Yosemite National Park: What You Need To Know
Updated: Sep 26, 2019
Welcome to the land that sparked the idea of the National Parks!
Yosemite is everything you've heard and much, much more. I will tell you everything I was able to research and experience during our trip, but this is one of those places that you have to see with your own eyes as no pictures, videos, or anything, really, can do justice to its grandiosity.
Can you tell how amazed I was? Keep reading to get all the info you need to plan your own trip to venture the majestic lands of this National Park that welcomes over 5 million people from all over the world every year.
DRIVING TIMES TO GET TO YOSEMITE
San Francisco/Bay area: 4-5 hours Sacramento: 4 hours Reno & Lake Tahoe: 5 hours (June thru October - weather permitting) / 8 hours (all year)
LA area: 6 hours San Diego area: 8 hours
Las Vegas: 8-10 hours Death Valley National Park: 5 hours (June thru October - weather permitting) / 9 hours (November thru May)
Traffic: Expect traffic congestion during any time of the year, especially in Yosemite Valley and at park entrances. I recommend arriving by 9 am, as after this time parking is usually full.
Parking in Yosemite Valley is available at Yosemite Village, Half Dome Village, and near Yosemite Falls.
Tip: Use the free shuttle to get around Yosemite Valley. If you have lodging or campground reservations, park your car at your lodge or campground and use the shuttles to get around.
WHEN TO VISIT & WEATHER
Yosemite is open 24/7 and you don't need reservations to visit.
Now, if you ask me when is the best time to visit... the park is most visited during late spring and early/mid summer, when all roads are supposed to be open, waterfalls are flowing and the scenery is bright green.
It depends on what you are looking to do and see, and each season is beautiful on its own way!
However, make sure to check road conditions & closures before you head to the park. You can easily check all current alerts here.
WHERE TO STAY
If you are looking to stay inside Yosemite National Park, you not only can, but you'd be impressed on how many lodging options there are inside the park. Sleeping in your car or RV is prohibited within Yosemite except in individual campsites, so plan ahead!
Reservations: due to the extremely high number of visitors yearly, reservations are available 366 days in advance and pretty much needed year round, specially from spring through fall and on holidays.
Check out the Yosemite Hospitality website for lodging details, prices and reservations available.
Now, if camping is what you are looking for, Yosemite alone has 13 campgrounds, but some operate on a first-come, first-served basis (click here to book the reservable ones).
WHERE TO EAT
There are several restaurants across Yosemite, from quick meals to luxury dining experiences. And if you can't stay without your much loved cup of joe, there's even a Starbucks in Yosemite Valley.
Click here for a full list of dining options.
Please do take note of this: make sure to store your food properly if left unattended!
Don't leave your backpack and walk off to take a photograph. Bears know packs are a source of food and can grab unattended food or easily break into cars that have food in them. You may be fined if you do not store food properly.
Also, if bears become aggressive they often have to be put down and we don't want this to happen. This is THEIR habitat, make sure that your visit doesn't impact nature.
Anything with a scent (even non food items) must be stored in resealable bags and put into boxes. This includes garbage, recyclables, soap, shampoo, toothpaste, sunscreen, first-aid kits, baby wipes, lotion, hairspray, scented tissue, air freshener, pet food, insect repellent, tobacco products, baby car-seats, and even window cleaner.
ENTRANCE FEES & PASSES
Same as Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, there are several passes available for Yosemite, depending on how you enter the park.
You can purchase passes in advance here.
Fees are as follows:
Vehicle Pass - $35.00
Valid for 1-7 days and includes everyone traveling in a single vehicle for Yosemite National Park.
Individual Entry Pass - $20.00
For a single person traveling on foot or by bicycle. It is valid for 1-7 days as well.
Yosemite Annual Pass - $70.00
This pass is valid for one year from the month of purchase. It admits all passengers in a private vehicle and is non-transferable.
Motorcycle Pass - $30.00
Includes everyone traveling on a motorcycle, scooter, or similar motorized vehicle and is also valid for 1-7 days.
Non-Commercial Group - $20.00
Groups traveling in a bus or van with capacity of 15 persons or more are charged per person.
This fee is based on the seating capacity of the vehicle and not the actual number of passengers. Passenger ages or entrance passes do not affect the price.
1-6 Passenger Capacity - $25.00 + $15 per person
7-15 Passenger Capacity - $125.00
16-25 Passenger Capacity - $200.00
26+ Passenger Capacity - $300.00
4th grade students
US Military & dependents
Residents with permanent disabilities
Free Entrance Days
In 2019, entrance fees will be waived for everyone on:
Monday, January 21 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)
Saturday, April 20 (First day of National Park Week)
Saturday, September 28 (National Public Lands Day)
Monday, November 11 (Veterans Day)
Note: If your visit during a free day extends beyond the free day and you try to re-enter the park after the free day, you will be subject to the regular entrance fees.
ATTRACTIONS & VIEWPOINTS
If you don't have time to visit Sequoia & Kings Canyon National Parks, you can see over 500 giant sequoias in Yosemite! Hike the Grizzly Giant loop trail (2 miles) and see notable trees such as the Bachelor, Three Graces, Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree.
What a view! As soon as you make it out of the Wawona Tunnel along Wawona Rd (Hwy 41) you’ll be welcomed by the most famous view in Yosemite Valley.
No hiking needed, you can simply park & enjoy the view (few spots available, arrive early). I was speechless! It is one of those moments when you can only be thankful to be fortunate enough to see in your life.
From here you can see some of the park’s most iconic attractions: El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. Just breathtaking!
Hard to describe the energy that exhales from here, I just tried to absorb all the beauty my eyes could take and stared at this place for as much as I could.
An extraordinary sight. A spectacle of nature. I was happy enough to admire it from afar, but a lot of people actually do attempt to reach the top.
It’s an extremely challenging hike and one of the longest and steepest hikes one can take in a National Park. On a scale of 1 to 10, this one is a 11. It’s a 14 mile round trip in a 5,000ft elevation gain, plus it includes climbing cables for the last 400ft. Cables are in place from late May to early October, and this is the only period that people are allowed to hike it. Permits are required and distributed only through a lottery system.
It’s definitely a lifetime accomplishment that requires both physical and mental preparation!
A favorite among experienced rock climbers, this beauty rises over 3,000 feet above the floor of Yosemite Valley, and is best seen from the roads in western Yosemite Valley, including Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall area, and El Capitan Meadow. The top of El Capitan can be reached by hiking out of Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls, then proceeding west.
Stop here on your way out of Yosemite Valley to spot another gift from nature: Yosemite’s El Capitan and Half Dome glowing like fire during sunset.
You can see it from miles away!
These rocks stand just opposite to El Capitan, and can be seen from the turnout at El Capitan Meadow.
Some people find them even more impressive than El Capitan, what do you think?
Make sure to stop by the Sentinel Bridge in Yosemite Valley.
Here you‘ll get magnificent views of Half Dome and the forest reflected in the Merced River!
The first day we visited Yosemite, it was pouring and we had zero visibility on pretty much all the sightseeing. Since we were already all wet, we decided to hike to the base of lower Yosemite falls and climb the rocks all the way to the actual bottom of it, and it was awesome!!! Always be thankful, things might not go as expected all the time but then you’ll see, something better was planned for you!
This is the park's tallest and most famous waterfall, but did you know it is actually made of 3 drops? You can get a good full-length view of Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Chapel.
When you arrive at Yosemite Valley and stop at Tunnel View, this will be the 1st waterfall you'll see. It flows year round and you can walk to the base via a short but steep trail in just a few minutes (it gets icy in winter). Oh and in the afternoon, you might see rainbows in the spray.
This waterfall also flows all year with peak in late May. You can hike to it or see it from Glacier Point. A wheelchair-accessible trail is available to the viewpoint when the road is open.
I was pretty bummed that we couldn't visit Glacier Point this time, but unforeseen events are a part of traveling, and that's what makes it so special.
There's always something that, no matter how much you plan, it just happen. And in our case, it was the rain. Though it made us explore Yosemite Falls in a way that we wouldn't otherwise and it was amazing, we couldn't hike the 4 mile trail to Glacier Point and the road to drive there was already closed due to snow (the road is usually open from late May thru sometime in November - check road closures here).
That means we will have to go back soon! Yay!
Have you been? Let me know how you liked it, I've heard it is THE most incredible view of the valley.
This lake is dry for much of the year but it is fullest in spring and early summer. When the water is calm, Mirros Lake lake offers beautiful reflections of surrounding cliffs. Trail is only 2 miles round trip.
A lot of people say this is the most beautiful lake in Yosemite because of its breathtaking views, the inviting crystal clear water, and the scenic Tioga Road to get to it. Very easy to access during summer when the road is open, and is a popular destination for picnicking, swimming, and canoeing.
THAT'S NOT ALL FOLKS
Besides everything that I've included here, Yosemite has so much more to offer. I hope that you get to enjoy this gift of nature and find some hidden gems on your own as well!
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