Yosemite National Park is well-known for its beautiful waterfalls, picturesque granite cliffs, and ancient sequoia trees. It has almost 1200 square miles of wilderness to explore in California! Yosemite is also very popular during its peak season so planning ahead of time can greatly improve your experience. Read on to learn how to see Yosemite National Park and make the best of your visit!
Millions of people visit Yosemite every year during the peak season so the park has made some changes to accommodate folks. Reservations are currently required to enter the park between May and September due to COVID 19… learn how to make reservations HERE. If COVID improves, this may change so check HERE for the most up-to-date information prior to entering the park. Shuttles are not running this season so plan accordingly. This means coming into the park early before the crowds to avoid traffic and congestion. The early bird gets the best parking spots at the trailheads!
If hiking is your thing, Yosemite is the place to go! With over 750 miles of hiking, you're sure to find the right hikes for you. Here are a few hikes that we did and sights that we saw and all of them are awe-inspiring. You'll find that many paths/trails in Yosemite Village & Valley Visitor Center lead to all the big sights. Taking a short drive to other parts of the park will get you to the trails for the sequoias and other cool sights. We went to Yosemite in the winter so check HERE for additional hikes to do the rest of the year.
Yosemite Valley is loaded with things to do and see. Most of the action is going to be here. If you only have one day at Yosemite, this is the place to go. There are year-round hiking opportunities around every corner. From beautiful waterfalls, amazing rock formations, rivers, and valleys, you must take the time to explore this area.
Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is an easy 1-mile paved trail that offers spectacular views of the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls and the Yosemite Creek. The views will be different depending on the time of year with it flowing heavily in spring and early summer and then dry from late summer through October. It's worth the walk though no matter when you go. In addition to the views, there are many exhibits about the history and culture of the area.
This is one of the most popular views at Yosemite. From here you can see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. It really is a superb view and a must-see while you are driving around Yosemite. You can find this viewpoint just after the Wawona Tunnel on the Wawona Road. It is a very popular spot so be careful of all the other tourists!
The Sentinel Bridge/Cook's Meadow Trail is another must-stop, especially if you love photography. You can see Half Dome and other rock formations reflected in the Merced River. You can also spy the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls from Cook's Meadow Trail. Makes for great photographs!
Half Dome is a 5,000-foot icon of Yosemite National Park. It is visible from many trails in Yosemite Valley. There is a 14-16-mile trail but it's quite strenuous and if you aren't prepared, it might not be for you. Plan for a full hiking day and you must get a permit ahead of time. We didn't hike this trail because we knew it would be too hard for our 8-year-old and quite honestly for us too. We were happy taking pictures!
Coming in at over 3,000-feet high, El Capitan is magnificent. It's one of those sights that appear suddenly on your drive into the park and you want to pull over and snap a photo. It is a photographer's dream shot and the climber's ultimate challenge! You'll need to do your own research if you intend to make your way to the top of El Capitan.
The Washburn Trail is a 2-mile wooded dirt trail that leads from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza to the Grove Arrival Area. It goes gradually uphill, following along the old 1879 stage-coach road leading to the grove. It has become quite a popular route lately due to the shuttle restrictions on COVID. Normally, you would use it only in the winter when the shuttles aren't running but now everyone is using it. We enjoyed this trail as it was fun, yet challenging, and the reward at the end was the ancient sequoia trees!
This 1/3-mile trail is a short, easy loop around the giant, ancient sequoia trees. The trail has exhibits showing the ecology of the sequoias and why they are starting to allow some forest fires to burn. There is a fallen tree that you can see the sequoia root system… it's massive! This is a very popular trail but well worth the traffic.
Branching off from the Big Trees Loop Trail is the Grizzly Giant Loop Trail. This 2-mile trail leads you up to many of the stars of the grove. Here you can find the California Tunnel Tree, the Grizzly Giant, and Bachelor and the Three Graces. The immenseness of these trees will leave you wanting to see more. Looking up at them, you can imagine how they tower over almost everything else in the area.
The Ansel Adams Gallery at Yosemite offers many different photography courses. They show you how to use your camera or smartphone to get the best pictures possible. You spend 4 hours out in the field exploring Yosemite Valley and learning how to get the pictures you want. We highly recommend taking one of their courses so you can get a better understanding of how to set your camera or smartphone up to get beautiful pictures of Yosemite Valley and any other places you go. See below for cool mirroring effects!
If you want beautiful waterfalls, giant cliffs, and awesome hikes, Yosemite National Park is the place to go. Make it your next destination. Don't wait!
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