Glacier-carved landscapes, verdant meadows, and cascading waterfalls create one of the world’s most famous natural wonders at Yosemite National Park. Over five million visitors walk through Yosemite Valley every year, hiking to Vernal Falls, horseback riding, backpacking, and camping with their families. Visit this acclaimed national park for a truly Californian experience.
Yosemite National Park contains 1,169 square miles of wilderness, nine year-round waterfalls, 800 miles of hiking trails, thirteen campgrounds, and nine structured lodging locations. The park is open 365 days a year, although snowfall closes certain areas and access roads from winter to late spring.
The park is home to black bears, falcons, eagles, mountain lions, mule deer, skunks, raccoons, Steller’s Jays, and more. Giant sequoias, Ponderosa pines, California black oak, and other trees line the valleys and mountains, while numerous species of wildflowers stipple the meadows. Plants change with elevation, as do the geologic landscapes.
Yosemite National Park was designated as a World Heritage site in 1984. Set aside in 1890 as a national park through the efforts of naturalist John Muir, the establishment of Yosemite National Park sparked a nation-wide movement to preserve beautiful natural resources for future generations.
Whether you are in Yosemite for the day, tent camping, or staying in a lodge, Yosemite offers the most unique, and arguably the most memorable, experience in California.
Yosemite’s sheer, soaring cliffs, and majestic peaks were carved by glaciers during the last ice age. The inexorable glacial progress ground tons of granite off the sides and bottom of the landscape, creating the famous U-shaped Yosemite Valley and rim formations.
Half Dome: arguably the most identifiable formation in Yosemite Valley, stands at nearly 5,000 feet above the valley floor. Visitors must obtain a permit from the National Park Service to hike up Half Dome, which is so steep that the last 400 feet are set with cables to aid hikers to the summit. Most hikers agree that the view from the summit is worth the daylong hike. Half Dome is closed in winter. Hikers should not attempt the climb when clouds are gathering or after rain.
Glacier Point: offers the most stunning panorama of Yosemite Valley. At a height of 3,214 feet above the valley floor, this vantage point showcases Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, and three of the park’s waterfalls. Stargazing is particularly beautiful from this open vantage point. The viewpoint is accessible via car, bus, seasonally to hikers, and to skiers during the winter.
Visitors should note that advanced reservations are necessary to acquire wilderness permits, campground reservations, and permits to Half Dome. Research what you need to obtain your permit or reservation, and be prepared to book your spot as soon as reservations open; campground reservations sell out within minutes of opening, and wilderness permits are booked months in advance.
Tours are available at predetermined times depending on your destination. The park offers a variety of seasonal activities, including snowshoeing and cross-country skiing in winter, rafting during the summer, and horseback riding when trails are open.
Waterfalls: The best time to view waterfalls is after the snow melts in late spring. Summer reduces most waterfalls to a trickle or dries them up entirely. Fall will see the return of waterfalls as rainfall feeds tributaries and mountain streams. Yosemite’s nine waterfalls are of varying accessibility, ranging from a leisurely, paved stroll to an arduous day long hike.
Yosemite Falls stands at 2,425 feet and is the tallest waterfall in North America. A list of other waterfalls is below. For more detail, visit Yosemite Waterfalls.
Yosemite Museum: The Yosemite Museum bears the distinction of being the first museum created in the National Park System. It houses a large collection of American Indian Baskets, geological exhibits describing the formation of Yosemite Valley, and a wildflower exhibit.
When to Visit
Every season creates a different experience in Yosemite Valley. There is no “best” season to visit. Instead, visitors should determine what they want to see and do on their visit to determine when to book their stay.
Yosemite’s summer season is from June to September. July and August are the most popular months to visit the park. They are also the most crowded time to visit, with over one million people visiting in a span of 60 days. Yosemite’s famed waterfalls often dry up to a trickle in the summer, and green meadows turn gold. For those seeking a lush forest environment, visit during late spring instead, when snowmelt creates hundreds of seasonal waterfalls and restores the park to its vibrant luster.
The Fall season is during October and November, juxtaposing vibrant golden forests against the stark granite cliffs of Yosemite Valley. Attendance to the park drops from September’s count as colder weather arrives, allowing those who do visit increased freedom to roam amidst the thinning crowds.
December, January, and February see the fewest visitors as weather restricts access and portions of the park close due to snow. Nonetheless, winter offers the most magical atmosphere in Yosemite. Fresh snowfall creates the illusion of a pristine wilderness and sends the viewer back to a time when the undiscovered regions of America romanced the nation. The park is unusually empty during these months, offering solitude and peace to those seeking true isolation in one of nature’s most majestic locations.
Winter officially ends in March as April heralds in spring, which ends in May in Yosemite Valley. Spring is a time of raging waterfalls, lush forests, and a period of resting before the tourist hordes arrive for summer. Spring is arguably the best time to visit the park, due to its lush beauty and fewer crowds, although late snowstorms have been known to block access to the park.
The Park Today
Yosemite’s buildings and lodges are constructed in a rustic style designed to blend harmoniously with nature’s surroundings. The rustic exteriors and interiors contribute to the park’s charm.
Wireless internet is available at select locations in the park. Access is usually restricted to overnight guests at each location, but visitors can pay $5.00 for access at Yosemite Lodge.