Majestic mountains, spectacular views, crisp air, AND in the United States? What place could hold such wonders? One of the most famous National Parks in our country: Yosemite National Park. Located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of Eastern California, Yosemite National Park is nearly 1200 square miles. I’m here to help you navigate the park and make the most out of your trip to this national treasure.
Visiting Yosemite National Park
Since Yosemite is a National Park, there is an entrance fee. Fees are $35/car, or you can get an annual pass for $70 if you think you might visit more than once in a year’s time. The reservation fee of $2 is included in the entrance fee or is collected separately if you have an annual pass.
Where to Stay at Yosemite
There are several lodging choices at Yosemite. From campgrounds and cabins to rustic lodges, there is no shortage of places to rest your head. The Ahwahnee is the top-of-the-line lodging in Yosemite and is open year-round. Also open year-round is the traditional Yosemite Valley Lodge. For a more nature-centric experience, you can check out Curry Village (located within Yosemite Valley) or White Wolf Lodge (located about 30 miles from the Valley). For those that really want to ‘get away from it all’, there are several campgrounds around the area. Each has a daily fee and several require reservations.
Sightseeing and Taking It All In
I can think of no better place to get “one with nature” than Yosemite. The vastness of the area lends itself to myriad sightseeing opportunities and natural wonders. Some of the most beautiful waterfalls can be found in Yosemite Valley, though the best time to view actual water falling is in the spring. Late summer and fall can cause drought conditions. If you want big, Yosemite is the place to be. Half Dome is one of the most notable landmarks of Yosemite. This hulking rock rises 5000 feet above the Valley. It’s not to be missed! El Capitan is a dominating feature of Yosemite Valley. It is more than twice as tall as the Empire State Building and is a wonder to behold. This granite wall has taken away many a breath and is a must-do for avid rock climbers. El Capitan can be seen from many vantage points throughout the Park and should be put on your list for the perfect vacation photo backdrop. Hiking trails are also numerous within the valley. Any trail you choose will lead you to beautiful views. Some of the best hikes for families include the Bridalveil Falls Trail, the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail, and the Mirror Lake Loop.
Just Outside the Valley
While the Yosemite Valley is enough to blow your mind, there are a couple of side excursions that I would recommend. There are several Giant Sequoia groves within Yosemite National Park. The largest grove is Mariposa Grove. The grove is located about 34 miles from Yosemite Valley and is the most easily accessible. A shuttle service is provided from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza to the Grove. Crane Flat is another great side trip, located just 16 miles from Yosemite Valley. A beautiful forest and meadow area, Crane Flat is perfect for hiking and walking, as well as birdwatching!
History and Education
While there is no lack of interesting things about Yosemite, the history of it is what really makes it come to life. If you get a chance to book one of the hospitality tours available, DO IT! You will not be disappointed. The shortest tour is the Valley Floor Tour, which is approximately two hours long and would probably be the best option for those with younger children. For something a little more flexible, a visit to the Yosemite Museum or any of the Visitor’s Centers is a perfect place to gather insight and information. And, if you have kids, make sure you participate in the Jr. Ranger program. Purchase a booklet from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. It will give you all the information you need to help you discover the area. Once the booklet is complete and all requirements have been met, your child will earn a Yosemite National Park Junior Ranger Patch. This is a great activity to keep the kids involved and learning (though they won’t know it)!
Winter in the Valley
Ah, winter in Yosemite! There is no lack of things to do when the snow begins to fall. Cross-country skiing and snowboarding are big hits with adults and teens, while snow tubing and sledding and ice skating get the little ones on the move. Plus, what’s better than coming in after a long day of being in a winter wonderland and cozying up next to a fire with some hot cocoa?
Treat Yo’ Self
Yosemite is one of those places that you just have to experience in your lifetime. The best part is you can experience it with your family, any time of the year. No matter when you choose to embark on your adventure, there will always be something to do and new experiences to encounter. It’s great for kids to get out and experience the wonders of Mother Nature and can lead to a multitude of great discussions. Even if you never got out of your car, you would still feel the awe-inspiring wonder of your surroundings……but what fun is staying in the car?