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Yosemite was established as a national park in 1890, following lengthy efforts--by Abraham Lincoln, John Muir, and others--to protect it for the ages. (Photograph by Enrique R. Aguirre Aves, Alamy)
TravelInsider's Guide

A Park Ranger's Guide to Yosemite

Both the solitude of the alpine ridge and the throngs of the valley are part of the experience when you visit Yosemite National Park. “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite,” wrote John Muir, whose crusading led to the creation of the park.

Kari Cobb has been a ranger at the beloved California wonderland—sitting for media interviews, writing and releasing news releases, arranging dignitary visits, and managing special events in the park—for close to a decade.

Here are a few of Kari’s favorite things about mighty Yosemite.

Yosemite Is My National Park

Fall is the best time to visit because the entirety of the park is still open, but there are much fewer people. The animals come down to Yosemite Valley from the higher elevations to escape the cold and the leaves change to golden yellows and bright oranges. People often ask me to name the ideal time to visit the park and my answer always is “it depends what you are looking for while you’re here.” While we receive most of our visitation in the summer, each season has so much to offer. Winter, when the peaks and the valley floor are blanketed in white, is a magical time (though many higher-elevation roads are closed) and spring is when the waterfalls begin to boom, flowers begin to bloom, and the park turns a brilliant green.

My park’s biggest attraction is Yosemite Valley (and rightly so; the valley offers views of 3,000-foot granite cliffs, including El Capitan and Half Dome, and towering waterfalls, including Yosemite, Vernal and Nevada falls), but a visit isn’t complete without seeing Tuolumne Meadows, located at the higher elevation of the park, which offers famous views of meadows filled with wildflowers, rolling domes, and snow-capped peaks all year round.

If I could offer one practical tip for optimizing your visit, it would be to park your car and take the free shuttles around Yosemite. It’s an excellent way to get to the most popular parts of the park while not adding to the traffic during peak times.

My favorite “park secret” is Tuolumne Meadows. It’s under-appreciated, but just as stunning at Yosemite Valley.

Watch out for the park’s black bears and be sure to bring bear-proof containers in which to store your food (they’re provided at most trailheads and campsites within the park) when you come for a visit. Never leave food in your car!

My park is known for its mule deer, black bears, ground squirrels, and coyotes.

For the best view in the park, head to Glacier Point or Tunnel View. Glacier Point offers views into Yosemite’s high-country, as well as views of Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan. Tunnel View offers a sweeping view of Yosemite Vallay, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest.

The best hike in the park is the hike to the top of Half Dome. This hike is a 16-mile roundtrip hike with almost 5,000 feet of elevation gain and loss. However, visitors must have a permit to hike to the top of the dome. For those who would rather motor through Yosemite, the drive around Yosemite Valley is the most popular scenic route.

If you’re up for a physical challenge, try any of our hikes at the higher elevations in the park. They’re a work out no matter how long or far you hike!

To experience the park’s cultural side, visit the Yosemite Valley Museum, which offers insight into the region’s pioneer past and long American Indian history.

If you only have one day to spend in the park, make sure to visit Yosemite Valley, as this is where the most well-known sites are located. However, I must warn you: The park is the size of Rhode Island and simply cannot be viewed all in one day.

If you’re interested in a guided tour, I recommend attending any of the free interpretive tours provided by Yosemite park rangers.

The most peaceful place in the park has to be in Tuolumne Meadows. A less known and less visited area, this is the place where you can really get away from it all.

If you have kids (or are a kid at heart), you won’t want to miss rafting down the Merced River in Yosemite Valley in the summer. Visitors can bring private rafts or rent from the park’s concessioner.

Just outside park boundaries, you can visit some very cute historic gateway communities, including Groveland and Mariposa.

One of the biggest management concerns is protecting park resources while still providing for the enjoyment of four million visitors every year!

In 140 characters or less, the world should heart my park because it’s an icon and an inspiration to the world. Yosemite is the birthplace of the national park idea and is sacred to the American people.