The day breaks in Yosemite with the sun emerging as a sliver of light from the shoulder of Half Dome’s rugged peak. As the natural beauty of this magnificent landscape reveals itself to the world, you are struck by an insatiable hunger to explore. With one last glance at this glorious sunrise, you spin on your heel and set off to discover more of the park’s wondrous attractions.
A tour of Yosemite National Park will allow you to view some of North America’s most incredible landscapes. From the stunning forests in the valleys to the impressive mountains and domes from which waterfalls cascade, there is no shortage of picturesque views. Whether you choose to tour the park by road or by trail, you’ll be sure to have an unforgettable time.
As you take part in some hiking in Yosemite, you will begin to feel the life all around you. The gentle hum of the forest, the rich, earthy sap smell that emanates from the trees, and even wildlife roaming this park’s diverse landscape.
I can truly say beyond the slightest hint of doubt that this is one of the most magnificent experiences that California has to offer. It’s very important that you stay aware of your surroundings during your visit, for your own safety and the safety of the environment around you.
Sunrise at Glacier Point
This is not first on the list by chance, experiencing the sunrise from Glacier Point has consistently been voted as one of the very best things to do in Yosemite National Park. This marvellous viewpoint looks out over Yosemite Valley and the cliffs that stand guard above it.
As the sun rises over the iconic rock formation known as Half Dome, the valley will be illuminated by the vibrant rays. This viewpoint is an excellent place to observe Half Dome, its grey cliffs towering above the lush forest below. After sunrise, you may spot some climbers through the lens of your binoculars as they scale the impressive cliff face.
To the left, you will see the rolling slopes of Tenaya Canyon, forever in Half Dome’s monumental shadow. The Tioga Road passes around Tenaya Canyon, where you will find Olmsted Point and an impressive reverse view of Half Dome.
Not only does the Glacier Point offer brilliant views, but also boasts an amphitheatre for stargazing as well as a car park and toilets. Once you arrive at Glacier Point, you may feel a strong urge to spend the day appreciating the view, but you’ll have to tear your gaze from this awe-inspiring scene because of what the rest of the park has in store for you.
Midway along the famous Tioga Road you will come across the splendour of Tuolumne Meadows. A vast meadow spreads out before you with long, swaying grass rich with greens and golds as well as the vibrant yellow of wildflowers. A sparkling river flows through the heart of the meadows, with water so clear and cool that just dipping your toe in will leave you feeling refreshed and relaxed.
The unique sight in these meadows is the Soda Springs, where parts of the earth are tinged by the pink colour of the carbonated water that rises to the surface.
With any luck, you may even see a deer or two lapping up this crystal-clear water and be overcome by the surreal scene that plays out before you. To read more about Tuolumne Meadows in detail, find out about it in our Drive along Tioga Road article.
Taft Point & The Fissures
After driving up to take a look at Glacier Point, make sure you don’t miss out on the view from Taft Point just around the corner. You’ll have the chance to enjoy some hiking in Yosemite as you take a stroll along easy terrain from Glacier Point to Taft Point.
The walk takes 1 hour return to complete and brings you on a gentle descent through the forest to a small clearing. Once you step foot in the clearing you can look to your right and admire the deep-set fissures. These cracks in the rock provide a unique perspective of the land below, allowing for interesting photographs between the granite walls.
Once you’ve arrived at your destination, you will find a sheer 3,000ft cliff. As you stand against the railing peering over the edge, a burst of exhilaration will shoot through your body.
The feeling of something as small as a metal railing separating you from this staggering precipice is enough to leave anyone’s toes tingling. Unless you have a profound fear of heights, looking over the railing is an experience that you will never forget.
At a total elevation of 7500 ft above sea level, Taft Point offers incredible views across the park. From your excellent vantage point, you will have a clear view of Yosemite Valley leading off into the distance with gigantic granite rocks erupting from the earth on either side.
The prominent cliffs of El Capitan to the right of the valley stand magnificently out above the green landscape below. The face of El Capitan has a gentle curve to it and an undeniable charisma that tends to constantly hold your gaze.
Giant Sequoias Groves
A stick cracks beneath your foot as you roam between the trees. The rich, earthy smell of sap envelopes you and you take a deep breath. Looking up the magnificent trunk of the Sequoia tree you shade your eyes with your hand as the sunlight pierces through the leaves above.
You close your eyes for a moment and listen to the gentle hum of the forest around you, a clear indication of the life that blossoms in every direction.
Yosemite National Park is coated with a mesmerising layer of trees, with groves of the world’s oldest and largest trees scattered across the landscape. The Giant Redwood, or Sequoia tree, stands proudly out amongst the surrounding Cedars. The park has two main Sequoia groves, Tuolumne Grove which is located along the Tioga Road, and Mariposa Grove, located just south of Yosemite Valley.
Over the years, Mariposa Grove has become an extremely popular attraction in the park and will undergo a major restoration project in the Spring of 2017. This will result in new trail signage, to ensure that you don’t get lost while hiking in Yosemite, as well as a new boardwalk system and the removal of parking lots and tarred roads to provide a more natural visitor experience.
Mariposa Grove is home to around 500 mature Sequoia trees, each with a unique and impressive shape. The Grizzly Giant is a simply colossal tree with many of its branches growing thicker than most of the surrounding pines. It is the oldest tree in the grove, estimated to be between 1900 and 2400 years old. Nearby, you will find the California Tunnel Tree, an inspiring sentiment to the Sequoia’s tenacious nature because of it having survived the significant loss of most of its lower trunk.
Between November and April, the Mariposa Grove road is closed to cars because of the heavy snowfall, but many adventurous souls still wander through this winter wonderland on foot. The almost deafening silence of this forest in hibernation provides a truly profound experience.
Tioga Road Drive
Yosemite’s greatest one day adventure comes in the form of a road. With a number of unforgettable stops along this splendid road, you’ll be sure to spend your day like never before.
Taking you to Tuolumne Grove, Lukens Lake, Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, Tuolumne Meadows, Dana Meadows, Tioga Lake, Tioga Pass, and finally to Mono Lake, this road is certainly one of the top drives in North America. If you would like a full route map of this adventure and all its stops, visit our Tioga Road article.
The attractions, however, are only half of the roads allure. The journey through this diverse landscape itself is a huge reason for the road’s popularity. The feeling of liberation as you cruise through the hills and valleys of Yosemite is nothing less than irresistible.
To make the most of your tour of Tioga Road, be sure to book a night in Yosemite Valley. The drive from outside the park will take at least an hour and will restrict the time you can spend along the way. The road itself is very easy to navigate, with good signage and a clear route that will bring you to the final destination, Mono Lake.
A bead of sweat runs to the end of your nose and drips onto the dry, grey granite beneath your feet. You wipe your brow with your forearm and push yourself onwards. Glancing to your side you see the frightening drop into the pines far below, sending a cold shudder through your body. Gripping the cool metal railing, you keep moving forward, the thrill of the climb breathing strength into your tired legs.
Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most iconic rock formations. Due to its monstrous size, it can be admired from a number of different points around the park. Each of which provides a new and interesting view of Half Domes many faces.
At a staggering elevation of 8842 ft, scaling the 93% vertical grade cliff face has become the park’s top activity. Taking hiking in Yosemite to a whole new level, the scenic trail leads up the valley to the cliff face. Ideally, this is where many people stop for a night, before waking up in the early hours of the next morning begin the next section of the climb known as Cable Route. Many people consider this to be the ultimate Yosemite hike, attracting up to 800 people every day.
A permit has been required to hike to the top of Half Dome since 2011. The trail is extremely difficult, with parts being a scramble up the sheer cliff face. The cable route is open from May to mid-October depending on snow conditions.
The horizon begins to blush a pinky orange and you feel the cool wind from the lake brush past your ankles. The landscape around you is barren, with only a few desperate plants breaking through the hard ground.
You turn to look out at the lake, with several scraggly tufas protruding from glistening water and watch in amazed silence as the faceted surface of the water begins to reflect the burning sky.
While the rest of Yosemite’s landscape seems to follow a common theme, the unorthodox beauty of this destination provides a truly unique experience. Walking on the lake’s shore will make you feel as if you’ve set foot on an alien planet.
Hundreds of jagged rocks rise out of the shallow waters, their curious and uneven shapes giving this landscape its ‘otherworldly’ feeling. These rocks are known as tufas and can be found scattered around the shores of Mono Lake.
Mono Lake marks the end of Tioga Road and is the perfect way to finish off your unforgettable drive.
With the tranquil sound of the river running through the green meadow, you feel peace wash over your body. Sitting quietly with your toes dangling in the water you stare, unblinking into the clear river.
As you raise your head, something in the long grass catches your eye. Watching intently you see a small deer emerge from the grass and lower its head to the river, lapping at the sparkling water.
The abundance of wildlife in Yosemite National Park is due to the multitude of different habitats. From the soaring cliffs of Half Dome to the quiet streams hidden deep in the pines, there is no shortage of space for animals to roam. With over 400 species of vertebrates, this incredible park plays host to some of North Americas most beautiful animals.
There is one animal in particular that many people associate with Yosemite National Park. The black bear has become a highly sought after sight in the park due to its rarity. There are estimated to be around 500 black bears within the limits of the park. Most visitors have reported seeing bears lumbering through meadows toward rivers or in the forests snacking on berries.
Though you may go in search of these majestic animals, be sure that they don’t find you first! A fine is charged if you leave food in your car overnight. Bear lockers are provided to ensure the safety of both your food and your campsite.
Stargazing in Yosemite
You feel the cold granite stone against your back as you lean against the rock with your eyes turned skyward. Your periphery vision is picking up the dark outlines of the trees, and right above you, your eyes focus on the dancing stars. It is unlike anything you have ever seen, millions upon millions of stars glittering and shimmering in the sky in an enchanting display of light and dark.
Of all the attractions on offer throughout Yosemite National Park, none can quite compare to the captivating experience of stargazing. Miles away from the nearest city lights, the night sky out here showcases an unimaginable number of stars.
The mere act of looking up at this plethora of stars is enough to make you question your place in the universe. Your worries seem to melt away, and all of your problems are put into perspective as you stare up into this glittering expanse of sky.
In mid-August every year, visitors of Yosemite National Park turn their attention to the night sky with excited anticipation. The Perseid meteor shower blazes across the sky with golden-yellow tails. It is at its most spectacular when the moon is out of sight, and the sky is dark. While you sit and wait for the shower to begin, you may be excited by one or two silver flashes, but these are just shooting stars. When the real show begins, you will know! It’s almost as if balls of fire ignite in the sky and burn ferociously, leaving a golden streak of flames in their wake. The shower is forecast to peak in the early hours of 13th August 2017, so be sure to book your place in Yosemite Valley early so that you don’t miss out.
If you’re visiting during the weekend you’ll have the chance to go to Glacier Point after dark and take part in the stargazing event. Telescopes will be assembled in the amphitheatre, allowing you to take a closer look at the millions of stars and planets above you. You will be able to scan along the clearly defined edges of the milky way and explore the craters of the moon.
While this lookout may not tower high above the valley below, it provides a clearer view of Yosemite Valley and the beautiful forest that lies nestled between the granite cliffs.
Standing at the very edge of the viewpoint and looking out over the treetops almost gives the impression that you’re soaring above the forest on the wings of a bird.
A magnificent landscape is laid out before you to the east. The familiar curve of Half Dome in the distance and the imposing cliff face of El Capitan to your left, you have an interesting view of Glacier Point from below. To your right, you will see the cascading water of Bridalveil falls, especially in the spring when the water level is high and the falls become more prominent.
To make the most of this viewpoint, try to visit in the late afternoon when the sun is setting behind you and the granite canvas is painted with the sun’s red hue.
A beam of sunlight breaks through the curtains and fills your small room with its golden glow. Taking a step outside you breathe in the fresh air and stretch your arms above your head. Pine trees frame the small clearing that you’re in and you watch as the river flows steadily past you.
Yosemite Valley is the base for all activities in Yosemite National Park. This, however, does not mean that it doesn’t have anything to offer. With a number of entertaining activities available in the valley, as well as food, groceries and ablutions, it is fully equipped to cater to your every need. During the day, the valley is full of day-trippers and tour busses that flood the carparks, but come sundown, they all disappear and a quiet serenity descends on the valley.
People can often be seen tubing along the Merced river which flows through the valley’s green meadows. You can lace up your hiking boots and set off on some of Yosemite’s easiest trails, but before you go, be sure to visit the park office and pick up a free visitor map.
Everyone staying in Yosemite Valley also has access to a free shuttle service, the buses will take you around the valley, to Tuolumne Meadows and even up to Glacier Point. But among all of this, the compelling beauty of the valley is still its most important attribute.
The warmth of the rising sun breaks through the trees and into the clearing. You gaze across the lake’s calm surface to the bank on the other side.
The leaves of the trees rustle gently in the wind, and you watch as the gust dances over the lake, sending light ripples across the lake. You find yourself transfixed by the water, its faceted surface reflecting the backdrop of trees and sky in a peaceful kaleidoscope of colourful movement.
Taking a walk through the lovely pinewood trees is a reward in itself. With the gentle hum of the forest around you and the occasional sound of birdsong, you will feel completely in touch with nature. When you arrive in one of the clearings and find yourself standing on the banks of a clear lake, you will feel as if you have stumbled upon a small piece of heaven.
The Yosemite lakes offer up a diverse and exciting range of different landscapes, from the silver pools hidden in the valley to the broad lakes that spread across vast amounts of land. Sitting beside the lake gives you the time to reflect. It brings you to a gentle stop and allows you to absorb everything around you. The Yosemite lakes provide an escape from the stresses of daily life and you’re just able to breathe for a moment.
One more destination to add to your list of nearby attractions when visiting Glacier Point is the fantastic Sentinel Dome. While it may be a 1-hour return trail up a steep climb, the view from the top is simply phenomenal. The walk is also the easiest trail in the park for getting to the top of one of their domed giants and will take you on a winding path through the pine forest.
As you emerge on the top of the dome after pulling yourself up the slope, you will be met with a welcome blast of wind to soothe your sweaty skin. The impressive granite dome has very few plants surviving at the peak. This means that your view is not obstructed by any trees when you stand at the very highest point. The incredible panoramic view from this vantage point allows you to see for miles around.
If the challenge of scaling Half Dome is too much for you, then don’t miss out on Sentinel Dome! The stunning view from this towering peak will be matched with the feeling of accomplishment from knowing that you got yourself there.
Feel inspired to visit Yosemite National Park?
From the exhilarating viewpoints, the tranquil lakes and the network of hiking trails, one thing rings true for Yosemite National Park: its natural beauty. During your visit to Yosemite, you will constantly be in awe of the captivating beauty that surrounds you wherever you go.
‘Accessible’ is a word often used to describe the park. Just a 3-hour drive from the nearby city of San Francisco allows locals and holiday goers to visit the park for a weekend without much hassle. The roads are very easy to navigate, with clear and simple signage.
If you’ve reached this point in the article, I think it’s safe to say you’ve been enjoying our exclusive content. This information is from my own travel experience to help you with yours. If you’d like to learn more about the park, be sure to get the definitive guide book from Lonely Planet for a more comprehensive read.
Hopefully, we have lit a spark in your heart that gives you the burning desire to visit this spectacular park. Before you pack your bags and run out the front door, there’s more you should know.
July and August are the peak seasons and will be booked for months in advance, so booking ahead is essential. Don’t miss out on your trip of a lifetime because of a full campsite!
Be sure to book your accommodation location within the Yosemite National Park and not outside! Yosemite Valley has incredible options that allow you to be right in the centre of all the action day and night. Half Dome village, The Majestic Yosemite Hotel and Yosemite Valley Lodge are just a few of the options that you will find on Travel Yosemite website.
Aside from accommodation, it’s always important to know what will be open during your trip. The National Park is always renovating sites and roads to ensure a good environment for visitors. To find out what’s happening in Yosemite National Park, visit the park’s official website.
Yosemite Park Map