Natural beauty doesn’t get much better than Yosemite National Park in California. As the gateway to the Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite Valley is famous for its striking peaks and idyllic waterfalls. Visitors can enjoy a wide variety of activities, but keep in mind, the timing of your visit is essential. For instance, winter weather can close off portions of the park, but also presents the opportunity to take in the splendor of Yosemite in the snow.
There’s enough to keep you busy in Yosemite for weeks, but this guide will focus on the highlights and more accessible perks the park has to offer for new visitors.
Getting to Yosemite
The countryside in and around Yosemite is spectacular. Getting the most out of your visit should include a scenic drive along California’s Highway 140, which starts in El Portal and winds through the quaint town of Mariposa. You’ll enjoy redwood-lined highways and views of the Merced River. In Mariposa, you can breathe in a tiny village that has resisted change for many years and visit local historical museums. If you love exploring dirt trails, this area offers superb off-roading, but not in Yosemite itself.
Top Sights and Experiences
Depending on how long you’ve got to spend, there are so many impressive sights and things to do in Yosemite National Park. Guided tours, hikes, climbs and camping are some of the most popular ways to spend your time in the expansive Yosemite Valley. A word to the wise: If you’re planning to visit during the summer, you’ll be fighting crowds and will not be able to do as much, so consider visiting during the “shoulder season” in spring or early winter. If you enjoy the snow, go for a full-on winter trip, but be aware parts of the park may be off-limits.
Waterfalls are some of Yosemite’s primary attractions. Highway 41, which runs through the park, will take you past one of the most majestic of them all, Bridalveil Falls, as well as Half-Dome, the rounded granite peak that is Yosemite’s most recognizable feature. Ribbon and Horsetail Falls are equally impressive, though they can be seasonal. Many of the hiking trails around the park will take you to scenic vantage points where you can watch the falls and take pictures.
Yosemite’s wildflowers make for wonderful viewing in the springtime, and if you’re lucky, you can see the natural phenomenon of a moonbow, which happens when light reflects off the mist from the waterfalls. The valley’s many simple campsites and cabins offer you the opportunity to spend a night in Yosemite Valley and experience these special moments. In the morning, you can rise and if the timing is right, possibly catch Yosemite’s famous Firefall, an effect created when the light on Horsetail Falls makes it look bright orange like liquid magma.
With so much to do, you owe it to yourself to spend at least a few days in this place of natural splendor. But even if you don’t have time to do that, you can experience a glut of once-in-a-lifetime scenery at the Ansel Adams Gallery. There, you can purchase pieces by the legendary wilderness photographer, whose name is honored with a section of land that spreads through the park. It’s a place everyone should see, so plan your trip today!