Yosemite National Park is a hiker’s, climber’s, and backpacker’s paradise located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range in California. The Yosemite Valley, which lies within the Yosemite National Park, is one of the most famous and beautiful valleys thanks to its exceptional beauty. The geology consists of mostly granitic rock with unique formations, glacially carved valleys, and alpine areas with peaks ranging up to 13’000 feet.
Yosemite is famous for its many waterfalls, and Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America. The many waterworks add to the beauty of the park and its spectacular vistas. Accessible via public transportation, Yosemite National Park is a great gateway to some of the world’s most beautiful valleys and peaks. From easy strolls to strenuous multi-day treks, Yosemite is a place for activity and relaxation that will fill your heart with pure energy and beauty that only nature can provide.
Our Ratings 0-10:
Hiking difficulty: easy strolls to strenuous climbs
About The Area
Yosemite National Park is located within 3.5 hours from Fresno/Yosemite International Airport, 4 hours from San Francisco, 3 hours from Sacramento, and can be easily reached by public transportation.
The unique terrain of the Sierra Nevada and the stunningly beautiful Yosemite Valley with its surrounding mountains and rock formations has been developing over billions of years. It came to its current formation through a mixture of volcanic activity, subduction of geologic plates, erosion, and uplift—as well as at least 4 glaciations that carved the granitic rocks and valleys.
Although Yosemite National Park is over 748,036 acres, it is the Yosemite Valley’s 5.937 square miles and its breathtaking beauty that most people have in mind when they talk about Yosemite. Yosemite is one of the USA’s most popular national parks, hosting over 5 million visitors in 2016 alone.
There are multiple vistas that show the majestic valley and its surrounding mountains: Glacier Point, Tunnel View, Olmsted Point, and the Yosemite Valley floor.
Most visitors stay within the Yosemite Valley for day-hikes through the valley and into the nearby high peaks. Thus, Yosemite Valley is quite crowded during the summer season and it has a very touristy feel. However, Yosemite National Park consists of a much more than just the Valley, and the rest of the park is a true paradise for backpackers and hikers who prefer more remote areas.
The climate at Yosemite varies greatly depending on location and elevation. There is snow during the winter and the climate is warm and dry during the summer months. Peak season is from June until September, when average temperatures range from 47F to 90F.
The flora consists of mainly forests featuring giant sequoia trees, groves of pine, cedar, fir, alpine woodlands, and meadows. The park hosts over 250 species of wildlife. Black bears, coyotes, bobcats, fox, Mule Deer, bats, snakes and lizards are just a few of many animals that might be viewed in the National Park.
It is believed that humans have visited the Yosemite area for over 8,000 years. The Central Sierra Nevada regions have been inhabited for roughly over 7,000 years by Ahwahnechee and other Native American groups including Southern Sierra Miwok, Mono, and Paiute.
Yosemite’s inhabitants have a sad history: European-American contact was made sometime after 1833 and the first white settlers set up a gold mining camp in around 1850, disrupting the life of the Ahwahnechee people. During the Mariposa Indian War of 1850 to 1851, the Mariposa State Militia burned Ahwahnechee villages and took their food stores. The state militia forced the Native American tribes to sign treaties and accept reservation land in the foothills of Yosemite. But the Ahwahnechee refused negotiations and their chief Teneiya tried to resist the militia. Unfortunately he was eventually captured and the Ahwahnechee tribe became extinct during the latter half of the 19th century. The US federal government evicted Yosemite Native Americans from the park in 1851, 1906, 1929, and even as late as 1969.
A grant to permanently protect the land was signed by President Abraham Lincoln in 1861. John Muir—a naturalist and advocate for the preservation of wilderness—was instrumental in helping to establish Yosemite Valley and its surrounding mountains and forests as a National Park in 1890. In 1984 Yosemite was designated as a World Heritage Site.
Where To Stay
From sleeping in your own tent to staying at a lodge or luxury hotel, Yosemite has many different lodging options.
Camping: There are 13 developed campgrounds that offer tent or RV sites throughout the park, and many more campgrounds can be found in the park’s neighboring areas. Reservations are highly recommended during the summer season.
Backpacking: bring your own tent, sleeping bag, and cookware and spend a few days in the beautiful backcountry. Rules and regulations apply and wilderness permits are mandatory.
The High Sierra Camps:
These are a great alternative for multi-day hikers who don’t like to bring their own camping gear. The camps are open from June until September and offer canvas tent cabins with dormitory style beds, hot showers and toilets, cooked meals, and lunch packages. There are 5 camps that are located within 5-10 miles of each other at the beautiful areas of Glen Aulin, May Lake, Sunrise, Merced Lake, and Vogelsang. This allows trekking from one lodge to the next along a 6-day loop trail.
Guided mule-treks are also available to reach these High Sierra Camps for multi day trips. Other lodges can be found at Tuolumne Meadows and White Wolf areas.
The Yosemite Valley itself has many lodging options:
Half Dome Village (formerly known as Curry Village) – offers tent cabins, cabins and cottages.
Yosemite Valley Lodge – is located nearby the Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite’s Ahwahnee – a majestic hotel.
For more options and info check here.
Where To Eat
The park has different restaurants, cafes, and grocery stores located throughout Yosemite Valley. A couple of food options can also be found at Tuolumne Meadows and the White Wolf Lodge. The park started the “Healthy and Sustainable Food Program,” in which the park offers a wide variety of restaurants with locally sourced organic foods. As per USA Today, the park’s restaurants offer items like lentil soup, bison hot dogs, grass-fed beef, black-bean sliders, fish tacos, fresh tomato soup, and produce from local farms.
There are a few general stores and groceries located in various areas within the park.
Things To Do
Yosemite is a true paradise for hikers, climbers and backpackers.
Hikers can find trails of all difficulty ratings, from flat strolls along the Merced River at the valley floor to difficult and strenuous climbs up steep slopes.
Thanks to the mandatory overnight hiking permits, there are still many miles of secluded and tranquil hiking trails to be enjoyed within the vast trail system of the park. Starting from Tenaya Lake, Olmsted Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Tamarack Flat, or Yosemite Creek is a great way to avoid the busy Yosemite Valley. There are amazing multiple day loop hikes that can be started at Tuolumne Meadows or other surrounding areas and loop towards Yosemite Valley and out again as desired. There’s even a free shuttle bus to Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, and beyond that makes it easy to plan a great trip.
Check out the map.
These are a few great multi-day loop hikes that I would recommend. Note: these are moderate to strenuous hikes.
Tuolumne Meadows – Lyell Canyon along the John Muir Trail – Vogelsang via Evelyn Lake – Merced Lake – Echo Valley – Yosemite Valley.
Tuolumne Meadows – Vogelsang via Rafferty Creek – Merced Lake – Half Dome – Sunrise Valley via John Muir Trail – Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows – Tenaya Lake – Clouds Rest – Little Yosemite Valley – along Merced River to Echo Valley – along Echo Creek to John Muir Trail – Sunrise – Cathedral Lakes – Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows – Glen Aulin – Cold Canyon via Pacific Crest Trail – Mc Cabe Lakes – Smedberg Lake via Benson Pass – Kerrick Canyon – Pleasant Valley – Pate Valley – along Tuolumne River via Waterwheel Falls to Glen Aulin – Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows – Glen Aulin – May Lake – Olmsted Point – Tenaya Lake – Sunrise – Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows – Glen Aulin – Tenaya Lake – Clouds Rest – Little Yosemite Valley – Panorama Trail – Glacier Point – Phono Trail – Artist Point – Yosemite Valley
For hikes within the Yosemite Valley find a map here.
Some other easier hiking ideas can be found here.
Horseback riding is available at different stables, and visitors can book a variety of options ranging from 2 hour rides to multi-day trips into the back country.
At Curry Village there is a swimming pool that is quite refreshing on those sore muscles after a long day hike.
At Yosemite Valley there are over 12 miles of paved trails that offer a relaxing way to discover the valley floor. Bike rentals are available at Half Dome village and Yosemite Valley Lodge.
Enjoy a 3 mile float on the Merced River in Yosemite Valley, then take the bus back to the entry point. There is river rafting with several skill levels available further down the Merced River.
The Big Trees Golf Course is located in Yosemite National Park in Wawona and offers a nine-hole par-35 course. The course is certified organic, with no pesticides applied to the grass and only gray water used for watering the fields.
For winter lovers there is Ice skating, skiing, cross country skiing, snow shoeing and snow tubing available.
How To Get Around
The area is easily accessible via public busses, and a car is not needed to visit Yosemite National Park. The nearest airport is Fresno/Yosemite International Airport.
Public transportation to Yosemite is available from Fresno, San Francisco, Sacramento, and Oakland as well as from the surrounding communities of Sonora, Merced, and Mammoth Lakes. Once at Yosemite Valley, one can switch to the local free trolleys that run all around the national park. There are several free shuttle busses that connect Yosemite Valley with the northern part up to Tuolumne Meadows and the North-Eastern and South-Eastern parts of the park during the summer:
Fees and Permits
For overnight backpacking trips a wilderness permit is required. The permit can be obtained via fax up to 168 days prior to start date of the trip.
The permit application form and more details regarding permits and application process can be found here.
The applicant gets notified via email within a few business days of the result of the permit application. Once a permit reservation is received via email, the permit needs to be picked up at the park’s permit station the day before starting the hike.
If you are planning to hike up to Half Dome, then an additional permit is needed, as this is a very popular spot with limited space to climb up to the peak. If you are planning to hike over Donohue Pass via the John Muir Trail, be aware that there is a very high demand, and as per the park website over 97% of permit applications are denied.
More info to plan your backpacking trip at Yosemite National Park can be found here.
Special Gear Needed
Since Yosemite National Park is black bear country, locking your food in a Bear Resistant Food Canister is mandatory. Food lockers are available at a few designated sites in the Yosemite Valley and at Tuolumne Meadows only. For backpacking trips, portable bear canisters that hold all your food and toiletries are needed. More info here.