What to do in Yosemite? Must see attractions for a road trip

November 27, 2020 /
things to do in Yosemite National Park

Warning: Due to COVID 19 some information in this article (e.g. operating hours) may not be up-to-date.

More than 3 million people travel every year to visit Yosemite National Park, the first “conservation area” designated by the United States back in 1864.

Yosemite National Park is part of the Yosemite Valley, a valley that was created by the erosion of the Merced River glaciers and the detachment and crumbling of some blocks of granite, which have produced the fascinating monoliths found throughout this beautiful natural area today.

Yosemite (which has its rightful place on the “must-see” list on a California tour) is surrounded by nearly vertical rock walls and offers a unique landscape, with spectacular rocky peaks, roaring waterfalls, shining lakes and giant sequoias. Here are some tips for visiting Yosemite: things to do, top attractions and places to see around the park.

Glacier Point: The Most Beautiful View of the Yosemite Valley

glacier-point-yosemite

So… what to do in Yosemite National Park? Let’s start with an overlook point: Glacier Point is the best view point to admire the Yosemite Valley. It is a rock face that overlooks a truly extraordinary view. To get there, you have several options to choose from. You can go on a nice hike (with an elevation of about 3000 feet) or you can drive to the viewpoint with a rental car or, alternatively, you can be comfortably transported by the shuttle guided by the park rangers. All the details are found in our article on Glacier Point.

El Capitan: the King of the Monoliths

Yosemite is home to 8 granite monoliths, and El Capitan is one of its landmarks, as it is one of the tallest granite boulders in the world (3600 ft). In order to view it, just drive along El Portal Road (Highway 140), the road from the Arch Rock Entrance to Yosemite Valley. As you approach El Capitan you will see many tourists stopping, several parked cars and a huge monolith piercing the sky.

Half Dome: A Spectacular Cliff-side Face

A smooth rock face that is 7 degrees shy of being perfectly vertical. Hiking to the summit are exhilarating. First you head on the Mist Trail, pass by Vernal Falls (found 3 miles into the trail with an elevation of 984 ft) and finally begin a steep and challenging climb. Your exertion will of course be rewarded by a splendid view (which you can also enjoy during the walk). The hike is long and it’s best to start at dawn. If you want to hike Half Dome during the time of year that Highway 120 is open, you will need a permit to climb to the top. You can find all the necessary information in our Half Dome article.

Yosemite Falls: The Roaring Falls of Yosemite

In addition to the aforementioned Vernal Falls, there are other waterfalls you can see in Yosemite National Park. If you don’t like walking and prefer to see waterfalls that are easily accessible, you can go to Bridal Veil Falls, which can be reached by taking an easy 15-minute walk, or to Yosemite Lower Falls, which are not as majestic as the Upper Falls, that can be reached after long and demanding hike. If you visit the park in the winter, many waterfalls will resemble huge slabs of ice, whereas during the summer Yosemite Falls may be dried out.

If waterfalls are you primary interest, don’t miss this article on Yosemite Falls.

Tioga Road: Traveling through Lakes, Sequoias and Magnificent Scenery

What could be so interesting to see while driving on Tioga Road? Well, for starters, it’s one of the highest in the USA, and it’s also scenic, which makes it a perfect setting to view some spectacular places from the car: the Tenaya and Tioga Lakes, the redwoods of Tuolumne Grove and Tuolumne Meadows.

If you drive all the way east along Tioga Road to the park exit, take the opportunity to stop at Mono Lake, a large lake characterized by unique tufa formations and two islands (one white and one black) that stand in the middle of the basin. Want to know more? Take a look at this article on the Tioga Pass Road.

Mariposa Grove: The Place to See the Majestic Giant Redwoods

It’s not in Yosemite Valley, but it’s a place you absolutely want to visit if you want to see giant sequoias. Mariposa Grove is accessible by trail. If the weather is nice and you have little time, you can also take a shuttle service that shortens the route from the parking lot. Among the most famous specimens you can see here is Grizzly Giant, which is approximately 2700 years old. To learn more, read our article about Mariposa Grove.

Useful Tips for Visiting Yosemite

Yosemite is open throughout the year and can be visited by car, but be careful: Highway 120, the only road that crosses the park from east to west, is closed from the beginning of November until the end of May/beginning of June. To visit Yosemite you need to plan well and in advance.

Also keep in mind that even though you can enjoy a lot of views while riding the car, in order to see many of the wonders of Yosemite up close you will need to do some hiking!

Tips for an Overnight Stay in Yosemite National Park

Finding accommodations in Yosemite (e.g. at Curry Village or Yosemite Lodge) can be convenient but it’s also quite expensive. However, there are a number of alternatives outside the Yosemite should definitely be considered, given their proximity and affordability.

All accommodations in Yosemite

Because Yosemite is so vast, the making the decision of where to stay also depends on the itinerary and the starting point or the direction you’re headed. There is ample information on this topic, so we have created a special post with all the advice on where to stay the night in Yosemite…with tips for accommodations both inside and outside Yosemite, with options depending on the route.

Map of Yosemite National Park


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lorenzo puliti
lorenzo puliti

I am fascinated by the wonders of the world I never tire of going in search of them.

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