Yosemite National Park is in California’s Sierra Nevada mountains. This is one of the most famous and visited national parks in California because of its giant, ancient sequoia trees, redwoods and for Tunnel View, the iconic vista of towering Bridalveil Fall and the granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome. In Yosemite Village there are shops, restaurants, lodging, and the Ansel Adams Gallery, with prints of the photographer’s renowned black-and-white landscapes of the area. This park is beautiful from every area down to the cute little old chapel in the valley and meadows leading up to El Capitan. This is one of the best areas to hike in California. The Sierra Nevada mountains are my favorite mountain range in California and I think offer some of the most diverse and beautiful hiking, camping and backpacking in the area. I have lost count the amount of times I have been to this beautiful park and in all seasons there is something to do and enjoy. I have some standard hikes that are my favorites I keep coming back to for the views that I share below.
This park was established in 1864 with over 784,000 acres of land that has 4.3 million visitors every year! Yosemite Valley is truly one of the natural wonders of the world with granite pillars higher than the empire state building in NYC, across 8 miles in the valley. El Capitan looms 3593 feet above the valley, a bucket list of every advanced climber.
How to get to Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is in the Sierra Nevada mountains surrounded by three national forests, Inyo, Sierra, and Stanislaus. Yosemite is a part of a stretch of land that compromises two other national parks as well, Kings Canyon and Sequoia National Park. Yosemite is about 5 hours north of LA on the CA-99N and 5.5 hours about from Orange County on the I-5N and CA-99N.
If you’re flying into the area, the closest airports are San Francisco, Fresno, Reno, Merced, Oakland, or Sacramento. From there, consider renting a car and some camping equipment, or do it like we did and rent a JUCY Campervan for your visit.
When to Visit Yosemite National Park
From March to May is the best time to visit Yosemite National Park, when the spring is at its peak. The less touristy season is from December to March. During the winter, with the heavy snowfalls, some roads may be closed.
If you love the heat and envision yourself splashing in one of Yosemite’s many streams while licking an ice cream cone, then visit in July or August.
However, because Yosemite’s tourist high season lands in the summertime, if you want to escape the crowds while still enjoying the waterfalls and some hiking, consider May-June or September.
If winter activities are more your thing, then keep an eye on when Yosemite’s Badger Pass Ski Area opens in mid-December.
Yosemite National Park Fees
You can pay the entrance fee ($35 per vehicle for the day) or purchase an annual ($80 per year all park access) or lifetime pass at any park entrance station. (You can also purchase these in advance, if desired.) All park entrances (except Hetch Hetchy) are open 24 hours per day. If the entrance station is unstaffed when you arrive, you can pay on the way out.
Seven-day pass if entering via:
Non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats
$35 per vehicle (no per-person fee)
$30 per motorcycle (no per-person fee)
Foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus or van with more than 15 passenger seats
$20 per person aged 16 or older
(fee waivers may be available for curriculum-based educational trips)
You can park at a visitor center and use the free shuttle bus that will take you around the park. It’ll save you time, gas (which is especially expensive outside the park), and you can enjoy the views and not worry about traffic or parking at some of the really crowded trial heads. This is a great idea especially if you want to backpack into backcountry to camp and be dropped at a trial head.
The public shuttle bus operates year-round from 7 am to 10 pm around Yosemite Valley. You can see the main stops on this Yosemite Valley map. If you travel in June, July, or August, I recommend leaving your car with your place of accommodation and move around the valley by bus.
There are also other bus lines in Yosemite National Park that connect the valley with the more remote areas, although these services are private and you will need to buy tickets:
- Glacier Point Tour: When Glacier Point Road is open, connects Yosemite Valley with Glacier Point.
- Yosemite Valley-Tuolumne Meadows Hikers’ Bus: Starts at Yosemite Valley and takes you to various hiking trailheads along Tioga Road.
- Big Trees Tour: Link Yosemite Valley with Mariposa Grove when this area of the park is open.
Visit this website to check ticket prices and operational schedules.
Where to get Gas in Yosemite
Gas is available at Wawona, Crane Flat, and El Portal 24 hours per day with a credit card. Gas is no longer available in Tuolumne Meadows. Gas is not available in Yosemite Valley. Make sure after your road trip to the park you gas up before entering the park and you should be good for your trip. The resources are limited so plan accordingly.
Weather & Conditions
It is smart to check the road and weather conditions before your trip to Yosemite. They are updated regularly online including information on trail closures and other wildlife safety information of sightings in the area. There is seasonal information about camping, trails and wildlife as well as traffic updates in the area.
There are winter road closures yearly on Tioga Pass to get to the high country of the park. See winter road closures and dates here that change yearly based on snowfall and conditions. Tire chains are also required for different areas in the winter for Yosemite so come prepared.
- Cell service can not be depended on in the park so it is best not to rely on your phone for maps/directions, or communicating with your group. Pack a paper map of the trials you plan to do and of the park.
- You get a free map when you enter the mark as well with trail descriptions.
- Since you’re in a valley, things will be a little cooler than you might expect. Even in the summer, you might want to pack a sweatshirt along with your shades and sunscreen.
- Bring or use the bear boxes they have in the campgrounds or a bear bag
- Pack a first aid kit
Yosemite To Do Bucket List
- See the sweeping beautiful park views at Glacier Point
- Feel small walking under massive Sequoias through Marisposa Grove
- Get a permit and hike the famous Half Dome
- Camp out in the valley with a picnic, book and views of El Capitan for the afternoon
- Trek to one of the beautiful waterfalls and swim in the pool below (Bridal Veil, Vernal, Nevada falls)
- Get a backcountry permit and backpack in to the wilderness for an overnighter
- Hike Cloud’s Rest
- See Half Dome reflections in Mirror Lake (and maybe kayak!)
- See Ansel Adam’s photography museum and take a walking photo tour with photographers in the park
- See Yosemite’s Firefall, Horsetails fire glowing falls in sunset in February every year
Top Hikes in Yosemite
Yosemite Valley is the central hub of the national park in Mariposa County, California, United States. The valley holds Yosemite Village, the famous El Capitan and the beautiful meadow along the Merced river with Yosemite Falls cascading over rock face. There are endless trails starting in the valley and heading up to gorgeous views. This is the central portion of the park that has climbing, hiking, camping, a cute chapel, great restaurants and lodging and the best access. This is also the most crowded area of the park and commercialized.
One of the most famous climbs in all of America, El Capitan is a notorious cliff prominently overlooking the valley. It was once considered an impossible climb, but today, there are tons of named routes up the face. El Capitan is an iconic glacial rock known for its near-vertical climbing route & sweeping peak views.
View this post on Instagram
This is what El Capitan looks like when the valley is on fire and a hundred firefighters are running around trying to put out open flames next to the one road we all drive on Hahahaha #elcapitan #yosemitevalley #yosemitenationalpark #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #alpinebabes #findyourpark #bewild
Yosemite Falls offers yet another iconic view. The park’s tallest and most imposing waterfall (and the 6th tallest in the world) is actually made of three drops, each more powerful than the last. It’s at its peak in the spring when snow melt and rain swell the flow. You can see it from all over the park, but hiking up to it really highlights how massive it is. There are three main waterfalls in the park, Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The mist trailhead is what you can take to see Vernal Falls.
This view point is about an hour drive from Yosemite Valley, but it’s one of the most beautiful overlooks in the entire country. The walk from the parking lot to the lookout is short and paved. There is a hike to Glacier Point that starts in the Valley called 4 Mile trail that takes you up to the lookout with an amazing workout and the best views of the valley of most hikes in the park. This is one of my favorite wooded hikes with great views. This is a hike I highly recommend rather than just driving to the trailhead which is anticlimactic and packed. The trail offers private nature views of half dome that are beautiful without any people around before the lookout point.
This is a 9,930-ft high mountain in Yosemite National Park, with several hiking trails to the summit. This hike is actually one of the most intense and beautiful hikes in the park in my opinion and is underrated compared to Half Dome. This really is a great workout and challenging hike that has some of the most unparalleled views of Half Dome, the valley and backcountry in the park. The picture above is the view of Half Dome from Cloud’s Rest. This point in the park is the only that gets you higher than Half Dome in a significant way where you are looking down on it which is crazy. Cloud’s Rest is my personal favorite hike in Yosemite Park and one of my favorite hikes in CA. Cloud’s Rest is a 12.3 mile out and back hike from Tenaya Lake that is near the valley with a 3100 foot elevation gain.
This is a 2 mile roundtrip hike that takes 1-2 hours for amazing 365 degrees views of the park, valley, and half dome. The trail ascends around 1100 feet and highest elevation is 8100 feet. If Glacier Point road is closed there is no access to this hike. This is a great easy hike that is a short workout and beautiful views. The views of the mountains all around are beautiful and very pronounced on this hike.
This viewpoint off Wawona road in the park is thought to be the most scenic part of the part. This iconic panorama of Yosemite Valley, framed by waterfalls & granite monoliths El Capitan & Half Dome is one of the best spots in the park to gaze on beauty and take a great picture. This is a popular sunset spot over the park as well or sunrise. Get there early to secure your spot with your tripod. This is my favorite spot every Yosemite trip to see the sunset because the shades are different every-time and it never gets old!
View this post on Instagram
Inspiration point and tunnel view for sunset. Gazing on this beauty after a 20 miler day of hiking😍👌 #yosemite #yosemitenationalpark #inspirationpoint #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #alpinebabes #findyourpark #bewild
This is a short easy hiking trail that starts from the Tunnel View parking lot with a trailhead across the street from the viewpoint. The short hike up leads to another panoramic vista viewpoint from a higher vantage point with less than a third of the people at the parking lot. This is a great secret spot to get a great view that is private and in nature rather than crowds of people in the parking lot.
This is a scenic pullout area & offers a short trail with views of the north side of Half Dome & Tenaya Canyon. This is a great spot for less crowded and more private views of Half Dome than Glacier Point.
Half Dome is one of the park’s most challenging hikes, but it requires no actual climbing skills has hand hold ropes the whole climb with a pile of gloves at the bottom. It’s 17 miles and part of it involves helping yourself along with wooden planks and metal cables. You’ll also need a permit. Half Dome is the legendary granite dome at Yosemite National Park, attracting hikers & rock climbers for its views. Many people try to hike illegally without a permit and they have stationed rangers now that charge expensive fees to hikers who hike without a permit. This is still a hike that my permit never got pulled for unfortunately that is on my life bucket list. This will be on my next trip when I visit the park!
View this post on Instagram
Half dome my permit didn’t get picked…. My next hike on my next trip!!! #yosemite #yosemitenationalpark #halfdome #westcoastbestcoast #neverstopexploring #sheroams #andshesdopetoo #outdoorwomen #theoutbound #radgirlscollective #adrenalist #bewild #alpinebabes #findyourpark
Tioga Road & the Highcountry
Upper Cathedral Lake (Cathedral Lakes)
The Cathedral Lakes are beautiful lakes to hike into within the high country of Yosemite on Tioga Road. The trek out of the main portion of the park is worth it for escaping the thousands of people and getting into nature alone. In my time hiking in the high country I only saw one or two other people as compared to probably at least one hundred at viewpoints and trails in the valley. The Cathedral Lakes are picturesque lakes on the John Muir Trail, surrounded by meadows & tall granite cliffs that mirror in the lakes. This is a beautiful area to backpack and stay overnight.
Camping in Yosemite National Park
Reservations are required year round for Yosemite Valley’s car campgrounds and summer through fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and half of Tuolumne Meadows. Campground reservations are available in blocks of up to one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. All reservations for the months of May through September and for many other weekends are filled the first day they become available, usually within seconds or minutes after 7 am! The competition is fierce to reserve spots in campgrounds for Yosemite so be prepared and try to book in advance. There are last minute drops you can check for on the site before your trip.
Start the first few steps of the reservation process at www.recreation.gov before 7 am Pacific time to be ready to click and submit your request on time for a better chance.
Make a Campground Reservation
- Visit www.recreation.gov (recommended)
(or 877/833-6777 for TDD)
(or 518/885-3639 from outside the US & Canada)
You can only make two reservations per phone call or website visit at a time (you can call again or start over again to make additional reservations).
If you’re unable to get a campground reservation, you may want to try a first-come, first-served campground or keep checking for cancellations..
This campground is in the valley near half dome at 4,000 feet. Upper pines is open all year, lower pines is open April-October, and north pines is open March-October. All the camp sites are $26/night. Upper pines has 238 sites for tents, RVs up to 35 feet, and trailers up to 24 feet; December to mid-February, only the first two loops are normally open (about 50 campsites). Lower pines is 60 sites for tents, RVs up to 40 feet, and trailers up to 35 feet. North Pines is 81 sites for tents, RVs up to 40 feet, and trailers up to 35 feet. Make a reservation below! Reservations are allowed up to 5 months in advance. There are groceries, restaurants and showers nearby in the village. The sites are a max of 6 people a site and fires are allowed May-September.
Upper Pines: Required and available online up to five months in advance. $26/night
Lower Pines: Required and available online up to five months in advance. $26/night
North Pines: Required and available online up to five months in advance. $26/night
Camp 4 (valley)
This campsite is in the valley near the lodge that is a tent only area with 36 camp sites with no vehicles allowed and a short walk from the public parking near the village. You get a free parking permit when you register for the campground. There is a bathroom with toilets and drinking water, fire pits and picnic tables. May-September campsites are available only by daily lottery, one day in advance, via recreation.gov beginning May 22 (the first lottery is on May 21) and lasting through September 15 (last lottery is September 14).The lottery is open from midnight to 4 pm Pacific time each day. There is a non-refundable lottery fee of $10 per application (up to 12 people). The camping fee (only charged with a successful lottery application) is $6 per person per night. September-May no reservations are available; the campground operates on a first-come, first-served basis and fills early most mornings during spring and fall. The camping fee is $6/person per night. Payment is only available via cash or check. This can be a great campground for during busy times when the park is full to show up and claim a spot early in the fall/winter to early spring.
Crane Flat is near Tuolumne Meadows and trails on the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120) just west of Crane Flat, about 30 minutes northwest of Yosemite Valley, at 6,200 ft (1,900 m) elevation. The season is July-October and reservations are Required and available online up to five months in advance for $26/night. There are 166 sites with space for RVs up to 35 feet and trailers up to 27 feet and bathrooms.
There are many more campgrounds in Yosemite that are more remote and outside the main areas listed below: