Things to see & do in
Yosemite National Park

A formative inspiration on the renowned American landscape photographer Ansel Adams, who immortalised the park with ethereal images throughout his career, Yosemite is one of the most beloved national parks in the United States. After the Great Smoky Mountains and the Grand Canyon, it’s also the most visited, and almost everyone congregates in the central valley, which makes up just one percent of the park’s territory. Yosemite is the size of Rhode Island, and over 90 percent is designated wilderness – this is America at its most raw and primordial.

Set high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California, Yosemite embodies the American pioneer spirit, a vast natural wonderland where sheer granite cliffs jut dramatically thousands of metres above thick, pristine forest. For hikers, this is pretty close to paradise, with some 1,300km of marked routes including icons such as the Mist and John Muir trails. The giant sequoias here are some of the largest, and most ancient, trees on planet Earth – even after falling down their remains can last for centuries.

Climbers are lured from all over the world by the opportunity to tackle El Capitan, whose 900m rock face provides the largest continuous wall in the United States, and Half Dome, which has routes up to 250m long. Yosemite’s wildlife includes black bears, deer, coyotes, bobcats and marmots, while birds of prey patrol the skies above the forest, lakes and rivers. Mirror Lake is another famed hiking route, clearly reflecting Mount Watkins and Half Dome when water levels are high enough. Given all this, can it be any surprise that Yosemite is a fixture on so many vacations in US national parks ?

Highlights of Yosemite National Park


Whatever your level of fitness, there’s a walking trail you’ll love in Yosemite. The Mist Trail is one of the most renowned, a day hike that connects with the John Muir Trail at the beautiful Nevada Falls, with occasional bear sightings, and the odd rainbow too created in the spray of a waterfall. As with any US national park, it’s essential to stick to the trail, not only to prevent erosion of the landscape but also for safety.

Mariposa Grove

The largest and most well known giant sequoia grove in Yosemite, Mariposa Grove is populated with some of the oldest and tallest trees in the world – mind you don’t crick your neck looking up. Some of these tree trunks are so thick that pickup trucks could be driven through them when hollowed out.

Tunnel View

Without doubt the most spectacular viewpoint in Yosemite, and for visitors entering the south the first moment when they can appreciate the park’s immense scale, Tunnel View is the one place everyone wants to snap a photo. Sunrise and sunset are naturally the most popular times of day here, to capture an eastward panorama of the Yosemite Valley that includes El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall.

Yosemite Valley

Just 20km long and five kilometres wide, Yosemite Valley makes up only a tiny part of the park’s territory, yet most visitors spend all of their time here amid its lush meadows, cascading waterfalls, lakes and hiking trails. If you have the time and inclination to explore further afield then you can find blissful isolation in the American great outdoors. There are numerous hiking loops in the valley, which is hemmed in by sheer granite cliffs, and the Yosemite Falls, the tallest in the United States, is a highlight especially in late spring when water flow is at its highest. Adjacent to the falls stands Lost Arrow Spire, a detached pillar and another of the park’s notable landmarks.
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Easily accessible from cities such as Las Vegas and San Francisco, Yosemite often forms part of a loop or point-to-point itinerary around several western parks, on a two-week vacation. It’s always a highlight. Visiting America’s national parks is fantastic for families, with ranger-led tours keeping the kids entertained, enormous potential for wildlife sightings and stargazing while toasting marshmallows around the campfire in the evenings. Yosemite has 1,300km of hiking trails, and there are 20km of cycling trails in Yosemite Valley, while river swimming is another popular activity.

The best time to visit Yosemite is definitely out of peak season, so avoiding the summer months. The park usually sees around four million visitors a year, and surpassed five million for the first time in 2016. Given most people stay in the Yosemite Valley there is definitely an issue around sustainable numbers.

Small group tours are the best way to explore Yosemite – they ensure all logistics are taken care of on your behalf, such as booking accommodations (usually hotels or campsites just outside the park) and they also help to reduce traffic on the roads – fumes are hazardous to the trees as well as people. Yosemite was the first US national park to add zero emission shuttle buses to its fleet but still there are numerous accidents between vehicles and wildlife – at least 27 black bears were hit by cars in 2017 alone.
Written by Rob Perkins
Photo credits: [Page banner: Diliff] [Intro: Jeremy Bishop] [Hiking : Sebastian Werner] [Tunnel View: Aniket Deole]