The most charming natural scenery of California’s, Yosemite National Park features nearly 1,200 square miles of sheer awe. Here have a large number of towering waterfalls, millennia-old Sequoia trees, striking, daunting cliff faces and some of the most unique rock formations in the United States. In spite of its tremendous size, most of the tourist activity takes place within the 8-square-mile area of Yosemite Valley. In Yosemite National Park, you’ll find the park’s most famous landmarks – Half Dome and El Capitan – as well as excellent hiking trails through the natural monuments. If you are an inexperienced hiker can enjoy Yosemite: Guided tours and climbing lessons are available from local adventure outfitters. Like other American tourist destinations, crowds are the biggest obstacle to an enjoyable Yosemite vacation. Approximately 4 million people visit each year. If you go start your day earlier than other days, Mother Nature’s wonders will reveal themselves to your eye in a miraculous and serene way.
Yosemite National Park Location
The park is located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains and is approximately 1,200 square miles.
- West of the park is San Francisco and Sacramento
- To the Southeast is Las Vegas
- And to the South is Los Angeles
Map of Yosemite National Park USA
Ranking of Yosemite National Park
World Report and The U.S. News travel rankings are based on the analysis of expert and user opinions Yosemite rankings are-
- 2 in Best Places to Visit in March
- 2 in Best Cheap Family Vacations
- 2 in Best Family Spring Break Destinations
- 2 in Best Places to Visit in the USA
- 2 in Best Places to Hike in North America
- 2 in Best National Parks in the World
- 2 in Best U.S. National Parks
- 3 in Best Places to Visit in California
- 3 in Best Adventure Vacations in the U.S.
- 7 in Best Family Vacations in the USA
- 10 in World’s Best Places to Visit
- 12 in Best Fall Vacations
Best Times to Visit Yosemite National Park
Originally the best time to visit Yosemite National Park depends on what you’re looking for. If you plan to explore Yosemite Valley’s famous waterfalls, May and June are the best months to visit.Want to hike or backpack in the High Sierra? July and August can’t be beaten. Looking to avoid the crowds in Yosemite? September offers great sunshine with far fewer visitors. And don’t forget winter, when the Yosemite Ski Area opens and you might catch a glimpse of the Natural Firefall.
Spring in Yosemite National Park
Remember that Spring is the best time to visit Yosemite Valley. In May the waterfalls are at their peak, the wildflowers are blooming, and the summer crowds have not yet arrived. Daytime temperatures are often divine, but be prepared for chilly temperatures at night.
In early spring (March, April), Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are still closed due to lingering winter snow, restricting access to Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point.
Summer in Yosemite National Park
In terms of visitation Yosemite, Summer is the most popular season. The famous scenery of the park and famously sunny summer weather draw a steady stream of vacationing families.
On summer weekends, Yosemite Valley can be a bit too popular, with long lines and traffic jams forming throughout the day. By mid-summer, many of the Valley’s famous waterfalls have run dry, and daytime temperatures can soar into the 90s.
For all of these reasons, savvy Yosemite visitors head to Tuolumne Meadows in July and August. While Yosemite Valley (4,000 feet) is hot and crowded, Tuolumne Meadows (8,600 feet) is refreshing and peaceful. Tuolumne Meadows also provides easy access to the spectacular hiking trails in Yosemite’s High Sierra.
Fall in Yosemite National Park
Fall is a great time to visit Yosemite Valley. The crowds thin out dramatically after Labor Day, and daytime temperatures start to cool down. So, September is one of the best months for hiking and rock climbing in Yosemite Valley.
In Tuolumne Meadows, meanwhile, September brings crisp days and freezing nights. Services shut down on Tioga Road by the end of September, and the road closes for winter after the first heavy snow (generally between mid-October and mid-November).
In Yosemite Valley, even the biggest waterfalls have slowed to a trickle by mid-October. But the autumn foliage on the oak trees, maples, and dogwoods is gorgeous.
Winter in Yosemite National Park
Though Winter is Yosemite’s least popular season in terms of visitation, after a fresh layer of snow, the park is spectacular. Although Tioga Road is completely shut down, cutting off access to Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierra, Glacier Point Road is plowed as far as the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area, a small ski resort with downhill and cross country skiing.
In Yosemite Valley, the Ahwahnee Hotel offers a number of terrific events, including wine tastings, Chefs’ Holidays, and the famous Christmas Bracebridge Dinner. During the last two weeks of February, hundreds of visitors come to Yosemite Valley hoping to catch of glimpse of the Firefall, one of Yosemite’s most amazing natural spectacles.
Yosemite Directions & Travel Info.
It’s not difficult to get to Yosemite National Park from anywhere in the world. Travelers that fly to California can rent a car in San Francisco (4 hours away) or Sacramento (3 hours away). The roads are maintained year-round—except for the eastern entrance on Tioga Road (Highway 120 through the park). Tire chains may be required from October to April.
NOTE: Call the National Park Service information line at 209.372.0200 or visit the National Park Service road conditions page for the latest updates.
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) provides bus service to Yosemite. Greyhound doesn’t offer direct bus service to Yosemite but can be combined with YARTS service from Merced, CA. 800.229.9424 or 800.531.5332 (en Español) Parking & traffic can be challenging in the summer months in Yosemite Valley, so consider utilizing YARTS and sit back and enjoy the views.
Yosemite Valley to Tuolumne Meadows Hikers Bus
Visitors can use the Tuolumne Meadows Hikers bus to reach Tuolumne Meadows on select days during the summer season.
Nearby commercially served airports include:
- Fresno International Airport (FAT) – 1.25 hours to Southern entrance via Highway CA-41. 2.5 hours to the heart of Yosemite Valley. 3½ hours to Tuolumne Meadows.
- San Francisco International Airport (SFO) – 2 ½ hours to Big Oak Flat entrance via Highway CA 120, 3 ½ hours to the heart of Yosemite Valley. 4-5 hours to Tuolumne Meadows.
- Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) – 6 hours to Yosemite Valley via I-5 to Highway CA 99 to Highway CA 41. Add another 1.5 hours for travel to Tuolumne Meadows.
- Oakland (OAK) – 2.75 hours to Big Oak Flat entrance via Highway CA 120, 3 ½ hours to the heart of Yosemite Valley. 4-5 hours to Tuolumne Meadows.
- Sacramento (SMF) – 2 ¼ hours to Big Oak Flat entrance via Highway CA 120, 3.5 hours to the heart of Yosemite Valley, and 4 hours to Tuolumne Meadows.
- Reno International Airport-(RNO) – maybe need 4 hours to Yosemite Valley via Highway CA 395 and Highway CA 120 Tioga Rd. (June – Oct).
- Las Vegas Airport (LAS) – 8-9 hours to Yosemite Valley via Highway CA 395 and Highway CA 120 Tioga Rd. (June – Oct).
Nearby municipal airports for private and charter service include:
Mariposa-Yosemite Airport (068) – 30 minutes to Arch Rock entrance station via Highway Ca140, 1 hour to the heart of Yosemite Valley. The paved runway extends for 3,310 feet. The facility is at an elevation of 2,250 feet at a distance of about 4 miles from Mariposa, CA. http://www.airnav.com/airport/O68
Merced Municipal Airport/Macready Field (MCE) – 1 ¼ hour to Arch Rock entrance station via Highway CA 140, 1 ¾ hour to the heart of Yosemite Valley. The paved runway extends for 5,903 feet. The facility is at an elevation of 156 feet at a distance of about 2 miles from Merced, CA. http://www.airnav.com/airport/MCE
AMTRAK® Trains serve San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco and Sacramento to and from Merced/Riverbank and connect with YARTS bus lines for direct buses into Yosemite Valley. For information call 800.872.7245 or visit http://www.amtrak.com/
Cars are welcomed in Yosemite National Park, and visitors pay an entrance fee of $30 in summer and $25 in winter. There is limited free parking in Yosemite. So arrive early if you want one of these parking spots. Once you’re at the Park, we recommend that you leave the driving to us, with our efficient shuttle bus system that’ll get you everywhere you need to go. You can find out more on the public transportation page.
- San Francisco
- Los Angeles
- Central Valley
- Monterey Peninsula
- South Lake Tahoe/Reno
- Las Vegas
Yosemite National Park Hotels
- Yosemite Valley Lodge
- The Ahwahnee
- The Village Lodge
- Evergreen Lodge at Yosemite
- Yosemite View Lodge
- Rush Creek Lodge at Yosemite
- Yosemite Cedar Lodge
- Lake View Lodge
- Double Eagle Resort and Spa
- White Chief Mountain Lodge
- Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite
- Buck Meadows Lodge
- Yosemite Westgate Lodge
- Mammoth Mountain Inn
- Ruby Inn
- Walker River Lodge
- Pinecrest Chalet
- Austria Hof Lodge
- Silver Bear Condos
- Mountainback at Mammoth
- Tamarack Lodge and Resort
- The Westin Monache Resort, Mammoth
- Pinecrest Lake Resort
- Alpenhof Lodge
- Holiday Haus Motel
- Juniper Springs Resort
- Summit Condominiums
- Rodeway Inn dba Wildwood Inn
- Travelodge by Wyndham Mammoth Lakes
Best things to do in Yosemite National Park
Are you planning to visit Yosemite soon? There are a fabulous amount of things to do in Yosemite National Park, a highlight of visiting California.
Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Valley
There are many waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley in California, Bridalveil Fall is one of the most spectacular and outstanding. The waterfall is 188 meters (617 ft) in height and flows year-round.
It looks so amazing that the glaciers which carved Yosemite Valley left many hanging valleys that spawned the waterfalls that pour into the valley. All of the waterways that fed these falls carved the hanging valleys into steep cascades with the exception of Bridalveil Fall. Bridalveil Creek still now ski jump into the valley from the edge of the cliff, although that edge has moved back into an alcove from the original edge of the valley. The primary source of Bridalveil Falls is Ostrander Lake, some 16 kilometers (9.9 mi) to the south.
In a rattling wind, the falling water is often blown sideways, and when the flow is light, it may not reach the ground directly below. For this reason, the Ahwahneechee Native Americans called this waterfall “Pohono”, which means “Spirit of the Puffing Wind”.
Mist Trail is perfect short hikes in Yosemite National Park, California, USA.
The hike always moves to the Merced River, starting at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley, past Vernal Fall and Emerald Pool, to Nevada Fall. On the trail, the Merced River is a riotous mountain stream, lying in a U-shaped valley. The large boulders, some the size of a house, are dwarfed by the sheer faces of exfoliating granite, which rise 3000 feet (914 m) from the river.
A trail that links to the John Muir Trail starts after crossing from the Happy Isles. Depending on one’s conditioning, a bridge that re-crosses the river – the halfway point of a hike to the foot of Vernal Fall – can be reached in 15 to 30 minutes.
In conclusion, We can say the Hiking Vernal and Nevada Falls is one of the most exciting things to do in Yosemite with kids, and a Yosemite must see!
So, don’t miss it.
Lower Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley
Lower Yosemite Falls is probably the easiest of the Yosemite National Park hikes. It’s an almost flat, 1 mile long round trip on a path to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. As you walk down the path you get a fantastic view of Upper Yosemite Falls as it cascades down into Lower Yosemite Falls. But at the end of the trail, you can only see Lower Yosemite Falls.
You can walk to the top of Lower Yosemite Falls, which is a 2-mile round trip. I contemplated doing that with the girls but they were wiped out from the Vernal/Nevada Falls hike that morning!
Mariposa Grove Grizzly Giant Loop Trail
This is one of the most amazing places to visit in Yosemite! Step into the world of the giant sequoias trees at Mariposa Grove. While there won’t be as many as you’ll find in nearby Sequoia National Park, there are enough to amaze and delight you.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is the largest sequoia grove in the park with over 500 mature big trees. The Sequoia is the largest living thing on earth and the oldest. They grow to be around 4,800 years old so it’s a title they deserve. With their red trunks standing out in the middle of a green forest, they sure are beautiful.
Mariposa Grove is in the southern section of Yosemite Park and is where you’ll find the sequoias. A visit here is one of the best things to do in Yosemite.
Mirror Lake Yosemite Valley
Mirror Lake was the last of our Yosemite National Park hiking experiences.
The trail is flat, easy and follows Tenaya Creek. It was very muddy when we walked in and decided not to walk the loop around the lake, which would have made it a five-mile loop walk.
Mirror Lake is not really a lake and by the time summer is at its height most of the water has disappeared and turned into a meadow of grasses and sandy areas. The hike gives views of Half Dome and it is hard to see due to cloud cover.
You’ll love getting your Instagram photos of yourself at the edge of the lake. Don’t forget your colorful umbrella standing looking out over the lake with your hands in the air. No. Please don’t do that. The world has seen enough!
Mirror Lake is yet another one of the most popular things to do in Yosemite Park. Go early to avoid the crowds.
Wapama Falls Hike, Hetch Hetchy
The Wapama Falls is a loving hike in Hetch Hetchy so much!
This was the quietest of the Yosemite National Park trails and it is an adventurous hike with diversity and stunning scenery. This is off-the-beaten-path, and one of the unique things to do in Yosemite as so many people just stick to Yosemite Valley.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was created to supply the people of San Francisco with water after the devastating earthquake of 1906 destroyed their water source. John Muir the champion voice for protecting Yosemite National Park protested the movement to build the O-Shaughnessy dam and destroy what he felt to be a valley as exquisite in its beauty as Yosemite Valley.
It’s kind of bittersweet to visit this region as it is still so beautiful and a place that can be enjoyed by the people. However, the dam has created a lake type feel now where once there would have been a river with the rising granite cliff face and domes with waterfalls streaming down the side. At first, the Wapama Trail started with a peaceful trail beside the reservoir and then became quite rocky and uphill.
Hetch Hetchy Valley is worth visiting in all seasons and it has the longest hiking season in the park. This is also where you can come to experience wildflower displays.
Scenic Drive Hwy 41 Wawona
This is the view of Yosemite Valley you have been dreaming of.
It showcases the immense grandeur of the granite walls surrounding the valley. I couldn’t help but think of John Muir and what must have gone through his mind, body, spirit seeing this view and having it all to himself.
When you’re driving through Yosemite from the south gate down to the valley, you’ll drive through Wawona Tunnel. After you exit the tunnel, you are at Tunnel View! Bridalveil Falls plunders over the top down into the forested valley. Here is where you’ll get your classic view of El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rocks, and Cathedral Rocks.
It was the only time we saw Half Dome; it was covered by cloud apart from this moment when the clouds lifted as we pulled into the parking lot!
Tunnel View is best seen in the afternoon or at sunset. Time your visit right.
Scenic Drive Hwy 120
Our first look at Yosemite Valley was from this viewpoint just as we came out of the tunnel on HWY 120 coming into the valley from the East Gate Entrance.
The Merced River winding through the valley, the jagged granite peaks of the mountains and way in the distance, Bridalveil Falls.
I’m unsure how easy it would be to see the falls at other times in the year, but during the spring they are raging. The afternoon is better for lighting!
Cascade Creek is just past the first tunnel view and worth pulling over to watch it cascade down the mountain. I’m not sure how full it would be outside of Spring. Valley View appears on your left as you are driving out of the valley on the way to Hwy 41.
Unlike the other views above that look down on the valley, this one looks up the valley from the banks of the Merced River. It’s a beautiful and unique perspective.
Again, the afternoon would be better for this viewpoint.
Glacier Point Overlook Yosemite National Park
Glacier Point has an overlook with a stunning view of the Valley, Half Dome and Yosemite’s High Country.
It is said to be one of the best views in Yosemite and the country! There are several trails from up here. This point is accessible by car from approximately late May through October or November.
Hikes from here:
- McGurk Meadow, Bridalveil Creek, and Dewey Point (moderate)
- Sentinel Dome and Taft Point (moderate)
Tioga Pass and Tuolumne Meadows Yosemite
Tioga Road is a well-known drive with 39 miles scenic Yosemite drive past forests, meadows, lakes and granite domes. It’s a beautiful region of Yosemite National Park to experience and only opened during the summer. Its elevation is from 6,000 to nearly 10,000 feet. Tuolumne Grove has giant sequoias. It’s a steep mile down into the grove from the parking area. The grove is smaller than Mariposa but quieter. I’ve only learned since researching for this post that this area was right near where we stayed for the first two nights and we could have visited! Tuolumne Meadows is a stunning area that offers many hiking trails. Popular hikes are Cathedral Lakes and Tenaya Lake.
Biking the Valley floor Yosemite
I so wanted to do this!!
It is so hard to make it work with the weather. There are several miles of biking trails that wind through the Valley. What a beautiful way to get around and avoid the hassle of parking and bus shuttles.
Home to the main Yosemite Visitor Center, Yosemite Museum, a Wilderness Center and the Ansel Adams Gallery.
It is hard to find out time to visit any of these! But we typically love to chat with the National Park Rangers to get up to date info on all the best things to do in Yosemite, road closures, grab your kids their Junior Ranger books, get maps, etc.
The village is also where you’ll find a grocery store, a pizza place, and a deli. Parking is also available here, but it’s challenging and very busy, and of course, the shuttle bus stops here (more info down below in the tips section).
Happy Isles Nature Center Yosemite
A place to learn more about the park’s geological story. There are various indoor and outdoor exhibits on the isles!
Pioneer History Center Yosemite
Wawona is a collection of historic buildings telling the story of people and events that shaped the national park idea in Yosemite. You can go on a horse0drwan stage ride, watch blacksmiths t work or hike scenic trails.
Rock Climbing in Yosemite National Park
Known as one of the premier rock climbing spots in the world, Yosemite National Park California has a cliff for you to conquer!
Hundreds of climbers from around the world visit each year to conquer the sheer granite cliffs of Half Dome and El Capitan.
If you want your kids to take on the challenge, enroll them in the Yosemite Mountaineering School. I’m not sure they’ll summit the legendary rocks by the end of it, but at least they’ll get a taste of the devotion rock climbers to have to this area.
Had the weather been a bit nicer, we would have sent the girls off to rock climbing school. They go to an indoor rock climbing camp back in Raleigh and love it.
For the die-hards rock climbers, El Capitan is standing 3,593 feet from base to summit waiting for you to scale it. You’ll need at least 13 days to make it.
Climbers from all around the world take a shot at it. Can you imagine tying yourself to that wall to sleep at night? Get out your binoculars you may spot someone attempting the climb.
Camping in Yosemite
They are 13 Yosemite National Park campgrounds and they are popular places to stay in Yosemite too.
Up to 7 are on a reservation system and the rest are first come first served, which usually fill by noon from April to September. You’ll want to make a reservation here as far in advance as possible.
Camp 4 is where Craig and I camped in 2006. You can walk-ins and loved being at the base of the Yosemite Falls trail.
We were shocked to discover it is now a lottery system for the summer. We thought Yosemite National Park camping was busy in the summer when we went. I can’t even imagine it now.
RV Camping in Yosemite
You can stay for two nights at the Thousand Trails Yosemite Lakes RV Resort & Campground.
This RV Park is on the South Fork Tuolumne River and about an hour’s drive from the valley floor. It is a picturesque setting but felt it will be overpriced for what it offered.
$73 for just a patch of dirt and full hookups. Wifi is only available in their lodge. It is California though, and it is in a pretty setting by the river.
You will in and out each day and you will be trapped inside your travel trailer in torrential rain when you will in the campground.
Yosemite National Park has 10 campgrounds that can accommodate RVs.
Driving to Yosemite National Park
There are five entrance gates into the park:
- South Gate (Wawona entrance station) best for those driving from the Los Angeles area.
- Arch Rock Entrance (Southwest gate) for those arriving from San Francisco
- Big Oak Flat (East Gate) best for those arriving from the San Francisco area
- Tioga Pass Entrance (for those arriving from Lake Tahoe, Las Vegas or Death Valley area – ONLY open from approx May through October!
- Hetch Hetchy Entrance (northernmost gate)
Restaurants in Yosemite National Park
It will be wise to take your own food into Yosemite National Park.
- There are small stores in Half Dome Village (previously called Curry Village and Camp Curry) and Yosemite Village where you can pick up food supplies and aren’t priced too badly.
- You can also get a fairly cheap beer (local) and wine here too. So you might want to do that rather than ordering a pint at the bar!
- There are plenty of places to sit outside in the villages. Even better there are many picnic spots in the valley by the river. Just be bear safe!
- There is also a food court at Yosemite Lodge with pizzas, burgers and Asian food. The girls had a pizza here that seemed decent.
- The Majestic Hotel is a very popular place to eat, so make a reservation as there can be waits of an hour or longer, and parking at the hotel is horrendous – it took us 35 mins to find a spot on a Thursday in May at lunch.
- The meals here are more expensive. The drawcard is the views from the windows.
- The pesto and bean soup I had was delicious, so the food quality is good. If you are short on time I’d skip it and go for a picnic in the valley instead.
- The Big Lodge is another fancy place to eat in Wawona.
Own View Point for Visiting Yosemite National Park
- The grocery store at Yosemite Village has a lot of products and supplies handy – cheap beer and wine as well. You’ll find most of what you need to get you through.
- Remember that the Yosemite Village is also home to the main Yosemite Visitor Center. Both Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village are also popular places to visit in Yosemite to buy supplies or souvenirs, book activities, rent gear, use the bathroom, and recuperate before heading back out on the trails.
- Yosemite is huge. Plan your trip carefully. It will be better to break the things to do in Yosemite things with kids into sections. Allow for rest breaks!
- You can do the Junior Rangers program here, although you have to purchase the book, which is the first time we’ve experienced this. You also have to pick up a bag of trash, which I’m totally okay with as were my girls. However, it makes me wonder what the trash levels must be like in Yosemite to have this condition as no other park so far has. That makes me sad.
- You can drive in Yosemite Valley but the National Park encourages you to use the free shuttle buses. The Yosemite Valley shuttle provides service around eastern Yosemite Valley and stops near all overnight accommodations, stores, and major vistas. The shuttle operates all year from 7 am to 10 pm.
- There are three major parking lots: Yosemite Falls Parking Lot, Yosemite Village Parking Lot and Half Dome Village parking lot. Get into the park early. Find a park and leave it there. Then get the shuttle around.
- Bears are active in Yosemite National Park so be bear safe.
- There are loads of Ranger Talks and programs on offer in Yosemite National Park. Be sure to check out the schedule in the park newspaper or a visitor center.