Hello Fellow Adventurer!
We at Utah's Adventure Family love exploring National Parks! There are so many amazing things to see throughout the country, and we love falling in love with new National Parks. That is exactly what happened when we visited Yosemite National Park. It was love at first sight!
We worried about the crowds, the shuttle, and scheduling, but Yosemite won our hearts. This park is beautiful and amazing! There is so much to see, and we weren't able to see it all, but we have some favorite spots we want to share. We are sharing our top 10 things you won’t want to miss when you visit Yosemite National Park.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This waterfall is iconic! If you go early in the summer, you can see Upper Yosemite Falls, too (it disappears late in the year). These waterfalls are over a thousand feet tall and very beautiful. The walk to see them up close is only ¼ mile, and it’s paved, which means that anyone can do it. Hop off the shuttle at Stop #6 to walk to Lower Yosemite Falls.
Bridal Veil Falls
Before you even enter Yosemite Valley, make sure to pull into the Bridal Veil Falls parking lot. This waterfall is a short ¼ mile walk along a paved trail, but there is a little incline, so be prepared if you push a stroller or wheelchair. The waterfall descends over steep granite cliffs and is definitely worth a visit.
This trail is found right in the middle of Yosemite Valley. You hike across the meadow from shuttle Stop #5 to Shuttle Stop #6. We liked this hike so much, we did it twice. We found that this easy trail across the meadow offered beautiful views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the gorgeous valley. We also ran across lots of animals including deer, blue beetles, monarch butterflies, a red shouldered hawk, and a bobcat. This was definitely a favorite spot in the park.
The Mist Trail is difficult but so rewarding. We hiked to Vernal Falls along the mist trail, but did not continue any further. The hike was steep and long, but it was our favorite part of Yosemite. The hike takes you right near massive Vernal Falls, and the mist rains down on you (hence the name Mist Trail). If you have older children, this is a must do. The experience is awesome! For more info about this hike, check out our specific post on Vernal Falls at Utah's Adventure Family. The Mist Trail begins at Stop #16.
Mirror Lake is more like a wide section of the Merced River, but it was the perfect spot to get wet. There are two trails to Mirror Lake: one walks along the bike trail and one walks through the forest. We hiked through the forest on the way there, and along the bike trail on the way back. Make sure to take a towel to dry your feet before you hike back along the trail. You can begin the hike to Mirror Lake at shuttle Stop #17.
Ice Cream at Half Dome Village
The last part of Yosemite Valley that we recommend is to stop at Half Dome Village (Stop #13) and eat some ice cream. This was the perfect treat for our boys after lots of hikes, and the ice cream was delicious. The ice cream stand is located in the building with the cafeteria. There are a few other restaurants here if you are looking for food.
Glacier Point Road
The Glacier Point road has two overlooks and both are worth the stop. The first lookout that you come to is Washburn Point. Here you get a wonderful view of Half Dome, as well as Vernal and Nevada Falls. This was especially important for us since we had hiked to Vernal Falls the day before. The second overlook is the large Glacier Point, and you definitely want to stop. There is a majestic overlook of the entire Yosemite Valley, as well as Half Dome. We stood in awe looking down at the miniature cars below and all the spots we had visited.
Note: If it is a busy time of day, there is a shuttle that runs out to Glacier Point. We were lucky enough to drive ourselves out to the overlook, but the shuttle stops at all of these spots so you won’t miss anything.
This is the one part of the park we were sad to miss. Mariposa Grove has been closed for the last few years for a restoration project, but it reopens June 2018. It is one of a few Giant Sequoia Groves in Yosemite National Park. This grove is especially famous for the Grizzly Giant tree that is estimated to be 1800 years old and the California Tunnel Tree, which is a tree you can walk right through. We visited Calaveras Big Trees State Park to catch the Giant Sequoias, and we can’t explain how amazing these trees are. So if you are in Yosemite, make sure to walk this trail.
Tuolumne Meadows are on the opposite side of the park from Yosemite Valley. They are along the Tioga Road, closer to the east entrance. Every time we drove through Tuolumne Meadows, we spotted deer. The meadows are beautiful, and we enjoyed the simple hike across the meadows to the Soda Springs. These springs have bubbly water that you can take a drink of, if you’d like. If you drive along Tioga Road, this is a great stop.
Tenaya Lake was a spot we wished we had more time for exploring. We stopped one evening as the sun was setting and walked along the edge of the lake. It is beautiful! There are a few picnic tables and this would be a spot for picnicking.
Don't miss out on this amazing program. There is a free junior ranger program in the newspaper they hand you as you enter the park. You earn a badge if you complete the page in the paper. For $3, you can do the full Junior Ranger booklet, and then you can earn a patch and a badge. It's a little more in depth and you need to attend a ranger program.
Good to Know
Where: Yosemite is located in east-central California. It is a large park with multiple entrances. It is one of the best known and most visited national parks in the United States.
When: The park is open year-round, but Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road are closed during the winter because of high elevation. Make sure to check their opening dates before you visit.
How much: The entrance fee is $30 per vehicle for a 7 day pass. We got in free with our son’s Every Kid in a Park Pass. Click the button to learn more in Allison’s post 4 Ways to Save on National Park Fees.
How Long: At least one full day, but you'll need more to see all these attractions. Arrive early to Yosemite Valley each day.
We recommend arriving a few minutes before the shuttle starts. Find a parking spot at a shuttle stop and take everything you need for the day, or at least half the day. Use the shuttle to help you work around the entire valley.
Amenities: Yosemite has many amenities inside the park, including lodging, dining, fuel and shopping.
How else can we help?
Where is the nearest airport? The nearest airport to Yosemite is Fresno-Yosemite International, and that's still 90 minutes from the park. You can also look at San Francisco International, Oakland International or San Jose International. Regional airports can be found in Merced and Modesto.
Get tips for getting the best price on your flight, and for making it better on our Air Travel page.
Need a rental car? Even though Yosemite has a shuttle inside the park, most people will need to drive their own car or a rental to visit Yosemite National Park. I recommend starting your search for a rental car at RentalCars.com. You can shop the best prices from dozens of agencies at once.
Click the button to find the best rates from dozens of agencies at RentalCars.com.
Need a place to stay? Stay near the west side of the park. We booked a cheap hotel on the east side of Yosemite before we knew anything about the park. We drove across the entire park two days in a row so we could see everything. The drive is beautiful, but it cuts into the amount of time you have to explore. Most of the activities in Yosemite are on the west side in Yosemite Valley. Or stay in the park, if you can find lodging or camping sites!
Click the button to check prices and availability for hotels near Yosemite National Park on TripAdvisor.