Things to do in Yosemite National Park, CA

More About Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is located in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of central California, about a 4 hour drive from the San Francisco Bay region and about 6-7 hours from the Los Angeles area.  It is one of the world’s first national parks and draws 4 million visitors a year from all over the planet. Most visitors head to Yosemite Valley, a deep granite canyon with a collection of stunning landscape features.  El Capitan is a 3000’ vertical face, renowned among the world’s rock climbers.  Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America and among the top ten globally.  Half Dome is an immense granite structure that looks just like its name; a popular trail to the top is one of the earth’s classic hiking challenges.  These elements are surrounded by numerous other waterfalls, forests, cliffs, domes and spires- enough to keep a photographer busy for a lifetime (Ansel Adams, for example).  On their own, each of these geographic jewels would be an astounding landmark, but together they comprise a rich hoard of visual treasures. Start an exploration at a park Visitor Center where the excellent ranger staff can help plan your time.  Popular walks in Yosemite Valley include the base of Lower Yosemite Falls (320’ tall), to Mirror Lake (a grand place for reflection) and up the river gorge along the Mist Trail to Vernal Fall (drenching during spring runoff).  Each of these is within the reach of the reasonably fit.  More athletic sorts might try the top of Yosemite Falls, Nevada Fall or the Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point.  One can drive or take a tour bus to Glacier Point as well.  The mountain view from there is considered among the most remarkable in the national park system.  Those less inclined to walk much can see most of the Valley from the car window or a parking place.  Beyond Yosemite Valley are over a thousand square miles of designated Wilderness – a vast gift for those who want to unplug and get away on 800 miles of trail for day-hiking or backpacking.   Two major rivers, the Tuolumne and the Merced start in alpine glacial basins well above treeline and descend mighty canyons to the Sierra foothills.  This is the terrain that inspired famed naturalist John Muir.  The Tioga Road is open in the summertime and bisects the park east-west.  It allows access to numerous high country hiking trails, crystalline lakes, peaks and climbing areas –places to cool off during the heat of summer.  Tuolumne Meadows is a summer destination for many visitors, with an extensive campground and lodge, ranger programs and iconic alpine scenery.  Tioga Pass is the highest highway pass in California (10,000’) and offers access to the saline Mono Lake and its volcanic desert.  The park also has three groves of Giant Sequoia trees, the largest living things on earth.  The Mariposa Grove is the best known – it and Yosemite Valley were preserved by the U.S. even before Yellowstone was.  A stroll beneath these ancient giants is an experience of primeval beauty.  There are many campgrounds and lodges within the park and in gateway communities; these book up well before the busy summer season.  The park is open all year, though the higher elevations are closed to vehicles in the winter due to considerable snow accumulation.  Many people prefer to come for winter snowshoeing and skiing to avoid summer crowds.  See for official park information.

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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.