A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park
Visiting Yosemite National Park is one of the biggest California bucket list items there is. It only took us nine years of living here to check this baby off the list but I’m so glad that we finally did! Hands down, it was one of the most beautiful National Parks we have ever seen – my husband can’t stop talking about it and we both can’t wait to go back!
Driving through the Yosemite Valley is truly magical and can’t really put into words- you’ll have to go and see for yourself. That’s why I’ve created “A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite National Park” to act as a helpful resource when planning your trip.
How to Get to Yosemite National Park
If you’re from out of state, Fresno Airport is the closest airport to Yosemite. The drive from Fresno airport Yosemite Park is roughly an hour and a half. For all my road trip mamas check out the travel times from your largest California cities:
Traveling from San Francisco:
Traveling from Los Angeles:
Traveling from San Diego:
Where to Stay in Yosemite
Hotels inside Yosemite Park
The easiest way to experience Yosemite would be to stay inside the park’s perimeter. For a number of reasons with the first one being that you won’t have to deal with traffic when entering the park at peak times. Here are a couple of Yosemite Hotels within the park:
Yosemite Valley Lodge ($$$) – The most central lodge to stay would be the Yosemite Valley Lodge. This rustic hotel is located smack in the middle of Yosemite Valley so you pay for the convenience. Prices can go up to $800 a night in the summertime so be prepared to spend a pretty penny if you want to stay here.
The Ahwahnee Hotel ($$$) – This historic landmark hotel has old world charm and beautiful views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. With that being said, it’s another property that you will have to splurge on. Prices run anywhere from $300-$1500 a night depending on the time of year you stay.
Evergreen Lodge ($$) – A little further out from Yosemite Valley, however, this hotel is a way more affordable. They also have beautiful cabins for rent. Not only that, but you can rent a tent through them and they will set everything up so you won’t have to lift a finger! This costs roughly $75 a night.
Hotels Outside of Yosemite Park
If you’re on a budget like we were, I recommend staying outside of the park for budget-friendly accommodations:
Groveland Hotel ($$) – This quaint town is located roughly 45 minutes from the entrance gate to the Yosemite. We enjoyed our stay in this little town and would definitely stay again. However, the hotel was a bit loud being that it is an old victorian house.
Rush Creek Lodge ($$) – This lodge is located only 20 minutes from the entrance gate on Highway 120. It offers a relaxed experience for everyone to enjoy and is especially great for families. They have many amenities on-site including a large pool, a full dining room, and a general store.
Camping in Yosemite
Undoubtedly, the biggest draw to visiting Yosemite National Park, are the campgrounds. Not only are they the most budget-friendly option when staying in Yosemite, but waking up surrounded by towering pine trees, rock faces and waterfalls is truly special. Because of the popularity, you’ll need a reservation year-round and the camp spots typically book up six months in advance.
Furthermore, certain campgrounds act as a first come first serve basis. So if you’ve missed out on your top pick, you can always try to get there early for a spot. For all reservations, head to recreation.gov. And for a more detailed list of campgrounds, head to hipcamp.com!
Top Campgrounds in Yosemite
- North Pines (most conveniently located in Curry Village)
- Upper Pines (largest campground in Yosemite Valley)
- Lower Pines
- Tuolumne Meadows (less crowded)
- Camp 4 (great for rock climbers)
Best Sights in Yosemite
The most epic view of El Capitan and Half Dome combined. This is a must-see for everyone’s visit to Yosemite Park. There is a small parking lot in front of the viewing area and it can get very busy during peak times but don’t let that hinder you from visiting this gem.
Did you know that Yosemite falls is the fifth largest waterfall in the ENTIRE world? Standing at a whopping 2,425 feet this beaut quite literally had me stunned. There are so many viewpoints to capture the beauty of Yosemite falls. Let me tell you about them:
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
The most popular view for Yosemite Falls is Lower Yosemite Falls. It’s .5 mile very easy walk to this viewing point. Bonus points if you jump up on the tree to cut out all of the tourists, lol.
I received so many questions on how to get to the boardwalk pictured above in the valley meadow. It’s pretty easy to navigate there but unfortunately, I couldn’t find the name of the campground that is located directly south of the meadow. However, it’s a campground directly next to the stream right before Curry Village on the south side of the Valley Loop Floor. You can’t miss it!
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Who else is excited to see the little church by the big waterfall again? 🙋🙋♀️ 📸 by: @rob_dimock #yosemite #yosemitenationalpark #yosemitevalley #yosemitenation #yosemitenp #yosemite_national_park #yosemitenps #yosemitepark @YosemiteNation @yosemitenps @visitcalifornia #californialove #california #californialove❤️ @visitcalifornia #californialove #yosemitefalls #yosemitechapel #yosemitechurch
How adorable is this church? We weren’t able to capture this cute picture but I had to share regardless!
Spectacular views of the entire park with Half Dome taking center stage. It’s best to catch this view at sunrise or sunset. Also, the drive up to Glacier Point is VERY winding however, the most scenic (we saw the most wildlife). Driving up here takes an hour and a half from the Yosemite Valley floor. Take your time, and be careful!
This baby gets its name because the water cascades down in a smoky sheet resembling a brides veil. It stands tall at 671 feet and is a super quick hike to the viewing point. You can park on the side of the Yosemite Valley floor to access the trailhead.
Yosemite Falls Hike
The Yosemite Falls Hike is not for the faint of heart. It’s a 3k elevation gain and takes roughly six hours round trip. But the views are worth it!
Tuolumne Meadows is located about an hour from Yosemite Valley. It’s a great part of the park that is usually less touristy. There are many hiking trails, campgrounds, and Tenaya Lake is the true beauty of this part of the park.
This lake is a small seasonal lake located on the Tenaya Creek and close to Lower Yosemite Falls. It’s the perfect place to cool off during those hot summer days.
Taft Point is located west of Glacier Point and the hike to get to the viewpoint takes about 1-2 hours. It is best early in the morning or sunset. We, unfortunately, didn’t have time for this spectacular view but will definitely be adding this to our list for our next trip to Yosemite!
Hiking in Yosemite
There is no better way to experience Yosemite National Park than by hiking some trails. Wherever you are in the park there are numerous trailheads to take. Head to the Yosemite Hiking page for a complete list of hikes. Here are the most popular ones:
- Yosemite Falls (Moderate) 3,000 elevation gain and takes 6 hours roundtrip
- Lower Yosemite Falls (Easy) 1/2 mile 30 minutes
- Vernal Falls (Easy)
- Bridalveil Trail (Easy) 20 minutes
- Mirror Lake (Easy) 1-2 hours
- Half Dome (Difficult) 10-14 hours
- Taft Point (Moderate) 2-3 hours
Best Ways to Get Around Yosemite
If you want to see all that Yosemite has to offer, I would highly recommend using a car during your stay. With that being said, if you are staying outside of the park plan to arrive before 9am. After that, the traffic to get in the park backs up and you could be waiting for hours to enter.
Once inside, the easiest way to get around the Yosemite Valley floor is by bicycle. There are 12 miles of paved bike trails that take you all through the major sights on the valley floor. In addition to that, you are allowed to ride your bike on all the major roads, don’t forget to wear your helmet.
Where to Eat in Yosemite
I have to say, I was surprised there were so many options when it came to food inside the park. Compared to other National Parks, Yosemite has many options. Below are the top spots to dine in Yosemite:
Degnan’s Kitchen ($$) – A cafeteria-style eatery with Peet’s coffee, sandwiches, and the fanciest bathrooms in the park!
The Ahwahnee Dining Room ($$$$) – Upscale dining with cathedral windows that show off the beauty of the Yosemite Valley. This place is definitely a splurge!
Yosemite Valley Lodge – Base Camp Eatery ($$) – Better known as the food court. This is the easiest and fastest way to get a quick bite. Choose from 3-4 counters ranging everywhere from pizza to Asian food. They even have a Starbucks located inside.
Meadow Grill ($$) – Located in Curry Village this casual dining spot has everything from breakfast burritos to rice bowls and many vegetarian options as well!
Tips to Know Before You Go to Yosemite
- The best time to visit is from May to September when the weather is warm and the valley is blooming. It’s also the busiest time to visit but you gotta do what you gotta do.
- There is hardly any service when driving through Yosemite, make sure to download some google maps offline if you’re directionally challenged.
- Bring plenty of bug spray and sunscreen.
- Late May to August is the best time to view the waterfalls.
- It can take hours to enter Yosemite during peak times (9am-1pm). To avoid this plan on heading into the park prior to 9am or after 2pm.
- Many of the roads are closed during the winter season due to high amounts of snow.
- The park is 750,000 acres, most people don’t realize how long it can take to get from point a to point b so make sure to do your research
- Bring warm clothes, even in the summer the temperatures drop drastically in the evening time.
Yosemite National Park Covid-19 Information
Last updated July 16th, 2020
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Yosemite National Park is operating at half the capacity for the remainder of the 2020 season. Because of this, every single entry will need a reservation. Even visitors that have lifetime passes need to book a day pass in order to gain entry into the park. Because of this, it’s important to plan ahead. Check it out –
The park’s tickets are released on the 1st of the month prior. For instance, if you are traveling to Yosemite in September, tickets will be released on August 1st. If your date is sold out you have another opportunity of a day pass entry 48 hours before the time you want to enter. For instance, if you are want to visit on August 20th, 300-day pass entries will be released at 7am PST on August 18th.
Visit recreation.gov for more information regarding COVID practices.
Thank you for reading my “A Complete Guide to Visiting Yosemite”. I made sure to pack this guide with as many resources as possible to make your trip seamless! For more of my California travel guides head here! XO, Courtney
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