Yosemite National Park is one of the best parks in US. It’s also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Even after visiting popular parks like Grand Canyon, Death Valley I think it’s the best park in US!
I’m in love with Yosemite and I’m sure I will be back to spend more time exploring its amazing beauty.
Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular cliffs like El Captain (3 593 feet from base to summit) and Half Dome; beautiful waterfalls including the tallest in North America – the Yosemite Falls (739m or 2425ft); giant sequoia groves – the largest trees in the world; rock formations, attractive meadows and biological diversity. The 750,000-acre, 1,200 square-mile park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads.
It is open all year around and may be reached via Highway 41 from Fresno, Highway 140 from Merced, Highway 120 West from Manteca, and via the Tioga Road (Highway 120 East) from Lee Vining. Tioga Road is closed in winter. So check before coming, as we had to change our route due to road closure.
Whether you explore the Valley by foot, car or with a tour, the scenery will leave you in awe and eager to see what’s around the corner.
The park is extremely large with more than can be seen in just a one or two day visit. We stayed 2 days and 1 night, and honestly it was not long enough.
The peak seasons for Yosemite are generally spring, when the waterfalls in the Valley are strongest, and Summer, when the Tioga Pass and Glacier Point roads are open, giving visitors access to the higher meadows and to views of the Valley from above.
What to see in 2 days: (I would advise minimum 4 days to explore)
I will split park into few parts for better orientation: Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Glacier Point, Tuolumn Meadows and Hetch Hetchy Valley.
Yosemite Valley: Yosemite Valley is a heart of the park. It stretches 7 miles long, bisected by Merced river. If you have only 1 day – this is the place to discover.
- Half Dome(8842 ft) – one of the most famous sights in the valley is the granite and the parks’ spiritual center – a mountain whose sheer face and rounded top looks like a giant stone dome that has been split in half. For the best photo head up to Tunnel View on Hwy 41.
- El Capitan or El Cap(7569 ft) is one of the world’s largest monoliths and a magnet for rock climbers. Truly a sight to see.
- Famous Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world at 2425 feet (782 m), and is most impressive during the spring months with trails to Lowest and Upper Falls.
- Bridalveil Fall is another easily accessible waterfall and just as impressive.
- Tunnel view – popular viewpoint that gives visitors a view of the Yosemite Valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right and Half Dome in the center. The view point is on the 41 at the western end of the Wawona tunnel. There is a small parking lot near the lookout.
- Mirrow Lake– to catch the ever-shifting reflections of Half Dome. The lake dries up by late summer so springtime is best.
Wawona is the home to the historic Wawona Hotel, dating from the late nineteenth century. Wawona is accessible by car all year-round.
- The Mariposa Groveis south of Wawona near the entrance station. The Mariposa Grove is the largest stand of giant sequoias (also known as Sierra redwoods or big trees) in Yosemite. It’s closed till Spring 2017 for renovations so we did not get a change to see itthis time.
- The Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings, is located just over the covered bridge from the hotel.
Glacier Point – my favourite spot in the park!!!
- Glacier Point has overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and much of the Sierra Nevada mountain range, is located 30 miles from Yosemite Valley. It takes about one hour by car due to speed limit and turns. The road ends at Glacier Point and a quarter mile long paved walkway leads to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park. The road is closed from sometime in November through early May or late June. I’m sure this place is a must visit one!
- Washburn Point, another overlook on the same road just half a mile before Glacier Point. This overlook gives a view of the southern side of the Yosemite Valley.
Tuolumne Meadows. The Tioga Road (Highway 120 East), is generally open to vehicles from late May or early June through November. It’s a 39 mile scenic drive between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows through forests and meadows, lakes, and granite domes. Many turnouts offer broad and beautiful vistas. We did not visit this time as Tioga road was closed and we had to change our route.
Hetch Hetchy Valley. Hetch Hetchy, is known as a twin to Yosemite, is home to spectacular scenery and is the starting point for many less-used wilderness trails. The road to Hetch Hetchy is open all year-round with restricted hours due to security for the reservoir. During the spring and early summer, impressive water falls flow into the reservoir, making hiking in Hetch Hetchy even more spectacular. You can visit if you stay more than 2 days. We did not visit it yet, but we definitely are going back for few more days to explore this amazing and my favourite park.
Lodging (hotels, cabins and tents) – despite the very high price, the demand for lodging in Yosemite Valley is extremely heavy, so I advise to book in advance. If you want to save money – book outside the park but you have to drive every day at least one hour. And waking up in the park feels unbelievable.
Camping is by far the cheapest way but you have book at least few months in advance. Campground reservations can be made through the National Park Service. Lodging Reservations through www.travelyosemite.com
We stayed in a tent at Half Dome Village. It was great experience. But in the night it got really cold, so bring some warm covers or rent one when check-in.
Food – there are grocery stores in the park that have really anything you would need while out camping (or if you forgot to bring something). The park also has many places to eat with affordable prices.
We had a lunch at Majestic Yosemite Hotel. The food was excellent and there’s a reason why it’s called the Majestic Hotel. One look out from one of the floor to ceiling glass windows and you’ll know exactly what I mean. Our meal came about 45USD per couple. You will have to book in advance to get a table. I used an app Open Table.
There is a huge Pavilion in Half Dome Village (opened from 7 to 10AM for breakfast). It’s where we had our breakfast. They serve typical egg, bacon, pancake fare with some sides. There is also a really good coffee place for coffee lovers (opened from 6AM). In the evening you can head to Half Bar for a drink . It’s got a great selection of craft beers, wine and spirits at surprisingly reasonable prices.
Tips (my recommendations):
1) Weather can change rapidly during all seasons of the year, and will also vary greatly with elevation. It is good to pack clothing for any season. Always include some kind of rain gear and sweater.
2) In general, a car is a great way to explore the park, although during the summer Yosemite Valley can be so crowded that a shuttle bus is much better option. We were there in the spring, so traffic was much lighter than in the summer. There are several free shuttle buses throughout the park. It stops in 20 places. It travels in a circle and is a great way to see the best parts of the Valley Floor or take you to the trailhead for hikes.
3) Be aware that the Tioga Pass Road and the road to Glacier Point are seasonal, so check before coming. All the details can be found on their website https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/directions.htm
4) Note that the speed limit in all areas of the park is fairly slow so getting around can take much more time that you think.
5) The loop road through Yosemite Valley is now one-way!!! As a result, when driving in the valley, be aware that a wrong turn can send you on a one-way five-mile detour. We did it twice, so pay attention!
6) Yosemite Valley has a network of bicycle paths. Bikes can be rented for the day at Curry Village & Half Dome Village. It will turn a thirty minute walk into a five minute ride. But walking is great in this park and you can enjoy beauty every step.
7) The vast majority of the park’s area can only be accessed using the park’s network of trails.
8) Reserve a campsite in Yosemite National Park at least 5 months ahead. This park gets very busy, early reservations are a must.
9) Yosemite Lodge (and possibly other accommodation areas) has no outside lighting. This is to reduce light pollution and allow the stars to shine. When walking at night make sure that you have a flashlight.
10) Be aware and cautious of bears. Never leave food or scented items in your car orin your tent. Bear resistant storage units are provided at park campgrounds and overnight parking areas: use them.
11) Fill up gas there is no gas station in the park. Gas is available for purchase at Crane Flat, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona but tends to be 60 cents to 1 dollar higher than in communities like Fresno, Merced, and Modesto. Save some cash for souvenirs and fill up before coming to the park 🙂
12) Get a map of parks and trails at the visitor center or print at home (Valley map) in advance to decide which trail to take. You can’t do all of them in one visit, so it’s best to discuss before hand on what you would like to see/do.
13) Don’t be in a hurry – enjoy the park as it’s impossible to see everything even in a week.
14) Internet is only available in Half Dome Village and it’s free.
15) Yosemite’s tap water is some of the best water in State, so don’t be shy to refillI your water bottles.
16) I mentioned this already in the article but will repeat as it can ruin your visit. Check for road closures – https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/wroads.htm
We had the pleasure of chatting with Craig Smith who has visited Yosemite over 60 times!! He gave us some very useful tips on what to see. Be sure to say hi if you see him!
For more detailed information visit National Park Service’s website – https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm
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