Konnichi wa / Great Outdoors / Spring 2019
Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
Where to eat, where to stay, and what to do in America's iconic park
Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest in America's national park system, established in 1890. It is known throughout the world as one of the most spectacular preserved areas of the western United States and perhaps North America, with a variety of natural features, including towering granite cliffs, thundering waterfalls, bubbling streams, giant sequoia trees, mountains, lakes and a vast range of plant and animal life. The park is so large and experiences such a high density of visitors from around the country and the world that you will need a few tips about the best ways to arrange your visit to make the most of your time there.
Things to do in Yosemite
Visitors to Yosemite National Park can enjoy a variety of activities, such as art related to the park, Native American cultural exhibits, films and ranger programs, along with hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and rafting. Here are more of the most notable activities you should be sure to work into your schedule during the next time you visit Yosemite:
This sheer granite monolith rises 3,000 feet from the valley floor and is the site of numerous climbers that come to Yosemite to scale its height. If you want to watch the climbers make their precarious way up the face of El Cap, stop at the meadow across from it on Northside Drive. Rangers often set up telescopes for better viewing, or you can bring a pair of high-powered binoculars.
The grove of giant sequoia trees is one of the most popular features of the park, and for a good reason. These big trees only grow in the California mountain areas. Additional sequoia groves are available for viewing within the park limits.
Ansel Adams Gallery
This famous photographer of the American West captured many of Yosemite's landscapes on film and made them the most familiar images of the nation's spectacular natural features. This gallery offers a comprehensive look at Adams work within the park.
How to Get Around
The trip from San Francisco to Yosemite takes about 3 hours (without traffic).
Traffic in Yosemite National Park can be a problem, especially on weekends, so try to arrive early.
Parking areas are scattered throughout the park, with opportunities to leave your vehicle and walk to special attractions in the valley and at higher elevations.
In addition, Yosemite National Park operates a shuttle bus system that travels to various areas within the park limits. The buses can be very full on the weekends, and even on weekdays during peak season (June through August).
Otherwise, you may have to jockey for a parking spot, and larger RVs may be at a disadvantage finding a space at many desirable sites.
Where to Eat
Visitors can enjoy a number of spots to get a bite during their visit.
Yosemite Valley has a store, Yosemite Village Store, that offers a comprehensive selection of food items, from fruit and vegetables to fresh meat, along with water, beverages, snacks, t-shirts, jackets and souvenir items.
The Yosemite Grill offers fast food breakfasts, lunches and dinners, which makes it easy to grab a quick bite before returning to the park.
Where to Stay
You should reserve your lodging well in advance as many people find that they must book their rooms up to a year ahead of their planned visit.
Some of the campgrounds do not take reservations, operating on a "first-come, first-served" basis, so you should arrive early in the day to ensure getting a space.
Backcountry camping permits are required year-round for overnight stays and are available through the NPS website.
Accommodations are also available outside the park; of those, we recommend the Chateau du Sureau for high-end travel, Homestead Cottages for a more rustic feel, or the Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn for a classic stay.
As you ascend to higher elevations during your visit, you may experience a wide range of temperatures.
Layering your clothing is the best way to manage these temperature changes.
Bring sturdy, comfortable shoes - we specifically recommend trail running shoes - because you will do a lot of walking on trails to get from parking lots to activities.
In hot weather, carry water at all times to ensure you are properly hydrated.
Read the description of hiking trails carefully to choose the right ones for your level of ability.
A number of areas of Yosemite are wheelchair accessible.
There's also the Four Mile Trail from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. The trail begins at the base of Sentinel Rock, about 0.7 miles northwest of Sentinel Dome, and offers excellent views of El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. The second half of the trail offers views of Half Dome and Tenaya Canyon before reaching Glacier Point.
If you want a better view of Tenaya Canyon, you can take the Olmsted Point trail just off of Tioga Road that runs through Tioga Pass. The short trail rises about 100 ft. over the course of 0.25 miles round trip.
Enjoying the beauty and serenity
You will need several days to enjoy all the park has to offer.
Ideally, you should plan your visit to leave plenty of time for enjoying the views or taking pictures of the magnificent scenery that you will find all around you.
Particularly on weekends, many other visitors to the park will accompany you on the hiking trails and in the park's many facilities. You may begin to feel that your visit is being spoiled by the presence of so much humanity packed into such a beautiful natural setting. However, you can always get away from the crowds by taking some of the less traveled paths and longer trails.
You don't have to follow each trail its full length or scramble over difficult terrain. You can just go far enough into the landscape to escape other park visitors and enjoy the solitude and serenity. You can then return back to the trailhead refreshed and invigorated.
A recent study found that Yosemite National Park was the third most popular national park in the United States, welcoming over 3,800,000 people each year. With these tips, you will be able to navigate the park to make your visit one of the most enjoyable vacations of your life. It's a trip you must check off your bucket list.
For more on Yosemite, check out our article on the best time to visit, this incredible guide and map for hiking Yosemite's many trails, or watch Alex Honnold try to free solo (rock climb without any ropes) El Capitan.
Looking for more on things to do in Yosemite and other national parks in the U.S.? Try these:
- Things to Do in Maine: Acadia National Park Camping & Other Activities
- Grand Teton National Park Camping & Other Weekend Getaways
- Backpacking Checklist: Essential Items for Adventure
- Best National Parks in California & Beyond
- National Parks near Las Vegas, Nevada
- Valley of Fire State Park: The Complete Guide
- Hiking Boots: Why You Don't Need Them and What to Buy Instead
“The mountains are calling and I must go.”
— John Muir