Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of wilderness in California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains. The park features towering waterfalls, prominent cliff faces, giant sequoia groves, and picturesque views. Yosemite averages over 4 million visitors a year making it one of the most visited national parks in the United States. With over 800 miles (1,200 kilometers) of hiking trails, world-renowned rock climbing routes, rafting along the Merced River, and countless winter activities, there is something for everyone. Cycling and touring along scenic drives are also popular activities for enjoying the scenery of Yosemite National Park.
Whether you are looking for an overnight excursion from San Francisco or planning a multi-day adventure, Yosemite National Park is loaded with opportunities that will not let you down. Here are the top reasons to visit Yosemite National Park.
New to camping? Read our Camping Tips: A Beginners Guide to Their First Trip.
Some of the best scenic views in the United States can be found in Yosemite. The natural beauty of Yosemite is so incredible that it sparked one of America’s first conservation movements. The same landscapes that inspired Ansel Adams’ life work over a century ago are now filling up people’s Instagram feeds today.
Some of the must-see vistas to check out when visiting the park are.
Located at the western entrance to Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View is perhaps the most famous panorama in the park. From a car pullout along Highway 41, you will be able to capture Half Dome, El Capitan, and Bridalveil Fall all in one frame.
At the end of Glacier Point Road, you will find one of the most spectacular views in Yosemite. From this high vantage point, one can take in breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and 3 waterfalls. Glacier Point is one of Yosemite’s best locations for stargazing.
Note that Glacier Point Road is open from late May through October.
A favorite spot for those chasing sunsets, Valley View combines the beautiful Merced River as the centerpiece with El Capitan and Cathedral Rock and Spires the background of the frame.
Valley View can be seen from a roadside pullout along Northside Drive just before Pohono Bridge near the South Entrance.
This short trail has some of the best views of Yosemite Falls and other prominent landmarks like Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, and Glacier Point. There is very little elevation gain and most of the time you’ll be walking on boardwalks.
The trailhead is located near Shuttle Stop 6.
Further reading: Visitor Guide to Yosemite National Park
A Hiking Paradise
No matter your level of experience, Yosemite National Park has a hiking trail that is perfect for you. Cutting through the park are over 800 miles (1,200 kilometers) of hiking trails. There are trails that meander through lush meadows, trails that cross over rivers, trails that ascend to mountain top vistas, and trails that get you up close and personal with waterfalls! Simply said, Yosemite National Park is a hiker’s dream destination.
For more detailed information, check out our Top Hikes in Yosemite National Park. But for now, here are a few of our favorite hiking trails.
- The Mist Trail – One of Yosemite’s signature hikes, the Mist Trail brings hikers to two amazing waterfalls, Vernal and Nevada Falls.
- Tuolumne Grove Trail – A great introductory hike for those simply wanting to see big trees. This trail provides access to the second-largest grove of Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.
- Tenaya Lake – Want to feel like you’ve stepped into a postcard? Standing on the shores of Tenaya Lake will give you that feeling. After your hike, relax on a beach surrounded by granite domes and peaks.
Be sure to read our Hiking Boots Guide before buying your next pair of hiking boots.
If you want to get the most of your waterfall experience, it is a must that you visit Yosemite during the springtime when snowmelt generates the most flow from these cascades. What’s also cool about the springtime is you will not have to battle with the crowds that come to Yosemite during the summer months.
Most of the popular waterfalls in Yosemite can be viewed from a roadside pullout or a designated viewpoint. However, a few do require hiking whether it is a short distance on a relatively flat trail or a more rigorous climb up a steep trail.
Here are the waterfalls worth visiting and how you can access them.
Rising 2,425 feet (739 meters) from the valley floor, North America’s tallest waterfall can be viewed from the Lower Falls trail, a 1-mile (1.6 kilometers) loop on mostly paved paths, or by taking on the rigorous 7.2-miles (11.5) kilometers) Upper Falls trail.
Technically, Yosemite Falls consists of three waterfalls: Lower Yosemite Falls, The Middle Cascades, and Upper Yosemite Falls.
Due to its convenient access, Bridalveil Falls is perhaps the most visited waterfall in all of Yosemite. The falls can be seen from Tunnel View and along Wawona Road. From the parking lot, there is a short trail that leads up to the base of the falls. This waterfall is also special because it does not dry up during the summer months.
What makes this waterfall so unique is that you basically take a shower in the spray of the falls as you hike along the famous Mist Trail. Located downstream from Nevada Falls, the area waterfalls boasts a powerful flow of water and is surrounded by green foliage most of the year.
Walk Among Giant Sequoias
Imagine walking among trees that are wide enough to drive a car through. These iconic species of trees are among the rarest, oldest, and largest living organisms in the world.
These massive, ancient giant sequoias can be found in three groves within Yosemite National Park.
- Mariposa Grove – Located near the southern entrance, this grove is home to 500 mature giant sequoias. Visitors have the option to choose from three different hiking trails to view these sequoias.
- Merced Grove – This smaller grove features about two dozen mature giant sequoias. Located on Big Oak Flat Road just east of Big Oak Flat Entrance, this grove is only accessible via a 1.5 mile (2.4 kilometers) hike.
- Tuolumne Grove – The grove has about two dozen mature giant sequoias, including a fallen one you can walk through, that are visible after a one-mile (1.6 kilometers) hike. The grove is located on Tioga Road just east of Crane Flat.
Explore more parks in the United States: 27 Must See Parks in the Western United States
Mecca for Rock Climbing
Known as the birthplace of American rock climbing, Yosemite’s granite walls are among the most famous in the world. Climbers from all over the world have been visiting the Valley for decades to test themselves against the great big wall climbs on El Capitan and Half Dome. In addition to scores of historic routes, Yosemite Valley also has everything from long free climbs to world-class bouldering.
A majority of the climbing routes are found in the Valley and Tuolumne Meadows area, though Wawona and Hetch Hetchy are other less-visited climbing areas. Guided climbing tours are offered by the Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service, the only authorized climbing guides in the park.
Sleep Under the Stars
Camping in Yosemite National Park is one of the best ways to make the most out of your visit. You’ll be able to access all the sites and trails while everyone else is still driving into the park. Plus, you will be laying down at night underneath a canopy of a million stars.
Within Yosemite National Park there are 13 campgrounds. The most popular campgrounds within the park, such as Upper Pines and Camp 4, are reservation-only and book as early as five months in advance. Smaller, lesser-known campgrounds are on first-come-first-served or lottery systems. You can find the complete list of campgrounds here and learn more about backcountry camping here.
Here are a few of our best places to camp in Yosemite National Park.
- North Pines Campground – Located in Yosemite Valley and open from spring through fall, this campground offers views of Merced River and Tenaya Creek. For campers looking to stay right near the water, this is a perfect spot.
- Crane Flat – Located near Tuolumne Grove Trailhead, this campground features stunning views of Yosemite’s gorgeous natural light filtering through the trees. This campsite is unique as it is home to an outdoor amphitheater that features local performers.
- White Wolf – Surrounded by the Sierra Nevada Mountains, this campground is a short distance from Lukens Lake and Harden Lake – perfect for fans of fishing and swimming.
Further reading: Essential Camping Gear Checklist
Yosemite National Park is considered by many to be one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Yosemite’s breathtaking scenery has been wowing visitors even before its inception as a national park in 1890. If you have not yet stepped foot inside this park, be sure to plan a trip and become just one of the 4 million visitors that come to Yosemite every year . Trust us, you will not be disappointed.
Let Under30Experiences handle the logistics of your next camping and hiking adventure on our San Francisco & Yosemite trip.
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