One of the first wilderness parks in the country, Yosemite is visited by nearly 4 million people each year, making it the third most visited National Park in the United States. Yosemite was established as a National Park in 1890 and has been a World Heritage site since 1984.
Located in central California, Yosemite National Park is home to a diverse ecosystem, with over 400 species of vertebrates, groves of giant sequoias, impressive granite cliffs, glaciers, and waterfalls. Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America at 2,425 feet (739 meters), and Yosemite's tallest peak is Mount Lyell at 13,114 feet (3,997 meters). The Tuolumne and Merced River begin in the park and flow through its valleys.
Yosemite National Park is a nature lover's paradise, with campsites and around 800 miles of hiking trails, making it one of the top destinations for outdoor adventures.
When to go
Summers in Yosemite are typically dry and hot, with an average high of around 90 degrees Fahrenheit and low of about 50 degrees. Campsites and lodging fill up months in advance, and the park is very busy during the summer months.
Spring and fall are sometimes snowy and rainy nearer to winter, and temperatures can range anywhere between 30 to 80 degrees. Spring is the best time to catch impressive waterfalls, when the snowpack in the Sierras begins to melt.
Winter in Yosemite is beautiful in its own right and often covered in a layer of snow. Though not practical for many campers or hikers, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are common. Roads are often closed during winter storms, and tire chains are necessary. Winter temperatures in the Yosemite Valley drop to the 20s, with highs in the 60s on the rarer sunny days.
Yosemite is located in central California's Sierra Nevada about 195 miles from San Francisco and 315 miles from Los Angeles. There are four entrances to the park: State Routes 120 from the east or west, and State Routes 140 and 41. There are no gas stations in the Yosemite Valley, so visitors should fill up before entering. Tire chains may be required from around October to April, and road closures do occur so check road conditions ahead of time. Entrance fees to the park are $20 per car or $10 per pedestrian, bike, or motorcycle. Admission tickets are valid for one week.
Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT) - Located about an hour and a half away from Yosemite in Fresno, FAT is a small airport.
Merced Airport (MCE) - Situated about a 2 hour drive from Yosemite in Merced.
Modesto City-County Airport (MOD) - Located in Modesto, about 1.5 hours from Yosemite.
SF Bay Area and LA area airports are much larger and offer more flights, but travelers will want to rent a car to drive to the park.
Merced - Amtrak offers service to Merced from all over California (Bakersfield, Sacramento, SF Bay Area). Amtrak also has a bus service between the train station and Yosemite. This route takes longer than driving.
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System - The shuttle runs from nearby cities: Merced, Mariposa, El Portal, Lee Vining, and Mammoth Lakes.
Car - The park can get very congested and having a car is sometimes more trouble than they're worth, some drives across the park can take two hours.
Shuttle bus - The recommended mode of transportation within the park, several free shuttle buses have routes around the park to help prevent congestion and pollution. The Yosemite Valley Shuttle stops at lodging locations, stores, and vistas and runs year-round from 7am to 10pm. The other free shuttles include Glacier Point, Badger Pass, Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows, which run seasonally and not as frequently.
Hiking - Hikers can explore the park using the many trails, and have access to much more of the park than those who drive. Of course, many visitors opt to drive to the parking lots near the trail head, and hike from there.
Biking - Bikes are a fast and easy way to get around the park, using bike paths that traverse the park. Bikes can be rented from Curry Village.
Sightseeing and Activities
With about 800 miles of hiking trails, and much of the park only accessible on foot, hiking is one of the best ways to see Yosemite National Park. The following are a few of the main hiking trails at Yosemite National Park.
Yosemite Valley Hikes: - Bridal Veil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, Cook's Meadow Loop, Valley Floor Loop, Mirror Lake, Four Mile Trail, Upper Yosemite Fall, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall
Glacier Point Road Hikes: -Bridalveil Creek, Dewey Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, Mount Starr King, Ostrander Lake,
Wawona and Mariposa Grove Hikes: -Wawona Meadow Loop, Swinging Bridge Loop, Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Alder Creek, Chilnualna Falls
Hetch Hetchy Hikes: - Lookout Point, Wapama Falls, Rancheria Falls, Smith Peak, Poopenaut Valley
White Wolf Hikes: - Lukens Lake, Harden Lake, May Lake, North Dome, Ten Lakes
Tuolumne Meadows Hikes: - Soda Springs, Elizabeth Lake, Gaylor Lake, Cathedral Lake, Mono Pass, Glen Aulin, Dog Lake,
Waterfalls: - Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America at 2,425 feet, and actually consists of three parts: Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls and the middle cascades. Peak flow of Yosemite Falls is in May.
- Horsetail Fall is known as a firefall because of the way it resembles fire when it glows orange and red during sunset. Peak time to view the fiery fall is in late February.
- Bridalveil Fall is visible from Wawona Road and via a short hiking trail, and flows year-round (peak flow in May), making it one of the most commonly seen waterfalls in Yosemite.
Half Dome: A permit is required for the journey up Half Dome, the iconic granite dome that towers nearly 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley. The Half Dome Cables Route is a steep 8.2 mile hike up to the top, using steel cables bolted to the rock for handholds. The cables are up seasonally, as the climb is too dangerous when weather conditions are bad.
El Capitan: One of Yosemite's famous rock formations, El Capitan is a granite monolith in the north side of Yosemite Valley, popular for rock climbing.
Giant Sequoias: There are three groves of giant sequoias at Yosemite National Park: Tuolumne Grove, Merced Grove, and Mariposa Grove, the largest and most visited grove of sequoias in the park.
Backpacking - Some visitors enjoy exploring the park by day and staying overnight in the wilderness of the Yosemite Valley. Wilderness permits are required, and a limited number of people are allowed on each trailhead per day.
Biking - Park visitors can enjoy a ride along the paved bike paths to see the many parts of the park in a short time. Bikes can also be rented at the park.
Rock climbing - Many visitors to Yosemite prefer the more extreme way to explore the park, by climbing the granite monoliths like Half Dome and El Capitan.
Fishing - Visitors ages sixteen and up need a license to fish at Yosemite National Park. There are specific regulations for fishing, including the number of fish, types of fish, and seasonal rules.
Water recreation - Many types of water recreation are available at Yosemite's rivers and lakes, including swimming, rafting, and kayaking.
Winter sports - To get the most out of a winter visit to Yosemite, visitors can go cross-country and downhill skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, and snowshoeing.
Horseback riding - Yosemite offers guided horseback riding and mule rides as another way to get around the park.
Art Center and Ansel Adams Gallery - Visitors can view the famous photographs artist Ansel Adams took of the park and other art of Yosemite National Park.