Yosemite Area Map
Covering an area of more than 750,000 acres, Yosemite National Park is abundant evidence of some of Mother Nature's best work. Despite its enormous size, the majority of Yosemite's 4 million annual visitors confine themselves within the Yosemite Valley, which comprises only 8 square miles of the park. The reason for this is because Yosemite Valley offers some of the park's most spectacular sights, though 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 that are well worth the detour.
Many travelers begin and end their visit in Yosemite Valley; because the area offers plenty to see and experience, visitors seldom travel beyond the valley's confines. If you start in Yosemite Valley, plan your day at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center to find out the best places you can view the park's iconic natural structures. These include Yosemite Falls; the towering granite monolith, Half Dome; and the vertical rock formation, El Capitan. Popular hiking trails that travel through Yosemite Valley include the John Muir Trail, which offers 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 challenging hikes in the park.
The northwestern section of Yosemite, known as Tuolumne Meadows, is less popular than Yosemite Valley but offers equally stunning sights and – a major incentive for travelers – fewer crowds. The area boasts several views of formidable Yosemite mountain landmarks, including the Cathedral Mountain Range, Lembert Dome, Tenaya Lake and Olmsted Point, the latter two which can be found right along the scenic Tioga Road. In addition to campsites, there is a lodge, restaurant, a wilderness center and visitor center.
Hetch Hetchy is a controversial side of the park. Located on the northwest side of Yosemite, Hetch Hetchy features the O'Shaughnessy Dam, which today supplies drinking water to 2.4 million Bay Area residents. Back in the day, this dam was fiercely opposed by the famous turn-of-the-century environmentalist, John Muir, and today, it still manages to ruffle some feathers, if not draw some shock from visitors over its presence. In addition to the infamous reservoir, you'll find campgrounds and hiking trails including popular journeys, such as Wapama Falls, a sight to see during waterfall season in the spring. Crane Flat, which is directly south of Hetch Hetchy, is where you'll find two of the park's three sequoia groves, Merced and Tuolumne Groves.
If you're wanting to learn more about Yosemite's history, a visit to Wawona will certainly satiate. Native Americans used to call this area of the park home, then in the late 1800s, Wawona developed into a thriving community that later served as the primary access for those visiting Yosemite. Today, you can get a taste of the past at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, which features exhibits, as well as seasonal tours and demonstrations. Also in Wawona, you'll find Mariposa Grove, which is filled with giant sequoias that are thousands of years old.
Whenever you're outdoors, you should exercise common sense and caution. Never hike or rock climb alone or without an experienced guide, especially at night, and be sure that you're equipped with the proper clothing, sturdy footwear, sunscreen and an adequate amount of water (the NPS recommends 1 quart for every two hours of hiking) before entering the wilderness. Also, know your limitations. Many of the hikes and trails in Yosemite, such as the trek up to Half Dome, are very strenuous and are not meant for everybody. And if you're hiking up to one of Yosemite's many beautiful falls, do not swim in any body of water connected to the falls. Even streams, rivers, ponds and lakes that look calm and shallow carry unsuspecting swimmers to the falls, resulting in death. For more information about hiking safety, visit Yosemite National Park's website. And although it's tempting to want to go off the grid in Yosemite, it's advised to keep a charged cell phone with you at all times in case of an emergency. Cell service is available in Yosemite, but access and quality are dependent on your carrier. For more information on service and Wi-Fi in the park, consult this guide.
It's also very important to observe local laws and rules regarding what you can do as well as bring in and out of Yosemite. Approaching wildlife and collecting plants, even pine cones, are illegal. If you're camping, know it is illegal to drive off-road, stay in undesignated campgrounds and if you are staying in designated campgrounds, you must keep your food locked in food lockers. The NPS advises that even items that aren't food, but have a smell to them, attract bears. Failure to comply with these regulations will result in a hefty fine.
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