Here’s Your Ultimate Guide To Visiting Yosemite

Take five days to explore and enjoy this magnificent valley surrounded by soaring granite cliffs in California’s Sierra Nevada range.

Soak in the spray of thunderous waterfalls cascading down towering gray mountains and bask in the fiery glow of Half Dome, an immense charcoal rock burnished to a blazing orange by the setting sun. Here is all the information you need for your unforgettable Yosemite getaway.

HISTORY

Yosemite
Yosemite Valley. Photo cred: Photo by Robby McCullough on Unsplash

Native Americans have lived in and around Yosemite Valley since the end of the Ice Age. When the California Gold Rush began in 1848, thousands of miners, ranchers and homesteaders descended on Yosemite in search of gold and property and invaded native Ahwahneechee land, taking food and territory. In 1851, a volunteer militia called the Mariposa Battalion forced the Ahwahneechee away from Yosemite Valley by burning their villages and driving them onto reservations.

Congress established Yosemite as the nation’s third national park in 1890 after naturalist and wilderness activist John Muir campaigned for government protection. Today, Native American tribes steward Yosemite land, share ecological knowledge with park administrators and collaborate with the National Park Service and Yosemite Conservancy to care for the environment.

BEST TIME TO VISIT

Come to Yosemite in May or September for pleasant temperatures and few visitors. If you’re planning on a summer trip, however, be prepared for crowded trails and an expensive hotel stay. Plan your summer vacation in advance and book your hotel room or campsite early to guarantee you get your desired place to stay.

HOW TO GET THERE

Fly into the Merced Airport and rent a car for a 2 hour drive to Yosemite Valley. If you prefer public transit, take advantage of the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System and hop on a bus that will take you from the Merced Airport to the park.

From San Francisco, the drive eastbound is approximately 3 hours.

SEE / DO

El Capitán

A monstrous granite precipice that stands over 3,000 feet tall, the giant gray slab of stone known as El Capitan towers high above Yosemite Valley. For the best view of the enormous rock formation, stop at a turnout along Bridalveil Straight. If you’re a rock climber looking to scale El Capitan’s formidable face, head to the Yosemite Mountaineering School for a guided climb that lasts six days and costs $7,000. The Yosemite Mountaineering School also offers a variety of equipment rentals, including: sleeping bags, climbing helmets, crampons and alpine ice axes. Gear is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

El Capitán
El Capitán. Photo cred: Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

Half Dome

Half Dome
Half Dome. Photo cred: Photo by Madhu Shesharam on Unsplash

Bathed in soft light, Half Dome is a majestic gray peak swathed in wispy white clouds. An imposing granite stone that looks like it was sliced in two, Half Dome’s sheer face sparkles in the shimmer of the sun’s golden glow, tempting hikers to brave the climb to the summit. Conquering this mammoth is no small feat: set aside at least 10 hours to hike 14 miles to Half Dome and back and be prepared to navigate a system of metal cables on the steep, strenuous ascent to the top.

Half Dome hikers need one of two permits. If you plan on a day hike, apply for a permit during either the preseason or daily lottery. The preseason application period is from March 1 through March 31, and the non-refundable application fee is $10. You will pay an additional $10 upon receiving the permit. If you are a backpacker, apply for a $10 Half Dome hiking permit with your wilderness permit reservation. Permits are also available daily by lottery at recreation.gov throughout the hiking season.

Bridalveil Falls

A creamy curtain of whitewater tumbling over an enormous cliff that scrapes the cloud-wreathed sky, Bridalveil Falls is one of Yosemite’s classic attractions. Known for its light, airy mist, this thin cascade of snow-white foam falls 620 feet and collides with jagged rocks below. The 0.5 mile trail to Bridalveil Falls is currently closed due to the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project, a venture designed to reduce congestion and improve accessibility. Construction is scheduled to end in fall 2022.

Bridalveil Falls
Bridalveil Falls. Photo cred: Photo by 1Cor1031 on Pixabay

Mirror Lake

Peer into this magnificent lake surrounded by dark green trees and mighty mountains and see the majesty of the landscape reflected on its surface. To access Mirror Lake Trail, begin at the shuttle stop at the beginning of Mirror Lake Road and follow the paved walkway to the loop trail. If you’re visiting in the winter, be prepared for the trail to be icy and slick. Bring your own drinking water and keep in mind that bicycles, strollers and leashed pets are only permitted on the first paved mile of the trail.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake. Photo cred: Photo by 12019 on Pixabay

EAT

Ahwahnee Dining Room

1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

An upscale dining experience, the Ahwahnee Dining Room offers a plethora of dishes to choose from, including: smoked salmon toast for breakfast, seafood pasta for lunch and roasted prime rib for dinner. Sample the Purple Haze Cheesecake if you’re craving goat cheese with a citrus-fig compote and candied pecans. The dress code is casual for breakfast, brunch and lunch but plan on dressing formally if you come for the dinner buffet, which costs $59 per adult and $29.50 per child.

Ahwahnee Dining Room
Ahwahnee Dining Room. Photo by The Ahwahnee on Facebook

Degnan’s Kitchen

9015 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

A classic deli with sandwiches, pizza and espresso, Degnan’s Kitchen boasts a variety of meals with vegetarian options available. Head upstairs to The Loft at Degnan’s to sample loaded macaroni and cheese, ribs or beef brisket. Dig into a tasty barbecue nacho appetizer or munch on some tossed chicken wings at this sports bar-style restaurant.

Base Camp Eatery

9006 Yosemite Lodge Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Base Camp Eatery
PHOTO travelyosemite.com

A casual dining option found near Yosemite Valley Lodge, the cafeteria-style Base Camp Eatery offers a range of dishes to choose from. Like a food court, there are three stations at Base Camp Eatery, each with its own unique cuisine. Try a spicy ahi tuna bowl at Big Wall Poke, a grilled chicken sandwich at Base Camp Grill or herbed lamb meat balls and a quinoa grain mix from Meadow-Terranean.

STAY

Ahwahnee

Yosemite National Park, 1 Ahwahnee Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389

Ahwahnee
Ahwahnee. Photo by Aaron Bollwinkel Photography on Facebook

An elegant stone lodge designed to blend artfully with the mountains around it, the Ahwahnee Hotel boasts a delicious sweet shop as well as a heated outdoor swimming pool. Relax beside a comfortable fire in one of Ahwahnee’s Featured Cottages or soak in a whirlpool tub in the El Dorado Diggins Suite.

Tenaya Lodge

1122 CA-41, Fish Camp, CA 93623

Tenaya Lodge
Tenaya Lodge. Photo by Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite on Facebook

Experience the comfort of a four-diamond resort with breathtaking mountain views at Tenaya Lodge. Take a 1.5-mile guided nature hike through the Sierra Natural Forest during the day and splash in the pool while enjoying a show at the free “Dive-In” movie event held every night at 6:30 p.m. And for an unforgettable air hockey match, check out the popular Game Room in the east wing.

Yosemite Valley Lodge

9006 Yosemite Lodge Dr, YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, CA 95389

Yosemite Valley Lodge
PHOTO travelyosemite.com

A rustic glass and wood retreat just 0.5 miles from the spectacular Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley Lodge provides easy access to the Merced River, which is open for swimming. The lodge also offers bike rentals for those who want to explore the beauty of the valley up close. In the summer, hop aboard a tram for the Valley Floor Tour or get inside tips on exploring the park during ranger presentations at the lodge’s outdoor amphitheater.

Whether standing on the summit of El Capitán or savoring cheesecake in the mountains at Ahwahnee, cherish the age-old beauty of the emerald Yosemite Valley.

Hannah Larson

Contributing Editor

A southern California native, Hannah is a traveler and thrill seeker whose love of writing is matched only by her passion for adventure. From ziplining alongside Niagara Falls to paddleboarding in Lake Itasca, she is always on the lookout for exciting experiences in beautiful places. Her favorite national parks include the Great Smokies, Sequoia and Glacier because of the spectacular mountain views.

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