Yosemite is a popular National Park in California in the southwest of the United States of America. The park is known for its breathtakingly beautiful nature with impressive valleys, high mountains with beautiful views, old forests and huge waterfalls. With more than 3,000 km2, Yosemite is one of the larger National Parks in America, and with some 3.5 million visitors a year, it is also one of the most visited.
If you plan to visit Yosemite National Park, it is important to orientate in advance on your visit. Due to the enormous size of the park and the many different locations to view, visit and walk, it is best to prepare your travel plan for this National Park in advance. That way you can enjoy the most interesting highlights of Yosemite and save the other parts for your next trip to the United States.
In this article you can find extensive information about Yosemite itself, accessibility, accommodation options (hotels and campsites), the various attractions and all kinds of other useful tips for a fantastic visit to this unique National Park.
- It is best to set aside at least two days for a visit to Yosemite; there are many different attractions that can take quite some time if you really want to enjoy.
- If you want to get a good impression of Yosemite, start at the Visitor Center and view the film and the model. Ask there about the condition of the hiking trails and take brochures of the places of interest that are of interest to you.
- Study the Yosemite Guide when you arrive at the park. This contains a lot of interesting information about the areas in terms of attractions, facilities, walks and shuttle bus stops.
- Yosemite National Park is particularly busy, especially in the high season. Unless you leave the beaten track, you will meet many people (especially in the busiest part of the park, the Yosemite Valley). Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is a quieter part of the park, but the Tioga Road is also visited intensively by relatively few visitors.
Sightseeings & Trails
Yosemite National Park has many dozens of locations that are more than worth seeing, as well as sufficient hiking trails to keep walking for months. But of course you do not have that much time during your visit to this unique National Park. Which attractions are most worthwhile during your stay?
Yosemite Valley is the best known attraction in Yosemite National Park and for most travelers it is also the starting point. Yosemite Valley is a densely forested glacier valley surrounded by high peaks, including Half Dome and El Capitan. There are many impressive waterfalls to see if you visit the park at the right time (more about that later). Several small streams also come together in the Yosemite Valley to form the Merced River that eventually ends up in the Pacific Ocean.
Yosemite Valley is best known for its beautiful views. You can drive down two roads to visit the sights, Northside Drive and Southside Drive, which cover approximately 30 km. The last 5 km of these roads are busy (with shops, campsites, hotels and such), but the rest of these routes mainly consist of grand views. Both roads are one-way traffic only (Southside Dr to Curry Village, into the valley, and Northside Dr to Curry Village, down the valley).
Many hiking trails (for both day trippers who want to take shorter walks and for people who want to climb mountains) start in the valley. Yosemite Valley is without a doubt the most visited part of Yosemite Valley and it can be very busy in high season.
Glacier Point is the most famous location around Yosemite Valley (and probably the entire National Park). From Glacier Point, accessible via the 16-mile Glacier Point Road that connects to Wawona Road (Highway 41), you have a spectacular view of large parts of Yosemite Valley. For example, you can see Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, Upper Yosemite Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls, as well as Tenaya Creek and Half Dome. Even the bustle of Curry Village, 1000 meters below, is visible.
Dream Travel 2 America members recommend doing Glacier Point in the late afternoon, one hour before sunset, because the light will be better. Please note that due to the elevated position of Glacier Point it stays there longer than in the underlying forests and that you therefore quickly enter the night.
Please note: Glacier Point Road is only open part of the year from Badger Pass, often only between June and October. Also important: from both Curry Village and the nearest entrance to Yosemite National Park, Glacier Point is approximately one hour away by car.
If you want to see huge, old trees, Mariposa Grove is a good place to visit. Here you can see a large group of Sequoia trees that are several thousand years old.
Most Sequoias have been given a name and several of them are tourist attractions in themselves. Examples of real attention-grabbers are the Fallen Monarch, a sequoia that fell over 300 years ago, the California Tunnel Tree through which a tunnel was cut, and the Grizzly Giant, which is probably the oldest surviving Sequoia at 2,700 years.
Mariposa Grove is subdivided into the Upper and Lower Groves. These two Sequoia forests are separated by normal pine trees. Both forests have a number of unique trees, but there is no major walking route that leads you past all major attractions. You can take the 7 mile (approx. 12 km) long Outer Loop Trail if you want to walk around both forests, or take one of the many other hiking trails to view certain trees. For this you can buy a “trail guide” for a small contribution.
Please note: to see most trees, it is necessary that you cover distances of approximately 1.5 to 3 kilometers on foot on sometimes demanding paths that all run uphill from the parking lot. From the parking lot you can walk in different directions (short and long routes) to see certain trees; If you do not want to or cannot, you can take an open-air tractor that will take you to the most famous attractions in 75 minutes – for a fee.
Please note that Mariposa Grove can be particularly busy during peak season. The parking lot, just over 2 kilometers away from the main road (Highway 41), is regularly closed in the summer when it becomes too full. However, during spring and summer you can also take a free shuttle bus from Wawona that will lead you further into the forest than the parking lot. Because of the risk that you run the parking lot full, it is best to drive on to Wawona and take the shuttle bus from there.
Tuolumne Grove is a smaller and quieter forest of Sequoias. You can find around 25 mature trees here. Unlike the busy and larger Mariposa Grove, you can view these beautiful old trees in more peace and quiet.
You can find Tuolumne Grove in the west of the park on the Tioga Road. From the parking lot you walk about 1700 meters to reach the trees, where you also walk through a dead tunnel tree called Dead Giant. Please note that the difference in height during the walk is approximately 120 meters.
Panorama Trail is a beautiful walk that leads you from Glacier Point more than a kilometer down to the lowlands of the Yosemite Valley. For this walk you probably have to set aside a day, because with 13.5 kilometers this is not a short walk. The hike mainly goes downhill, but there is a significant climb in the middle.
Please note that you have to take a so-called hiker’s bus upstairs to get back to your car. If you leave your car at the top, you run the risk of not being down in time to take the bus up.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir was created in the early 20th century, when the valley of the same name was flooded. The O’Shaugnessy Dam, which was completed in 1923, provided San Francisco’s drinking water supply from that moment on. The Hetch Hetchy Road is the only road that leads to this remote part of Yosemite National Park. The road is basically open all year round and if you are looking for peace and quiet away from the hustle and bustle of Yosemite Valley, this is a nice place to visit.
Tioga Road is one of the highest roads in the United States of America and closed for most of the year due to snowfall. The road usually opens somewhere around the beginning of June and closes around the beginning of November. Only a relatively small number of visitors do the entire route, which takes two hours, and those who do do it usually only stop at viewpoints.
The area around Tioga Road is much less forested than the lower parts of Yosemite due to its height (up to more than 3 kilometers). The area is more rocky, so you have much more wide open views.
Tioga Road has many beautiful “trails”, hiking trails that lead you through beautiful locations in this less crowded part of Yosemite National Park. The most beautiful trails can be found in the surroundings of Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake. Some of the walks you can do include Glen Aulin, Gaylor Lakes and Cathedral Lakes, but there are many more. Shorter walks include May Lake, Tenaya Lake, Dog Lake, and Soda Springs.
Another attraction of Tioga Road is Merced Grove, where you can see a number of old Sequoias, and the previously discussed Tuolumne Grove is also on Tioga Road. The road passes five different camping places where you can pitch your tent.
If you continue on to the east, you will reach Olmsted Point, one of the most beautiful viewpoints of this route from where you can see Tenaya Creek and Half Dome. Nearby is Tenaya Lake, one of the largest and most beautiful lakes in Yosemite National Park, surrounded by beautiful rock formations. The Tioga Road follows the lake for several kilometers where you can get off at a few places to have a picnic or take a short walk.
Then the Tioga Road goes to Tuolumne Meadows, a vast stretch of meadow in the middle of the mountains. Here you can refuel, eat, camp and start various walks.
If you drive further, you will eventually reach the eastern border of Yosemite National Park. This is the Tioga Pass, the highest point in the Sierra’s, at more than 3 kilometers. From this part of the road you can do even more walks, including the John Muir Trail.
Tunnel View is named after the approximately 1.5 kilometer long Wawona Tunnel. As you drive through this tunnel, you will be greeted by a grand and impressive panorama of Yosemite. From Tunnel View you can see the Merced River flows into the valley, surrounded by El Capitan on the left and Bridalveil Fall on the right.
This location is one of the most photographed in the National Park – and far beyond. Certainly worthwhile, but Dream Travel 2 America members are warning not to do Tunnel View in the morning, but later in the day.
Tips for planning attractions in Yosemite
- Keep in mind that the attractions in Yosemite can be quite far apart. Glacier Point, for example, is about an hour’s drive from both Curry Village and the nearest entrance to Yosemite National Park. Driving down the Tioga Road takes at least two hours and then only if you limit yourself to the most important viewpoints.
- Use the shuttle buses rather than your car when you visit attractions in the valley.
- During the winter season in Yosemite, which runs from October / November to May or even June, many roads in the park can be closed. The most important closure is Tioga Road, which is often closed during the entire winter season. Make sure you know which roads are open or not before you leave.
- Many Dream Travel 2 America members recommend walking the Panorama Trail, but considering the length of this walk, make good preparations.
- Visit as many waterfalls as possible. In the spring and early summer the Bridalveil Fall, the Lower Yosemite Fall and the Vernal Fall are very beautiful.
- In the Yosemite Valley you can rent a bike, go horse riding, rafting and swimming. You can also undertake activities with park rangers; for children there is a junior ranger program.
- Tenaya Lake is a very nice location for a picnic. You have reasonable space to park and you can even put your feet in the water while enjoying the view.
- There are bears in Yosemite National Park, so follow some rules. For example, do not leave food in your car, cabin or tent, but place it in the specially sealed containers.
Travel to Yosemite National Park
Several providers offer group trips and individual round trips to Yosemite National Park. An organized trip offers the advantage that you do not have to worry about anything anymore. If you are interested in a group trip to, feel free to contact us with your wishes, and we will see which options are available for you… Or view below for travel deals and tips
Fly to Yosemite National Park
Despite its beautiful, isolated natural setting, Yosemite National Park is accessible from a number of different airports. Finding the destination airport that best suits your travel plans is the first step to beginning your adventure in the great outdoors.
- Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT) 64.8 miles
- Merced Airport (MCE) 71.4 miles
- Oakland International (OAK) 150.3 miles
- San Francisco International (SFO) 169.2 miles
- San José International (SJC) 187.5 miles
If you do not want to compose a trip to Yosemite National Park yourself, take a look at our tips for organized tours with Yosemite National Park on the program.
Looking for a flight to Yosemite National Park
Spending the Night
You can spend the night in and around Yosemite National Park in completely different locations and ways. Do you want a hotel room, a cottage or a campsite? All options are available – although it is sometimes not easy to reserve them.
Accommodation options in Yosemite National Park
Within the borders of Yosemite you can spend the night at Curry Village, the Yosemite Lodge, the Wawona Hotel and Ahwahnee. If you plan to spend the night within Yosemite, it is always advisable to reserve your accommodations well in advance, some even 6 months (or more!) Before you visit Yosemite. In the case of the campsites there is a very special reservation action that you must take at very precise times, because they fill up within 5 minutes. More information can be found here.
Curry Village is located in the middle of the Yosemite Valley and has tents, cabins with and without bathroom, and standard rooms available. Although Curry Village offers the best rates for overnight stays within the boundaries of Yosemite, the accommodations are not really privately located. There are many shops and restaurants nearby and it is an important parking location for people on day trips.
It can therefore be very busy in Curry Village. If you are traveling with children through Yosemite, Curry Village can be recommended. You have several facilities within walking distance, including a swimming pool, a cafeteria, a camping shop, a pizza restaurant, an ice cream / coffee / tea stand, a post office, bicycle rental and shuttle buses. You can also take various walks from Curry Village.
Dream Travel 2 America members who have spent the night in Curry Village call the accommodations “basic”, “mass tourism”, “great base”, “recommended” and “nice experience”. The tent cabins are also recommended for non-campers because there are beds in them, the showers are fine, but you have to take into account waiting times due to all the crowds.
If you don’t mind that your tent is near other tents, and if you want some civilization in the area, Curry Village is recommended. (Please note: reservations at Curry Village often have to be made up to a year in advance.) If you want more privacy, it is better to look for another accommodation.
De Pines Campgrounds
There are three main campsites in Yosemite: Lower Pines, North Pines and Upper Pines. According to some Dream Travel 2 America members, North Pines is just a bit smaller and more cozy, but all three campsites are well regarded. The locations are beautiful and you have beautiful views and are still close to the facilities of Curry Village.
Tuolumne Meadows Campground
The Tuolumne Meadows Campground is a lot higher on the Tioga Pass Road and is therefore only open in the summer. The places are – just like at the three Pines campsites – not very spacious, but you are more in the wilderness than with the other campsites. You can visit deer and brown bears at night, but these are monitored and, if necessary, chased away by the park rangers.
Half of the camping spots on Tuolumne Meadows can be discussed in advance, the other half are open daily based on availability (you can therefore always check on the day of arrival whether you can camp there). Keep in mind that during the high season even the non-bookable camping spots can be forgiven before noon.
There are – in addition to the four major campsites mentioned above – nine other campsites in Yosemite. These are partly further away from the Yosemite Valley and sometimes even quite remote. In addition, the camping spots are not always good.
Wawona Campground, for example, is 27 miles from Yosemite Valley (about an hour’s drive) and only has a golf course and the Wawona Hotel nearby. In addition, there are many camping spots in the open sun (little or no shade, which is certainly difficult in the hot summer) and it is hilly, making it more difficult to pitch your tent.
A camping site to consider is Crane Flat, according to Dream Travel 2 America members a pleasant site not too far from the valley.
Some campsites accept reservations, others do not. Check the National Park Service site for more information and opening times.
The Wawona Hotel
At the Wawona Hotel you mainly pay for the name and the history. The rooms are spartan and there is no internet and TV available. Some rooms do not even have their own bathroom. According to AllesAmerika.com members, the hotel is old-fashioned and not recommended.
Yosemite Lodge has more expensive but also more luxurious rooms than Curry Village. The Lodge is located in the middle of the Yosemite Valley and is close to many major attractions. You can find, among other things, a private swimming pool, two restaurants, a shop and a cocktail bar. Since there are many shuttle buses passing by, it is not necessary to use your own car. Please note that the rooms do not have air conditioning.
Spend the night outside of Yosemite
Outside of Yosemite you can find an excess of hotels in all price ranges. From the well-known Best Westerns and Comfort Inns that cost around $ 100 per night to the copulent Chateau du Sureau ($ 400-3,000 per night): everything can be found, often at a distance of 10 to 30 miles from the park.
Directions to Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is located in the east of the US state of California. The park entrance is 96 km from Fresno, 112 km from Merced, 281 km from Sacramento, 280 km from San Jose and 293 km from San Francisco. Yosemite is more than 500 km from Los Angeles.
Yosemite has four main access routes: Arch Rock Entrance, Big Oak Flat Entrance, South Entrance and Tioga Pass Entrance.
- Arch Rock Entrance: this access runs from Merced in the west along Highway 140 to Yosemite. If you plan to visit Yosemite in the winter months, this is your best option.
- Big Oak Flat Entrance: this access runs on Highway 120 west of Yosemite and gives access to the northern part of the National Park. This is the easiest to access from San Francisco.
- South Entrance: the southern access is via Highway 41 and is the best access if you are driving from the south to the north, for example Fresno and Los Angeles.
- Tioga Pass Entrance: the Tioga Pass entrance is the only eastern entrance to Yosemite National Park. However, the Tioga Pass Road is closed in winter (from November to the end of May or even June) due to snow. During those months you can therefore not income via the eastern route Yosemite.
Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are closed for the season due to snow.
Tioga Road (continuation of Hwy 120 through the park) and Glacier Point Road are closed. There is no estimate on reopening, but they usually reopen in late May or June.
Please note that if you visit Yosemite during the winter season, you run the risk that there are closed roads and attractions. During the winter period (from mid-October to the end of May) snow falls regularly in Yosemite National Park and several roads are closed, for example the Tioga Road, the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove Road.
Current Weather Advisory: Closed Roads and Condition Updates
Check out the current conditions/road updates for specific information on any current road closures here
- Individual (on foot, horseback, or bus) – 7 Days – $15
- Motorcycle – 7 Days – $30
- Automobile – 7 Days – $35
- Yosemite Pass (automobile) – 1 Year, – $70
- America the Beautiful Pass & Federal Recreational Lands Pass – 1 Year – $80
- Senior Pass (automobile) – Lifetime – $80
Free Entrance Days
In 2019, entrance fees will be waived 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)
If your visit during a free day extends beyond the free day(s) and you re-enter the park after the free day, you will be required to pay the regular entrance fee.
America the Beautiful Annual Pass
- $80 for one year
- Annual pass covering entrance and standard amenity fees for national parks and other federal fee areas. This replaces the National Parks Pass and Golden Eagle Pass.
- Buy here online
The shuttle bus system
Yosemite National Park has a free shuttle bus system to transport visitors within the Yosemite Valley. If you visit Yosemite, it is advisable to use these buses – after all, the roads fill up quickly.
- Yosemite National Park has a free shuttle bus system to transport visitors within the Yosemite Valley. If you visit Yosemite, it is advisable to use these buses – after all, the roads fill up quickly.
- The Wawona-Mariposa Grove Shuttle bus transports passengers between Wawona and Mariposa Grove. The bus has stops at the Wawona Store, the South Entrance and the Mariposa Grove Gift Shop. If you take the bus, you are guaranteed access to the Mariposa Grove, even if the parking lot is closed because it is too full. (The parking lot is closed several times a day during the main season due to crowds, so the use of the bus is recommended.) This bus runs from spring to fall.
- The Wawona-Yosemite Valley Shuttle bus departs daily from 8 a.m. from the Wawona hotel; the return trip is at 3:30 pm from the Yosemite Lodge. This bus runs from approximately Memorial Day (late May) to Labor Day (early September).
- The Badger Pass Bus runs twice a day in winter between Yosemite Valley and the Badger Pass ski area, as long as this area is open.
- The Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle Bus connects various trailheads along the Tioga Road between Olmsted Point and the Tioga Pass. This bus only runs in the summer (mid-June to early September).
In addition to these free shuttle buses, there are also a number of buses that are not free and are usually intended to take walkers to their trail heads.
Weather in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles (3,100 square km) in the Sierra Nevada, with elevations ranging from about 2,000 feet (600 m) to 13,000 ft (4,000 m). Yosemite receives 95% of its precipitation between October and May (and over 75% between November and March). Most of Yosemite is blanketed in snow from about November through May. (Yosemite Valley can be rainy or snowy in any given winter storm.)
Do you want to know the Current Weather in Yosemite National Park? Check here
Yosemite National Park / Plan Your Visit / Safety