Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California and covers a vast amount of space: almost 1200 square miles! Most visitors concentrate their time in Yosemite Valley as this is home to the most iconic viewpoints, but for those visiting Yosemite National Park for an extended period it is well worth seeing, in entirety, what the National Park has to offer.
One of Yosemite National Park’s most infamous landmarks is the magnificent El Capitan: a dramatic monolith that stands over 3,000 feet above Yosemite Valley. One of the best locations to view El Capitan is along Bridalveil Straight as you first drive into Yosemite National Park. Another great viewing point for El Capitan is from Tunnel View but you will need to climb a short distance to reach this viewpoint – though it is well worth it as you will also be treated to sweeping views of the valley including Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall! El Capitan is visible in all seasons but those who are particularly interested in seeing the amazing climbers who attempt to scale the cliffside will want to time their California visit during “big-wall climbing season” in the Spring and Autumn months. Visitors on a clear February evening may even be treated to the amazing phenomena of the Horsetail Firefall – a small ephemeral fall on El Capitan’s eastern cliff face that turns molten gold when the sun sets. This is a seasonal and rare occurrence so you have to time your visit just right to see this…but what a mesmerising sight it will be if you do!
Half Dome is Yosemite National Park’s most prestigious hike and iconic attraction that attracts hikers to its trail year-round. Though, this hike is not for novice hikers; be prepared with plenty of water, food, and planning…the views from the top will be worth it! Preparedness for this hike is also needed when organising your visit – to hike Half Dome visitors will need a permit that are distributed in a lottery system via bids. This is to limit the number of hikers per day, for safety and scenic reasons. If you don’t fancy hiking this iconic trail, or have no luck obtaining a permit, you can still view this amazing landmark from Tunnel View!
Bridalveil Fall is a third of Yosemite Valley’s most beloved landmarks and is the second most famous waterfall in Yosemite National Park, behind its big sister Yosemite Falls. The base of the waterfall is easily accessible and can be hiked to via the paved trail. Though, be prepared as you might get wet so bring a poncho or rain-mac! The best time to visit Bridalveil Fall is in early Spring but it will be flowing throughout most of the year, except at the end of Summer and early Autumn. Bridalveil Fall can also be viewed from Tunnel View and a secondary viewpoint slightly further down the road for a closer look.
Yosemite Falls is the National Parks largest waterfall (approx. 2425 ft) that flows from November to July – with peak flow being in May. Yosemite Falls is actually made up of multiple waterfalls: Upper Yosemite Fall, the Middle Cascades, and Lower Yosemite Fall. Hiking to the Lower Yosemite Fall is relatively short and easy and can be accessed by most travellers. Hiking to the top of the Upper Falls is a much more strenuous and requires all-day to complete. For those who don’t fancy hiking the falls but still want an amazing view, Cook’s Meadow offers fantastic views of Yosemite Falls!
Hiking to Upper Yosemite Falls, though strenuous, is an easier hike than others including Half Dome, Mist Trail and John Muir Trail Loops so for those wanting to experience a “big hike” whilst at Yosemite National Park then this would be the one for you! Though, “big hikes” is not all Yosemite National Park has to offer: the Cook’s Meadow Loop is a flat, scenic 1-mile trail with amazing views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome! The Lower Yosemite Falls Trail is another easy 1-mile loop hike that will take you right to the base of the waterfall! Bridalveil Fall Trail is a relaxed 0.5-mile trail that would make the perfect morning stroll and give you amazing views of Bridalveil Fall, and the Mirror Lake Tail is a slightly longer 5-mile trail that will offer views of Half Dome, Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins, Washington Column and more!
Visitors to Yosemite National Park often ask where to stay in the surrounding towns, but what they don’t know is that you can stay within the National Park itself! The Village Lodge is a great boutique hotel to stay at within Yosemite National Park that offers panoramic views of the National Park as well as offering guests a swimming pool, fitness centre, WIFI, free parking (super essential, you’ll see why later) and a bar. Those wanting to stay directly in Yosemite Valley will love Yosemite Valley Lodge; a quaint hotel that offers close proximity to Yosemite Falls, WIFI, free parking, and onsite bike rentals!
Those who want to stay outside of the park will have more options for their accommodation: one we love is the Evergreen Lodge – a rustic mountain resort offering woodsy cabins, an outdoor pool, WIFI, restaurant, parking and a bar. The Evergreen Lodge is located around an hour outside of the park so be prepared to drive in each day. For a quirkier accommodation option, AutoCamp Yosemite is a totally unique experience where guests can stay in iconic American Airstream trailers, luxury tents or cabins. Though this “camping” is by no means “roughing it” as each Airstream trailer comes equipped with everything from bathrooms to kitchenettes, and the resort itself offers a pool, bar, parking and WIFI. AutoCamp Yosemite is located around 45 minuets outside Yosemite National Park, so a car is required when staying here.
One reason guests often opt to stay within Yosemite National Park itself is because parking can be a bit of a nightmare. The National Park’s own website instructs visitors to get their early (before 9am) to secure a parking spot and then take the free shuttle bus around the park between each landmark as you will struggle to find a second parking spot during the day. Most onsite resorts offer free parking and shuttle bus pick-up spots meaning you will not even need to move your cars to begin a day of exploring!
There are also plenty of food options after a busy day of hiking and exploring Yosemite National Park including a Starbucks! Each hotel has its own food options, for example the Yosemite Valley Lodge has the Mountain Room which offers more upscale dining, Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court for a quick service style meal, and the Mountain Room Bar which serves as the perfect location to relax after a hike!
All in all, Yosemite National Park is a beautiful, wild place that is an absolute must-visit for those on a California holiday – even if just for a day!