Things to do in Yosemite National Park, CA

Get Your Bearings in Yosemite National Park

By Pete Devine
Yosemite National Park Expert

See & Do

Things to See

The outdoor enthusiast will be most delighted by everything Yosemite, twelve months a year.  The east end of Yosemite Valley is where most visitors concentrate their time - for good reason: the scenery is grand wherever you turn.  You'll find attractions like Half Dome, Glacier Point and Yosemite Falls surrounding you.  Don't neglect a drive to the giant sequoia trees.  If you come in the summertime, the high country of Tuolumne Meadows is remarkable.

Take It or Leave It:

If you're going to Sequoia National Park, you can skip Yosemite's big trees.

Hot Tips:

Start your day before 8 a.m. and you'll avoid the crowds.

Where to Stay

You'll find a full range of places to lay your head for a Yosemite visit.  At one end of the spectrum are the Ahwahnee and the Chateau du Sureau, while the other extreme might be sleeping in your tent in the vast silence of Yosemite's backcountry.  Either way, the smart visitor accounts for Yosemite's great popularity and plans well ahead.  No matter how you go, it's what's outside your lodgings that counts. 


Many facilities in the park are seasonal.

Take It or Leave It:

Many people stay in nice lodgings outside the park, but then have a long drive in.

What to Eat

Restaurants should not be the reason you make a visit to this grand natural landscape, but you can still find very convenient, world-class options.  Erna's Elderberry House and The Ahwahnee satisfy the most discriminating palates.  Degnan's Deli or the Pizza Deck at Curry Village provide ample fare that's family-friendly and simple.  In Yosemite, a picnic lunch on the trail can provide the best dining room on earth. 


Do not leave any food in your car; this is bear country.

Take It or Leave It:

Gateway towns include adequate fast food establishments.

Be Sure to Sample:

Breakfast at The Ahwahnee.

Places to Party

Expect a different pace for nighttime Yosemite enjoyment than what you'd find in a city.  Bars and clubs are quite limited, but bears and cubs could be anywhere.  Evening ranger programs are a great American tradition.  Summer stargazing at Glacier Point is out of this world.  Step away from the bright lights and enjoy the natural nocturnal delights of Yosemite.


A long, winding drive at night, to lodgings outside the park.

Take It or Leave It:

Bars in the park are only moderately lively.

Hot Tips:

Go to a Yosemite Theater presentation. They're fantastic!

Where to Shop

Some truly unique and wonderful souvenirs can be had in Yosemite, but few would consider the park a shopping destination.  Visitor Center bookstores are great resources for maps, John Muir books and postcards.  The Ansel Adams Gallery features masterful photography from Ansel and many others.  The Mountain Shop can fully outfit you for any outdoor adventure (especially climbing).  Concession gift shops are abundant with everything from the tacky to the artful. 


Expect slightly higher prices in this remote locale.


Spending too much of your Yosemite time indoors!

Hot Tips:

Ask about seasonal sales on outdoor gear, rental skis and clothing.

Best Local Souvenir:

"I made it to the top" Half Dome t-shirts.

Yosemite National Park is known for...

Five of Yosemite National Park's most unique features and characteristics.

1. Rock climbing:

The 3000' granite walls of Yosemite Valley are a mecca for climbers from around the world.  Predictable weather, easy access to hundreds of routes, big walls that last for days, a strong climbing community, a tradition of boldness and innovation, and reliably solid rock combine to make Yosemite a nexus for this sport.  In summer, climbing shifts uphill to the cooler domes in the Tuolumne Meadows area - world class in its own right.  Even if you don't climb, it's fun to watch men and women challenge themselves on miles of vertical terrain.

2. National park preservation:

Many scholars see Yosemite as the start of America's (therefore the world's) system of national parks.  Eight years before Yellowstone was made a national park, the US Congress and President Lincoln protected Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove.  The idea of preserving these places for all time, for all people - simply because they are beautiful - was a first.  In 1984 almost all of Yosemite National Park was further protected by Congress as designated Wilderness.  It was also granted World Heritage Site status in 1984, partly because of its history in anchoring "America's best idea." 

3. Popularity:

Yosemite gets about 4 million visitors a year, and can be quite crowded at times.  About 70% of visitors are Californians, while 20% are from other countries. Just 10% come from the other 49 states.  One in five visitors comimg from overseas is a remarkable testament to Yosemite's global significance. 


4. Giant sequoia trees:

Sequoias are the largest things that have ever lived on earth; bigger than whales or dinosaurs. They can grow over 300' tall, and can live more than 3,000 years.  They only grow naturally on the western slope of the Sierra.  The impressive Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias was part of reason for initially preserving Yosemite 150 years ago.  President Roosevelt camped in the Mariposa Grove with John Muir in 1903.  There are two other stands of sequoias in Yosemite: the Tuolumne and Merced Groves, north of Yosemite Valley. 


5. Yosemite Valley:

Most people equate Yosemite National Park with Yosemite Valley, though the Valley comprises only about 1% of Yosemite National Park's 1,200 square miles.  The Valley's east end concentrates an astounding collection of landmarks that make it worthwhile as a main attraction. You'll find Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Royal Arches, Glacier Point, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Cooks Meadow and Mirror Lake all virtually within sight of each other.  Despite this proximity, one could spend their whole vacation exploring these few square miles of incredible landscape.