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.
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.
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