There’s no better place to explore nature and history at the same time than at Yosemite National Park. Yosemite holds some of the most iconic scenery in the country and is paired with a long line of history. Once you visit the awe-inspiring landscape, it’s no wonder why it is one of the most visited attractions in the USA.
Yosemite National Park is a popular national park in eastern California and spans just shy of 750,000 square acres. Yosemite was first protected back in 1864 by President Lincoln and then established as a National Park in 1890, although it has been the home to Native Americans for thousands of years prior.
Bringing in over 4 million tourists each year, the park can get crowded during peak season. Yosemite is open year-round; however, ceratin roads or activities close during the colder and snowier months.
The park offers an array of stunning views and plenty of activities for the whole family. Some of those activities include hiking, biking, fishing, stargazing, camping, water activities, and more! Due to the changing weather throughout the seasons, certain activities may only be open certain seasons.
Here are my tips to make sure you have the best Yosemite adventure possible!
The park has 5 entry gates and each (except for the Hetch Hetchy entrance) is open 24 hours a day. The admission price varies based on the type of vehicle and passes you want to get. If you plan on visiting more than one National Park in a 12 month time period, I would recommend the ‘America the Beautiful’ pass. It is an annual pass that covers entrance and standard amenity fees for all National Parks in the US. The pass covers the pass holder and anyone else in the same private car. Also, they have various passes/prices for military, seniors, disabled, etc. Check the website for full details.
During peak season, and especially mid-day, parking in Yosemite Valley is going to be few and far between. Make sure to get there early to get a good spot and to have the most time to enjoy the park!
Gas: There is no gasoline within Yosemite Valley!! The gas right outside of the valley is often a much higher price than in nearby cities. If you can, fill up before you take off to avoid paying the higher prices.
Time of Year to Visit
I visited in the summer months and it was beautiful! Late spring and early fall are considered the best times to visit Yosemite. The park is open year-round; however, some sections do close down in the winter months due to weather conditions and the crowds during the summer months can be unruly. In the fall, you can expect some of the waterfalls to be dried up, but fewer crowds. In the spring, the weather is unexpected and it can snow into May. but mostly you’ll experience the waterfalls at their peak and flowers blooming across the park. Visit the Yosemite National Park website to learn more about the park during the different seasons.
There are a few places to stay right within the Valley, but if you are looking for something more cost-effective, you will have the best luck staying outside of the park. We stopped through Yosemite on a road trip and stayed at the Yosemite Pines RV Park, which was about an hour west of the Visitor’s Center and offers cabins, RV slots, “Glamping” and more! When we went into the park we went in on Highway 120 and entered at the ‘Big Oak Flat’ Entrance. However, just because it has Yosemite in the name, does not mean it is near the Park! Make sure to map out where in relation your stay is to the park before booking (you don’t want to end up staying 2+ hours outside of the park)!!
Where to Eat
There are plenty of places to eat within the Valley, and outside of the Valley. On the Yosemite National Park website, you can find all of the dining options from fancy sit down dinners to a quick bite to eat on the go. Whatever you do though, do NOT leave food unattended or in your car! The bears will break into a tent, car, cabin, etc. if they suspect there is food. Special food lockers are available if you have to leave food unattended after dark.
Popular Points of Interest
This iconic rock formation stands over 3,000 feet tall from the base of the valley and is a main attraction within Yosemite National Park. El Capitan has long been a challenge for rock climbers wanting to ascend the sheer face. El Capitan is best viewed from the Tunnel View, El Capitan Meadow, western Yosemite Valley, and the Bridal Veil area. You can also hike to the foot of the rock to get a sense of just how big it is!
Half Dome is one of the most recognizable formations within Yosemite National Park. The rock formation stands just shy of 5,000 feet tall and can be seen from much of the eastern valley. Some of the best views of the giant rock are from Glacier Point (pictured), Mirror Lake, and even near the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Half Dome attracts rock climbers as well as hikers that want to reach the top!
Yosemite Valley is the home to many of the iconic rock formations and waterfalls and is accessible all year round. In the valley, you can find the Valley Visitor Center, Wilderness Center, Yosemite Museum and more! Parking is available within the Valley and connects to the free shuttle to get around Yosemite Valley from there.
Lower Yosemite Falls
The Lower Yosemite Falls is the last 320-foot drop of North America’s tallest waterfall. To get to the base of the falls it is a short, easy hike that is only a 1-mile total loop. The trail is open year-round, but the water is at its peak volume in the spring into summer and tends to be dry in the late summer into fall.
This view is one of the most popular views of Yosemite Valley. The viewpoint can be found on Highway 41 at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel and boasts impressive views of the Valley, El Capitan, Bridal Veil Falls, and even Half Dome towards the back.
Mariposa Grove is the largest sequoia grove within Yosemite and the perfect place to see skyscraper sequoias. It is home to more than 500 fully mature giant sequoias, including the infamous Tunnel Tree. Within the Grove, there is a welcome plaza, multiple hiking trails, camping, and more! The Yosemite Valley shuttle connects to the grove, making it extremely easy to visit!
Sentinel Meadow & Cook’s Meadow
The walk through Sentinel Meadow and Cook’s Meadow holds impressive views of the Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock. The trail is flat, open year-round, and mostly boardwalks, but make sure to stay on the trail as venturing into the meadow can harm the ecosystem!
Glacier Point is an overlook that holds impressive views of the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and more! This overlooks is a short walk from the parking area and sits over 3,000 feet above the valley floor. The point is only accessible by car from May through the fall.
- Do NOT leave food in your car or unattended, anywhere. Bears do not care and WILL break into your car, tent or bags.
- Do NOT try to do everything in a day. The park is enormous and can easily take several days to get through.
- Have a plan. Before you get to the park, have a plan on the things you want to see and do the most. This will help you budget your time and avoid over-doing it.
- If you are visiting during peak season, arrive to your top sites EARLY. The earlier you arrive, the less crowds you will encounter.
- Take advantage of the free shuttles that are available. A map can be found here.
- Cell service may be limited within the park, so be prepared to not be able to get a cell signal.
- Pets are only allowed on paved roads and paths. They are NOT allowed in hotels, wilderness, meadows, public buildings, shuttle buses, etc. and are only allowed on two of the hiking trails throughout the park.
- Much of the park, including popular sights and experiences, is accessible and all on-site lodging meets ADA requirements.
- Follow the Leave No Trace Policy. Bring out what you take in and always stay on designated trails/paths. Take nothing but pictures and leave wildlife alone. Find the full policy here.
- Permits are required for certain activities like the Half Dome hike, Filming, Weddings, etc. Plan ahead if you are thinking you might need a permit.