuous, at 7 miles round trip with 1,000 feet of elevation gain. The trailhead is just west of the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center. 

Take the Valley Floor Tour

Take the Valley Floor Tour

Do you want to immerse yourself in the deeply complex history of Yosemite while sitting in the comfort of an open air-tram? 

How about avoiding the confusing valley traffic while still getting to see all the best sights? If all of this sounds good, the Valley Floor Tour is for you. 

The tour takes you to all the icons of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan and Tunnel View, while being guided by an expert park ranger. 

Yosemite Valley traffic is notoriously confusing and congested, but you can avoid the worst parts of road tripping this area of the park with a tour. 

Have a Drink at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Have a Drink at the Ahwahnee Hotel

Unwind from the day and grab an El Capitini at the historic Ahwahnee Hotel . 

The Ahwahnee Hotel is a uniquely elegant lodge that was designed to highlight the beauty of Yosemite Valley. 

The Ahwahnee is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and has had both queens and presidents as guests!

To boot, the Ahwahnee is within walking distance of Yosemite Village and Curry Village, two bustling areas in the park.  

Watch Climbers from El Capitan Meadow

Watch Climbers from El Capitan Meadow

Since the movies Dawn Wall and Free Solo came out, watching climbers from El Capitan Meadow has become one of the top things to do in Yosemite. 

You can see little blobs of color against the giant granite wall, see them make progress, or gasp as they take short falls. 

El Capitan Meadow is located on Northside Drive in Yosemite Valley. Be sure to bring your binoculars and a camp chair . 

And remember to be respectful of the vegetation while you watch. The meadow is closed to foot traffic, so be sure to stay on the sidewalk. 

Explore Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy reservoir

Hetch Hetchy and the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir are located in the northwest corner of the park, one of the least visited areas of the park. 

The stunning valley, which is part of the Tuolumne River, has been dammed and is a source of drinking water for the Bay Area. 

The area is definitely worth visiting; it’s known for its gorgeous spring wildflowers and excellent birdwatching. 

Attend a Ranger Program

Ranger Programs at Yosemite National Park are excellent. The programs are sometimes called “interpretive” programs because the rangers help “interpret” nature for visitors. 

Yosemite has ranger programs on all sorts of topics, including nature and history, as well as photography programs, which you can learn more about here .  

And don’t forget the best part – programs led by park rangers are entirely free!

Go on a Yosemite Naturalist Walk

Are you looking for things to do with kids in Yosemite National Park? In addition to ranger programs, you can also participate in a Yosemite Naturalist Walk . 

A naturalist walk is led by an expert naturalist with the Yosemite Conservancy, the partner organization for Yosemite National Park. 

The Yosemite Conservancy helps raise money to fund Yosemite’s critical operations, so while a naturalist walk comes with a small fee, the money goes directly towards keeping Yosemite beautiful. 

The Yosemite Conservancy also runs several tours that feature park icons like El Capitan and Half Dome. 

Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery

Ansel Adams Gallery

The Ansel Adams Gallery is located in Yosemite Village and is a great place to pick up unique gifts and keepsakes. 

The gallery is dedicated to the work of photographer Ansel Adams, who is famous for capturing breathtaking black and white photos of the park in the mid 20th century. They even have some of his originals for sale!  

The gallery also features books and other fine art mediums from local artists. 

Visit the Yosemite Museum & the Pioneer Yosemite History Center

Visit Yosemite museum

The Yosemite Museum is located in Yosemite Valley and is primarily focused on historical artifacts and stories from indigenous cultures. 

And the Yosemite Museum was actually the first building constructed as a museum in the national parks system in 1925.

The Pioneer Yosemite History Center is located in the Wawona District of Yosemite, near the south entrance to the park, and highlights the history of the first European-American immigrants. 

As a bonus, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center offers blacksmith demonstrations and horse-drawn carriage rides during the summer. 

Enjoy a Picnic with a View

Picnicking in Yosemite next to the Merced River can be a peaceful respite on a hot day. 

Just remember that Yosemite is home to many wild animals, including bears, so it’s essential to keep your food stored properly at all times. 

All picnic areas in Yosemite National Park are on a first-come, first-served basis and are open from dawn to dusk. 

Cascade Picnic Area

The Cascade Picnic Area is located on Highway 140 between the Arch Rock entrance station and Yosemite Valley, next to the Merced River. 

This picnic area offers tables and grills and is situated in the most tumultuous section of the Merced River. 

Cathedral Beach Picnic Area

Have a picnic with a view - Cathedral Beach Picnic Area

The Cathedral Beach Picnic Area is another picnic location along the Merced River on Southside Drive in Yosemite. 

From Cathedral Beach, you can watch the sunlight off El Capitan and, of course, take a dip in the Merced. 

Swinging Bridge Picnic Area

The Swinging Bridge Picnic Area is located on Southside Drive in Yosemite Valley and features excellent views of Yosemite Falls and a large beach area.

Swinging Bridge is the most popular picnic area in the valley, and for that reason, you can expect it to fill up quickly on nice days.  

View the Wildlife

View the Wildlife in Yosemite

No trip to Yosemite is complete without some wildlife viewing! For some people seeing wildlife is the highlight of their trip to the park. 

Yosemite is home to a huge variety of animals , including some endangered species. 

Some common species you may see include mule deer, coyotes, bears , foxes, and peregrine falcons. 

While it can be very exciting to see wildlife, never approach or follow wildlife. Wildlife that loses its fear of humans sometimes has to be killed by rangers, which no one wants.  

To view wildlife safely , always give animals at least half a football field of space (even if the animal seems to be ignoring you), and come prepared with binoculars and a camera with a zoom lens. 

Ski at Badger Pass Ski Area

Ski at Badger Pass Ski Area

Look no further than the Badger Pass Ski area if you’re looking for Yosemite winter activities. 

The ski area includes groomed trails for cross-country skiing, as well as downhill skiing areas and a lift. 

The Ski School at Badger Pass offers lessons for new winter sports lovers, as well as a shuttle.

Unique Things to do in Yosemite National Park

Take a climbing class with yosemite mountain school.

Rock Climbing Class with Yosemite Mountain School

Do you want to learn to rock climb in the home of the greatest outdoor climbing on earth? 

Take a class with the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service . These guys are the only official climbing guides in Yosemite, and every instructor is an expert climber. 

As an added safety precaution, every instructor is also a certified Wilderness EMT or Wilderness First Responder. 

Learn About Indigenous Culture at Indian Village

Behind the Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Village is a reconstruction of an Ahwahneechee Indian village . 

In fact, one of the biggest indigenous villages in the valley is located where the modern Yosemite Village is today. 

You can walk among reconstructed structures and learn how indigenous Southern Sierra Miwok and Northern Paiute people lived. 

Take a Jeep Tour

If you don’t want to waste a second of your day in Yosemite, consider booking a 4×4 Jeep Tour , which picks up at select locations outside the park. 

The tours can be customized to cater to your personal interests. They also have an all-inclusive option with a picnic lunch included. 

Take an Art Class

Take an art class in Yosemite

Many people throughout history have felt inspired by the majesty of the valley, so taking an art class isn’t really an unusual thing to do in Yosemite National Park. 

That said, you might be surprised to learn that the park offers daily art classes. 

Classes must be booked online ahead of time and are open to anyone 12 years old and up. The classes cost a small fee but remember that these fees support the park. 

If you didn’t come prepared with art supplies, you can purchase them at the Ansel Adams Gallery. 

Bike Yosemite Valley

Biking Yosemite

Biking is one of the best things to do around Yosemite if you want to see the sights but don’t want to wait in traffic or walk everywhere. 

There are a few ways to bike in Yosemite . You can rent a bike at Curry Village, you can bring your own bike, or you can take part in the pilot bike share program. 

Bikes are only allowed on fully paved surfaces, you must wear a helmet, and biking on the road is not advised during peak traffic for safety reasons. 

Snowshoe the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias

The Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias is located off Highway 120 and features a smaller but less trafficked grove of giant sequoias. 

The grove is located on a closed road, but you can travel it via snowshoe or cross-country skiing during the winter. 

The trail is three miles round trip and includes 500 feet of elevation gain on the way back. 

This is an excellent trail for those who don’t want a strenuous hike but still want to see giant sequoias in the snow .  

Make Your Dog a BARK Ranger

Make Your Dog a BARK Ranger

The honest truth is that there aren’t many things to do with dogs in Yosemite. 

National parks are set aside in part to preserve scenery and wildlife, and pets can be a direct threat to the health and safety of wildlife and other visitors. 

Dogs in Yosemite are only allowed on completely paved surfaces. They aren’t allowed on any trails except the Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, and they’re also not allowed on beaches. 

If you want to bring your dog to Yosemite, though, you can learn how to be a respectful visitor by making your dog a BARK Ranger ! 

BARK stands for:

  • B ag your waste
  • A lways leash your pet
  • R espect wildlife
  • K now where you can go

You can complete a short activity card to understand the rules around pets, and then your dog will get sworn in by a real ranger as a BARK Ranger. 

Being a BARK Ranger means setting an example for other dog owners by following all the rules.

Yosemite Valley Chapel

Yosemite valley chapel

The Yosemite Valley Chapel is a picturesque, scenic chapel built in the 1870s that’s the oldest European structure in Yosemite Valley. The chapel still holds nondenominational church services and weddings. 

The chapel is located on Southside Drive just before Sentinel Bridge and might be one of the most charming places to visit in Yosemite National Park. 

Experience Yosemite Firefall

Yosemite firefall

The Yosemite Firefall is a naturally occurring event that usually happens around the last two weeks in February. 

A combination of sunlight hitting a small, ephemeral waterfall causes the waterfall to look like it’s on fire, hence the name, “Firefall.”

If you want to learn more about this beautiful natural phenomenon, you can read our complete guide to Yosemite Firefall . 

Go Fishing in the Merced River

Fishing is one of those outdoor activities many people (including myself) consider fun and relaxing, and great news, you can fish in Yosemite National Park .

Just like anywhere else, you must have a valid California fishing license to fish in the park, and you cannot use live, dead, or scented baits of any type. 

You can fish almost anywhere in Yosemite except from bridges. 

See Hill’s Studio at the Wawona Visitor Center

The Wawona Visitor Center, located directly adjacent to the Wawona Hotel, contains Hill’s Studio . 

This space is dedicated to the fantastic floor-to-ceiling artwork of Thomas Hill, an American artist during the 19th century. 

Hill is most famous for his California landscapes, including, of course, Yosemite Valley. 

Enjoy a Night of Stargazing

Yosemite stargazing

What better activity to do on your Yosemite vacation than stargazing? If you’re from a city, take advantage of the dark night skies to enjoy the wonders of a dark night in Yosemite. 

You can do your own stargazing in places like Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, or really anywhere there aren’t trees in the way. 

If you’d like a more curated stargazing experience, you can sign up for any number of night sky programs offered by the park concessionaire. 

Volunteer During Facelift

If you have a day in September and love giving back, you can volunteer for Yosemite Facelift . 

Facelift is a service day organized by Yosemite Climbing Association and the National Park Service to help clean ol’ Yosemite up. 

Volunteers walk around Yosemite Valley to pick up trash and enter to win giveaways. 

The event was inspired by the fact that, well dangit, with millions of people visiting the park every year, trash and micro-trash can accumulate quickly. 

Take a Private Winter Tour

Take a Private Winter Tour in Yosemite_

In addition to the million different things to do in Yosemite, there are also a million different times of the year to do them. 

Yosemite in winter is a special time. With fewer crowds, and snow dusting the granite cliffs, the park has a different and unique feel. 

One way to take advantage of this time of year is to book a customizable winter tour . 

This allows you to enjoy the park with a knowledgeable guide without having to worry about driving on the park’s winding mountain roads in the snow. 

Looking for an already planned out itinerary? Read our two days in Yosemite itinerary .

Where to Eat & Drink in Yosemite National Park

Where to eat in Yosemite, Ahwahnee hotel

Lots of people bring food in with them to the park, but if you need a snack, check out one of these places to eat at Yosemite. 

  • Degnan’s Deli
  • Ahwahnee Hotel
  • Base Camp Eatery
  • Mountain Room
  • Village Store
  • Village Grill
  • Curry Village
  • Glacier Point Gift Shop and Snack Stand
  • Wawona Hotel
  • Wawona Store
  • Tuolumne Meadows Grill (open summer only)
  • Tuolumne Meadows Lodge (open summer only)
  • Crane Flat Gas Station (open summer only)

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Where to stay in Yosemite National park

For more information on hotel-style lodging in Yosemite, click here.  

My picks for hotels include:

  • The Ahwahnee
  • Yosemite Valley Lodge

Yosemite camping

Click for more information on camping, including canvas-sided tent cabins and campgrounds . 

Note that many campgrounds are only open seasonally and some campgrounds have remained closed during the pandemic. 

Canvas-Sided Tent Cabins

  • Housekeeping Camp
  • White Wolf Lodge
  • Tuolumne Meadows Lodge
  • High Sierra Camps
  • Glacier Point Ski Hut

Tent Campgrounds

  • Upper Pines
  • Lower Pines
  • North Pines
  • Bridalveil Creek
  • Hodgdon Meadow
  • Tamarack Flat
  • Yosemite Creek
  • Porcupine Flat
  • Tuolumne Meadows

Where to Stay Near Yosemite National Park

  • Hotel at Black Oak Casino Resort in Tuolumne, CA
  • Sierra Sky Ranch , in Oakhurst, CA
  • Autocamp Yosemite , in Midpines, CA

See more about Autocamp Yosemite in our article on uniquely beautiful Glamping Spots in California. 

Best Time to Visit Yosemite National Park

Best time to visit Yosemite

The best time to visit Yosemite National Park depends on what you want out of your trip. 

If you want to hike Half Dome and other trails, you should visit between May and October for warmer weather and more open trailheads. 

If you’re looking for a quiet getaway , try a January trip to Yosemite. 

There’s really no wrong time to visit the park as long as you plan ahead and prepare for the season.

How to Get Around Yosemite National Park

how to get around Yosemite

There are several ways to get around Yosemite National Park. Check out the park website on getting around for the most up-to-date and accurate information.

You can use your own vehicle to get around Yosemite, and this is especially recommended for visiting anywhere outside of Yosemite Valley. 

Note that some national park roads close during the winter, and tire chains may be required at any time. 

Also, note that traffic in Yosemite Valley is notoriously bad during the summer and the rest of the year on weekends and holidays. 

Traffic is known to back up for hours as thousands of private vehicles attempt to enter or exit the park simultaneously. 

To avoid this, you can use public transportation to get in the park any time of year. 

Yosemite offered a free shuttle around Yosemite Valley before the pandemic. It’s currently not operating, but keep an eye on the park website for updates on when the shuttle will return. 

Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park

Tips for visiting Yosemite National Park

Don’t let surprises ruin your Yosemite vacation! Follow these tips for a smooth national park adventure. 


Yosemite National Park required entrance reservations between May and October during the pandemic. 

As of October 31, 2021, the park no longer requires reservations; however, this may be subject to change depending on public health guidelines. 

Entrance Fee

The park always collects entrance fees at each park entrance station. 

If the station is closed when you arrive, you must fill out a self-registration card and submit your payment into a box (bring cash and a pen). 

The fee for a private vehicle is $35 for a seven-day pass. Click here for detailed fee information for other types of vehicle entrances . 

Read our guide on how to get from San Francisco to Yos emite .

Expect crowds

Yosemite National Park is routinely listed as one of the most visited national parks in the country. 

On top of that, most of the park’s visitors want to visit Yosemite Valley, which is a relatively small portion of the park. 

For this reason, expect very crowded facilities and congested traffic, especially in the summer months. 

Help keep Yosemite wildlife wild by following these tips.

  • Keep 25 yards from deer and 50 yards (half a football field) from bears and all other wildlife.
  • Even if wildlife appears to be ignoring you, or walks towards you, keep your distance.
  • Store food and trash properly. Always keep food and trash within arms reach or in a locked vehicle or food storage locker.
  • Obey the speed limit! Every year up to 30 bears are hit by vehicles in Yosemite.
  • Know what to do if you see a bear . 

We’ve all seen amazing footage of beautiful outdoor spaces taken with drones, so I understand the appeal of a drone. 

However, national parks , and especially Yosemite, are not the place for drones. 

First and foremost, Yosemite regularly uses helicopters for emergency rescue operations, and if there’s a drone flying, the helicopter can’t fly. The same goes for wildfire emergencies using aircraft. 

Second, people have used drones to locate wildlife, and in the process of getting their amazing shot, have harassed and disturbed the wildlife. Don’t be that person!

What to Pack for Yosemite National Park

What to Pack for Yosemite National Park

When you’re ready to gear up for your Yosemite vacation, be sure to pack all the necessary gear to keep you safe and comfortable. 

  • A map and a navigation device (remember phones don’t always work in the wilderness)
  • Hiking backpack
  • Sturdy, comfortable shoes
  • Camera with a zoom lens or binoculars to help you view wildlife safely
  • Sun protection, including sunscreen and sunglasses
  • Food and water
  • Bear canister , if you plan to backpack in the park
  • Extra layers , including a waterproof layer
  • Light source (e.g., headlamp , flashlight , extra batteries )
  • Outdoor watch (like a Garmin watch ), handheld GPS (if you plan to do some backcountry exploring), and a downloaded hiking app
  • First-aid kit (bonus points if you know how to use it)
  • Your national park passport


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Mimi McFadden Founder & Editor-In-Chief

Mimi McFadden initially started The Atlas Heart in 2013 to write about her adventures abroad. But since 2019, The Atlas Heart has become a love letter to the Golden State. Mimi enjoys sharing her first-hand knowledge and expertise with the places she knows so well and making the most comprehensive travel guides possible. When she’s not hiking and exploring new places in California, she loves to travel abroad, read in her cozy chaise lounge, play basketball, and connect with friends and family over board games. Over her 28 years in California, she has lived in Santa Cruz (18 years), San Diego (5 years), and the San Francisco Bay Area (5 years), where she currently resides.

Looking for more California parks and Sierra Nevada travel inspiration? Check out my related posts below!

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Palm Springs to Joshua Tree National Park

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California State Parks List (Every Park Organized by County)

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Where to Stay in Lake Tahoe

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Hi, I'm Mimi! I'm an outdoorsy Californian who has spent over 28 years immersed in the incredible natural beauty that California has to offer. My goal is to inspire others to get out and find their next adventure in California. Whether it’s escaping to an alpine lake in the Sierras, finding peace among the giant redwoods, or road tripping down the PCH, there’s always more to explore in this beautiful state.

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Yosemite Waterfalls behind Sequoias  in Yosemite National Park

The best things to do in Yosemite

You can't go wrong in this gorgeous national park, but here are the best things to do in Yosemite, according to people who know

Erika Mailman

There are national parks , and then there are NATIONAL PARKS. Yosemite’s one of these, with instant name recognition—and with inclusion on many people’s lifetime bucket list. It’s a walker’s paradise, but also enjoyable by car, guided bus or tram tour, so long as you take time to pull over and really inhale the views and the scents of fragrant incense cedar and sequoia. Climbers love the granite face of El Capitan, an impressive monolith, and brave hikers can tackle the seasonal cable climb of Half Dome. Wildflowers abound and wildlife roams free, including bears right in the valley. Striking waterfalls, an amazing February phenomenon called the Firefall , and beauty in all four seasons appeal to photographers—Ansel Adams spent significant time here, and there’s a gallery in his name you can visit. Learn about the Miwok at the Indian Village of the Ahwahnee, which includes, among other structures, a roundhouse still used for ceremonies by the local community. Stay in a tent or upscale your stay at the Ahwahnee, an iconic example of “parkitecture.” Above all, take a few deep breaths and marvel at the incredible natural beauty of America’s third national park.

An email you’ll actually love

Best things to do in Yosemite

Mist Trail

1.  Mist Trail

The quintessential Yosemite experience is this three or seven mile hike with up close, feel-the-spray views of two of Yosemite’s most magnificent waterfalls. This signature hike has amazing views, including one that encompasses Nevada Fall, Liberty Cap, and the back of Half Dome. If you’re not up for a five-hour hike, turn around at Vernal Fall (approximately two hours total), although the crowds thin out if you keep going. The best time to go is in the spring and early summer and as early in the morning as you can manage.

The Ahwahnee

2.  The Ahwahnee

This grand hotel is known for its dining room complete with 24-foot windows and luxe dining experience. (Note: Dinner requires ‘proper attire’—even kids must dress up.) Make time to roam the stunning grounds and admire the magnificent architecture known as National Park Service rustic, a style developed to make buildings harmonize with their surroundings—in this case, a sheer granite cliff behind the hotel. You can now take a 360-degree virtual tour of the hotel; don’t forget to “turn right” after the check-in desk to see the red elevators that inspired Stanley Kubrick’s choices in The Shining .

Skydive Yosemite

3.  Skydive Yosemite

This is the only skydiving center with views of Yosemite National Park. You’ll take a Cessna 10-14,000 feet into the sky and see Half Dome, El Capitan and Yosemite Valley in a completely new way. Oh, and the part where you jump out of a plane and free fall with views of the Sierra for 40-60 seconds isn’t too bad either. You’ll land where you started, at the Mariposa-Yosemite Airport in Mariposa, outside of park limits. You can order a big ‘marry me’ banner in the landing area for marriage proposals when your intended is already breathless.

Mariposa Grove

4.  Mariposa Grove

This beautiful part of the park is home to 500 mature giant sequoias, which is why the idea of national parks came to be. President Abraham Lincoln signed legislation protecting the Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley for 'public use, resort, and recreation' in 1864, the first time the federal government set aside scenic areas to be protected. Here, the trees are so big that they have their own names on the map, like the ‘Faithful Couple’ trees and the ‘Bachelor and Three Graces.’ You can even walk through the ‘California Tunnel Tree,’ which was carved into in 1895 to permit horse-drawn stagecoaches to pass through.

Gold Rush BBQ at Tenaya Lodge

5.  Gold Rush BBQ at Tenaya Lodge

Enjoy a summer barbecue at a beautiful hotel property right outside of the park in the tiny town of Fish Camp. Reopening Memorial Day 2024 for the season, the barbecue takes place in a conifer forest clearing and is all about getting a taste of the Old West. There’s live music and a hearty menu, and if past pricing holds true at $59 for adults and $29 for kids, it’s a good deal for a fun evening activity. (If you’re going to Yosemite in colder weather, check out the hotel’s Jackalope’s Bar & Grill, which offers tasty burgers and sandwiches and house specialties like carnitas sheet pan nachos.)

Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures

6.  Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures

This family-run pack station offers one- and two-hour horseback rides departing daily. Experienced riders can also take the five-hour round-trip ride to Grizzly Giant, a 2,000-year-old redwood tree visited by President Theodore Roosevelt and naturalist John Muir in this same equine way. The trail horses are all ‘sure-footed’ American Quarter Horses trained while young to travel in the high Sierra. You’ll have the pleasure of riding with these calm horses through water whenever the trails cross through streams. All trail rides start with a hands-on lesson in the arena before departing and are not offered in winter.

Yosemite Falls Trail

7.  Yosemite Falls Trail

Here’s your chance to hike 7.2 miles round trip to the top of mainland North America’s tallest waterfall . You’ll follow switchbacks through oak woodland on a steep trail that gains 2,700 feet in elevation, taking six to eight hours round trip. You start with a one-mile climb to Columbia Rock, which has beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock, and after another half-mile, you can see Upper Yosemite Falls. The remaining two miles are even more strenuous but worth it for the vistas and to see the relatively small creek responsible for the roaring runoff in spring and early summer.

South Gate Brewing Company

8.  South Gate Brewing Company

This small-batch brewery and restaurant sits 10 minutes from Yosemite’s South Gate in Oakhurst, CA. South Gate rolls out beautiful beer while offering a wide range of core house brews. With views of Deadwood Mountain from the dining room’s large windows and excellent pub grub, this place makes the trip to Yosemite even sweeter. Try to make it for events like Oktoberfest to make the visit even more memorable.

9.  Happy Isles Art and Nature Center

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Scott (@farallon24)

This f amily-friendly space has natural history exhibits, interactive displays and art workshops. The center also includes the Yosemite Conservancy Bookstore. Outside, you can travel short trails for short legs, and see evidence of a horrific rockfall in 1996 that sent 90,000 tons of rock tumbling from the Glacier Point cliff above the center—the equivalent of 2,000 SUVs landing on the valley floor simultaneously. It knocked down hundreds of trees! You can paint that massive cliff with daily art classes for anyone 12 and up held outside during the summer months, for a fee, while younger kids can have free lessons. The center is open from April through October.

Glacier Point

10.  Glacier Point

This jaw-dropping overlook perches 3,200 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley with gorgeous views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the High Sierra. All Yosemite views are impressive, but this one is beyond special. You’ll be staring right at Half Dome’s monumental curve almost at eye level. Glacier Point provides a great starting or finishing point for three strenuous hikes: the Four Mile Trail, the Panorama Trail, and the Pohono Trail. Glacier Point is open for cars from late May through October or November, depending on snow melt, and is accessible in winter by snowshoeing or skiing. 

Yosemite Wine Tails

11.  Yosemite Wine Tails

That’s right; it’s not ‘trails’ but ‘tails’... like on the dog that will accompany you to this dog-friendly wine bar in Oakhurst, near Yosemite’s southern entrance. This establishment serves one-of-a-kind drinks you can’t find in the grocery store, an excellent selection of California wine and beer, and locally-made snacks. The owners require that every winery, brewery and other vendor they work with donates a percentage to a pet-centered nonprofit. Need we say more?

Yosemite Health Spa

12.  Yosemite Health Spa

Part of the Yosemite Bug Rustic Mountain Resort in Midpines, CA, just outside the park limits, this spa boasts its own garden deck overlooking the valley below. You can do yoga here or get a massage, step into a locally made herbal steep bath, and enjoy the hot rocks sauna. The huge stainless steel hot tub uses UV light and oxygen-infusing food-grade hydrogen peroxide. Does going to the spa seem a little indulgent for a trip centered on the outdoors? Maybe. Will you care when you’re completely blissed out? Absolutely not.

Hetch Hetchy Valley

13.  Hetch Hetchy Valley

This beautiful (and less visited) glacial valley in the park's northwest corner offers hiking, fishing, waterfalls, and wildflowers. It has one of the longest hiking seasons in the park and is dotted with remote lakes and hidden canyons. It’s also home to the 430-foot O’Shaughnessy Dam that creates the reservoir, giving San Francisco some of the cleanest municipal water in the United States. There’s no swimming or boating in the reservoir for that reason, but you can fish it year-round. Before the dam was built, John Muir—who fought its construction—called Hetch Hetchy ‘a wonderfully exact counterpart of the great Yosemite.’

14.  Iron Door Saloon & Grill

View this post on Instagram A post shared by The Historical Iron Door Inc. (@the_iron_door_saloon)

This place claims to be the oldest continuously operating saloon in California, established in 1852 (maybe). If you’re entering or exiting Yosemite through the Big Oak Flat Entrance, stop in Groveland (a 30-minute drive) for breakfast, lunch or dinner and ‘free drinks tomorrow.’ Their Bloody Mary mix is so in demand that they sell it in 32oz Mason jars to go. This historic structure has walls made out of solid granite and a sod roof covered in tin. The iron doors were made in England, brought around the tip of South America by ship and hauled in by mule to their present location.

Half Dome

15.  Half Dome

If you can manage to climb Half Dome , it’s one of those memorable adventures you’ll never forget. The 14-mile (10- to 12-hour) round trip hike gains 5,000 feet in elevation—and you’re at 8,800 feet above sea level where the air is thin. The infamous cables you’ll need for the last, steepest 400-foot stretch are metal ropes you hang onto while widely spaced wooden slats provide ‘resting stops’ for your feet. You have to get a permit in advance for this experience, which is open from late May through mid-October. Note: this winter’s incredible snowpack means the cables may not open until June.

Golden Crown Mine

16.  Golden Crown Mine

Before the park was set aside for preservation, silver miners excavated here, and you can hike to five log cabins that were part of a mining camp near the Golden Crown Mine . The mine operated from 1879 to 1890 at Mono Pass, at a dizzying 11,000 feet elevation. The fragile mine complex has been nominated to the National Register of Historic Places, and the park encourages visitors to make the challenging hike to increase awareness of its historic importance. Start at the Dana meadows side of Mt. Gibbs to hike to Mono Pass, with an even more difficult hike up Bloody Canyon to the mine.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

17.  Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

Try to capture a glimpse of one of these majestic mammals by visiting Cathedral Range, where they have been repopulating after an absence of 100 years. The bighorns were once abundant in Yosemite, but hunting and disease brought them near extinction. Now, there are three herds thanks to a state-funded recovery plan that relocated ewes and rams from Inyo National Forest and Sequoia National Park to the Yosemite wilderness (they wear GPS collars and can be tracked). From Tuolumne Meadows, you can view the steep cliffs and rocky outcroppings of Cathedral Range —and hopefully bighorns.

18.  Indian Village of the Ahwahnee

View this post on Instagram A post shared by Alessandra Balin (@alebalin1976)

It’s important to spend some time thinking about how the entirety of the Yosemite Valley was land that belonged to the Miwok people and that violence and even murder accompanied the seizing of it. The last authentic Indian village was removed in the 1960s, while today’s recreation village was created in the 1920s during a period of overlap. The ceremonial roundhouse built in 1992 is used by local members of the Native American community for ceremonies, while you can also see a sweathouse, chief’s house, bark house, food storage systems like acorn granaries and other items that help give insight into what the valley used to look like.

Wawona Hotel

19.  Wawona Hotel

This historic hotel is in the European style (most rooms don’t have a private bath and you share one down the hall) and is open seasonally. It’s just a short walk to the golf course and to the Pioneer History Center—and best of all, it’s close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. You can eat all three meals in this 1856 structure with wonderful piano performances in the lounge in the evenings. Barbecues in summer, a crackling fireplace in winter: this place is memorable. Plus, Wawona is really fun to say.

Bridalveil Fall

20.  Bridalveil Fall

A timeless, classic waterfall easy to find in the valley, Bridalveil Fall usually flows year-round. The National Park Service recently completed a construction project that updated the visitor experience and viewing area. No more yucky vault toilets, congested parking, and unclear walkways. Most importantly, there’s now an accessible trail to the primary viewing platform. Previously, the path was paved but at such a steep grade that it was not wheelchair accessible.

Balanced Rock

21.  Balanced Rock

This health & wellness organization offers customized retreats and adventures, yoga, hiking, Ayurveda, and more, right within the national park. For instance, join the Summer Solstice Backpack in June for five days of hiking and backcountry yoga with Ayurvedic-inspired meals, guided meditations, and refreshing alpine lake or river swims. The founders are Heather Sullivan and Eliza Kerr, and one-time instructor Chelsea Griffie was the first Black woman to climb El Capitan. Balanced Rock continues to run Women of Color Retreats annually to support inclusivity and celebrate diversity for women of color in the outdoor space. This year, it takes place in early October as a camping retreat in Yosemite Valley.

Elderberry House

22.  Elderberry House

The Elderberry House is the only fine dining restaurant in the Yosemite area, serving up French fare at the Château du Sureau, a castle resort just a half-hour from the south entrance of Yosemite. After a day of hiking and seeing incredible vistas, you can wind down with a three or five-course tasting menu and world-class wines. Along with European standouts, their list showcases California’s robust wine production offerings—for instance, just their Chardonnay list features close to 30 wines from Napa, Sonoma, the Russian River Valley and others.

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17 Breathtaking Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

  • California / North America / Outdoors / USA / Yosemite

Looking for the best things to do in Yosemite National Park? Don’t miss these places if it’s your first time.

Yosemite is easily one of our favorite places in the United States. It was the first national park I visited as an adult, and as most firsts go, it will always hold a special place in my heart.

We’ve visited six times so far in the summer, fall, and winter. Yosemite is a massive park with so much to explore that it can be overwhelming to figure out where to start. If you’re visiting Yosemite National Park, here’s a to help you get started.

What to See in Yosemite National Park - Yosemite Must-See One Day + Yosemite Map // localadventurer.com

This post may contain affiliate links, where we receive a small commission on sales of the products that are linked at no additional cost to you. All opinions are always our own. Read our full disclosure  for more info. Thank you for supporting the brands that make Local Adventurer possible.

Last Updated: April 17, 2024

− − Content Menu

  • 17 Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
  • Map Yosemite National Park
  • More Things to Do in Yosemite
  • Essential Tips for First Timers
  • Yosemite Park Tours
  • What to Pack

Best Places to Stay in Yosemite

Planning checklist, more resources, 17 things to do in yosemite national park that will take your breath away, 1. glacier point.

37.7284714,-119.5731828,  map

This is one of Yosemite’s best viewpoints that you can drive up to with easy access. Located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley, you get a spectacular view of the valley and Half Dome. If you can make it, sunrise and sunset are the best times to go.

Four Mile Trail + Are you going to be in Yosemite National Park? Save this pin and click to see details on the 11 best hikes in Yosemite National Park you shouldn’t miss. These Yosemite hiking trails are also some of the best hikes in California and the US that you’ll want to add to your hiking bucket lists. They take you to the most beautiful places, waterfalls, and views in Yosemite. // Local Adventurer #localadventurer #yosemite #california #nationalpark #visitcalifornia #visitca

2. Taft Point & Sentinel Dome

Trailhead Coordinates: 37.712620, -119.586448,  map

Taft Point and Sentinel Dome are right next to each other. Taft Point is easy to get to and a great spot to conquer your fear of heights. Edge up to the cliff and stare straight down into the valley to appreciate its grandeur. Sentinel Dome is an easy 1-mile walk from the parking lot and gives you a 360-degree view of Yosemite.

See More: 11 Best Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Taft Point and Sentinel Dome + 15 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park that Will Take Your Breath Away - What to See in Yosemite in One Day and the Yosemite Area

3. Yosemite Falls

37.7565999,-119.5990961, map

Standing at 2,424 feet, this is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest in the world! The best time to view it is in late spring, when the melting snow creates the most substantial flow. You can even day hike to different portions of the falls, including the top.

Local Tip: For an extra special experience, go during  the moonbow .

See More: 7 Magical Moonbow Dates and Locations You Need to Know

Lower Yosemite Falls hike + Taking a trip to Yosemite National Park? Save this pin and click to see details on the 11 best hikes in Yosemite National Park you shouldn’t miss. These Yosemite hiking trails are also some of the best hikes in California and the US that you’ll want to add to your hiking bucket lists. They take you to the park’s most beautiful places and scenic views. // Local Adventurer #localadventurer #yosemite #california #nationalpark #visitcalifornia #visitca #findyourpark

4. Tunnel View

37.7158029,-119.6796714, map

This spot can get crowded with tour buses and cars, but still makes the list of top places to see. From here, you get a view of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and El Capitan.

Local Tip: Hiking the Artist Point Trail gives you a slightly higher vantage point of the same view without the crowds.

Tunnel View, Yosemite National Park, California + Your Ultimate USA Bucket List // Local Adventurer #usa #yosemite

5. Bridalveil Fall

37.7166784,-119.6485457, map

This waterfall is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the park and is just a short hike away (0.5 miles). It has quite the spray in the spring. The Ahwahneechee Native American tribe believed inhaling the mist would improve your chances of getting married.

They recently finished a new trail for Bridalweil Falls, which allows visitors to see the falls closer.

bridalveil fall yosemite

6. Half Dome →

36.0306029,-113.8290033, map

This is Yosemite’s most popular rock formation. You can even hike to the top. Check out our guide on hiking this  15-mile trail here . I still can’t believe I climbed those cables with my fear of heights! It was one of the scariest hikes I’ve done.

Local Tip: Remember that you need a permit to do this hike. Click below for details.

See More: How to Get Half Dome Permits

Hiking Half Dome + Traveling to Yosemite National Park? Take a look at these 11 best hikes in Yosemite National Park. These Yosemite hiking trails are also some of the best hiking trails in California and the US that you’ll want to add to your hiking bucket lists. They take you to some of the most beautiful places and best views in Yosemite. // Local Adventurer #localadventurer #yosemite #california #nationalpark #visitcalifornia #visitca #findyourpark

7. El Capitan

Coordinates: 37.730755, -119.636021, map

This is the ultimate climb, stretching about 3,000 feet from bottom to top, and rock climbers worldwide make the trek here. The most popular route is The Nose. You can watch other climbers or try this bucket list-worthy climb yourself. You’ll often see headlamps from climbers on El Cap at night. We mainly boulder, and while we’ve dabbled in sport and trad, we have trouble imagining 31 pitches of climbing.

Pro Tip: Watch Free Solo to get a better look at the scale of El Cap.

el capitan yosemite national park

8. Lembert Dome

Coordinates: 37.880482, -119.348960,  map

A 2.8-mile roundtrip hike takes you to the top of this granite rock, giving you a great view of Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows. This is the view from the summit.

Lembert Dome Hike + Yosemite Falls + 15 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park That Will Take Your Breath Away.

9. Cathedral Peak

Coordinates: 37.847908, -119.405866,  map

Cathedral Peak was first scaled by John Muir in 1869 and is still as spectacular today.

yosemite cathedral lake hike

10. Vernal and Nevada Falls

37.727429,-119.5458875, map

Take the Mist Trail to see this beautiful fall, but be sure you have hiking shoes since the trail gets very slippery from the mist. Just a bit further past Venal Fall is Nevada Fall, the closest waterfall to the Sierra Nevada mountain range.

Yosemite Vernal Falls Hike // localadventurer.com

11. Olmsted Point

Coordinates: 37.810733, -119.485184,  map

Located about an hour from the valley floor, stop here for a less common view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. You can even see people climbing the cables of Half Dome. Here’s a photo from our friend, Josh, from California Through My Lens .

Olmsted Point + 15 Breathtaking Things to Do in Yosemite National Park.

12. Tenaya Lake

37.8310653,-119.4684337, map

Some say that this is the most beautiful lake in Yosemite. Nestled in between granite peaks and domes, you can kayak, swim, or even ice skate (on very rare occasions in the winter) at this high country lake.

tenaya lake ice skating

13. Tuolumne Meadows

7943 Willow St, Wawona, 95389,  map

This beautiful meadow runs along the Tuolumne River and offers great views of the Cathedral Range, Lembert Dome, and Mount Dana. Take a stroll or camp overnight.

Local Tip: The road to Tuolumne Meadows is closed in the winter.

yosemite meadow tuolumne

14. Mariposa Grove

Coordinates: 37.504613, -119.600608,  map

Stand face to face with giant Sequoias. They even have a tree that you can drive through.

mariposa grove yosemite

15. COoks Meadow

Coordinates: 37.745392, -119.593712,  map

This is where Ansel Adams took some of his most famous photos. You get a great view of the Cathedral Rocks, Three Brothers, and Half Dome.

cooks meadow yosemite

16. Camp and Boulder at Camp 4

37.7414843,-119.6037445, map

Yosemite is a mecca for rock climbing. Camp 4 is an iconic and historic spot for the  growth of rock climbing in the 20th century . The rock is really slick and polished, so it was much tougher than we imagined. If you’re interested in rock climbing, here are a few of our posts to help you get started.

  • Rock Climbing Tips for Beginners
  • 15 Clever Rock Climbing Hacks, Tips, Tricks, and Etiquette
  • Best Exercises and Games to Improve Rock Climbing

Below is Midnight Lighting, the most famous bouldering problem in the world.

midnight lightning yosemite camp 4

17. Badger Pass (Winter)

7082 Glacier Point Rd, 95389,  map

Yosemite is a winter wonderland. There are fewer people in the winter too. You can snowshoe, ski, or snowboard. You can see more of  our snow day adventures here .

See More: Snowshoeing Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Snow! Snowshoeing in Yosemite National Park Badger Pass - Things to Do Yosemite // localadventurer.com

Yosemite National Park Map / Yosemite Attractions Map

More Things to DO in Yosemite National Park

If you’ve already blown through all the above, here are some more ideas for your next visit!

  • Horsetail Falls during the Firefall
  • Photograph Valley View
  • Inspiration Point (2.3 mi out and back, 1043 ft gain, moderate)
  • Washburn Point
  • Merced Grove – densest sequoia grove in the park
  • Raft or Kayak down the Merced River
  • Chilnualna Falls Hike (7.9 mi out and back, 2188 ft gain, difficult)
  • Ansel Adams Gallery
  • Mirror Lake
  • Yosemite Museum
  • Pioneer Yosemite History Museum
  • Soda Springs
  • Happy Isles Bridge
  • See  Frazil Ice  (spring only)
  • Wawona Swinging Bridge Swimming Hole  (summer only)
  • Pothole Dome Hike
  • Camp in Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) – We did this before our Half Dome Hike.
  • Photograph Sentinel Bridge
  • Hetch Hetchy and Wapama Falls
  • Drive Tioga Pass Road / Tioga Road to get to quieter areas of the park (check road conditions on whether it is open)
  • Astronomy Walks and Talks
  • Dine at Majestic Yosemite Hotel
  • Ribbon Falls Hike – unmaintained trail
  • Lyell Canyon Hike
  • Dewey Point Lookout
  • Yosemite Valley Chapel / Community Church (especially beautiful in winter)

See More: How to See Firefall Yosemite National Park

firefall horsetail falls in yosemite national park

Essential Tips for Visiting Yosemite

  • Best Time to Visit:  If you want the least crowds consider visiting in the fall or winter. If you want to see the gushing waterfalls, visit in May or June.
  • Special Events:  The  Moonbow  happens on select dates and times between April through June. The Firefall happens late February.
  • Download Alltrails+ so that you have trail maps even when you don’t have service.
  • The Valley gets extremely crowded, especially in the summer. Expect to wait and hit traffic driving around. If you only stay in the Valley, you might get overwhelmed by the crowds, but Yosemite is a massive park with plenty of places to find solitude.
  • It’s always best to stop by the Visitor Center to get the most up-to-date info.

Yosemite National Park TOurs

  • Valley Orientation Tour
  • 3-Day Camping Adventure
  • 3-Day Yosemite National Park Tour

What to Pack for Yosemite

  • Sunscreen , sun protection
  • Down jackets in Spring / Fall / Winter
  • Hiking shoes  if you plan on doing moderate to challenging hikes.
  • Reusable bottles (these are our current favorites)

We’ve stayed at a few different places in Yosemite National Park. Most recently, we stayed at the Yosemite Valley Lodge (pictured below) which was the perfect home base for Firefall . We also stayed in Curry Village when we hiked Half Dome and Jacob stayed at the Wawona Hotel. We can’t wait to visit again and stay at The Ahwahnee. The property is stunning and we love how grand the dining hall is.

If you book a stay in the valley, it also helps you bypass the reservation system (when reservations are required to enter the park).

where to stay in yosemite in winter - yosemite valley lodge review

If accommodations are full, check the map below for other options.

  • Get comprehensive insurance for your trip.
  • Download these helpful language apps .
  • Find a great deal on Yosemite hotels .
  • Arrange a rental car for your trip.
  • Book a tour for your visit.
  • Get airport lounge access .
  • Buy a travel charger to keep your devices charged.
  • Get a new backpack for your trip.
  • Buy a Yosemite travel guide .
  • Pack the appropriate shoes for your trip.
  • Don’t forget your in-flight essentials .
  • Geographic Trails Illustrated Map
  • Lonely Planet Yosemite, Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks
  • Best Easy Day Hiking Guide and Trail Map Bundle: Yosemite National Park
  • Hiking Yosemite National Park: A Guide to 61 of the Park’s Greatest Hiking Adventures

Have you been to Yosemite National Park? Any other spots we need to add to the list?

Did you enjoy this post? Pin it for later

17 Things to Do in Yosemite National Park Bucket List - Things to See in Yosemite + What to Do in Yosemite Park // localadventurer.com














“Discovery consists not of seeking new lands but in seeing with new eyes ” – M. Proust

Esther and Jacob

Esther + Jacob

Esther and Jacob are the founders of Local Adventurer, one of the top 5 travel blogs in the US. They believe that adventure can be found near and far and hope to inspire others to explore locally. They explore a new city in depth every year and currently base themselves in Las Vegas.

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The Planet D: Adventure Travel Blog

Things to do in Yosemite National Park

Written By: The Planet D

United States

Updated On: February 11, 2024

Looking for things to do in Yosemite National Park? Keep reading! When taking one of our many  road trips through California , one of our favorite stops was Yosemite National Park. We had heard so much about it for years and couldn’t wait to see the Half Dome and El Capitan with our own eyes.

Located in the Central Sierra Nevada of California Yosemite is known for its mountain peaks, waterfalls, and hiking trails. There are so many things to do in Yosemite National Park, it requires a few days to really take it in.

Table of Contents

Closures: Yosemite is open year-round but some roads are closed in winter due to snow. There are some areas of the park that are closed due to rock falls. Also, Glacier Point Road was closed in 2022 to improve the road. It should reopen in 2023 but there will be 30-minute delays. Visit the National Parks Service Government Website for road closures and updates.

We have rounded up some of the  best hiking trails and viewpoints to help you plan your vacation to this bucket list destination. So break out the  camping gear,  stock up on supplies, and let’s visit Yosemite National Park.

Best Way to See Yosemite

Best Way to see Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is a 4 1/2-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. You can rent a car in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. We drove one way each time returning our car at the end in the opposite city. Get car rental prices at  CarRentals.com

We toured Yosemite National Park on a self-drive trip, but be warned, you need to get out early to see the sights.

Parking lots fill up quickly so you will want to make your way to the trails or lookouts early in the morning.

Yosemite National Park is huge at 1200 square miles (3,027 km²). However, most of the top things to do in Yosemite are situated around Yosemite Valley. Yosemite has a good shuttle service to take you to the top attractions.

You can park at Yosemite Village you can take the shuttle from the visitors center to see a lot of the top attractions. The YARTS public transit system offers shuttles.

You can also book this highly-rated tour of Yosemite. It includes a stop at Tunnel View to see Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan, plus Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.

Enjoy a boxed lunch included at Cathedral Beach before setting off on a hike at Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. And there are ride-share bikes set up around the park as well.

1. Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley National Park

Yosemite Valley is the main area of the national park where you will most likely spend most of your time. It contains the top tourist attractions including El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.

2. Half Dome

Half dome in Yosemite

One of the most famous attractions in Yosemite National Park has to be the Half Dome.

Avid rock climbers put this at the top of their list as one of the great climbs on earth and park visitors can watch them tackle their routes from the safety of its lookouts.

Glacier Point offers the best view of the Half Dome but there are plenty of chances to see it as well as climb it yourself.

3. Half Dome Hike

What to expect when hiking Half Dome in Yosemite

The Half Dome Hike is a 14-mile round trip hike that takes you 5000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.

It takes 10 – 12 hours so make sure to leave before dawn. Be prepared for a challenging hike with the last 400 feet requires the use of the half dome cables to allow hikers to summit without climbing equipment. Read our complete guide to climbing Half Dome

4. Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove in California

One of our favorite stops in Yosemite was Mariposa Grove. We took a guided tour to see the forest of 500 Giant Sequoias.

Mariposa Grove is the birthplace of the National Parks system. In 1864 President Lincoln set aside this natural area to be preserved for future generations. Now that is some kind of foresight.

There is parking available at the Mariposa Grove welcome plaza and then it requires a two-mile hike (each way) on the Washburn Trail or the Mariposa Grove Road. 

5. Ansel Adams Gallery

things to do in yosemite ansel adams gallery

One of our main reasons for visiting Yosemite National Park is because of seeing the photography of Ansel Adams.

Having the chance to see his iconic images in person was at the top of our bucket list. The Ansel Adams Gallery is located in the heart of Yosemite between the Visitor Center and Post Office.

It’s in a prime location with views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. It showcases the photography of Ansel Adams and the people who work in the gallery who love Yosemite. Their staff includes climbers, photographers, and hikers.

You can book camera walks, photography classes, and workshops at the gallery.

6. El Capitan

El Capitan in Yosemite

Dominating the view of the west end of Yosemite Valley is the mammoth El Capitan.

Climbers come from around the world visit yosemite to climb the Nose of El Capitan. It’s a huge undertaking climbing 3000 feet up its sheer wall, but superstars Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell set a record climbing to its peak in under 2 hours.

Another crazy fact is that Alex Honnold was the first person to climb El Capitan without rope inspiring the documentary Free Solo.

Tunnel View offers great views of El Capitan but our favorite spot was at El Cap Meadow located directly in front of El Capitan.

  • You can take rock climbing courses in Yosemite – Yosemite mountaineering school offers guided hikes and climbing as the only authorized climbing school in Yosemite. Visit their website for details.

7. Tunnel View

things to do in yosemiet national park - Tunnel View

Tunnel view is most certainly the most recognizable scene of Yosemite National Park.

It is the top spot for photographers and a must-stop for anyone visiting Yosemite. Make your way to the Tunnel View parking lots located at the Wawona Tunnel on State Highway 41 for this iconic valley view features El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. Go here for sunrise to beat the crowds.

8. Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park

The Bridalveil Fall trail is closed due to the  Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project but should reopen in 2023. The project includes an updated viewing platform and trails and should reduce crowds at one of Yosemite’s most popular attractions.

Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley. Bridalveil Fall plunges 620 feet (189 meters) into the valley and the hike to the waterfall is an easy 0.5 mi (0.8 km) round trip with only an 80 ft (24 m) elevation gain. It is about a 20 minute easy walk from the Bridalveil Fall Parking lot.

9. Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls Trail

Another must-see waterfall in Yosemite is Yosemite Falls. There are great views of Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Village.

But being one of the highest waterfalls in the world, (the world’s fifth tallest to be exact) you can see them from several places throughout Yosemite Valley.

The waterfall is actually made up of three different waterfalls creating a total cascade of 2425 feet.

Upper Yosemite Falls (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Falls (320 feet). Hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls is 7.2 miles round trip, but be prepared, there is a 2,700-foot elevation gain. 

10. Mist Trail

Fun things to do in yosemite national park- Mist Trail

The mist trail is considered the Yosemite national park signature hike.

There are two waterfalls to hike to along the Mist Trail, Vernal Falls is a 3-mile (4.8 km) round trip and Nevada Falls is a 7 miles (11 km) round trip.

The first part of the Mist Trail takes you to the Vernal Fall Footbridge to see the falls and then you can continue on to the top of Vernal Falls to a lookout above the waterfall.

The Mist trail then continues on to the John Muir Trail as you make your way to Nevada Falls for one of the best views in Yosemite National Park. Going to Nevada Falls is worth it.

  • Make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds and find a spot in the parking lot.
  • See our complete guide  to hiking the John Muir Trail.

11. Mirror Lake Trail

Mirror Lake Hike in Yosemite

Another popular hike in Yosemite NP is to Mirror Lake. It is an easy hike to mirror lake and it is known for its reflections of the Yosemite Valley.

Mirror Lake will also take you right to the base of Half Dome for a close up view.

12. Tioga Road

Tioga Pass in Yosemite

If you have a car, make sure to take a drive on Tioga Road (Highway 120).

It is only open from late May to November as it sits in Sierra Nevada’s high country. Up here you’ll see meadows, lakes, and a great view of Half Dome from Olmsted Point.

There is a short hiking trail at Olmsted Point offering views of Tenaya Peak, Tenaya Lake, and Mount Conness.

13. Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake in California

While driving on Tioga Road, an easy lake to access from the road is Tenaya Lake.

Tenaya Lake is the largest lake in Yosemite and makes for a great place to go kayaking or canoeing. You can also make a base here for a picnic.

14. Tuolumne Meadows

things to do in yosemite national park - Tuolumne Meadows in California

This interesting stop is one of the highest-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.

There are a few different easy hikes such as Lyell Canyon from the John Muir Trail, Soda Springs, Parsons Lodge, Gaylor Lake, and Elizabeth Lake.

You can get to the Tuolumne Meadows by taking Tioga Road (which opens from late May to November) and there are shuttles.

A popular day hike is Cathedral Lakes which takes 4 to 6 hours to complete the 7-mile round trip. (11.3 km) 1,000-foot elevation gain.

15. Cycling Yosemite

cycling at yosemit

If you are into cycling, Yosemite not only allows cyclists on the roads but there are paved paths as well.

The Yosemite Valley Bike Share program was launched in 2018. This is a great idea to help ease traffic congestion. The bikes are set up near Valley campgrounds to allow people to bike to nearby attractions rather than drive.

16. Yosemite Museum

For a little break from the outdoors, be sure to stop into the Yosemite Museum to learn of the indigenous people who first settled in Yosemite Valley and of the national parks’ history.

17. Glacier Point

Glacier Point in Yosemite National Park - visit glacier point

Note: Glacier Point Road was closed in 2022 to improve the road. Access to Glacier Point is now accessible from  Four Mile ,  Panorama , and Pohono Trails. It should reopen in 2023 but there will be 30-minute delays.

Glacier point would normally be at the top of our list of things to see in Yosemite, but with the rehabilitation project, it may need to wait one more year. However things may change for 2022.

The best place to see a good overview of the Yosemite National Park is from here. It includes views of Yosemite Valley, the and the Half Dome standing s tall over the other mountain peaks. Glacier point is an excellent stop when it is open. As of now, you cannot drive up to it, but if you are determined to see it there are a couple of strenuous hikes you can take.

  • Glacier Point:  9 miles (14 km) round-trip with 3,200 feet (975 meters) of elevation gain.
  • Sentinel Dome: 12 miles (19km) and over 4,000 feet (1200) of elevation gain.
  • Taft Point:  14 miles (22km) and about 5,000 (1500 meters) feet of elevation gain.

18. Sentinel Dome

Things to do in yosemite national park - Sentinel Dome hike

The Sentinel Dome Hike is usually quite easy, but with the Glacier Point road closure, you will have added extra time because the regular trail head is inaccessible. In 2022, the hike starts with a 4.7-mile (7.5 km) hike to Glacier Point and then follow the Pohono Trail to Sentinel Dome for 1.5 miles (2.5 km). One way, so you are looking at about a 12 mile (20km hike return so allow time)

The hike is about 2.2 miles roundtrip and should take about 1- 2 hours. It is one of the easiest domes to access and hence one of the most popular sunset trails in Yosemite.

At its 4,150 feet peak, you’re rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of the valley without the adrenaline rush of having to climb up El Capitan. The summit is wide and flat making it easy to enjoy the view.

The view is incredibly beautiful in every direction. Here you can see it all and much more. The three brothers, half done, and river canyon, it’s all there.

19. Hiking Trails

things to do in yosemite national park hiking trails

You could spend an entire summer exploring the hiking trails of Yosemite National Park.

In fact, hiking is one of the best things to do in Yosemite, so make sure you get out on at least one trail. While the Half Dome Hike is the bucket list hike of Yosemite, there are several other hikes to explore.

  • Lower Yosemite Falls – You can take a 1-mile loop trail to see the lower Yosemite Falls. You can hike here from Yosemite Village.
  • The Sentinal Dome Trail – This 2-mile hike takes you above the Yosemite Valle and the Merced River Canyon. It is also an easy way to see views of the Sierra Nevada Peaks, the Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. But it is Jeffrey Pine made famous by Ansel Adams that is the real attraction.

Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

where to stay in yosemite national park

Curry Village (formerly known as half dome village)has a range of canvas tents and wooden cabins plus hotel rooms.

Accommodation range from basic tents with shared bathrooms to private hotel rooms with bathrooms. Check out  TripAdvisor for prices .

Yosemite Valley Lodge  is a great location to make a base in Yosemite. There’s free parking, free Internet and a pool.

And these are some of the best things to do in Yosemite National Park. You could spend an entire summer here and never see it all, but it’s fun to try!

Read our full guide of Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park

Did you enjoy this article on the best things to do in Yosemite? Save it to Pinterest for future travel planning.

things to do in Yosemite national park

Check out more National Parks in the USA

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  • Wyoming: Where to Stay in Yellowstone National Park – Guide to the Best Hotels
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Flights: Start planning your trip by finding the best flight deals on Skyscanner

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Find Apartment Rentals: You will find the cheapest prices on apartment rentals with VRBO . 

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Need more help planning your trip? Make sure to check out our Resources Page where we highlight all the great companies that we trust when we are traveling.

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3 thoughts on “Things to do in Yosemite National Park”

Hi! I love Yosemite and really visit the park again. Thank for sharing this post I like your photos!

I ran into your blog while doing research for my brand new National Parks USA forum.

Hope you like to visit it and share some of your experiences. Thanks and good luck!

I am very happy to have completed your national park tour . A trip to the park must be taken out with a lot of time on hand which you mentioned . But we must always be careful .

I watched Tommy Caldwell’s The Dawn Wall a year back. Loved the landscapes and views of El Capitan. The waterfalls seem to be quite famous too. My favourite would be the Mirror Lake Trail and Tenaya Lake. Such landscapes are my favourite.

These are the best times to visit Yosemite National Park

Becca Blond

Mar 28, 2024 • 4 min read

best places to visit yosemite national park

No matter what time of year you're visiting, Yosemite National Park offers a one-of-a-kind experience © Per Breiehagen / Getty Images

From the moment you arrive, Yosemite dazzles with its natural good looks. One of America’s most iconic national parks  and its third oldest, it captivates with myriad waterfalls, sky-grazing sequoias, gemstone-hued lakes, subalpine wilderness areas and granite cliffs and buttresses, like El Capitan and Half Dome .

High in the Sierra Mountains , Yosemite experiences four seasons, each offering something special for visitors. Summer is your best bet if you want to be practically guaranteed good weather, with May and June being the best months for peak flow at the waterfalls. But winter, when snow often blankets the park, is less crowded and has its own magic too. Here's our guide to the best times to visit Yosemite National Park.

May through September is the most popular time in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park attracts about 75% of its annual visitors between May and September. These months correspond with the best weather and are also when all the roads, trails, lodging, shuttles and attractions in the park are open. That includes  its most famous drive, Tioga Rd , a 64-mile-long scenic byway that closes when the snow begins to fall.

On the downside, you’ll see the most crowds during the summer months, particularly in July and August. Still, if you've never visited Yosemite, going in late spring, summer or early fall really is best, as you’ll experience blue skies, impressive waterfalls and the most lodging choices.

Tip: Book early as peak-season lodging fills quickly, including the campgrounds.

Yosemite's Horsetail Falls, illuminated by the setting sun so the water appears to be flowing lava

February is the time to see the Yosemite firefall

To witness the stunning natural phenomenon known as the Yosemite firefall , you’ll want to visit in February. The firefall happens at sunset at Horsetail Falls, which tumbles over El Capitan’s eastern edge in winter. During the magic hour, the falls appear to be flowing lava, glowing yellow, orange and even red. It makes for a sweet video or photograph. 

People seen from above, enjoying the view of Nevada and Vernal falls at Glacier Point in Yosemite.

In May and June, Yosemite’s waterfalls are at peak flow, and lodging is (slightly) less crowded

If you’ve come to Yosemite to experience its countless waterfalls , you’ll want to visit in May or early June, when most of the winter snow melts away to create the most impressive waterfalls. By August many of them, including Yosemite Falls, will be reduced to a trickle or completely dry.

May and June are also great months to score swing-season lodging deals. Besides campsites, Yosemite has half a dozen in-park lodging options, from full-service hotels to traditional cabins and canvas-sided tents. Accommodation inside the park is usually fully booked at least a year in advance. However, when that isn't the case, May is the month you're most likely to find an available room nearer the time.

May, June and September are ideal for sunny, blue-sky days, perfect temps and camping

For the most comfortable temperatures and best chances of blue skies, visit in June or September, when daytime highs average between 70°F and 80°F and nighttime temps drop below 60°F.

Yosemite receives 95% of its rainfall between October and May, making June and September two of its driest months. May is also relatively safe, as most spring storms have passed by that point. As such, you can expect sunny blue days that are perfect for photographing top attractions, like El Capitan and the ancient sequoia trees, in excellent light. 

These months are also ideal for camping, as it's warm enough to be comfortable in the tent at night but not sizzling hot. It's easier to get reservations for campsites from May through mid-June and in September, before the crowds descend in force. (Note: reservations are still required.) 

A crowd of tourists walking to Glacier Point with a background view of Half Dome at Yosemite National Park.

Avoid Yosemite in July and August if crowds and heat are not your game 

Yosemite National Park sees its absolute peak crowds during July and August. You will need to book lodging – including campgrounds – and any guides, activities or tours well in advance. 

These are also the hottest months to visit the park. Temperatures can reach above 90°F during the day, and nights cool down to 50°F to 60°F. 

A snowshoer trekking through snow and trees in Yosemite National Park

Visit between November and April for winter activities, smaller crowds and the best deals on lodging

Yosemite is the least crowded from November to April. If you want to have the attractions more to yourself, visit during this time. Just know that aside from lodging closures, roads also close seasonally due to weather and fewer tour options. Winter sees Yosemite blanketed by snow, however, so it's a very peaceful time of year to visit, particularly if you enjoy cold-weather activities.

Only two in-park lodgings are open year-round. The Ahwahnee  is Yosemite’s only luxury hotel. Built in the grand "Parkitecture" style, it has a central Yosemite Valley locale, and its rates are up to 25% lower in winter. It's much easier to get a reservation then too – the summer months often sell out more than a year in advance. 

Yosemite Valley Lodge is the park's other year-round option: a traditional lodge at the base of Yosemite Falls, boasting gorgeous glass-and-wood architecture that lets in lots of light during winter.

There's also one lodging option, Glacier Point Ski Hut, that's only open in winter. It is accessible via a 10.5-mile cross-country ski trail and has stunning views of Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley.

This article was first published January 2023 and updated March 2024

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T here are so many things to do in Yosemite it can be hard to decide where to start. Once you enter the Yosemite Valley you may find yourself parked just staring in awe at the beauty that surrounds you.

Best Things to Do in Yosemite 

There is something so magical about that first look down the valley and realize just how special Yosemite National Park is. 

This year we are working with Visit Yosemite Madera County to bring you all the best info on the park, Oakhurst , Bass Lake , and the surrounding area! We will be sharing a ton of tips and tools for making the most of your visit to Yosemite. 

These are some of our favorite must-see things in Yosemite National Park.

Let us know what your favorite things to do are in the park!

One thing to know about Yosemite NP is the park is huge! You will want to have a plan for your trip to Yosemite going into the park of what your must-see things to do and see are.

This is a park that can be really easy to lose track of time because the views are that epic.  Even John Muir was enchanted with Yosemite. 

Even after many visits to the park, there are still areas we have not been able to get into due to weather, crowds, or lack of time. This is the perfect park to plan return visits to.

If you are planning a visit in the winter check out our Yosemite Winter Guide . There are a few seasonally specific things to do that are not in this post.  Plus what to expect when there is a ton of snow.  

Yosemite Visitor Center

I know this is probably not what you expected me to say for one of the must-see things to do in Yosemite National Park but trust me! The visitor center is the place to go for up-to-date information on the park, the park gift store, and more.

One thing to know is it is a bit of a walk from the parking lot to the visitor center. You will want to arrive early to grab a parking spot before the lot fills up. Once you are parked you can take the free Yosemite shuttle all over the park and not have to worry about moving your car. 

Make sure and pick up a Sandy the Squirrel trading card at the Yosemite Conservancy counter! 

You can win a return trip to Yosemite from the Yosemite Madera Visitor Bureau ! 

Collect the Welcoming Committee Member trading cards at specific locations around Yosemite and Madera County. 

Collect 2 or more trading cards for a chance to win one of three Yosemite Adventure Vacations.

Locations of trading cards

Mr. Mead the Saber-Toothed Cat - Fossil Discovery Center

Honey Bee- Madera Wine Trail

Sierra the Bear - Oakhurst at the Visitor Bureau

Blake the Bald Eagle - Bass Lake

Ricky the Raccoon - Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad

Galen the Great-Horned Owl - Mariposa Grove (see below)

Yosemite Museum

Located next to the visitor center is the Yosemite Museum which offers a changing display of famous Yosemite Artwork.

Make sure and visit the Ansel Adams Gift Store!

The Ansel Adams Gallery  - 9 am to 6 pm

Yosemite Art Center - 9 am to 4 pm, closed for lunch from 12 pm, closed on Sundays

Yosemite Bookstore - Inside Yosemite Visitor Center - 9 am to 5 pm

Yosemite Museum Store - 9 am to 5 pm

The visitor center is near shuttle stops #5 and #9.

Make sure and pick up a Junior Ranger program if you are traveling with kids. This is a great way to learn more about the park!

[caption id="attachment_8980" align="aligncenter" width="533"]

Bridal Veil Falls[/caption]

Yosemite is one of the most visited National Parks for a reason! This park is epic!

Yosemite Waterfalls

Yosemite falls.

This walk is about a 1/4 of a mile and so worth it! Plan at least 30 minutes for the walk and then a little more time to soak up the view and take a ton of photographs! 

Yosemite Falls drops 2,525 feet and is considered the tallest waterfall in the United States. Some people question this claim since the falls are actually three distinct tiers of waterfalls.

Either way, you do not want to miss seeing Yosemite Falls during your visit.

You can take a bit of a grueling hike up to the top if you really want to or you can enjoy the view from down below.

This is one of those hiking trails that makes you work for the great view at the top. 

In spring you can even experience seeing and photographing Moonbows in Yosemite. When the moon is bright it creates a moonbow that is amazing. 

Bridalveil Fall

 A 15-minute walk from the parking lot leads you to a viewpoint that is truly jaw-dropping.

Look up at the 620-foot tall Bridalveil Falls ! This waterfall is active year-round making it a great waterfall to visit in the summer and fall when many waterfalls have dried up in the park.

Be prepared to get soaked when Bridalveil Falls is roaring. During the summer the falls can be reduced down to a whisper of water.

El Capitan is nearly 3600 feet from base to summit and ranks as one of the world's largest granite monoliths. El Capitan is a bucket list climb for experienced rock climbers but definitely not for beginners. 

If you bring binoculars or look closely you may be able to see climbers working their way up the cracks and ledges of El Capitan.

Half Dome rises 8,842 feet above sea level and nearly a mile above the Yosemite Valley floor. 

On most days you can't miss seeing Half Dome but there are days that the weather is grey and ugly that you may not get a clear view. 

You can stop into Half Dome Village to see a great view of Half Dome. 

Yosemite Valley Chapel 

Yosemite Valley Chapel is the oldest structure in the park that is still in use.

The church originally stood near the base of Four-Mile-Trail but was moved in 1901 a mile to its present spot in Yosemite Valley . 

There are Sunday morning services held each week that are nondenominational. You can also have your wedding at the church if you wish. 

Yosemite Village

Yosemite Village is the perfect place to stop for lunch or a snack break. You can check out the Village Store which is filled with Yosemite souvenirs, snacks, and camping supplies. 

Degnan's Kitchen offers deli sandwiches, breakfast items, artisan pizza, and an espresso stand.

The Village Grill has sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and vegetarian options. 

Ahwahnee Hotel

The Ahwahnee Hotel which was formerly known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel is an amazing National Park Lodge!

Don't worry you don't have to be a guest of the hotel to enjoy its finery!

You can enjoy lunch in the lounge, warming up by the giant fireplace, staring out in wonder from the 10-foot windows in the solarium, or make dinner reservations for a truly amazing experience.

The hotel was built entirely with local granite, pine, and cedar. The hotel is a National Historic Landmark. 

Mirror Lake

This walk is about a half-mile from the shuttle stop. The lake offers a great view of Half Dome.

Make sure you pick up a Galen the Great Horned Owl trading card in the depot to enter to win a return trip to Yosemite from the Yosemite Madera County Visitor Bureau![/caption]

Mariposa Grove of Sequoia Trees

I like Big Trees and I can not lie...HA! A little 80's humor to go with a great walk among well big trees.

This is Yosemite's largest grove of giant Sequoias and not to be missed.

Located near the South Entrance keep an eye out for wildlife as you drive through the park. We saw a pair of coyotes along the way and some great bird watching.

Tunnel View 

This is one of my favorite places to visit in Yosemite. It is hard to describe the awe-inspiring view as you pull out of the Wawona tunnel and see Yosemite Valley .

Glacier Point

Glacier Point offers amazing views of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. The road to Glacier Point is opened seasonally based on snow levels.

The views from the 7,214-foot Glacier Point are honestly breathtaking.

If you are scared of heights make sure you take a deep breath and prepare yourself but the views are so worth it!

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is located 55 miles from Yosemite Valley! This is definitely something to be aware of when planning your visit to the park. 

Tuolumne Meadows is a sub-alpine wonderland surrounded by jagged peaks and smooth granite domes.  If you are visiting in July make sure and check out the wildflowers.

This area is a paradise for hikers and climbers. The meadow is located deep in the high country of the Sierras and may only be accessible from June through November. This all depends on the snow along Tioga Road.  

You can stay at the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge in tent cabins. 

Reader Favorites

We asked on the Park Ranger John Facebook page for your suggestions on your favorite things to do in Yosemite and they included:

Vernal Falls is a favorite of Kevin H.

Climbing Half Dome with the cables down and having the rock to ourselves. 

So many things to see in my favorite national park. From Vernal and Nevada Falls along the Mist Trail. Glacier Point views are amazing.

The hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls.  Snowshoeing to DeweyPoint. The trek to Clouds Rest Trail. 

Yosemite and all its gifts, leave you with nothing but the presence of a smile on your lips are all

Favorites of Rafael M.

We love hiking Hetch Hetchy with our kids! It is such a gorgeous part of the park. ~ Rob

How many of the National Parks in California have you been to?

Check out these Yosemite National Park Travel Tips for more info on planning your trip to this gorgeous park!

Looking for more information about Yosemite National Park? Check out these great books and maps!

Check out all of these best National Parks for kids across the United States! Hint...Yosemite is on the list. 

Looking for a place to stay? Check out the Pines Resort on Bass Lake  

I love this 

There are so many things to do in Yosemite it can be hard to decide where to start. Once you enter the Yosemite Valley y

After five years of closure, ‘glamping’ back again in Yosemite National Park

A tent in the woods at dawn.

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After five years of pandemic- and snowpack-related closures, Yosemite National Park has reopened “glamping” campsites where visitors will have access to showers, gourmet meals and a view of the park’s wild back country.

Camping hopefuls can now enter a lottery to experience three of the five available campsites at the High Sierra Camps from June to September.

The two other sites, Vogelsang and Merced Lake — respectively the highest elevation campsite and the oldest and most remote campsite, established in 1916 — will remain closed throughout the 2024 season. Neither park officials nor Aramark, the park’s concessioner, could be reached to explain why these two campsites remain closed.

According to their website, more than 13,000 visitors stay at the High Sierra Camps each year, and another thousand backpackers passing through each year stop for food at the campsites.

“Glamping,” a more comfortable or glamorous version of camping, has grown in popularity in the past couple of decades. Visitors have the option of paying $1,403 for a guided tour of the park with a weeklong stay, or paying $172 to $185 per night to reserve a bed.

YOSEMITE, CA - FEBRUARY 22: A view of El Capitan as snow blanked Yosemite National Park in California, United States on February 22, 2023. Winter storm warning issued in Yosemite Valley until Saturday. (Photo by Tayfun Coskun/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

‘Bring a shovel’: Yosemite partly reopens after blizzard brings as much as 45 inches of snow

Yosemite Valley — the most popular part of Yosemite National Park — received about 25 inches of snow. Winds hit 50 to 60 miles per hour.

March 3, 2024

There’s been controversy among certain environmentalists who take a hard line against any type of development in the pristine wilderness, said Jane Simpson, chair of the leadership training program at the Angeles Chapter of the Sierra Club. But Simpson said she is glad to hear that the campsites are reopening to the public this year.

“The experience is phenomenal,” said Simpson, recalling her own High Sierra Camp visit back in 2015. “The people are very hyper aware of their impact.”

As an avid hiker and backpacker herself, Simpson is used to having to carry all of her own supplies when visiting Yosemite National Park. But the amenities of the High Sierra Camps allow visitors to leave behind tents and cooking necessities, as they have running water and three meals a day prepared by professional chefs.

On their website, Aramark and the national park service express their commitment to protecting the environment. “We take our role as stewards very seriously and actively work to protect the resources for generations to come,” says the website for the High Sierra Camps.

Part of the former YMCA camp site

Opinion: My Colorado home was once a YMCA camp. In thousands of people’s memories, it still is

Former campers keep coming back, cruising past our driveway. I relish their stories, because this land will always belong to them too.

Feb. 11, 2024

Jeff Jenkins, assistant professor of parks and protected areas at UC Merced’s Sierra Nevada Research Institute, said that the National Park Service has to strike a balance between protecting national parks and making them accessible to everyone.

“I remember we saw a woman hiking the route of these High Sierra Camps that was pushing 90,” Jenkins recalled when his family stayed at the High Sierra Camps together. “She was able to get out there too.” First-time, inexperienced campers, the elderly, and families might prefer to stay at the High Sierra Camps because of the amenities.

By having designated areas where semi-permanent shelters are set up, Jenkins said, the “sacrifice zones” allow for a much larger swath of wilderness to remain untouched. “Impact has been constrained to mostly the trail corridor and these areas of the wilderness, these hotspots,” said Jenkins.

The urgency of mitigating human impact on the environment has forced the National Park Service to innovate by adding features like the bear-proof lockers that prevent bears from finding easy food sources near human dwellings, Jenkins noted.

But the debate around these High Sierra Camps isn’t anything new. Dave White, the director of global institute of sustainability and innovation at Arizona State University, describes it as the “fundamental paradox” of the national parks as they balance access and protection.

White said the social and cultural impact of visiting parks also helps to shift the conversation around sustainability and changing personal habits to preserve the environment. For visitors, “it helps them to have greater awareness and understanding about critical environmental issues that we’re facing, including things like climate change,” he said.

The wonder of Yosemite National Park never grows old for White, who has visited several times. “It is some of the most spectacular natural beauty that exists anywhere in the world,” he said. White said it’s the scale of the natural features, and the history of the Indigenous tribes who were violently forced off the lands to make Yosemite, that still humble him today.

“When you’re there, you just feel as a human, you feel insignificant in an important way,” said White.

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YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA - DECEMBER 20: Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park of El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall on Monday, Dec. 20, 2021 in Yosemite National Park, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Yosemite closes due to monster blizzard, ‘life threatening’ conditions in California mountains

March 1, 2024

Yosemite National Park, CA - April 26: The waterfall is reflected in water in the meadow in the Yosemite Valley as the snowpact melts on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Yosemite National Park, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Heading to Yosemite next summer? Better get a reservation

Dec. 13, 2023

Yosemite National Park, CA - April 26: The waterfall is reflected in water in the meadow in the Yosemite Valley as the snowpact melts on Wednesday, April 26, 2023 in Yosemite National Park, CA. (Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times)

Looming government shutdown worries business owners near Yosemite, other national parks

Sept. 30, 2023

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Jireh (they/them) is the 2023-24 fellow at the Los Angeles Times and a queer Asian American writer and filmmaker born and raised in the San Gabriel Valley.

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Early May to hot to visit Death Valley ? - Death Valley National Park Forum

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Early May to hot to visit Death Valley ?

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Is May to hot to visit to Death Valley National park ?

What temps can we expect ?

5 replies to this topic

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What is "too hot"? Many tourists (esp from Europe and Japan) visit DL during the hottest months just to experience the heat. Temps in May can be as high as 100F.

we are from New Hampshire so 90 is to hot for us to hike , thanks for the information

so maybe March is the best month for us ?

best places to visit yosemite national park

“Too hot” is subjective. We get more international visitors than Americans from June-August, including many from Germany, The Netherlands, Great Britain, Korea, and other places where 80° is exceptional. But many of those folks are not in the park for hiking or camping, but for curiosity, to see the main natural wonders and check out the lore and mystique of the hottest place on Earth, where snakes, scorpions, tarantulas, and coyotes reign supreme and graciously allow humans to visit.

So you can plan the best time for your trip, here is the NWS’s Death Valley Climate Book, which contains average, low, and high temperature and precipitation for every year and every single day of every year since 1913. It’s really fascinating reading! The book is being revised, so not all info is complete; keep checking to see what new data is added.


Been looking into it for a while- I am in the Northeast. March is the "red line" for me. I wouldn't attempt hiking any appreciable distance in DV after March. Not only temperature but lack of shade is a big deal. It's dry so you will need even more water- LOL I can carry 32 ounces of water for a long 5+ mile hike in NH! Not sure I would even try 5 miles in DV.

Thanks for the climate book and good point on the no shade hiking tips makes sense .

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best places to visit yosemite national park

Think Yellowstone and Yosemite are the best National Parks? Think again, says new survey

Ahead of National Parks Week, Travel Lemming reveals its annual ranking of the best National Parks in the US

A couple backpacking in Olympic National Park

Ahead of National Parks Week 2024 , Travel Lemming has released its annual rankings of the 63 US National Parks and there are a few curveballs.

The list examines the parks based on criteria such as crowding, online reviews , weather, cost, accessibility and biodiversity to rank them in order from best to worst, and it turns out that visitorship doesn't tell the whole story. Of the most visited National Parks, only Joshua Tree , Great Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon rank in Travel Lemming's top 10, with most of the parks being noticeably quieter.

The number one spot didn't go to Yellowstone or Yosemite , as you might have predicted, but for the second year running it went to the rather unassuming Shenandoah National Park in Virginia. Shenandoah doesn't have the best reviews or weather and it isn't the least crowded, but it's one of the most accessible, with an airport just 23 miles away, and showcases remarkable biodiversity with 2,573 species resident there. If you don't know, it is just 75 miles from DC, and home to part of the Blue Ridge Mountains which places it on our list of the best National Parks for hiking .

Joining Shenandoah in the top 10 are several parks that make the least crowded list , such as Olympic , North Cascades, Everglades , and Channel Islands , the latter of which features some of the best weather among the islands.

Shendoah National Park at sunset

Speaking of weather, the "cold-summer Mediterranean climate" at Hawaii's Haleakalā National Park placed it at the top in that category, but don't forget your fleece or your waterproof jacket as conditions can change quickly there. Grand Teton in Wyoming and Alaska's Glacier Bay National Park both tie for top spot in the popularity contest, with the best online reviews. 

Great Smoky Mountains, famously the country's busiest National Park by many millions, came in fourth overall and features the most biodiversity out of all parks with a whopping 21,397 species. It's well-known for its bear population, but it's also considered the "salamander capital of the world" and is home to Asian Jumping Worms, Flamed Tigersnails and some 200 bird species and 50 types of fish.

If you're on a budget, you'll want to give American Samoa National Park a miss as it came in the least affordable park. There was no data on how much the average visitor spends, but for some perspective, the average visit to the next most expensive – Lake Clark National Park and Preserve in Alaska – costs an eye-watering $1,793.

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Finally, ranking all the way down at the very bottom of the pile was another Alaska National Park, Kobuk Valley. Kobuk is home to the largest sand dunes in North America and protects an important channel through which some half a million caribou migrate annually. Sadly, that isn't enough for people to overlook the weather, cost ($1,583.79 per visit) and lack of accessibility – you can only reach the park by private plane, boat or on foot.

You can read the full report here and don't forget, all US National Parks are free to enter on Saturday, April 20, 2024.

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Julia Clarke

Julia Clarke is a staff writer for Advnture.com and the author of the book  Restorative Yoga for Beginners . She loves to explore mountains on foot, bike, skis and belay and then recover on the the yoga mat. Julia graduated with a degree in journalism in 2004 and spent eight years working as a radio presenter in Kansas City, Vermont, Boston and New York City before discovering the joys of the Rocky Mountains. She then detoured west to Colorado and enjoyed 11 years teaching yoga in Vail before returning to her hometown of Glasgow, Scotland in 2020 to focus on family and writing.  

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best places to visit yosemite national park

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This Popular Glamping Company Is Opening Its First California Location at Yosemite National Park — With Safari Tents, Patios, and an 'Adventure Concierge'

Under Canvas is coming to Yosemite National Park and you can book your stay now.

best places to visit yosemite national park

Charles Chu/unsplash/Courtesy of Under Canvas Yosemite

Under Canvas, the luxury glamping company with sites near some of the country's most beautiful parks in Utah , Montana , and South Dakota , will make its debut in California in the spring of 2025. 

The company chose the Golden State's most visited national park for its first outpost, which will boast 80 acres of scenic land and amenities just a few miles from the west entrance of Yosemite National Park. 

"Under Canvas' expansion into California has been our goal since the brand's inception in 2012," Matt Gaghen, chief executive officer of Under Canvas, said in a press release provided to Travel + Leisure . "We look forward to bringing the Under Canvas experience to Yosemite, home to many outdoor enthusiasts and a sought-after destination for adventure travelers around the globe."

Courtesy of Under Canvas Yosemite

The camp will feature safari-inspired tents nestled among lush native greenery and equipped with all the amenities to rival an upscale hotel, such as king-size beds, luxe linens, heated mattress pads, a private deck, and ensuite bathrooms. Under Canvas Yosemite will also offer its guests several special tents, including the brand's signature Stargazer Tents with a viewing window above the bed, and an El Capitan Suite Tent, perfect for families or friends consisting of two individual tents connected by a private deck and an outdoor area.

Some of the camp's communal areas will be located in a lobby tent with lounge spaces, and dining and game areas. The culinary program will include freshly made dishes as well as grab-and-go items and snacks, with a special highlight on local wines and craft beers.

While the main draw will be Yosemite National Park, the camp will also offer plenty of on-site recreational activities, such as live music, daily yoga classes, kids' programming, and nightly s'mores. A nearby natural swimming pool and proximity to hiking trails will provide even more opportunities to stay active. An "adventure concierge" will help travelers book in-park activities such as rafting, fly fishing, rock climbing, and photography classes. 

This will be Under Canvas' 12th camp, and it is expected to open for its first season on May 22, 2025, with bookings open for stays between then and Oct. 27, 2025. Nightly rates will start from $319.

From Yosemite to Acadia, National Park Week 2024 kicks off with free entry

best places to visit yosemite national park

National Park Week kicks off April 20 with free entry to every national park in America. 

That’s not just capital NP national parks like Grand Teton and Olympic , but all 429 sites within the National Park System , ranging from national battlefields to seashores.

Entry fees are only waived that first day, but there are special activities planned throughout National Park Week (and many sites don’t charge entry fees anyway).

"With countless options of things to do and see, there really is something for everyone in our country’s national parks,” National Park Service Director Chuck Sams said in a statement.

What travelers should know:

What is the purpose of National Park Week?

The first National Park Week in 1991 marked the 75th anniversary of the National Park Service.

The next wasn't until 1994, but since then, it’s become an annual, presidentially proclaimed celebration across America’s ever-growing list of national parks, according to National Park Service spokesperson Kathy Kupper.

“During National Park Week, and throughout the year, I encourage people to discover and enjoy the natural, cultural, historical, and recreational opportunities available in national parks and through National Park Service community programs,” Sams said.

How long is National Park Week?

National Park Week spans nine days. It runs from April 20 through April 28. 

Each day will spotlight a different parks-related theme.

◾ April 20: Discovery

◾ April 21: Volunteers 

◾ April 22: Earth Day 

◾ April 23: Innovation 

◾ April 24: Workforce Wednesday 

◾ April 25: Youth Engagement 

April 26: Community Connections 

◾ April 27: Junior Ranger Day

◾ April 28: Arts in Parks 

Travelers can find their nearest park through the National Park Service and National Park Foundation’s Find Your Park site.

What is the most visited national park? Answers to your biggest park questions

Are national parks free on Earth Day?

Not this year. Earth Day is April 22. 

Last year, it happened to coincide with the first day of National Park Week when parks offer free entry. 

However, this year, the first day of National Park Week is April 20.

When are all US national parks free?

There are five more free entry dates this year:

◾ April 20 : First day of  National Park Week

◾ June 19 : Juneteenth

◾ Aug. 4 : Great American Outdoors Day 

◾ Sept. 28  : National Public Lands Day

◾ Nov. 11 : Veterans Day

Martin Luther King Jr. Day was also an entry-fee-free day in January.

Certain groups like military service members, veterans , and U.S. citizens and permanent residents with permanent disabilities are eligible for free entry any time of year. Fourth graders and their families are also eligible for free park visits through the Every Kid Outdoors program.

Visitors should note some parks charge fees for parking , access to specific facilities, and other things, even when entry fees are waived.

What activities can people do when visiting the national park?

Activities vary by date and location and can be found on the National Park Service’s event calendar . Junior Ranger Day events include the chance to build biplane models at Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama and learn about the history of dogs in Hidatsa villages and earn a BARK Ranger badge for their own pups at Knife River Indian Villages National Historic Site in North Dakota.

“Of course, we hope that kids will want to protect parks and want to make sure that we pass on parks to the future generations of kids, but in order to do that, we have to make sure that we are letting kids come to our parks to have fun, to fall in love with nature, to fall in love with history and culture,” Caitlin Campbell, interpretation and engagement coordinator for the National Park Service, told USA TODAY.  “Our primary objective is to make sure that kids feel welcome in parks and know that parks are a fun and safe place where they belong.” 

All year long, kids of all ages and abilities are invited to take part in the free Junior Ranger program in parks and online .

"They can find Junior Ranger programming probably pretty close to where they live," she said. "Any day of the year, they could celebrate (being a) Junior Ranger, but we hope that they celebrate during National Park Week."

Things To Do | Free National Park Day is coming on Saturday,…

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Things to do | free national park day is coming on saturday, april 20, all national parks and monuments are free to visit..

best places to visit yosemite national park

Do you like the Great Outdoors?

For the kickoff of the annual National Park Week, which for 2024 will be held April 20-28, the park service is offering free admission to its parks and monuments on Saturday, April 20.

This can save you $50 or even more, but here’s what you need to know, from someone who’s taken advantage of it in the past.

Show up at dawn. Seriously. I know, I know. Don’t hurt me. But then you get there before the thundering hordes arrive. As you might guess, free passes are a huge draw.

You don’t need to sign up or register. Just show up and go.

Tourists stop to gaze at the spectacular Yosemite Valley from the national park's Tunnel View lookout. Yosemite National Park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20. (Photo by Getty Images)

Here are the nine national parks in California: Channel Islands (the boat ride won’t be free), Death Valley, Joshua Tree, Kings Canyon, Lassen, Pinnacles, Redwood, Sequoia, Yosemite. You can also drive to Zion National Park in Utah — one of my faves — in about eight hours.

Personally, I suggest Joshua Tree National Park, which is my favorite local place. I even bought a place there. Here’s how I do it:

Get on the road before dawn with snacks, sandwiches, water, a swimsuit and a towel. Watch the pink sun rise over Mt. San Jacinto, which is a truly beautiful sight. At this hour, there won’t be any traffic, so you should make it to the west park entrance in 90 minutes or so, depending obviously on where you start.

Head directly to the Wonderland of Rocks area from the town of Joshua Tree where there are several interesting trails. That’s my favorite part of the park. Alternately, you could keep driving to 29 Palms, and visit the park headquarters where there’s also a trail. We typically hike around until the crowds arrive around 11 a.m. Then we leave, stopping in town for early lunch, and head to Desert Hot Springs and buy a cheap day pass for the pools at the Desert Hot Springs Hotel & Spa. Yeah, it’s very ’70s and less than fancy. But the hot water feels great. You can also get a massage if you’ve booked it in advance.

Then, head home refreshed and with your head screwed on straight.

If you’ve never been to Yosemite, what the heck? Maybe April 20 is your day. Just be aware that there will still be snow up there, so dress warmly and check for road closures.

Note that there will be special national park events all week long, so take a look online to see what’s available. And enjoy!

Learn more: nps.gov

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    Tourists stop to gaze at the spectacular Yosemite Valley from the national park's Tunnel View lookout. Yosemite National Park will offer free admission on Saturday, April 20. (Photo by Getty Images)

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