9 Things You Can't Miss On Your Trip To Yosemite National Park + Tips
Updated: Aug 1
Yosemite National Park is a complete work of art. It's no surprise why it's one of the U.S most stunning National Parks. There are endless amount of famous landmarks, historical sites, stunning hikes and some of the most breathtaking views I've ever seen. It is impossible to see it all in one visit but I’m excited to share with you those that I consider a must. I’m specially excited to share those that you can easily admire from the comfort of your car or side of the road. You really don't have to be an extreme hiker to see some of the most gorgeous views. I've also included tips to help you make the most out of your time in Yosemite National Park. Scroll down to read all the details and happy planning!
Let's start with some very helpful tips. Some of these tips we did before our visit and some we learned the hard way.
Reservations to enter the park during peak hours are needed. To learn more head over to https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/reservations.htm
Fill up on gas before entering the park. There are gas stations inside the park but they are far in between and overpriced.
There are a limited amount of places to purchase snacks and the ones they do have are extremely busy and overpriced. We came across a store at the South entrance and at Yosemite Valley.
Plan your visits before arriving to the park. Most places have weak or no Internet service.
Bring tons of water with you. If you think you have packed enough, pack some more.
Bring a waterproof jacket. Mornings can be very chilly and some hikes can take you through heavily misted areas.
Best time to visit is Spring. This is when the snow has turned into water and most waterfalls are at their full glory.
Start your visit into Yosemite Valley VERY early. This area seems to be the most busy during midday. You can also head back to this area after 5pm when most are hading back to rest. You'll get beautiful sunset pictures with less crowds.
I suggest you look up your destinations ahead of time using the Yosemite National Park map as your GPS is likely to not work inside the park. You can download the general map ahead of time here as well as a more detailed one of just Yosemite Valley here. I suggest you download BOTH. You will receive one on arrival but getting a general idea of where your desired destination is ahead of time is a GREAT idea. This is what we used to get around.
If you're limited on time I suggest visiting Yosemite Valley. Here you can spot some of the more popular sites, find places to eat & shops. Keep in mind also most crowded area but worth it!
Chilnualna Falls Trail
This is an out and back 8.4 mile hike and is our longest trail to date. It is a moderate/strenuous hike with some gradual elevations that was worth every step. The gradual elevation definitely help but none the less, you'll still feel it. Just one mile into the hike we came to the first waterfall and continued on to the other 2 which we found at the top. The views all around were beautiful.
The trail had no crowds and once at the top we found plenty of space to sit and enjoy the views and snacks. It took us 6 1/2 hours from start to finish with breaks. Alexia, my 10 year old daughter was able to complete it with no problem, probably even better than myself lol. Keep in mind some areas may be a bit narrow and steps may be a bit slippery due to mist. Just be cautious and practice safety at all times.
Fun fact: According to the Travel Channel Chilnualna Falls Trail is considered the second most scariest haunted hiking trail in the U.S. You can read why and more about it in this article HERE
Mist Trail To Vernal Fall
We climbed along natures "giant staircase" to reach the beautiful, popular and powerful Vernal Fall.
We had to climb a steep and wet granite stairway to get a closer look of the fall but it was absolutely worth it. Did we go ALL the way up? We didn't, but we were so close! We climbed high enough to get tons of waterfall spray, took some pictures of the beautiful and powerful fall, saw a rainbow and turned back around.
We went through Mist trail to get to the Vernal Fall which is a strenuous 1.2 mile uphill hike. Along the way we passed Vernal Fall Bridge where many stop to take pictures and allows you to get a view of the powerful Merced River and Vernal Fall from afar. Like many, we could have turned around but we were determined to get a closer look of the fall. The trail was not easy but absolutely gorgeous from beginning to end. Going down those granite steps was the most challenging part of it all, but I'd do it again in a heartbeat. This trail lead to many other popular hikes in Yosemite Valley so expect some crowds. I do recommend heading out to this particular trail as early as possible.
*2023 update: Vernal fall is extra powerful this year due to all the rain California received this year. Exercise extreme caution as the stairs get slippery. Some closures to reach the fall are expected to be in effect starting July 2023 on certain days due to trail work. For updated news visit Mist Trail To Vernal Fall Update
The views of these falls are stunning and you don't have to hike anywhere to see them. They are visible from most of Yosemite Valley. We park right by the Swinging Bridge and walked out to the open field to get these spectacular views and pictures. Bring some snacks, a blanket and have a picnic surrounded by these stunning views. You can also walk closer to the falls but we wanted to avoid the crowds and I'm glad we did.
Swinging Bridge In Yosemite Valley
Earlier I talked about the Swinging Bridge which gives a stunning view of Yosemite Falls. Don't be fooled though, the bridge isn't actually a swinging bridge but it does make for some beautiful shots and a relaxing walk around Yosemite Valley.
El Capitan from the car
One of the most stunning views is exiting the tunnel to Yosemite Valley and seeing this spectacular view. El Capitan is an iconic destination in Yosemite N.P. and once you see it you will understand why. It will be on your left hand side and there is a long stretch of pull outs on both sides to park, enjoy the view and take some pictures.
Right across from El Capitan, to your right side you will see Bridalveil Fall. The hike is currently closed but it is still a great sight to see specially when it's accessible from the side of the road.
Half Dome View
There are several areas where you can see the Half Dome from. Might be a bit hard to recognize at first so thankfully we came across a stop on the side of Big Oak Flat Road that described exactly what we were looking at. It's not hard to miss since this seems to be a popular stop on the side of the road. Half Dome is the little peak you see between the 2 mountains. Although far away, this stop still made for a great rest area to read a little bit about the the many faces of Half Dome. Not to worry though, the views from Yosemite Valley get even better!!
Told you the view got better! This is inside Yosemite Valley. We went once the sun was starting to set and the way the Half Dome peak was lite up by the sun was incredible. Again, we pulled up on the side of the road and got off to see this spectacular site.
Catching a sunset while visiting Yosemite National Park is a must. Tunnel View is an incredibly popular spot due to the incredible sunsets. If you are heading there late afternoon, there will be a lot of professional and amateur photographers with tripods trying to get the best shot. Parking is limited so we decided to keep driving and simply pulled over on the side of the road to catch this beautiful sunset . It was absolutely beautiful and we had the area all to ourselves. My point, if your preferred area is full, keep going because there are plenty of other areas you can enjoy it from.
Meadow Loop trail
This is a 3.5 mile mostly flat trail that was perfect for all ages and hike levels. It took us about 1.5 to 2 hours to finish and it was the perfect place for an easy evening walk in nature.
If you are entering though the Yosemite South Entrance in Wawona, you will find this on your left hand side across the street from the Wawona Hotel where parking is also available for this trail.
Our visit to Yosemite National Park was a very memorable experience and I hope you find these tips and suggestions helpful to make the most our of your visit in one of the most beautiful National Parks. Always exercise caution when out in nature and to get the latest on road or trail closures visit Yosemite National Park Service.
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Talk to you later!