Spectacular glacier-carved valleys and world-class trees
HIGHLIGHTS: Famous for its spectacular glacier-carved valleys and walls of sheer granite, Yosemite also has world-class trees.
ACTIVITIES: Popular among rockclimbers, Yosemite also attracts visitors from all over the world who want to hike, bike, fish, swim, canoe, sketch, picnic, botanize, backpack, birdwatch, photograph, ice-skate, ski (downhill and cross-country), learn about history, or simply gawk at some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. As the late photographer Ansel Adams said, “Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.”
VISITOR CENTER: The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center is in Yosemite Village, between Yosemite Lodge and the Ahwahnee Hotel. Its exhibits describe the park’s human and natural history, emphasizing how the park’s spectacular landscape was formed. Next door, the Yosemite Museum highlights the culture and crafts of the park’s Miwok and Paiute people. At the south end of the park is the Mariposa Grove Museum. On the cabin site of Galen Clark (probably the first Caucasian to find this grove), the museum focuses on sequoia ecology. It can be reached only by hiking or taking the tram, and is open May through September.
CAMPGROUNDS: Yosemite has 13 campgrounds-about half of which have sites that can be reserved. For best results, plan well ahead. In the park’s May-through-September high season, reservations are hard to come by; even the first-come, first served campgrounds are full by noon. For more information, go to recreation.gov (external link) or call (877) 444-6777. From outside the U.S. and Canada, call (518) 885-3639.
TRAIL: For thrilling views of Half Dome and two roaring waterfalls, start at Happy Isles in the far eastern end of the Valley. From there, take the well-traveled Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls. This strenuous 5.4-mile roundtrip is an immersive introduction to Yosemite’s classic scenery. (Yes, there is mist! In the spring, you’ll get a soaking cold shower.) Hiking poles help on giant rocky steps. Elevation gain: 2,000 feet.
MUST-SEE UNIQUE FEATURE OR SEASONAL HIGHLIGHT: A chance to gaze up at the Grizzly Giant in the Mariposa Grove is well worth the 1.6-mile roundtrip, either on foot (for maximum appreciation of the forest) or by tram. This 1,800-year-old sequoia has a 7-foot-in-diameter limb that is thicker than the trunk of any other species of tree in the grove. To get started, follow the trail that begins at the far end of the Mariposa Grove parking lot. Guaranteed to make you feel dwarfed. If you have more time, spend an entire day exploring this grove’s 500 mature sequoias. You can download the park’s Mariposa Grove brochure here (external link).
HIDDEN GEM: If you’ve had it with the crowds, head out to Hetch Hetchy, a place that John Muir fought for as the Yosemite Valley’s twin. O’Shaughnessy Dam and Reservoir is a testament to the fact that Muir lost that battle. But you can still sample Hetch Hetchy’s exquisite scenery on an easy 5.5-mile-roundtrip hike to Wapama Falls. On Highway 120, take the turn-off for “Evergreen Road and Hetch Hetchy.” Sixteen miles later, just past the reservoir, you’ll find the trailhead parking lot. The meandering, mostly flat trail is not difficult, but there are close encounters with waterfalls, so prepare to get wet.
MORE INFORMATION: Start with the extensive Yosemite National Park website (external link). Once you’ve got the lay of the land, read John Muir’s 1912 evocation of the spirit of the place: The Yosemite (external link).
EAT: Bob Hansen, former President at The Yosemite Fund, recommends dining and staying at the Wawona Hotel (external link).
STOP: Bob says that a “secret surprise” is Wawona Point (external link). It’s near the upper Grove Museum and the best time to visit is sunset.
FAVORITE HIKE: The hike to half dome is the quintessential Yosemite hike.
FAVORITE PARK ATTRACTION: Bob’s favorite is the Mariposa Grove (external link) of big trees. Check out the Telescope Tree on the paved road southwest of the Museum. Best place to swim is nearby at swinging bridge on the south fork of the Merced River.
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