Yosemite National Park

Location: California

Park Tally: 48/59

Orientation: Yosemite National Park truly is among the most beautiful places on the planet. Over 5,000,000 visitors flock to the park each year to witness Yosemite’s grandeur, with the majority landing in the Valley. The Yosemite Valley is a mile-wide, 7-mile-long canyon enveloped by ginormous granite walls, massive domes and cascading waterfalls.  As John Muir described it – “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite”.

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Yosemite is a hub for tourists, climbers and backpackers from all over the world. There really is something for everyone in the park, no matter what age or ability level. The Valley is open year-round and its beauty adapts with the seasons. Spring is a wonderful time to visit for flowing waterfalls, summer is optimal for hiking, fall is a photographer’s dream, and winter brings a tranquility over the usually bustling park. Some sections of the park’s road system are closed during the winter season, including most of the high-country, Glacier Pass Road and Tioga Road.

“There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods…and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children’s children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred” — President Theodore Roosevelt, 1905

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Most iconic view:  Tunnel View is unarguably the most iconic view in Yosemite National Park. When driving into the valley and exiting the Wawona Tunnel, Yosemite appears before your eyes in all of its glory. From a viewing overlook, visitors can witness famous sights such as Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, El Capitan, and the entire Yosemite Valley. El Capitan is considered the largest exposed granite monolith in the world, rising more than 3700-feet above the Valley. Those with binoculars may even spot the odd rock climber traversing the face of El Capitan, or see headlamps at night from climbers camping out on the wall.

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Accessible activity: Driving the Valley Floor Loop is a fantastic way to see a range of Yosemite’s most famous sights. Visitors can stop at Yosemite Falls (option to walk the 1-mile Lower Yosemite Falls trail), El Capitan Meadow, Sentinel Bridge, Valley View, and various other pull-offs along the way. The Valley can also be explored on foot or via bicycle for those wanting to avoid traffic jams.

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Tioga Road is another scenic drive for views of the Yosemite high-country. Tioga Road traverses west-east across the park and allows visitors to access both sides of the Sierras during summer. There are numerous overlooks along the way, including Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake Scenic Overlook, and Tuolomne Meadow.

Lastly, Glacier Point is a must-see location for anyone visiting Yosemite National Park. Glacier Pass Road allows easy access to a large parking lot for Glacier Point, with a short paved trail leading visitors to the overlook. Glacier Point provides panoramic views of Half Dome, Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls and the valley floor. We would highly recommend visiting Glacier Point during the late afternoon and staying to witness sunset.

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For the adventurous: Yosemite is teeming with opportunities for adventure. Day hiking Half Dome has become a popular activity, with a permit system now in place to regulate its access. The summit can be accessed via a 14 to 16.5-mile trail (roundtrip, depending on which route you take) from the valley floor or via other high-country routes. There are metal cables to assist climbers up the side of Half Dome and it is recommended that you bring gloves to protect your hands. This is not a hike for the faint hearted or unfit – be prepared for a strenuous trek, exposed sections and steep drops. If you do make it to the top, the views from Half Dome are absolutely breathtaking.

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We opted to take a 3-day adventure in the Yosemite backcountry to really immerse ourselves in the Sierras. We spent our first night camping at Upper Cathedral Lake, then two nights base-camping nearby Sunrise Lakes. We used this location to day-hike to Half Dome and other scenic spots.

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Best photo opportunities: As mentioned above, Tunnel View is an absolute must-see in Yosemite, and also a wonderful photography opportunity. Ansel Adams took some now very famous images of Tunnel View back in the 1930s and 1940s, which have continued to inspire generations of photographers. Tunnel View can be photographed at sunrise or sunset, with both times providing unique and beautiful light. Glacier Point and Taft Point at sunset are also extremely picturesque locations.

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Quick facts

  • Yosemite was designated a National Park in 1890, and in addition became a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1984.
  • Before it became National Park, Yosemite had been home to the Ahwaneechee Native Americans for over 4,000 years. The California Gold Rush and trappers were the reason the Ahwaneechee people left the area in the mid 1800s.
  • Yosemite Falls is the tallest waterfall in North America, with an impressive 2,425-foot drop to the valley floor. The month of May is the best time to view the falls at their peak flow.
  • Tioga Pass is the highest pass in California and the Sierra Nevada.
  • Wildlife found within the park include black bears, coyotes, mule deer, bighorn sheep, red foxes, chipmunks, squirrels, mountain lions, and many more.
  • Yosemite National Park employs 1,200 summer and 800 winter National Park Service staff.
  • In 2016, Yosemite had 5,028,868 visitors according to the National Park Service, the largest number in the park’s history.

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