The best encounters with nature and wildlife in Yosemite are legion. Our Sierra Nevada doesn't have the same kind of habitat that gives Yellowstone the big, charismatic fauna, but the broad elevation range (2000-13000 feet) actually gives Yosemite greater biotic diversity overall. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you'll find lots of wonderful creatures all around.
Start your explorations at either the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center or (in summer) the Nature Center at Happy Isles, in the far east end of Yosemite Valley. Both facilities have great exhibits on park wildlife and other natural history. Bookstores (non-profit) in both places have lots of useful resources for learning about flora and fauna, and rangers, volunteers and bookstore staff are valuable sources of local knowledge. Ranger walks and the Junior Ranger programs at Happy Isles are terrific ways to explore what lives in Yosemite.
The next best thing to do is to get out anywhere in Yosemite early in the morning. Fewer people are about, animals may be more active, and you're far more likely to find critters if you're out before 8-9 a.m., before traffic and tourists get going. Be quiet, walk slowly, stop and listen every so often. If it's wintertime, look for animal tracks in the snow - here's a way to "see" much more animal activity than you can in the summer; it's almost like spotting invisible animals.
Yosemite Valley has pretty good habitat diversity, and has lots of animals that don't mind people and cars: mule deer, coyotes, and bears are seen here every day. All the signs and literature you see about protecting your food from bears are telling the truth. The bears aren't very dangerous to us -they just want our food. Secure your food (NOT in your car) and you should be fine. Along similar lines, never feed the cute ground squirrels that may come begging. Feeding wildlife our food teaches them bad habits and causes problems on several levels. Take a picture but no feeding!
Happy Isle Loop Road & Southside Drive
Family-oriented exhibits with a Junior Ranger emphasis... read more
P.O. Box 577
Yosemite exhibits, a bookstore, a park film and rangers to answer questions... read more
PO Box 230
Fun field courses that'll help you get deep into Yosemite... read more
Mariposa Grove Road
Park at the Wawona Store parking area and walk east 0.25 miles to Forest Dr. The trail head is on the right
Tuolumne Meadows Campground
Family camping with activities and all meals provided... read more
North end of Evergreen Road
P.O. Box 577
A 6.5 mile loop through the west end... read more