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The Ultimate Guide to Yosemite National Park in 2024

Early in the morning, a soft layer of fog hovers over Yosemite Valley, the jewel of California’s majestic Yosemite National Park


Cascading waterfalls, backcountry trails and towering peaks are all found at Yosemite, which covers over 759,000 acres of wilderness. 

Here’s your complete guide to Yosemite National Park. 




Yosemite National Park 

When To Visit 

The ideal time to visit Yosemite is in May or September. The temperatures are pleasant during late spring and early fall, and the park is less crowded than in the summer months. 


How to Get There 

If you are driving to Yosemite National Park, take the scenic Highway 120.


Keep in mind that Tioga Road, the part of Highway 120 that goes over Tioga Pass to the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada range, is only open during the summer and early autumn months. 


Deep snow and avalanche hazards keep Tioga Road closed in winter, so you can generally access this road only between June and November. 


You can also fly into the Fresno Yosemite International Airport and drive 64 miles to the park from there. 


Best Views 

One of the most iconic places to visit is Tunnel View, a scenic overlook with a breathtaking panorama of Yosemite Valley. 


Start at the South Entrance and drive through the Wawona Tunnel to get to Tunnel View, where you can see classic Yosemite sights like El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls and Half Dome. 


For a view of Half Dome from a different angle, head to Washburn Point, which overlooks the eastern crest of the Sierra Nevada. 


At Washburn Point, you can also see two “giant staircase” waterfalls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall. 


Another classic viewpoint is O’Shaughnessy Dam, a 430-foot tall structure which dams the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Yosemite’s largest single body of water. 


Supplies / Gear Needed in Yosemite 


You’ll need a hard-sided bear canister to protect your food. BearVault’s $99.95 canister is a great option for campers and hikers, as it fits up to seven days worth of food. 


UDAP’s $15.99 bear-resistant carrying case with webbing, straps and buckles makes it easy to carry your canister around while hiking. 


Check out our guide on bear spray for more info.


In the summer, a $10 can of Off! insect repellent is also a must-have to guard against mosquitoes and ticks. 


If you plan to hike Half Dome, bring along some durable gloves to make it easier to grip the cables on the final part of the ascent. 


Ironclad general utility work gloves are a good option as they are durable and provide rubber knuckle protection for extra safety and comfort. 


A pair of medium Ironclad gloves is available on Amazon for $15.40. 


5 Must Do Activities in Yosemite

Option 1: Hike Half Dome

Hiking the monstrous Half Dome rock, a 14-16 mile round trip adventure, requires an arduous ascent up a steep route using cables, so reaching the top is a real accomplishment.


Since you need a permit to hike Half Dome wherever the cables are up, check out Yosemite National Park’s climbing permit requirements as you plan your trip. 





Day hikers can get permits by lottery via recreation.gov, while overnight backpackers can apply for a $10 Half Dome permit with their wilderness permit.


Half Dome permits for day hikers do not include camping, lodging or any overnight accommodations. 


Option 2: Hike Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Head to the rugged Hetch Hetchy Valley to see canyons, cliffs and springtime waterfalls and wildflowers. 


There are tons of hiking trails in Hetch Hetchy, including the 2-mile Lookout Point hike, strenuous 2.5-mile Poopenaut Valley climb and moderate 5-mile Wapama Falls trail. 


Another more strenuous option is the Rancheria Falls trail, a 13-mile hike past Wapama Falls which can be done as a long day trek or an overnight trip. 


Adventurous explorers can also tackle Smith Peak, the highest point in the area at a 7,751-ft elevation, via either a 13- or 16-mile hike. 


Option 3: Visit Bridalveil Fall

Yosemite’s gorgeous Bridalveil Fall cascade is easily accessible via Bridalveil Fall Trail, which is only 0.5 mile round trip. 


This paved walkway is open year round but the spray is so powerful in spring and early summer that you might not be able to get to the end of the trail. 


Since the rocks and boulders above the viewing platform are slick, remain on the trail. In winter, even the approved path is icy and slick, so wear hiking boots to stay safe. 


Option 4: Visit Glacier Point

Glacier Point is a beautiful overlook with views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. 


From late May through October or November, it’s easy to reach by car; from mid-December through March, cross-country skiers can take a 10.5-mile ski trip to see the view from Glacier Point. 


This viewpoint is 30 miles away from Yosemite Valley and it takes about one hour to drive there. 


At Glacier Point, popular activities include hiking along Glacier Point Road, birdwatching during the day and stargazing at night.


Option 5: Take an E-Biking Tour

A guided e-biking tour is the perfect way to tour Mariposa County, the gateway to Yosemite. 


A half day tour with Yosemite E-Biking includes 3-4 hours of riding, during which you’ll cover up to 20 miles and gain up to 2,000 feet in elevation. 


The half day option costs $175 per person and includes snacks, beverages, shoes, gloves and a safety helmet, plus a high-visibility vest. 


The full day option lasts 5-7 hours, costs $275 per person and includes everything in the half-day option plus top-rope climbing at Mt. Bullion or hiking in Mariposa. 


Where to Camp in Yosemite



Option 1: Wawona Campground

Wawona Campground, which sits along the South Fork Merced River, is found at the southern end of the park and is about a 45-minute drive from Yosemite Valley. 


This campground includes 95 total sites and accommodates both tents and RVs, but there are no electric hookups. 


Wood and charcoal fires are permitted any time throughout the year, but firewood is not sold at the camp. The closest showers are at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.


RV and tent sites, which cost $36 per night, may be reserved mid-April through mid-October. 


First-come, first-served sites are open during the same months and cost $28 per night. 


Reservations are required for the group site located in the campground’s Loop A, which costs $75 per night. 


Please visit the national park website linked above for more information about making reservations at this very popular campground.  


Option 2: Upper Pines Campground

Upper Pines Campground is located close to the Merced River and can be easily accessed from all park roads. 


This campground includes 235 total sites and accommodates both tents and RVs, with no electric hookups. 


Wood-burning campfires are only allowed between 5 p.m. and 10 p.m. May through September in Yosemite Valley; for the rest of the year, campfires are allowed at any time. 


Groceries are available close by at Curry Village and Yosemite Village. 


The campground reservation fee is $36 per night for all sites. 


Option 3: Bridalveil Creek Campground


Bridalveil Creek Campground, which is found along the Glacier Point Road near Bridalveil Creek, is nine miles east of Wawona Road and is about a 45-minute drive from Yosemite Valley. This campground includes 115 total sites and accommodates tents — there are no electric hookups or services nearby. 


Similarly to Wawona, wood and charcoal fires are permitted any time throughout the year, but firewood is not sold at the camp. 


Each campsite includes a fire ring, picnic table and food locker and is near a bathroom with flushing toilets and drinking water. 


The campground reservation fee for a non-group site is $36 per night, while a campground stock site fee is $50 per night and a group site fee is $75 per night. 





5 Must See Viewpoints in Yosemite

Option 1: El Capitan

The enormous El Capitan, which stands 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley, is a famous challenge for dedicated rock climbers. If you’re interested in summiting this monstrous slab of rock, the Yosemite Mountaineering School can connect you with an experienced rock climbing guide. 


If you want to get to the top without serious rock climbing, take the El Capitan Trail, a strenuous hike that covers almost 20 miles. 


Plan to spend 8-12 hours hiking to the top of El Capitan, and keep in mind that when walking downhill along the Upper Yosemite Falls trail, you will encounter steep, slippery paths layered with grit and sand. 


If you would rather be wowed by others’ prowess than scramble up El Capitan yourself, head to the El Capitan Picnic Area and watch adventurers scale the rock in an impressive feat of big-wall climbing.

 

Option 2: Mirror Lake

You can peer upwards at Half Dome from its base when you take the moderate Mirror Lake Trail. 


If you just walk to the laid and back, it’s a two-mile trip; walking the loop around the lake adds another five miles. 


The lake is at its best in spring and early summer, when snowmelt turns Tenaya Creek into a rushing waterway.


During winter it can be icy along the south side of Tenaya Creek, and as there are few natural outcroppings to hang on to, it is easy to slip and fall, so walk carefully. 


Option 3: Horsetail Fall 

Horsetail Fall, a thin cataract which cascades down the eastern side of El Capitan in winter, is best known for its orange glow in mid- to late February. 


When the waterfall is flowing at night, it is backlit by sunset and appears to be on fire. 


This “firefall” phenomenon makes Horsetail Fall an extremely crowded destination in February. 


If you plan to visit Yosemite when Horsetail Fall is lit up, a reservation will be required because of the amount of people that will converge on the site. 


Option 4: Yosemite Falls

One of the tallest cascades in the U.S., Yosemite Falls plunges 2,425 feet down the north rim of Yosemite Valley. 


You can access the base of the waterfall via an easy one mile loop hike starting from Northside Drive, across from the Yosemite Valley Lodge. 


The climb to the top, however, is a strenuous 7.2-mile round trip hike which includes 2,700 feet in elevation gain. 


To get to the start of the hiking trail, you can drive to the Upper Yosemite Fall Trailhead and park in the Yosemite Falls parking area. Yosemite’s free Valley Shuttle #7 will also drop you off at the trailhead. 

 

Option 5: Chilnualna Falls 

End your time at Yosemite with a strenuous 8.2-mile hike to Chilnualna Falls, where five enormous cascades flow through rock formations above the Wawona basin. 


This hike is an uphill climb which takes an average of 5 or 6 hours to complete and includes a 2,400 ft elevation gain. 


Overnight backpackers may take this trail so long as they have a wilderness permit and bear canisters for safe food storage. 


Bears and any other wildlife may be on this trail during the day or night, so remain alert and stay on established paths to avoid provoking wild animals. 


The Bottom Line: Yosemite 



These are the best activities, viewpoints, places to camp and much more at Yosemite, one of California’s most stunning national parks. 


Plan out the hikes and viewpoints you want to hit each day to make the most of your time here. 


Whether you take an easy waterfall trail or brave Half Dome’s steep cables, enjoy your time exploring the beauty of Yosemite. 

 

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