Best Things To Do in Yosemite
Yosemite is filled to the brim with natural wonders worth writing home about. Travel experts and visitors agree that your to-do list must include the following: Half Dome, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. Hikers, follow the masses along the John Muir Trail and the Mist Trail, but also escape and make the trek to Tuolumne Meadows, an area which features a treasure trove of under-visited trails. After a long day of hiking, climbing or skiing, adventurers can put their feet up and grab a bite in Yosemite Valley, where you'll find the bulk of the park's amenities and accommodations.
Updated March 29, 2019
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Unless you are solely planning backcountry expeditions during your trip to Yosemite, chances are you'll end up in Yosemite Valley at one point or another. That's because Yosemite Valley features much of the park's top attractions, including Tunnel View Outlook and a handful of Yosemite's most famous waterfalls, including Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Bridalveil Fall and Yosemite Falls, to name a few. One of the world's largest granite monoliths, El Capitan, is also located here.
Yosemite Valley is an excellent place for first-time visitors to set up shop. In addition to housing many of the park's most popular points of interest, Yosemite Valley is home to Yosemite Village, where you'll find plenty of amenities and lodging options, including campsites and hotels as well as visitor centers, some dining options, including a grocery store, and a couple shops. There are also a handful of lookout points, picnic areas and light trails, perfect for those who aren't looking to do strenuous hiking in Yosemite.
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Along with Glacier Point, Tunnel View is widely considered to be the most popular outlook in all of Yosemite. From its vantage point, travelers get an eyeful of the majestic Yosemite Valley, complete with views of famous park sites, such as Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. What's more, the outlook is pretty easy to reach. You can find Tunnel View along Wawona Road, which serves as a gateway to Yosemite Valley's many attractions, accommodations and amenities. If you're staying in Yosemite Valley, chances are you will travel along or near Wawona Road.
Recent visitors agreed Tunnel View is a truly amazing sight to behold and shouldn't be missed. Some even suggested visiting Tunnel View first, as many said it's the perfect introduction to Yosemite's incredible landscape. Keep in mind that because the outlook is popular, there probably won't ever be a time where you won't be sharing the road with numerous other travelers, especially during the summer.
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Glacier Point is considered one of the best and most comprehensive lookouts in Yosemite. Visitors regularly describe Glacier Point's sweeping, panoramic vistas as "breathtaking," calling it a truly can't-miss spot in the park. From Glacier's vantage point, visitors are treated to panoramic views of Yosemite Valley, as well as landmarks like Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Unlike many lookout points in Yosemite, Glacier Point is accessible via roadway, allowing drivers to forego a difficult climb. This is particularly fortunate if you're traveling with young children who would otherwise be unable to enjoy a scenic, high-altitude view of the Yosemite Valley.
Because this is such an accessible attraction, as well as one of Yosemite's most popular, recent travelers urge visiting during off-peak hours if you have a car. Otherwise, there's a big chance you won't find parking. If you visit during peak hours, which are between 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. from mid-May to September, you may be directed by park rangers to park elsewhere and take a shuttle from Badger Pass to Glacier Point. To avoid the chaos, wake up early, or as some travelers suggest, visit in the evening for an unforgettable sunset.
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Hiking Yosemite's Half Dome Cables Route has been described as unforgettable and even life-changing by travelers. But this expedition is not for the faint of heart. The trail is about 14 to 16 miles long and features elevation gains totaling 4,800 feet (for reference, the elevation gain on the Mist Trail is between 1,000 and 2,000 feet, depending on which waterfall you visit). On this hike, the challenge begins immediately with a steep ascent up the Mist Trail, which serves as a good litmus test to see if you're in adequate condition for the remaining journey. The hike then continues to the top of Nevada Fall, followed by a long, flat section through Yosemite Valley. When you finally reach the base of the dome, a steep rocky climb finally takes you to the Half Dome Cables, a vertical, exposed rock face scalable by two steel cables.
If you're afraid of heights or are not in excellent physical condition, don't ascend the cables. You can still enjoy many of the dome's tamer sections, such as the trip to Nevada Fall. If you are going to try the entire hike, you'll need to allot at least 12 hours. The National Park Service recommends you leave just before or at dawn, and advises you to bring all necessary hiking equipment, including durable hiking boots, a flashlight and good grip gloves for the cables. You'll also need at least a gallon of water, and don't rely on park facilities for hydration or a bathroom break (the NPS suggests bringing your own toilet paper).