Looking for things to do in Yosemite National Park? Keep reading! When taking one of our many road trips through California, one of our favorite stops was Yosemite National Park. We had heard so much about it for years and couldn’t wait to see the Half Dome and El Capitan with our own eyes.
Located in the Central Sierra Nevada of California Yosemite is known for its mountain peaks, waterfalls, and hiking trails. There are so many things to do in Yosemite National Park, it requires a few days to really take it in.
Things to do in Yosemite National Park
Closures: Yosemite is open year-round but some roads are closed in winter due to snow. There are some areas of the park that are closed due to rock falls. Also, Glacier Point Road was closed in 2022 to improve the road. It should reopen in 2023 but there will be 30-minute delays.t Visit the National Parks Service Government Website for road closures and updates.
We have rounded up some of the best hiking trails and viewpoints to help you plan your vacation to this bucket list destination. So break out the camping gear, stock up on supplies, and let’s visit Yosemite National Park.
Best Way to See Yosemite
Yosemite National Park is a 4 1/2-hour drive from Los Angeles and a 3-hour drive from San Francisco. You can rent a car in either San Francisco or Los Angeles. We drove one way each time returning our car at the end in the opposite city. Get car rental prices at CarRentals.com
We toured Yosemite National Park on a self-drive trip, but be warned, you need to get out early to see the sights.
Parking lots fill up quickly so you will want to make your way to the trails or lookouts early in the morning.
Yosemite National Park is huge at 1200 square miles (3,027 km²). However, most of the top things to do in Yosemite are situated around Yosemite Valley. Yosemite has a good shuttle service to take you to the top attractions.
You can park at Yosemite Village you can take the shuttle from the visitors center to see a lot of the top attractions. The YARTS public transit system offers shuttles.
You can also book this highly-rated tour of Yosemite. It includes a stop at Tunnel View to see Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and El Capitan, plus Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
Enjoy a boxed lunch included at Cathedral Beach before setting off on a hike at Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. And there are ride-share bikes set up around the park as well.
1. Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is the main area of the national park where you will most likely spend most of your time. It contains the top tourist attractions including El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
2. Half Dome
One of the most famous attractions in Yosemite National Park has to be the Half Dome.
Avid rock climbers put this at the top of their list as one of the great climbs on earth and park visitors can watch them tackle their routes from the safety of its lookouts.
Glacier Point offers the best view of the Half Dome but there are plenty of chances to see it as well as climb it yourself.
3. Half Dome Hike
The Half Dome Hike is a 14-mile round trip hike that takes you 5000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor.
It takes 10 – 12 hours so make sure to leave before dawn. Be prepared for a challenging hike with the last 400 feet requires the use of the half dome cables to allow hikers to summit without climbing equipment. Read our complete guide to climbing Half Dome
4. Mariposa Grove
One of our favorite stops in Yosemite was Mariposa Grove. We took a guided tour to see the forest of 500 Giant Sequoias.
Mariposa Grove is the birthplace of the National Parks system. In 1864 President Lincoln set aside this natural area to be preserved for future generations. Now that is some kind of foresight.
There is parking available at the Mariposa Grove welcome plaza and then it requires a two-mile hike (each way) on the Washburn Trail or the Mariposa Grove Road.
5. Ansel Adams Gallery
One of our main reasons for visiting Yosemite National Park is because of seeing the photography of Ansel Adams.
Having the chance to see his iconic images in person was at the top of our bucket list. The Ansel Adams Gallery is located in the heart of Yosemite between the Visitor Center and Post Office.
It’s in a prime location with views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. It showcases the photography of Ansel Adams and the people who work in the gallery who love Yosemite. Their staff includes climbers, photographers, and hikers.
You can book camera walks, photography classes, and workshops at the gallery.
6. El Capitan
Dominating the view of the west end of Yosemite Valley is the mammoth El Capitan.
Climbers come from around the world visit yosemite to climb the Nose of El Capitan. It’s a huge undertaking climbing 3000 feet up its sheer wall, but superstars Alex Honnold and Tommy Caldwell set a record climbing to its peak in under 2 hours.
Another crazy fact is that Alex Honnold was the first person to climb El Capitan without rope inspiring the documentary Free Solo.
Tunnel View offers great views of El Capitan but our favorite spot was at El Cap Meadow located directly in front of El Capitan.
- You can take rock climbing courses in Yosemite – Yosemite mountaineering school offers guided hikes and climbing as the only authorized climbing school in Yosemite. Visit their website for details.
7. Tunnel View
Tunnel view is most certainly the most recognizable scene of Yosemite National Park.
It is the top spot for photographers and a must-stop for anyone visiting Yosemite. Make your way to the Tunnel View parking lots located at the Wawona Tunnel on State Highway 41 for this iconic valley view features El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. Go here for sunrise to beat the crowds.
8. Bridalveil Fall
The Bridalveil Fall trail is closed due to the Bridalveil Fall Rehabilitation Project but should reopen in 2023. The project includes an updated viewing platform and trails and should reduce crowds at one of Yosemite’s most popular attractions.
Bridalveil Fall is the first waterfall you’ll see when entering Yosemite Valley. Bridalveil Fall plunges 620 feet (189 meters) into the valley and the hike to the waterfall is an easy 0.5 mi (0.8 km) round trip with only an 80 ft (24 m) elevation gain. It is about a 20 minute easy walk from the Bridalveil Fall Parking lot.
9. Yosemite Falls
Another must-see waterfall in Yosemite is Yosemite Falls. There are great views of Yosemite Falls from Yosemite Village.
But being one of the highest waterfalls in the world, (the world’s fifth tallest to be exact) you can see them from several places throughout Yosemite Valley.
The waterfall is actually made up of three different waterfalls creating a total cascade of 2425 feet.
Upper Yosemite Falls (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Falls (320 feet). Hiking to the top of Yosemite Falls is 7.2 miles round trip, but be prepared, there is a 2,700-foot elevation gain.
10. Mist Trail
The mist trail is considered the Yosemite national park signature hike.
There are two waterfalls to hike to along the Mist Trail, Vernal Falls is a 3-mile (4.8 km) round trip and Nevada Falls is a 7 miles (11 km) round trip.
The first part of the Mist Trail takes you to the Vernal Fall Footbridge to see the falls and then you can continue on to the top of Vernal Falls to a lookout above the waterfall.
The Mist trail then continues on to the John Muir Trail as you make your way to Nevada Falls for one of the best views in Yosemite National Park. Going to Nevada Falls is worth it.
- Make sure to arrive early to beat the crowds and find a spot in the parking lot.
- See our complete guide to hiking the John Muir Trail.
11. Mirror Lake Trail
Another popular hike in Yosemite NP is to Mirror Lake. It is an easy hike to mirror lake and it is known for its reflections of the Yosemite Valley.
Mirror Lake will also take you right to the base of Half Dome for a close up view.
12. Tioga Road
If you have a car, make sure to take a drive on Tioga Road (Highway 120).
It is only open from late May to November as it sits in Sierra Nevada’s high country. Up here you’ll see meadows, lakes, and a great view of Half Dome from Olmsted Point.
There is a short hiking trail at Olmsted Point offering views of Tenaya Peak, Tenaya Lake, and Mount Conness.
13. Tenaya Lake
While driving on Tioga Road, an easy lake to access from the road is Tenaya Lake.
Tenaya Lake is the largest lake in Yosemite and makes for a great place to go kayaking or canoeing. You can also make a base here for a picnic.
14. Tuolumne Meadows
This interesting stop is one of the highest-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada Mountains.
There are a few different easy hikes such as Lyell Canyon from the John Muir Trail, Soda Springs, Parsons Lodge, Gaylor Lake, and Elizabeth Lake.
You can get to the Tuolumne Meadows by taking Tioga Road (which opens from late May to November) and there are shuttles.
A popular day hike is Cathedral Lakes which takes 4 to 6 hours to complete the 7-mile round trip. (11.3 km) 1,000-foot elevation gain.
15. Cycling Yosemite
If you are into cycling, Yosemite not only allows cyclists on the roads but there are paved paths as well.
The Yosemite Valley Bike Share program was launched in 2018. This is a great idea to help ease traffic congestion. The bikes are set up near Valley campgrounds to allow people to bike to nearby attractions rather than drive.
16. Yosemite Museum
For a little break from the outdoors, be sure to stop into the Yosemite Museum to learn of the indigenous people who first settled in Yosemite Valley and of the national parks’ history.
17. Glacier Point
Note: Glacier Point Road was closed in 2022 to improve the road. Access to Glacier Point is now accessible from Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails. It should reopen in 2023 but there will be 30-minute delays.
Glacier point would normally be at the top of our list of things to see in Yosemite, but with the rehabilitation project, it may need to wait one more year. However things may change for 2022.
The best place to see a good overview of the Yosemite National Park is from here. It includes views of Yosemite Valley, the and the Half Dome standing s tall over the other mountain peaks. Glacier point is an excellent stop when it is open. As of now, you cannot drive up to it, but if you are determined to see it there are a couple of strenuous hikes you can take.
- Glacier Point: 9 miles (14 km) round-trip with 3,200 feet (975 meters) of elevation gain.
- Sentinel Dome: 12 miles (19km) and over 4,000 feet (1200) of elevation gain.
- Taft Point: 14 miles (22km) and about 5,000 (1500 meters) feet of elevation gain.
18. Sentinel Dome
The Sentinel Dome Hike is usually quite easy, but with the Glacier Point road closure, you will have added extra time because the regular trail head is inaccessible. In 2022, the hike starts with a 4.7-mile (7.5 km) hike to Glacier Point and then follow the Pohono Trail to Sentinel Dome for 1.5 miles (2.5 km). One way, so you are looking at about a 12 mile (20km hike return so allow time)
The hike is about 2.2 miles roundtrip and should take about 1- 2 hours. It is one of the easiest domes to access and hence one of the most popular sunset trails in Yosemite.
At its 4,150 feet peak, you’re rewarded with a stunning 360-degree view of the valley without the adrenaline rush of having to climb up El Capitan. The summit is wide and flat making it easy to enjoy the view.
The view is incredibly beautiful in every direction. Here you can see it all and much more. The three brothers, half done, and river canyon, it’s all there.
19. Hiking Trails
You could spend an entire summer exploring the hiking trails of Yosemite National Park.
In fact, hiking is one of the best things to do in Yosemite, so make sure you get out on at least one trail. While the Half Dome Hike is the bucket list hike of Yosemite, there are several other hikes to explore.
- Lower Yosemite Falls – You can take a 1-mile loop trail to see the lower Yosemite Falls. You can hike here from Yosemite Village.
- The Sentinal Dome Trail – This 2-mile hike takes you above the Yosemite Valle and the Merced River Canyon. It is also an easy way to see views of the Sierra Nevada Peaks, the Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. But it is Jeffrey Pine made famous by Ansel Adams that is the real attraction.
Where to Stay in Yosemite National Park
Curry Village (formerly known as half dome village)has a range of canvas tents and wooden cabins plus hotel rooms.
Accommodation range from basic tents with shared bathrooms to private hotel rooms with bathrooms. Check out TripAdvisor for prices.
Yosemite Valley Lodge is a great location to make a base in Yosemite. There’s free parking, free Internet and a pool.
And these are some of the best things to do in Yosemite National Park. You could spend an entire summer here and never see it all, but it’s fun to try!
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