Things to do in Yosemite National Park | Hiking, camping and more
From visiting the many scenic waterfalls to walking along scenic trails, Yosemite National Park has something for everyone.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. – A short drive east will bring travelers to one of Northern California’s natural gems: Yosemite National Park.
The 1,200 square miles of land filled with vegetation, rock formations, rivers and lakes were first recognized by the Department of the Interior as a national park in 1890, making it the country’s third national park .
More than 130 years later, millions of visitors from near and far flock to the park each year to admire its breathtaking views.
All Yosemite entrances are open 24 hours, except for Hetch Hetchy. The entry fee for non-commercial cars, trucks, recreational vehicles or vans with less than 15 passenger seats is $35. The park only accepts credit cards for payment.
Reservations are required to travel to Yosemite during peak park hours, 6 a.m. to 4 p.m., May 20 through September 30.
Click here to make a reservation.
Traveling to Yosemite
– From Sacramento: 2 hours and 43 minutes, 145 miles
– From Stockton: 1 hour and 59 minutes, 97.3 miles
– From Modesto: 1 hour and 54 minutes, 84 miles
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5 things to do in Yosemite
In Yosemite, the saying “don’t go chasing waterfalls” goes out the window because the park is full of scenic and scenic waterfalls. The waterfalls of Yosemite Valley shape the landscape of the national park by capturing melting snow water, dropping it thousands of feet into rivers and streams.
One of Yosemite’s most popular waterfalls, Yosemite Falls sends water tumbling 2,425 feet, making it one of the tallest in the world. While peak flow is in May, snowmelt feeds Yosemite Creek from November through July, pushing up to 2,400 gallons of water per second into the waterfall.
While the iconic waterfall can be seen from several locations around Yosemite Valley, particularly around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge, a one-mile trail takes guests to the base of the waterfall.
To access the loop trail, visitors can park in designated areas off Northside Drive near the Lower Yosemite Falls shuttle stop across from Yosemite Valley Lodge.
A less spectacular drop of water than the iconic Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls is another notable waterfall in Yosemite that draws visitors year-round. The 317 foot drop sends water continuing along the Merced River.
Vernal Falls, unlike some of Yosemite’s larger waterfalls, is not visible at the bottom of the valley. Instead, visitors must take a slight hike to see the waterfall up close or stand on a walkway near the waterfall.
The one-hour hike to the waterfall walkway and the three-hour hike to the top of the waterfall begin at Happy Isles shuttle bus stop 16, closest parking lot is Curry Village parking lot on Southside Drive.
Visible from the road as visitors travel through Yosemite Valley, Ribbon Falls along Ribbon Creek is a 1,612-foot drop on the west side of El Capitan. However, the waterfall is only visible from the road.
Parking is available at the turnouts along Northside Drive just after the bend for Bridalveil Fall.
► Learn more about Yosemite Waterfalls: The Five Must-See Waterfalls in Yosemite National Park | The secondary roads of Bartell
Filled with pine and redwood trees, Yosemite National Park has no shortage of great views, making hiking a popular mode of transportation and a unique way to experience the park.
For those who prefer easy hikes, the Cook’s Meadow Loop offers scenic nature views and views of Yosemite Falls, all just 1 mile away. The trail takes about 30 minutes and begins at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center at Shuttle Stop 5.
The closest parking to the trailhead is at the Yosemite Village and Yosemite Falls parking areas.
A slight escalation in intensity from the Cook’s Meadow Loop, the Mirror Lake Loop is a two-mile trail that offers views of Tenaya Creek and crosses two bridges.
The trail starts at Mirror Lake Trailhead, near shuttle stop 17, and takes about 2-3 hours. The closest parking lot to the start of the loop is at Curry Village.
For those who prefer a challenge, the Snow Creek Trail offers great views but is described by the National Park Service as “strenuous.” The 9.4-mile round-trip hike includes nearly 2,700 feet of elevation gain and takes six to seven hours.
The trail begins at the Mirror Lake trailhead near shuttle stop 17. The closest parking lot to the Snow Creek trailhead is in Curry Village.
Nearly a dozen dining options in Yosemite, all operated by Travel Yosemite, allow visitors to eat in nature. Below are the top three restaurants located inside the national park, according to TripAdvisor.
– The Ahwahnee dining room
Opening hours: Every day – 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Nearby: Ahwahnee swimming pool, Ahwahnee meadow
– Restaurant Mountain Room
Opening hours: Wednesday to Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Type of cuisine: American, Bar
Nearby: Yosemite Valley Lodge Post Office, Yosemite Falls parking lot
– Pizza Deck Curry Village Dining
Hours: Daily – 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Type of cuisine: American, Pizza
Nearby: Curry Village Gift & Grocery and Mountain Shop, Stoneman Bridge
With many rivers and streams around Yosemite receiving water directly from melting snow, Yosemite National Park’s lakes and streams are quick and easy ways to cool off on a hot day.
While some outdoor pools are offered during the summer at Curry Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge, swimming is generally permitted in all water bodies within the park.
The Merced River, accessible by sandy beaches, is a popular swimming spot, according to the National Park Service. Areas where swimming is prohibited include: less than a mile upstream along any tributary, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, Emerald Pool and Silver Apron (above Vernal Fall), the Lake Eleanor Reservoir (when displayed) and the Wawona Domestic Water Intake (including 100 meters upstream).
The cool waters of the Merced River not only allow for cooling off and swimming, but also provide exciting terrain for rafters.
Rafting tickets are available at the Curry Village Tour and Activities Kiosk, usually daily from July through August, depending on water temperature and snowpack conditions.
Tickets are $30.50 per person and each raft can hold two to four people. Two paddlers are required per raft, including at least one adult. Children under 50 pounds are not permitted in raft rentals for safety reasons.
Raft rentals offered by Yosemite National Park depart from Curry Village and continue down the Merced River for 3 miles. Visitors are also allowed to bring their own rafts or rent life jackets for $5 each. The life jacket is compulsory for children under 13 years old.
While Yosemite National Park makes a great day trip from the valley, lodging and camping options are also offered by the park for longer stays.
Some of the hotel locations include the Ahwahnee, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, White Wolf Lodge, and Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
Camping is also a popular option for travelers staying at one of Yosemite’s 13 campgrounds. Campground user fees range from $10 to $36 per day. Click here to view up-to-date information about National Park Service campgrounds.
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