Things to Do in Yosemite
Biking Trail in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is the most visited place in Yosemite and for good reason. It’s the gateway to majestic granite mountain of Half Dome and El Capitan as well as the most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
Yosemite Valley makes a great destination because on arrival you see Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Tunnel View and Bridalveil Falls. Plan on getting there early or late afternoon because the traffic during peak travel season is enormous and parking space can be hard to find.
El Capitan Yosemite – View from valley floor
You will experience one of the most iconic view of Yosemite Valley after exiting a very long, dark tunnel on Wawona Rd (arriving from Hwy 41) that leads to Yosemite Valley. The exit area is Tunnel View.
There are lots of turn offs and parking strategically located off Wawona Rd. in great viewing areas. Tunnel View is the first photo opportunity you will have when arriving to Yosemite Valley. The view of valley is spectacular and you will get many opportunities to take fabulous photos but do not miss the initial opportunity by stopping at Tunnel View and taking photos. It is a great place to take photos of Half Dome and El Capitan.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center
Yosemite Valley is also the place to get the latest park activity at the Yosemite Visitor Center. Ranger led hikes and educational events originate from the Visitor Center along with maps of Yosemite and other travel information. Next door to the visitor center is the Yosemite Museum for a terrific education of the park.
Yosemite Valley Hikes
Pathway Leading to Yosemite Falls in Early June
Yosemite Valley is also a great place for Day Hikes. My favorite day hikes are:
Several easy and exciting hiking trails start next to the Yosemite Visitor Center. One of the most exciting trail is the Yosemite Falls Trails. As you journey on this trail you may be sprayed by the majestic water falls during April through July. The water will actually spray on the trail as it comes barreling down the mountain during peak waterfall periods of June and July. The waterfall becomes a trickle in late August and September but spectacular during June and July.
Yosemite Valley Lodging
Another popular destination in Yosemite Valley is the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge. These hotels fill up quick and must be booked at least 6 months in advance for overnight stays during high seas. The Majestic Yosemite Hotel is a 4 Star Hotel with all the amenities and located east of Yosemite Village and in easy walking distance to the village
The Yosemite Valley Lodge is located to the west of Yosemite Valley (and the Parking area) and is easy walking distance to Yosemite Village. This hotel is more basic and resembles a very well kept Super 8 hotel. The cost is more reasonable than the Majestic Yosemite Hotel but isn’t cheap due to limited supply of rooms with high demand of park visitors.
Many tours originate from these hotels and it’s a great place to make as your home base to see popular attractions in the park. There is a free shuttle bus that stops at the hotel and will take you around the many of the park’s major attraction.
Yosemite Village Store
Yosemite Village is the main destination for most visitors. The village is central to lodging and camping areas (Yosemite Valley Lodge and Majestic Yosemite Hotel) and has a market, souvenirs, restaurants and basically everything you need for an overnight or weekly stay. The village is conveniently located close to the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Once you find a parking space (which is the biggest issue during summer and weekends) in the village, you are in easy walking distance to the Yosemite Visitor Center and the Yosemite Museum. Yosemite Village is basically downtown Yosemite, where you can eat, shop, sleep (hotels) or just get your bearings.
Yosemite Valley Campsites
Yosemite Valley Campsite
Several campsites are located in walking distance to Yosemite Valley and the Village Market is centrally located to hotel and campsites..
Half Dome Village located close by the Majestic Yosemite Hotel just east of Yosemite Village offers a mix of canvas type tents and about 18 motel type cabins. Obviously the cost Is more reasonable than the in-park hotels and you get the feeling of being at one with nature by staying inside the park. The downside is less privacy and shared bathroom and shower facilities.
Personally, I rather drive one hour and stay outside the park and make the drive doing various day trips. Staying outside the park in neighboring towns like Oakhurst will give you plenty of cheap lodging at brand names hotels and motels. For outside-the-park hotels, advance reservation are good but generally not necessary for those short notice trips to Yosemite. Otherwise, you must book reservation at least 6 months in advance just to stay in a canvas tent inside the park. The drive from outside the park isn’t much fun but the bottom line is ….. you can visit Yosemite on an impulse and have a comfortable bed, breakfast, WIFI and privacy in any of the outside-the-park hotels/motels. Yes it will require an hour drive into the park. See my outside-the-park lodging section of the websites for hotel and motel suggestions
Historic Big Trees Lodge
The Big Trees Lodge is a large historic Victorian hotel. Most rooms offer private bathrooms but some rooms have shared bathroom facility. The hotel has antique décor, fabulous dining and a private golf course. The hotel property sits near the South Entrance of the park that is beautiful and relaxing.
Technically the hotel is located inside Yosemite but It’s about a 30 minute drive from the hotel into Yosemite Village and other popular attractions.
Bridalviel Falls is one of the most spectacular waterfalls in the world and one of the first waterfall you will see as you enter Yosemite Valley. Best viewed in late May and June after a heavy snowfall winter. The trail from the parking space to the base of the falls is about one half mile. You will see water crashing 620 feet down from the height of the granite mountain to the rocky viewing platform below. Guaranteed you will be spray with water. Have your camera ready. May and June provide photo opportunities of a lifetime. Other months are good for photos but you may not see the spectacular waterfall. The natural beauty of Bridalviel Falls is still worth seeing.
There is limited parking and the lot labeled “Bridalviel Fall Parking” usually has a long line just to park. The path from the parking lot to the base of the fall is ½ mile. It is best to avoid parking in Bridaveil Falls Parking Lot. Instead, continue on Southside Dr. for another quarter mile where you can park on either side of the road. You will recognize the additional parking area because you will see other cars parked on the side of the road.
Depending on the amount of snowpack from the winter, July is also a good time to visit but May and June are the best. Remember to be safe. The rocks above the viewing platform (at the end of trail) are very slippery, especially when wet. Watch your kids and resist the temptation to stand on the slippery rocks for better viewing.
Getting to Yosemite Valley
Most visitors arrive to Yosemite Valley from the west either by Highway 41 (outbound from Fresno) or Highway 140 or Highway 120. The most common entry is through Highway 41 from Fresno. This leads to Wawona Rd. which takes you into the Park. All three highway lead to Tunnel View and then on to a one way loop road that takes you into Yosemite Valley via Southside Drive and back out via Northside Drive. After looping around Yosemite Village, the one way road will take you back to Highway 41, 140 and 120.
Keep in mind that the drive into Yosemite takes a while. The park is enormous and depending on where you enter the park, it can take as long as an hour to reach Yosemite Village (with NO Traffic). Throw in traffic on a busy summer weekend and you better have plenty of gas because it can take up to 3 hours to reach Yosemite Village after entering the park entrance.
Plan your trip to either arrive very early morning (between 6 am to 8 am) during summer weekends or arrive after 4 pm when tourist taking one day trips begin to leave opening up parking space.
Once you arrive to Yosemite Village or the hotels, there is a FREE Yosemite Shuttle that will get you around this gigantic park. Most of the attraction that the bus will take you to center around Yosemite Valley.
Glacier Point – Overlooking Yosemite Valley
Glacier Point offers one of the most spectacular view of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls and the surrounding area including Half Dome and El Capitan. Glacier Points sits at 7200 ft. with an unobstructed view of the valley. This is a photographer dream so bring your camera and be prepared for the best photos of your life. Most people get to Glacier Point by car or tour bus.
Take Highway 41 to Wawona Rd (South Entrance) to Glacier Point Road, then follow Glacier Point Rd (about 9 miles) to Glacier Point Trailhead parking lot. If no parking space is available, just be patient and wait for people to leave. Parking turnover is fast. The road is open from May until October or November depending on weather.
Tour bus leaves on a daily regular schedule from Yosemite Valley Lodge at 8:30 am and 1:30 pm from May to October.
Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park
Yosemite has a forest of giant sequoia trees as part of its mountainous environment. Explore the giant Sequoia tree forest of Mariposa Grove. After arriving by free shuttle to the Mariposa arrival area, take any of the hiking trails to explore the tree forest. The easiest trail is the Big Tree Loop that starts at the arrival area. The trail is a 0.3 mile loop and flat so it’s an easy walk. Big Tree Loop is also wheelchair accessible. This trail is a great way to experience the majestic Sequoia trees and get a little exercise at the same time.
Other longer trails wind through the tree forest like the Grizzly Giant Loop and the Guardian Loop. These trails are more strenuous but still lots of fun.
To reach Mariposa Grove, you must park at the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza near Yosemite’s South Entrance and take a free shuttle bus to Mariposa Grove. Parking at Mariposa was eliminated during the last restoration project to preserve the natural habitat of the tree forest environment.
Free shuttle runs every 10 minutes from the Welcome Plaza starting at 8 am during summer months till 8 pm. Shuttle runs until 5 pm during winter months. Check Mariposa Grove for more details
Tuolumme Meadows, Yosemite National Park
Tuolumme Meadows sits on the northeast side of Yosemite ans is only accessible by Hwy 120 (Tioga Road). The area is 8,600 feet in elevation and generally roads are only open for access during Jun thru early November. Tuolumme Meadows is where you go for great hikes. You won’t find many people and it’s a good way to get away from the mammoth crowds of Yosemite since very few people venture into this area. Keep in mind that as fall approaches, the road (Tioga Pass) may be shut down. Click Hiking Trails in Tuolumme for more information.
Top Things to Do
Yosemite Shuttle BusExplore Yosemite by Horesback or Mule Big Trees StablesExplore Yosemite at Night with Guided Ranger Explore Yosemite Under Night SkyExplore Yosemite by Bike Yosemite Rent-a-BikeExplore Yosemite by Hiking Self Guided HikesRaft Down the Merced River Rent River Raft