Yosemite National Park Travel Guide

David

The globally recognized landscape of Yosemite National Park is a stunning natural phenomenon, a crux element in environmental history, and a visitor-friendly playground.  The park is almost 1200 square miles, the same size as Rhode Island and it gets about 4 million visitors a year.  Most people focus their visit on Yosemite Valley where the most dramatic terrain is found, but the attractions extend far beyond this part of the mountains.

Yosemite Valley

Most tourism infrastructure is concentrated in the two square miles of the Valley's east end.  This goes along with a density of remarkable scenery, which includes Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Half Dome.  You may have heard that it gets too crowded here, but there are good reasons for this; you must see this part of Yosemite. 

A natural starting place on any visit to the park is to park your car in one of the two Day Use Parking Lots and take the free shuttle to the Valley Visitor Center, located in Yosemite Village. Look at the big Valley map, ask a ranger some questions, see the excellent park film, explore the Visitor Center exhibits and those of the Yosemite Museum and the Indian Village. It's not too far to stroll a nice trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. You can also take the shuttle to/from The Ahwahnee, Yosemite Lodge, Curry Village, Happy Isles and Upper, Lower and North Pines campgrounds.

The free shuttle can also deliver you to several trailheads.  Easy walks, short hikes and more strenuous climbs open up breathtaking sights including Yosemite Falls, Mirror Lake and Vernal Falls. There is a lot of useful literature on Yosemite's natural history, photography, rockclimbing and quite a few excellent guidebooks available in the Valley Visitor Center, which can provide you with great nighttime reading or references along the trail.

Wawona and Southern Yosemite

The Highway 41 corridor runs south from (or north to) Yosemite Valley and includes features that are worthy of national park status in their own right.  Wawona is a small historic settlement that could serve as a base of operations for an extensive park visit.  The historic Wawona Hotel is found here, with its adjacent 9-hole golf course, stables and cooling South Fork Merced River.  Just south of Wawona is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, a part of Yosemite's original preserved tract.  

Along your way south is the Glacier Point Road which winds past the Badger Pass Ski Area, 16 miles to the breathtaking
Glacier Point.  This provides a view off a 3000' cliff, the spread of the high country, an interesting angle on Half Dome and 3 major waterfalls.  Glacier Point is open all winter - just not to cars.  Cross-country skiers follow groomed tracks to this snowy, solitary aerie. 

Other worthwhile destinations along Highway 41 include Wawona's Pioneer Yosemite History Center, where park staff creates a living account of Yosemite's fascinating past, and the community of Yosemite West, where house and condo rentals can serve as cozy basecamps.  Beyond the park boundary, Sierra National Forest has camping, Fish Camp has a big motel and B+B's, and Oakhurst has a range of hotels and restaurants, as well as grocery, hardware and clothing stores.  

Tuolumne Meadows and the High Country


The historic Tioga Road provides unique access to the middle of Yosemite, the alpine peaks, alluring trailheads for hikers, and the through route to the completely different landscape of what locals call the East Side.  The road starts about a half-hour uphill from Yosemite Valley, runs through the beloved Tuolumne Meadows and over the highest highway pass in California, Tioga Pass.

The route leaves from Crane Flat where there's a gas station, campground and convenience store, and goes by the hidden charm of White Wolf where you'll find a campground and a small lodge.  The intimate Siesta Lake and expansive Tenaya Lake lie beside the road, and a land of granite domes awaits between there and Tuolumne Meadows.  Tuolumne has its own visitor center, a large campground and a rustic lodge as well as other amenities.  It's well worth planning to spend some time in this cool high country locale. 

Beyond 10,000' Tioga Pass is the precipitous drop to Lee Vining, Mono Lake, high desert terrain and relatively young volcanic vents.  Year-round resorts of June Lake and Mammoth Lakes are fine destinations at the foot of the steep eastern escarpment of the Sierra on the backside of Yosemite.

Where to Go in Yosemite National Park

TOP PICKS BY OUR LOCAL EXPERTS

The Ahwahnee

user rating

expert pick

East of Yosemite Village
Yosemite Valley

Finest hotel inside the park

Yosemite Valley Visitor Center

user rating

expert pick

P.O. Box 577

Yosemite exhibits, a bookstore, a park film and rangers to answer questions

Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Dining Room

expert pick

Hwy 120
Tuolumne Meadows

Hearty family style dining in a mountain tent.

Evening Ranger Programs

expert pick

Yosemite Valley Visitor's Center

Spend an evening under the stars

Yosemite National Park Blog Posts

UPDATES FROM OUR TRAVEL TEAM

What's so special about Giant Sequioas?
Yosemite has three groves of giant sequoias: Mariposa, Merced and Tuolumne Groves.  The Mariposa is the largest, most visited and has the most historic significance.  As our former governor once said, "A tree is a tree.  How many more do you need to look at?'  Well, that was before California had... Read more

Half Dome Permits NOW
March 31 is the deadline for reserving permits for one-day hikes up Half Dome for this season.  If you're thinking about trying this daunting route as a dayhike this year, now's the time to invest some time on the park's website, and invest some money in a chance at the lottery.  Read more

Lunch at Degnan's
Some people will tell you that Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village is the heart of the park.  During the lunch hour hundreds of people flow through and are quickly served with a salad, soup or a sandwich made to order.  It's a place that buzzes with visitors and locals; you're as likely to be in line... Read more


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