Yosemite National Park, California Travel Guide
Yosemite National Park Summary
- Absolutely stunning scenery in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in east central California
- The iconic granite rock formation Half Dome
- Hundreds of species of animals
- Affordable park entrance fees
- Tons of hiking trails and footpaths, through meadows, by waterfalls, up cliffs, and more
- Spectacular rock climbing
- Badger Pass, the oldest ski area in California
- Beautiful flora, including lavender lupine, irises, pine trees, and wildflowers
- No gas stations within the park (a pro from a preservation perspective)
- Dangerous roads
- Need to book early, because lodging is constantly in high demand
- Very, very busy during the summer months
- Strict campfire rules during summer months
What It's Like
Known for its stunning sites, breathtaking beauty, and protected nature, Yosemite National Park is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the most flocked-to sites in the United States. There has always been a push to protect Yosemite's land, starting in the late 1800s when President Lincoln signed a bill granting the area to the State of California.
Now, travelers (about four million per year) visit Yosemite from all over the world to get a glimpse of the granite cliffs, clean steams, giant sequoia forests, and waterfalls. With only four main entrances to the park and no gas stations within the boundaries, it's important that visitors smartly plan their way around. Cars are a popular way to tour the park, but during the summer, when the park experiences a surge in visitors, shuttles may be a better option. Visitors should note that they will face strict regulations that have been put in place to protect the land: For example, campground fires are only permitted in evenings in Yosemite Valley during the busy summer months, and firewood collection is prohibited.
The park can be categorized into four or five popular areas: Yosemite Valley; Wawona; Tuolumne Meadows; and Hetch Hetchy Valley. Yosemite Valley is the home to all of what Yosemite is known for -- the grand cliffs, serene meadows, and unusual rock formations. Meanwhile, Wawona, an old town settled in the late 1800s, is home to some of the best and most historic hotels in Yosemite. Tuolumne Meadows, although less popular than Yosemite Valley, offers all the beauty at the Valley does, but with fewer crowds -- but shhhh, let's try to keep it that way, yeah?
Where To Stay
Lodging options are much more diverse than simple log cabins and campgrounds, as some famous, historic, and luxurious hotels can be found throughout the park. Hotels book quickly, so it's best to book as soon as possible. Some "official" park lodgings can be found throughout the park, as they are operated by the National Park Service.
Those looking for the typical Yosemite experience will probably want to stay within Yosemite Valley; but beware, as this is the most popular, and consequently, the busiest, part of the park. Glacier Point is home to many hotel options, and offers convenient proximity to beautiful paths and sites within the park, including Half Dome.
Visitors seeking to avoid the crowds should check out Tuolumne Meadows, which offers all the stunning sights, but with fewer crowds. This is also a popular area for rock climbers. A bit east of Yosemite Valley, it's about half way between the start of the park and the border of Nevada.
History buffs will enjoy Hetch Hetcy, on the park's northwest side. Although the reservoir was a controversial addition to the park, its beauty is intriguing and unique. Hotels can't be found directly in Hetch Hetcy, but a few dot Highway 120, less than an hour from the reservoir.
For snow sports enthusiasts, Wawona is a great option. Convenient to the Badger Pass Ski Area, Wawona is a historic town home to the famous Wawona Hotel.