What to Do at Yosemite
Scenic Glacier Point Road features views of the domes and glacial troughs of the High Sierra. The route takes about an hour to drive. For current road conditions, visit www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/conditions.htm.
Take a hike through the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias along one of three loops, which range in length from 1.6 to 6.9 miles. These paths weave through groves of soaring sequoia trees. The Wawona Point loop (five miles) brings you to the famous California Tunnel Tree.
Advanced hikers should consider tackling the 7.2-mile round-trip Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, one of the park's earliest hiking trails (created in the 1870s). The trail travels to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in the United States.
Yosemite National Park offers free walking photography tours. For more information, go to www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/guide.htm.
Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Services offers a daily beginner “Go Climb a Rock” course as well as multi-day ascents of El Capitan. For class schedules and more information, visit www.yosemitepark.com/Activities_RockClimbing.aspx.
The Tioga Road is the most popular drive in Yosemite National Park. Approximately 48 miles in length, it is the highest route in the region, peaking at 9,945 feet at Tioga Pass. Tioga Road winds past dramatic peaks, grassy meadows, and clear-water creeks, and offers travelers glimpses of the park's abundant wildlife. Detours lead to other Yosemite attractions, including White Wolf, Siesta Lake, and the Red Fir Forest.
Beginner: Bridalveil Fall is a 0.5-mile round-trip hike along a paved path that takes you to the slender 620-foot-high Bridalveil Fall.
Great views of Half Dome, Royal Arches, Yosemite Falls, and Glacier Point are a feature of the Cooks Meadow Loop, a mile-long path that is wheelchair accessible.
The trail to Mirror Lake offers two options: a 2.5-mile path to the lake and back, or a five-mile loop around the lake. A portion of the five-mile loop has been closed due to a rockfall, but visitors can still take the trail to Mirror Lake and 1.5 miles beyond. The 2.5-mile route is paved and wheelchair accessible, and is a popular route for spotting wildlife.
Intermediate: The 2.2-mile (3.5-kilometer) Sentinel Dome Trail at Glacier Point winds through broad meadows and along streams to the top of Yosemite Valley, which offers an ideal vantage point for panoramic photographs.
Wapama Falls is a scenic five-mile (eight-kilometer) hike that passes a series of waterfalls and tributaries on its way to the base of Wapama Falls. The trek usually takes about two hours.
Advanced: The 12.7-mile Ostrander Lake Trail travels through meadows, pine forests, and mountain passes in the Clark Range on its way to Ostrander Lake. The round-trip journey takes eight to ten hours to complete.
Four Mile Trail starts by the base of Sentinel Rock and ascends to the summit of Yosemite Valley at Glacier Point. The round-trip hike is actually 9.6 miles and climbs to an elevation of 7,214 feet. Total elevation gain on the trail is 3,200 feet.
More than 80 species of mammals live in Yosemite National Park, including mountain lions, black bears, mule deer, and marmots. More than 200 species of birds reside in the park, headlined by bald eagles and great gray owls. The park’s 1,500 flora species range from pink-and-white shooting-star flowers to giant sequoias and California black oaks. Yosemite also is home to more than 15 threatened and endangered species, including the Sierra Nevada red fox, willow flycatcher, peregrine falcon—and the Yosemite onion.
Yosemite is a photographer’s dream. Ansel Adams famously captured the essence of the park in many moody landscape photos. Photographers should keep in mind that the best photographs are usually taken in the early morning and late afternoon to early evening, when the lighting creates interesting tones over the landscape. You may want to consider photographing in the winter season as well. The park offers a wide variety of locations at which to get great shots. Here are some of the more popular ones:
Tuolumne Grove is the place to photograph giant sequoias rising above much smaller sugar pines, white firs, and incense cedars. The 2.5-mile trail to the grove is an old carriage road from the 1870s. The trail and the grove provide ample opportunities to spot wildlife.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in the United States, cascading 2,425 vertical feet. Mist-formed rainbows often appear by the falls, offering an element of magic to photographers. The falls are reachable by a short trail—or the free Yosemite Valley Shuttle.
Valley View offers up the classic vista of Yosemite Valley, encompassing El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Sentinel Rock, Bridalveil Fall, and Bridalveil Meadow.
- Nat Geo Expeditions
Smart Traveler Strategies
If you’re interested in seeing the park in a different light, take the Yosemite Valley Moonlight Tour, which showcases Yosemite favorites—El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall—under the light of a full moon. The tour meets at the entrance to Yosemite Lodge at the Falls on full-moon nights. Those riding the park shuttle should get off at stop number 8.
Take advantage of the park’s free transportation services. Shuttles operate in Yosemite Valley, Mariposa Grove, Badger Pass, and other parts of the park. Free buses transport hikers up to numerous high trailheads so they can enjoy a one-way descent. For more information, visit www.yosemitepark.com/public-transportation.aspx.
Yosemite offers a variety of family-geared activities. Adults who plan to hike an advanced trail can enroll the kids in a Junior Ranger Program. The park features concerts, historical performances, and other public programs. For details, check www.yosemitepark.com/Activities_ParksKids.aspx.
Excursions Outside the Park
Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, 150 miles south of Yosemite, offer more grand landscapes, from vast canyons to tracts of towering sequoia redwoods.
For a more urban experience, drive four hours west to San Francisco. Information on the city's activities and attractions are available at www.onlyinsanfrancisco.com.
A day trip to Mono Lake Tufa State Reserve takes you to one of the more unusual landscapes in the country. A high desert lake, Mono Lake is known for its salinity—caused in no small measure by the draining of its waters for human uses—and its tufa formations. The reserve lies two hours east of Yosemite Valley and a half hour east of Tuolumne Meadows.