Located in east-central California, the Yosemite National Park covers an area of 3,026.87 km2 and reaches across the western slopes of magnificent Sierra Nevada Mountains. The park’s not only large, but it’s also famous, continually attracting visitors from all across the globe – not without reason. With striking waterfalls, crystal streams, giant sequoias, a variety of fauna and flora, thousands of lakes and ponds, Yosemite is a beautiful area. Around 4 million of travelers are visiting Yosemite National Park each year, seeking the air of grandeur, aiming to discover the wilderness, be inspired and moved by the unbelievable splendors. Here are a guide and a list of the best things to do in Yosemite National Park.
History of the Yosemite National Park
For thousands of years, the Yosemite was a home of the Ahwahnechee, Native American tribes. They might have lived in Yosemite Valley for as long as 7 000 years. In the 19th century, when Europeans arrived, they were astonished by the area’s breathtaking landscapes. Not only the views enchanted them though. Because of The California Gold Rush, first non-native settlers searched for gold in the valley. The resources became a cause of conflicts between the native residents and newcomers. In 1851 troops entered Yosemite Valley to end the dispute. Lafayette Bunnell, one of the expedition’s participants, is known as the explorer of Yosemite who later on spread the word about the impressive place, encouraging next discoverers to visit it. Before the Yosemite Valley Railroad was constructed in 1907, visitors had to travel by stagecoach or horseback. There were more people coming to see the famous landscapes, so entrepreneurs noticed an opportunity and soon built houses and lodges.
Over 150 years old, the Yosemite National Park is the first area in the United States to be officially protected by the federal government. In 1864 president Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California and in 1890 it became a national park.
Here is a list of the star attractions of Yosemite National Park:
The Yosemite Valley is not one attraction; it’s a whole series of highlights and surprises. High granite summits, Half Dome and El Capitan, surround the valley adding grandeur and magnificence to the landscape, while the Yosemite falls make it even more picturesque with the dramatic cascades of water falling from a height of 782 meters. Bridalveil Fall, Nevada Fall, and Vernal Fall are scenic too. A spot you definitely shouldn’t miss while visiting Yosemite National Park is the Tunnel View. You can see the valley and Half Dome from there, with the marvelous El Capitan standing proudly on the left and Bridalveil Fall on the right. Tunnel View is a place everyone heads to, so be ready to meet some crowd, unless you get there early in the morning or when it’s already getting dark. Either way, the views are just stunning.
The biggest sequoia grove in the park, Mariposa Grove features several hundred examples of this majestic tree. Grizzly Giant, the oldest one, has probably been growing for over 2000 years. Mariposa Grove is a wondrous place, as soon as you see the trees; you start to feel there’s something special about them, a sparkle of ancient magic and wisdom. Don’t forget to stop by when you’re visiting Yosemite National Park; it’s a definite must-see on the way across the park.
A fantastic spot, the Glacier Point overlooks the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and a part of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. Not far from the Yosemite Valley, it takes one hour of driving to reach the point, but you can also hike (passing some more striking views). It’s places like the Glacier Point that make visiting Yosemite National Park so rewarding. It should be on your list of best things to do in Yosemite National Park.
Scenic open sub-alpine meadow, surrounded by beautiful peaks and domes, offers charming views and lots of activities. It’s a starting point for many hiking trails, including the famous route leading to Mount Lyell, the park’s highest peak. Tuolumne Meadows is often visited not only by hikers but also rock-climbing enthusiasts.
Top things to do in Yosemite National Park
The park offers countless activities for all sorts of visitors. On a quick visit, you can just drive to the most famous spots, like the Glacier Point or Tunnel View mentioned above. If you have a couple of days to spend in the park, here are a few proposals.
Backpacking around Yosemite National Park
Backpacking around the park is a great experience, long walks, camping and all this wilderness to be discovered. For overnight trips, you’ll need a permit. You can use either backpack on your own, or join a guided tour organized by the Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service.
The simplest and fastest way of getting around the park is driving. Not all points can be accessed by car, but if you combine driving with a bit of walking and hiking, you’ll get to see a lot. A drive from Crane Flat to Tioga Pass, along with the Tioga Road, is among the most stunning routes. Many places can be reached relatively fast from the Yosemite Valley, like the Crane Flat (a lovely meadow area with woods and bears) or Hetch Hetchy (a gorgeous valley).
The Yosemite National Park is a paradise for hikers, with a variety of trails and footpaths. Day hikers do not need permits, only climbing Half Dome Summit requires one. Many trails are closed during the winter, because of the snow and hard weather conditions, but you can enjoy hiking in the spring, summer and most of the autumn. Both short and long trails are available, so choose the right one according to your fitness.
Many of those visiting the Yosemite National Park come to the park for this exact reason, to climb the spectacular rocks. The Yosemite Mountaineering School offers guide services and instructions, so you may contact them before deciding where and how to climb. You can bivouac on the summits, but not at the base of walls in Yosemite Valley. Permits are not required, with one exception: Half Dome. You can only camp at its base if you have a wilderness permit, camping on the summit is prohibited.
Swimming is allowed in most of lakes and rivers across the park. The most popular place to take a dip is the Merced River, with sandy beaches and lovely surroundings. Be careful though, currents and cold water make swimming in the river rather venturesome. The peaceful waters of Tenaya Lake, on the other hand, offer a great possibility to relax in a kayak quietly. Rafting and boating on the Merced and Tuolumne Rivers are also fabulous ways of spending time.
Cross-country skiing and snowshoeing are possible from December to March (usually, but you should always check how’s the weather before going to the park). In the Badger Pass ski area, you can also practice skiing and snowboarding. In the Curry Village, there’s an outdoor ice skating rink. As for the equipment, you can rent skis, snowboards, and snowshoes at the Badger Pass. There’s also a store in the area of Crane Flat renting snowshoes.
Where to stay
The Yosemite National Park is a trendy tourist destination with a broad range of accommodations, hence whatever your preferences are, and you’ll most likely find the right place to stay. Plenty of options are available, from simple cabins to luxurious hotels. Fancy rooms, cozy hostels, private vacation rentals, it’s all there. For adventurous travelers, the park features 13 camping sites. For those even more adventurous, looking for some unique experiences, overnight hiking is a good alternative, but keep in mind you’ll need a wilderness permit.