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Yosemite National Park | Ultimate guide

Updated: Dec 12, 2022


Yosemite is one of the first National Parks I visited and It will always have a special place in my heart. (Actually, my first ever blog post was about our first trip to Yosemite)


 

Table of Contents


  • Driving to the park

  • Fees & Passes

  • Ahwanhee

  • Yosemite Valley Lodge

  • Curry Village

  • Upper Pines Campground

  • Wawona Campground

  • Bridalveil Creek Campground

  • Mariposa

  • Tunnel View Overlook

  • Bridalveil Fall

  • Sentinel Bridge

  • Cook’s Meadow

  • Glacier Point

  • Yosemite Falls

  • Mariposa Grove

  • Mirror Lake

  • Valley Loop Trail

  • Yosemite Falls

  • Mist Trail

  • Taft Point

  • Half Dome

  • Winter

  • Spring

  • Summer

  • Fall

 

History of the Park

The beauty and wonder of Yosemite has inspired people for centuries from the Miwok peoples who originally lived in the area to the later settlers who ultimately displaced them.

The name Yosemite derives from the Miwok word for grizzly bear, but it is not entirely clear how the area became known as Yosemite. The stunning canyons, waterfalls. granite domes and majestic sequoias enraptured visitors, including John Muir, who was so overwhelmed by Yosemite and the Sierras that his writings of the area captivated the country. Even presidents were no match for its charms.

Yosemite became the third national park in the United States in 1890 after Yellowstone (1872) and Sequoia (1890), however land was set aside in the area as early as 1864 when President Lincoln protected two areas called the Yosemite Grant.

Yosemite attracts approximately 3.3 million visitors a year to view its natural wonders, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove and many others.

 

Getting to Yosemite National Park


Yosemite National Park is a popular landmark located in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains.


Driving to the park

Yosemite National Park is approximately:

  • 3,5h from Sacramento

  • 3h from San Francisco

  • 50min from Fresno

  • 6h from San Diego


Fees & Passes

  • Entrance fee for Non-commercial cars is $35.00 and this fee is valid for seven days.

  • Yosemite Annual Pass - $70.00

  • If you have National Parks Pass it covers park entrance fees (but not reservation fees or requirements).











For more details check out National Park Service website - Fees & Passes

 

Places to Stay


Ahwanhee

The historic Ahwhanee has operated as a hotel in Yosemite Valley since 1927 and has hosted presidents, monarchs and movies stars. This is the most expensive place to stay in the park and is a great choice for those looking for a premium travel experience to the park.


Yosemite Valley Lodge

Located in Yosemite Valley, 'the Lodge' was built in the 1930s and is a perfect spot for those looking for a hotel in Yosemite Valley that is (slightly) more affordable than the Ahwanhee. Rooms are approximately $300 a night compared to $500 at the Ahwanhee. The Lodge is steps away from the Yosemite Falls trailhead and the visitor's center.



Curry Village

Named after David Curry and Jenny Foster aka Mother Curry who opened a tent camp for $2 a night in 1899 in Yosemite Valley…prices have gone up a bit since then. Expect to spend around $200 per night.

Curry Village offers heated and unheated tent cabins and is open from March to New Years. I recently stayed in a heated tent and it was quite toasty despite the chilly temperatures outside. While it is the largest facility in Yosemite, it sells out so make sure you book well in advance.



Upper Pines Campground

This is a popular campground in Yosemite Valley with 235 sites that can accommodate RVs as well. Open year round this campsite is the largest campsite in Yosemite Valley. As with all the campgrounds in Yosemite, make sure you reserve a spot well in advance.

Wawona Campground

A great campsite in the southern part of Yosemite National Park, it is a 45-minute drive to Yosemite Valley. It is a great option for those who want to stay near the Mariposa Grove.

Bridalveil Creek Campground

This is the only campground on Glacier Point Road and has 115 sites for those wishing to stay near Glacier Point. This campground is also approximately 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley. Closed for the 2022 season for improvements, this campground is scheduled to reopen in 2023.

Mariposa

For those unable to snag a campsite or prefer to stay in a hotel, there are several small towns outside the park. We’ve stayed in Mariposa several times and it approximately an hour away from Yosemite Valley. There is usually a lot of traffic leaving Yosemite Valley in the evening so it can take quite a while to leave. To avoid the getting stuck when leaving the park try to park at the visitor’s center. The road through the valley is one way so this puts you closer to the exit.

 

Viewpoints



Tunnel View Overlook

The iconic spot along Wawona Road provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan and Half Dome. It is best to arrive early to get a parking in the small parking lot and to avoid the crowds.


Bridalveil Fall

This waterfall is appropriately named because the mist looks like a veil when winds blow the mist sideways. Bridalveil Fall is a very short (only 0.5mi round trip) walk which takes you to the base of the waterfall.


*The trail is closed due to the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project, but it's planned to reopen soon.

Sentinel Bridge

This bridge is well known for the view of Half Dome with its reflection in in the Merced River. From the bridge it is also possible to see Yosemite Falls. There is a small parking area near the bridge and also free Yosemite Valley shuttle stop #11.


Cook’s Meadow

The Cook's Meadow Loop trail crosses Sentinel Bridge halfway through the hike. It's a short easy walk (2.0 mi loop) offering great views of some of the most famous Yosemite sights.

Glacier Point

Offers spectacular views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, and the High Sierra, which is accessible via the Glacier Point Road, which is closed in wintertime past the Badger Pass Ski Area. The road was closed for all 2022 for repairs and should reopen for the 2023 season.

Yosemite Falls

Made up of three separate waterfalls (upper, middle and lower), Yosemite Falls is the 5th highest waterfall in the world. A hike to the top results in spectacular views of Yosemite Valley below...not to mention getting up close with the waterfalls on the way up. The best time to visit is in late spring when the waterfalls are at their peak. Walk to a lower Yosemite is about 1.2 miles (loop).

 

Hikes


Mariposa Grove

Featuring over 500 sequoias, this grove represents the first time a section of land was protected by President Lincoln in 1864 to preserve its natural beauty for future generations.

  • Open year round there is a shuttle that operates in the summer from the parking lot at the visitor center to the grove.

  • In winter, you’ll have to walk, but you are rewarded with fewer crowds and the sequoias shrouded in snow.

  • Don’t forget to check out the Grizzly Giant, which is estimated to be 3,000 years old as you walk through the trees that sparked the idea that became the national park system.

*Keep in mind the grove is about an hour from Yosemite Valley and some sections of trails are closed due to the Washburn Fire (Jul 7, 2022 – Aug 4, 2022) that impacted the area.



Mirror Lake

A relatively short hike, this area offers great views of Half Dome from its base, which is reflected off the surface of the lake, which is where it got its name.


Valley Loop Trail

Valley Loop Trail is about 6mi loop easy trail which offers great views of El Capitan and the valley.


Yosemite Falls

Hiking the Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls Trails begins in the valley near Camp 4. The entire trail is about 7.2 miles round trip and ascends 1,000 feet in the first mile and 2,700 feet overall. Reach the top and you will get awesome views of the valley below and Yosemite Falls.

If you're hiking Yosemite Falls Trail in winter the trail can be very icy and slippery, or buried beneath the snow, making traction difficult. The park requires you to use winter traction devices for your hiking boots like microspikes or crampons depending on the current trail conditions.


Mist Trail

A 3-mile hike to Vernal Falls and a 7-mile hike to Nevada Falls (both roundtrip), this trail gets you up close to both falls and the spray creates the mist that gives the trail its name. Best hiked in the spring when the waterfalls are at their peak. Continue past Nevada Falls to get to Half Dome, which is a shorter distance than taking the John Muir Trail.


Taft Point

This is 2.3-mile out-and-back trail which offers amazing valley views. Try to go for the sunset and take lots of pictures.


Half Dome

Rising 5,000 feet over Yosemite Valley, this granite rock formation is instantly recognizable. Accessible via a 14–16-mile hike featuring a 4,800-foot elevation gain and metal cables for the final ascent this is a challenging hike that is extremely popular.


A permit is required, which you get by entering a lottery run by the National Park Service. You can start your hike to Half Dome from the Mist Trail or the longer John Muir Trail.


 

Best times to visit Yosemite National Park


Yosemite is great to visit in any season of the year. Here are some tips so you can decide the best time for your visit:


Winter

  • Winter and early spring are the low season for the park, so you will find it less crowded than in the summer.

  • November to February – provides opportunities for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at the Badger Pass Ski Area or Badger Pass.

  • The park also sets up an ice-skating rink near Curry Village, which offers a unique opportunity to ice skate while looking up at Half Dome.

  • Keep in mind the roads are often snowy and it is important to check out the park’s website for potential road closures. All vehicles are required to bring tire chains whether you end up using them or not.

  • The road to Glacier Point is closed in winter and the shuttles in Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove don’t operate.

  • You will find more crowds in February, as people go to the park for the annual ‘Firefall’. This phenomenon occurs only in February when the setting sun illuminates Horsetail Falls making it appear to be on fire. Southside Drive and the El Capitan Picnic Area are the best places to view the affect.

Spring

  • May and June are great months to visit as the waterfalls are at their highest level due to the melting snow.

Summer

  • July and August - the snow has melted and the wildflowers have emerged and you’ll find the entire park open for exploration. The excellent weather brings the crowds as this is the busiest season in Yosemite.

Fall

  • September to October is a great time to visit as most of the park remains accessible with fewer visitors. This can extend into early November depending on the year and when the snow starts accumulating in the park. However, the waterfalls are at their lowest levels at this time of year.


 

I hope you find these tips useful in planning your own adventure to Yosemite National Park! There are so many places to explore and every time I visit it makes me want to go back for more! Safe travels, happy adventures and I'll see you on the trail!

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