Nearly everyone knows about Yosemite National Park (and not just because of the feisty, gun-slinging Yosemite Sam). One of the United States’ most famous national parks, Yosemite is not only one of the most beautiful valleys in the High Sierra Mountains, but a place teeming with wildlife, rich history and the most gigantic pinecones you’ve ever seen.
If you’re looking for a bit of adventure this summer, Yosemite is where you can experience breathtaking sights, stunning landscapes of glacier-cut granite, tumbling green meadows, waterfalls, lake-studded mountains, peat bogs, ancient sequoia forests and heather-filled moors that shelter the local wildlife and numerous species of birds. Truly, every turn you take in Yosemite is absolutely exquisite.
As one of the most trafficked parks in the U.S., you likely know multiple people who have visited the national gem. But what are some ways to discover Yosemite in a completely new way? One way to get off the beaten path is the High Sierra Trail, a 53-mile-high trek into some of the most beautiful forests in existence. The great thing about this trail is that despite being in the true California wilderness, as you loop through jagged granite and alpine meadows, you will come along a camp every 6-10 miles. Yep, you can hike your day away, knowing that there is a good meal, clean drinking water and a bed in a cozy canvas tent awaiting you. Due to their popularity, reservations are taken on a lottery basis, but you can sometimes score a tent with last-minute availabilities that open up in the various camps.
Yosemite is open nearly year-round, with the exception of the late autumn to early spring, because of the heavy snow that hits the valley, making walking and hiking virtually impossible. That being said, you can still have a marvelous Yosemite experience in the Valley and the Wawona areas. If you have a vehicle made for snow and have chains on the tires, skiing is even possible in the Badger Pass Ski Area. One of the original Northern California ski areas, Badger Pass is an unpretentious place to teach your little ones to ski or snowboard. More off the beaten track and widely considered to be more rugged than Tahoe, Yosemite is a great place to have some winter frolicking.
Yosemite, with countless family-friendly activities like rock climbing, hiking, biking, rafting, hang gliding and more allows you to have one of the most gorgeous, rugged experiences in the United States. Some of the numerous points of interest are Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Mariposa Grove, Glacier Point, Wawona, Royal Arches, Turtleback Dome, Three Brothers, Leaning Tower, Ribbon Fall, Cathedral Spires, Yosemite Chapel, and the Vernal and Nevada Falls. WHEW! It’s a long list of experiences for one park!
Yosemite in One Day
So what if you have only one day to experience Yosemite? Fortunately, there are many day hikes that can scratch the wilderness itch even if you don’t have weeks to spare. Though many trails are outstanding, Vernal Falls Mist Trail is not to be missed. Though it’s only 1.6 miles, it gives you some of the most beautiful waterfall views you’ve ever seen. Sidenote: Wear water-resistant clothes if you have them. The mist trail is heavy on the mist. It’s worth getting a little wet, because when the light hits just right, you will find yourself walking through rainbows. Yes, you read that right. Walking. Inside. A. Rainbow. Get excited.
Other trails are the Valley Floor Loop (13 miles), Mirror Lake (2 miles), the Four Mile Trail (which is actually 9.6 miles), and the pet-friendly and wheelchair-accessible Lower Yosemite Fall. Giant sequoias, granite cliffs and waterfalls all await you on each picturesque trail. Another good trip for day travelers, you can hike a trail that ascends up to Yosemite’s famous Half Dome, an arduous trail that any serious hiker would appreciate, and El Capitan, which is the largest granite monolith in the world.
Yosemite is one of the greatest climbing destinations of the world, so if you’re dying to try climbing, this is a great place to start. Climbers here can enjoy a variety of challenges, from pinching crystals on sun-drenched Tuolumne to sustained crack climbs of the Merced River Canyon, to multiday climbs at the big walls of the Yosemite Valley.
If you love the water, whitewater rafting along the Merced River is a popular sport during the summer, and it’s permitted between Sentinel Beach Picnic Area and Stoneman Bridge. Rafts are rented normally in the months of June and July, but it varies from season to season depending on the water level. Visitors are also allowed to bring their own kayaks, rafts, and other nonmotorized vessels. Wild rivers are, of course, wild, so some safety precautions need to be carried out, such as personal flotation devices being worn by everyone along for the ride.
Plus, you can experience some of the most scenic drives in the world, just by traveling along the Yosemite roads. Yosemite bus tours offer visitors breathtaking views of the Yosemite landscape and glacier-carved grandeur. Some of the more popular roads you could take a solo drive on are Tioga road, Wawona road, Glacier Point road, Big Oak Flat road, Highways 4, 41, 49, 108, 120 and 140, and of course, Yosemite Valley Loop. The Yosemite Road Guide, available at visitor center bookstores, contains descriptions of each road inside the park and includes suggestions of where to stop along the way. The bus tour itself provides the chance for visitors to learn about the history, geology and current events of the Yosemite National Park.
Traffic is congested during peak season, and park rangers encourage visitors to use the free shuttle system. To add a touch of class to your visit, head over to the Ahwahnee Hotel, built in 1927. Though hardly part of “hidden” Yosemite, it is nevertheless one of the most beautiful and distinctive hotels you’ll see—made even more remarkable by the fact that it is in the middle of the California wilderness.
Whether you have a week or a day, Yosemite has something unique to offer to your life journey. So get out your guidebook, grab the kids, your friends, or heck, just yourself, and venture into the mysterious and gorgeous Yosemite. You’ll be eternally glad you did.