Yosemite National Park has all the elements for a comprehensive outdoor adventure
written by Sheila G. Miller
You’ve seen Ansel Adams’ black-and-white photos. It’s time to bring those views to life.
Yosemite National Park is one of those must-sees on the long list of the U.S.’s glories. At 1,200 square miles, it’ll take more than one trip (or two or three or four) to see it all, but you’ve got to start somewhere, the sooner the better.
The national park, established in 1890, is in the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, a little less than three hours southeast of Sacramento (and closer to Fresno and Merced). It feels a world away from the central valley towns closest to it, thanks to jaw-dropping rock formations, waterfalls and meadows that stand out along each curve in the road.
Yosemite is the third oldest national park in the United States, the result of naturalist John Muir and others lobbying Congress to protect it from grazing animals and other encroachment.
More than 3 million people travel to Yosemite National Park each year, so be prepared for some crowds. But you can get a bit off the beaten path and find nature and solitude. April through October is the most popular time to visit, though the park is open and mostly accessible—some roads will be closed due to snow—during winter.
To get started, you may want to stop into the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center to get more information from rangers. From there, it’s a real game of Choose Your Own Adventure.
If it’s beautiful views you seek, you have many options. Yosemite Valley is home to many famous views, though you should be prepared for traffic. The Tunnel View includes a photo-ready vista of El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome in the background. Or head up Glacier Point Road to get a sweeping view of the valley and Half Dome. For some serious waterfall-viewing, go in the spring during snow runoff. At more than 2,400 feet, Yosemite Falls can be seen from a variety of locations throughout the park. There are many other waterfalls throughout the park worth checking out.
If what you truly desire is to commune with giant trees, Yosemite has you covered there as well. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, in the southern part of the park, has more than 500 trees that stand nearly 300 feet tall and are more than 2,000 years old. The grove is easy to access and there are a range of hikes to see more of the trees, ranging from easy to hard.
Do note that Mariposa Grove is the biggest and most popular—two other groves of Giant Sequoias can be found in lesser-visited parts of the park. Tuolumne Grove is a 1-mile hike to see two dozen trees while Merced Grove requires a 1.5-mile hike to see the two dozen trees (and both hikes back are uphill, so be prepared).
Beyond just looking at the scenery, if you have time in Yosemite you owe it to yourselves to get into it, by camping, fishing, hiking or going on guided tours. With the proper preparation and permit, you can hike Half Dome (this is a 14-mile round-trip, strenuous hike that includes cables along a steep ascent at the end). There are plenty of other hikes that are less intense, including a 5-mile loop around Mirror Lake that provides incredible views of Half Dome. There are also 12 miles of paved bike paths in the park that offer other vantage points for incredible scenery.
When you’re tapped out for the day, there are a variety of hotels and campgrounds inside the park. Certainly the most impressive is the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, built in the 1920s and listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Or grab a canvas tent cabin (heated or unheated) in Half Dome Village. There are plenty of other hotel options in between. As for dining, you’ll find pretty high-quality fare—the dining rooms in the park’s lodges and hotels are your best bet for upscale foods and incredible views. Tenaya Lodge’s Jackalope’s Bar & Grill is also a good option. You’ll find grocery options in strategic locations throughout the park.
Yosemite National Park Eat, Stay, Play
The Mountain Room at Yosemite Valley Lodge
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Jackalope’s Bar & Grill
The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
Half Dome Village
Hiking Half Dome
Checking out the views
Communing with trees
Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
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