Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park
Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular national parks to visit in the US and rightfully so. Towering granite walls and domes carved by glaciers, meadows, wildflowers, wildlife, ranging waterfalls, lakes, and so much more.
Yosemite has something for everyone at every skill level. Whether you’re looking for a family-friendly trip, easier hikes, harder backpacking trips, rock climbing, rafting down a river, swimming in lakes, biking, photography, star gazing, and so much more.
When to Visit Yosemite National Park
You can experience Yosemite during any season! Even if you come back for multiple seasons, you’ll experience the park in a new way every time. If you’re looking for a specific type of experience, then follow the guide below to plan your trip.
Spring is one of the best times to visit Yosemite. The waterfalls are flowing at their max, the meadows are vibrant green, and wildflowers are blooming in the Valley. Typically in the spring months, the whole park isn’t open. Yosemite Valley is open, but Tioga Rd that takes you to Tuolumne Meadows usually doesn’t open until the summer. Sometimes the road to Glacier Point is also closed in the early spring months.
In the summer the waterfalls are still flowing beautifully and it’s the best time to hike when the whole park is open and the trails are snow-free. If it’s been a high snow year, some trails at higher altitudes might still have snow on them until August.
If you’re looking for fall colors, this is when you want to go. The weather does cool down and there is a chance of snow if you go later on in the fall. But there are also fewer people in the park during this time too.
Yosemite turns into a winter wonderland under a fresh layer of snow. Especially right after a storm when there is snow on the trees, everything is quiet and peaceful. It’s a great time to snowshoe, cross country or backcountry ski.
How to Avoid Crowds in Yosemite
Yosemite is generally crowded because it’s one of the more popular national parks in the US. But there are some ways to avoid the crowds.
If you go first thing in the morning, it’s usually emptier! Especially if you’re trying to get a photo without the crowds, this is the best option. Plus you’ll have the beautiful morning lighting. You’ll also have an easier time finding parking spots and the trails will be emptier.
Head to the backcountry! Although Yosemite National Park backpacking permits typically sell out, it’s far less crowded than being on the more easily accessible trails.
Trails in Yosemite National Park
There are so many trails to hike inside Yosemite National Park that vary in difficulty. If you’re looking specifically for backpacking trips, here are 6 of the prettiest in Yosemite.
I recommend getting a Yosemite map to really see what trails are there and to help plan your trip further. Here is the National Geographic Trails Illustrated map that I use.
Half Dome Trail
This is one of the more popular hikes in Yosemite. It can be done as a long day hike or as a backpacking trip. Permits are required for the cables to get to the top of Half Dome, so if this hike is on your bucket list, make sure to plan ahead. Read through this blog post to get all the details on hiking and backpacking to the top of Half Dome.
The Half Dome trail starts on the Mist Trail. In the summer months, it’s especially nice because you get sprayed with the falls. It’s a 3 mile round trip to Vernal Falls and 7 miles round trip to Nevada Falls. Read through this blog post for all of the details on the Mist Trail.
Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls Trail
Lower Yosemite Falls is a short half-mile walk from the trailhead. It makes for a relaxing experience. Upper Yosemite Falls is a hard 7.2 mile hike that takes you to the top of the falls.
Bridalveil Falls Trail
This is not a long trail, but it’s a nice one to another one of Yosemite’s waterfalls. It’s 1.2 miles round trip from the parking lot.
Clouds Rest Trail
This is one of the harder and more popular hikes in Yosemite that can be done as a long day hike or as a backpacking trip. It’s 14.5 miles round trip from the trailhead.
Inspiration Point Trail
This trail is 2.6 miles round trip and starts from the Tunnel View Parking lot. You’ll get beautiful views of the entire Valley and the granite walls and domes.
Best Photography Spots in Yosemite National Park
This is one of the more popular photography places in Yosemite. When you’re driving into the Valley from the West, this view post is right at the end of Wawona Tunnel. The views open up to views of the entire Valley, Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and El Capitan. The best time of day to photograph this location is during sunrise and sunset.
Glacier Point is one of the most popular places in Yosemite for photos. Get stunning views of Half Dome, an amazing sunset, and it’s also a great place to catch and photograph the Milky Way. At night you also see everyone’s campfires in the Valley below. The road here is closed in the winter months. The best time of day to photograph this location is during sunset and at night to capture night photography.
On the way to Glacier Point, there will be a turn out for Washburn Point. I prefer this place to Glacier Point for photos. I’ve taken beautiful sunset photos with minimal crowds multiple times. You also have stunning views of the Half Dome trail, Vernal Falls, Nevada Falls, and the Valley. The best time of day to photograph this location is during sunset.
Sentinel Beach Yosemite
You have beautiful views of El Capitan and the river. I went shortly after sunrise and the lighting was still great, the views stunning and it was such a fun place to swim in the water. Because it was earlier, it was also empty, so I had the place to myself. The best time of day to photograph this location is during sunrise and early morning hours.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This is an easy day hike, and you can photograph the waterfalls at any time of the day. In the spring months, you might get misted even at the footbridge! The best time of day to photograph this location is any time during the day!
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls Lookout
From the trail to Yosemite Falls, you get a view of both the Upper and Lower Falls stacked on top of each other. The best time of day to photograph this location is in the early morning, evening or on a cloudy day.
Where To Stay in Yosemite National Park
Camping In Yosemite
Camping inside the park gives you the full experience, especially in the spring, summer and fall months when the weather is warm or mild. There are quite a few camping options inside the park. But they go fast! If you’re flexible you might be able to get a reservation a couple of days before your trip if someone cancels, but the best bet, if you want to make sure you can camp inside of the park, is to know when campgrounds open and book them! Here Yosemite breaks down how to to get a camping reservation. You book all campgrounds through recreation.gov.
There is also the High Sierra Camp. Which is made up of six remote tent-cabins accessible only by hiking.
Hotels In Yosemite
The Ahwahnee Hotel: This is a historic park lodge in Yosemite Valley featuring a restaurant, pool, and bar.
Curry Village: There are tent cabins, cabins, and Stoneman House rooms. It also has a pool, showers, and a restaurant.
Yosemite Valley Lodge: This is a motel-style accommodation in the village, featuring a restaurant and pool near Yosemite Falls.
Wawona Hotel: Vintage 1876 wilderness retreat with views that open to an expansive grand porch. There is also a pool, golf course, and a restaurant.
Outside the Park
If you don’t get a campground or a hotel inside the park, you also have both camping and hotel options outside of the park.
Additional Tips For Visiting Yosemite National Park
In the spring, summer, and early fall months, it’s easiest to get around Yosemite Valley by bike. In the middle of the day, the park can get congested with cars, so if you want some flexibility and to be able to soak in the views and experience fully, consider bringing or renting a bike.
In Yosemite Valley, there are also places along the river where the water is slow moving that you can swim and relax by the water. It’s especially wonderful on a hot summer day. You can also bring a raft or a stand up paddleboard and enjoy the river that way.
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