Yosemite was one of the original U.S. National Parks. It helped inspire the first generation of national park-goers, and its iconic landmarks still captivate people today.
I would rank Yosemite as one of the top Must-Visit U.S. National Parks. This park has hikes, drives, and adventures for all ages, and even the easy excursions have incredible payoffs.
So here’s your ultimate guide to Yosemite National Park!
When To Go
Yosemite Valley is open year-round, and it’s stunning no matter what season you visit. During Winter, the valley will be covered in snow, and the waterfalls will begin flowing again. In Spring, the waterfalls will be gushing, and wildflowers will be at their peak bloom. During summer, warm sunny weather will give you clear views. And in the Fall, the lack of other visitors can make you feel like you have the park practically to yourself.
From mid-December to early April, the Glacier Point/Badger Pass Road to the Badger Pass Ski Area is plowed for downhill and cross-country skiing.
The rest of the park – Tioga Road, Mariposa Grove, and Glacier Point Road – become accessible again in late-April or early-May until mid-November.
May and June are the best months to visit. The lower and alpine meadows will be blanketed in wildflowers, the waterfalls will be at their highest levels, and there will be fewer crowds and lower temperatures than later in the summer.
What To Do
Ideally, I’d recommend you have three days in Yosemite to do my three sections of activities below. But if you only have two days, then you could combine Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point Road and just pick a couple of activities to do in each place.
If you only have one day in Yosemite, then I recommend you prioritize Yosemite Valley and then anything you want to do on Glacier Point Road.
Yosemite Valley: This is where you’ll get those iconic views of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Bridalveil Falls. You’ll want to bike, drive, or take the shuttle around the Valley Loop.
I recommend biking because pull-off parking is limited for cars, and the shuttles don’t always run when you want/need them to. Things to do in the valley are: hike to Yosemite Falls (easy; pictured above; make sure you go to both the Falls and the Falls overlook); stop at the Valley View and Cook’s Meadow viewpoints; hike to Vernal and Nevada Falls (strenuous but worth it).
Glacier Point Road (pictured above): This is a paved road suitable for all vehicles and RVs, though once you pass the Sentinel Dome and Taft Point trailheads, the road is restricted to vehicles under 30 feet long.
Things to do on Glacier Point Road: Tunnel View Overlook (the most famous photo spot in the park); take in the views from Glacier Point and Washburn Point; hike to Taft Point and Sentinel Dome (easy-moderate). You can visit the Taft Point and Sentinel Dome viewpoints as a loop, or go out and back to one or both of them.
If you have time and energy after Glacier Road, then you can drive an hour to explore the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias.
Tioga Road: this scenic drive goes from one end of the park to the other. If you’re coming to the park from the East or headed East to your next destination after Yosemite, then you could take the Tioga Road on your route. Otherwise, plan on driving this road out and back.
My favorite scenic stops on Tioga Road are Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake (the pull-off on the West end of the lake has the best views), the Tuolumne Meadows pull-offs on the East side of the meadows, and the Tioga Pass.
Know Before You Go
On Glacier Point Road, restrooms and water fountains are few and far between, so be prepared for this when you start the drive.
In Yosemite Valley, the light (for views and photographs) is best in the morning and afternoon. By early evening, you lose your daylight very fast, even in the summer months.
The Tioga Pass on the Tioga Road scenic drive is outside the park, but the drive through the pass is worth going out and back in if you have time.
Yosemite has a surprising number of restaurants and general stores compared to most other national parks. Make sure you have a meal plan for each day you’re here – either pack out your lunches or time your day to eat at one of the restaurants. You can find a list of the park’s food options here, but be aware that they’re subject to closures and hourly changes.
Where To Stay
When I was here, I stayed at AutoCamp Yosemite in a luxury airstream. This glamping site has several housing options, and it’s only about a 25-minute drive from the park entrance.
As with all National Parks, though, I always recommend staying inside Yosemite National Park. Because of COVID-19, this wasn’t possible for me, but the best campgrounds and lodges are inside Yosemite. Plus, by staying in the park, you don’t have to drive to and from it each day.
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Is there anything you’d add to this Yosemite National Park travel guide? If so, let me know in the comments!
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This post is not a sponsored post, and, as always, the thoughts and opinions expressed in this article about how to plan a trip to Yosemite National park are entirely my own. Some of these links are affiliate links, and, at no cost to you, I may earn a small commission.