Yosemite Neighborhoods & Towns
Covering an area of more than 750,000 acres, or around 1,200 square miles, Yosemite National Park is abundant evidence of some of Mother Nature's best work. Despite its size, about 95 percent of Yosemite's 3.5 million annual visitors confine themselves within the Yosemite Valley, which takes up about one percent of the park's total area. Yosemite Valley offers some of the park's most spectacular sights, but don't be afraid to do your own exploring to the north and south: Yosemite's other "neighborhoods" also offer spectacular and unforgettable outdoor experiences.
The park's prized attraction occupies about seven square miles in southwestern Yosemite and features some of the most notable and worthwhile natural landmarks in the United States. Many travelers begin and end their visit in Yosemite Valley; because the area offers plenty to see and experience, they never travel beyond the Valley's confines. If you start in Yosemite Valley, plan your day at the Valley Visitor Center and then checking out the iconic natural structures -- made famous by environmentalist John Muir and landscape photographer Ansel Adams. These include the iconic Yosemite Falls; the towering granite monolith, Half Dome; and the vertical rock formation, El Capitan. Popular hiking trails which travel through Yosemite Valley include the 212-mile John Muir Trail, offering excellent views of the park's granite peaks; and the Four-Mile Trail to Glacier Point, offering spectacular views of El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and the Merced River. The Mist Trail also offers connections to Half Dome, from which you can scale steel cables to climb to the rock's summit, one of the most popular and formidable challenges in the park.
The northwestern section of Yosemite, known as Tuolumne Meadows, is less popular than Yosemite Valley but offers equally stunning sights, and as a boon for some travelers, far fewer crowds. The area offers several views of formidable Yosemite mountain landmarks, including the Cathedral Range, Lembert Dome and Mount Dana. Tuolumne Meadows is also a popular camping, fishing and rock-climbing spot.
If you're interested in Yosemite's oftentimes contentious history, you may want to see the reservoir in Hetch Hetchy on the park's northwest side. The reservoir was fiercely opposed by the famous turn-of-the-century environmentalist, John Muir, and still remains a controversial addition to the otherwise unspoiled national park. Just south of Hetch Hetchy, you'll find two large groves of giant sequoia trees. You can access the Merced Grove sequoia trees easily from the park's Big Oak Flat Entrance.
An old town settled in the 1850s, Wawona is home to the famous Wawona Hotel, which opened soon after the town's founding in 1879. Wawona is convenient to the southern Yosemite's Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees, which are much more grandiose than those near Hetch Hetchy, with some trees as old as 3,000 years. Also be sure to check out the view from the Wawona Tunnel View, a scenic outlook that offers excellent glimpses of Yosemite Valley. North of Wawona Hotel is the Badger Pass Ski Area, a popular site for skiing and snowboarding during the winter.
Whenever you're outdoors you should exercise common sense and caution. Never hike or rock climb alone or without an experienced guide, and be sure that you're properly equipped with the proper clothing, sunscreen and footwear before entering the wilderness. Observe local laws and rules regarding what you bring in and out of the park, and keep a charged cell phone with you at all times. Also, know your limitations. Many of the hikes and trails in Yosemite, like the trek up to Half Dome, are very strenuous and are not meant for everybody. Always bring adequate amounts of water and layers of clothing in case the weather changes.