Things to Do in Yosemite

The best things to do in Yosemite National Park are for those looking for adventure in California. This expansive park features towering granite mountains, hundreds of spectacular waterfalls, over 1,600 miles of flowing streams, lush meadows, and three groves of ancient giant sequoia trees.

Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a marvel of nature known for its breathtaking landscapes and diverse ecosystems. Nestled in the heart of California’s Sierra Nevada mountains, Yosemite attracts millions of visitors each year who come to admire its towering cliffs, ancient giant sequoias, and thundering waterfalls.

Cultural and Historical Sites in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is a natural wonder and a repository of rich cultural and historical treasures. The Ahwahnee Hotel stands as a prime example, a National Historic Landmark is famous for its stunning interior and architectural design that reflects Native American and Art Deco influences. Another significant site is the Yosemite Museum, located in Yosemite Village. It offers insights into the valley’s early inhabitants through its comprehensive exhibits on Native American heritage, particularly the Miwok and Paiute tribes. 

The museum is adjacent to the reconstructed Indian Village of the Ahwahnee, where visitors can explore traditional Native American structures and learn about the daily lives of Yosemite’s indigenous people. These sites provide a fascinating glimpse into the human history that has shaped Yosemite, complementing the natural beauty that has made the park famous worldwide.

How to Get to Yosemite Valley?

San Francisco is an ideal starting point for a Yosemite trip, boasting a major international airport, numerous rental car services, and excellent tour options. It’s also a fantastic city in its own right, filled with plenty of attractions and activities.

From San Francisco, there are four main ways to travel to Yosemite. You can either rent a car or use public transport. Most travelers drive via Hwy 120 through the Big Oak Flat Entrance for a quicker route or take Hwy 140 through the Arch Rock Entrance for more scenic views.

Taking public transportation can be challenging due to complex bus connections. Therefore, it’s better to opt for the train if you’re not driving. You’ll need to catch the Amtrak San Joaquin line to Merced and then board a Yosemite Area Regional Transit System (YARTS) bus to Yosemite Valley. A bonus is that the YARTS ticket includes park entry.

Taking a guided tour is the easiest option for those preferring a more organized approach. Whether it’s a one-day tour that covers all the essential sights or a multi-day tour that allows for a deeper exploration of the valley, tours offer a convenient and informative way to visit Yosemite. Multi-day tours often include options for hotel stays, either through the tour company or by arranging your accommodation.

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Best Time to Visit Yosemite Valley

The best time to visit Yosemite Valley largely depends on what you want to experience. For those eager to see the famous waterfalls at their peak, late spring (May and early June) is ideal as the snowmelt swells the rivers. This period offers vibrant, fresh landscapes and blooming wildflowers, though it’s also quite popular, expect larger crowds. Summer (July through August) provides warm weather perfect for hiking and other outdoor activities, but it is the busiest season. 

Consider visiting in September or October for a quieter visit with mild temperatures and the chance to see the fall colors. Winter transforms the valley into a snowy wonderland from December through March, ideal for those interested in winter sports and serene, frosty landscapes. Each season in Yosemite Valley offers unique beauty and activities, making it a year-round destination.

Iconic Landmarks and Natural Features

Iconic Landmarks and Natural Features

  1. Yosemite Valley: This glacial valley is the park’s crown jewel, offering iconic views from spots like Tunnel View and Valley View. It provides a panoramic vista of the park’s famous landmarks, including Bridalveil Fall, the granite cliffs of El Capitan, and Half Dome.
  2. El Capitan and Half Dome: These granite monoliths are favorites among rock climbers and photographers alike. El Capitan, a vertical rock formation, rises about 3,000 feet from the valley floor and is one of the world’s most challenging climbs. Half Dome is equally famous, known for its unique shape and the rigorous hike required to reach its summit.
  3. Mariposa Grove: Home to over 500 mature giant sequoias, Mariposa Grove is a place of awe and wonder. Walking among these ancient trees, including the Grizzly Giant and the California Tunnel Tree, connects visitors to the park’s primordial past.

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Hiking and Walking Trails

  1. Easy Trails: The Lower Yosemite Fall Trail offers a short, family-friendly route to the base of the tallest waterfall in North America. Mirror Lake Trail provides a leisurely walk with stunning reflections of Half Dome in the water.
  2. Moderate Trails: The Mist Trail is one of the park’s most popular hikes, leading to Vernal and Nevada Falls. The Bridalveil Fall Trail gives hikers a spectacular view of one of Yosemite’s most famous waterfalls.
  3. Challenging Trails: The Half Dome Day Hike, a strenuous trail culminating in the cable-assisted final ascent, offers unforgettable views and exhilaration. The Four Mile Trail up to Glacier Point allows hikers to experience panoramic views of the entire valley.

Seasonal Activities and Things to Do in Yosemite

  1. Spring and Summer: The park blooms with wildflowers, making it a perfect time for camping and rock climbing. Ranger-led programs provide educational insights into the park’s flora and fauna.
  2. Fall: Autumn displays vibrant colors, cooler temperatures, and ideal conditions for bird-watching and nature photography.
  3. Winter: Yosemite transforms into a winter wonderland, offering activities like skiing at Badger Pass Ski Area and snowshoeing through tranquil, snow-covered landscapes.

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Water Activities in Yosemite

Water Activities in Yosemite

  1. Rafting and Kayaking: The Merced River offers gentle flows suitable for family rafting trips during the spring and early summer.
  2. Swimming: Tenaya Lake and the Merced River in Yosemite Valley provide refreshing swimming spots during the warm months.

Wildlife and Nature Observation

Visitors can observe a variety of wildlife, from majestic black bears to mule deer and numerous bird species. Always view wildlife from a safe distance and follow park guidelines to protect both the animals and yourself.

Essential to Know Before You Go to Yosemite – Visitor Tips

Staying inside the park offers convenient access to major attractions, but accommodations need to be booked well in advance. Dining options vary from casual cafes to upscale dining at The Ahwahnee Dining Room.

Yosemite National Park is accessible through five entrance gates, but only four of these lead directly to Yosemite Valley:

  • Big Oak Flat: Accessible year-round via Hwy 120 and the nearest gate to San Francisco, this entrance is about a 45-minute drive to the Valley.
  • Arch Rock: Also open year-round via Hwy 140 and close to San Francisco, this gate offers a quick 25-minute drive to Yosemite Valley.
  • South Entrance: Available year-round via Hwy 41, this entrance is ideal for those coming from Sequoia National Park, Los Angeles, or San Diego, with just over an hour’s drive to the Valley.
  • Tioga Pass: Generally open from May through October, this is the only eastern entrance, suitable for those traveling from Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas, with a drive time of about 1 hour and 45 minutes to the Valley.
  • Each entrance supports debit/credit card payments for the $35 entrance fee per personal vehicle. For frequent visitors to National Parks, purchasing the America the Beautiful Pass for $80 could offer significant savings and convenience, covering entrance fees for a year. 

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The Best Camping and Camp Spots in Yosemite

Camping in Yosemite National Park is one of the top activities, with the park offering 13 campgrounds that typically have a 7-day stay limit and cost between $10-$20 per day. However, for those seeking more modern accommodations within the park, Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders offers a variety of vacation rental properties. Whether you’re planning a family vacation or a romantic getaway, Yosemite’s Scenic Wonders provides a selection of homes, condominiums, and cabins suitable for any visitor’s needs.


Yosemite National Park is a treasure trove of natural beauty and adventure. Whether you are seeking thrilling climbs, peaceful walks, or artistic inspiration, Yosemite provides an array of activities to immerse yourself in the wonders of the natural world. Remember to respect this magnificent landscape by following Leave No Trace principles to help preserve its beauty for generations to come.

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Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Things to Do in Yosemite

Here are a few commonly asked questions about activities and things to do in Yosemite National Park, providing insights for visitors looking to explore this iconic destination:

What are the must-see attractions in Yosemite?

Yosemite is filled with breathtaking sights, but some must-sees include Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point for its panoramic views, the majestic Yosemite Falls, and the giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

Can I visit Yosemite Valley all year round?

Yes, Yosemite Valley is accessible year-round. However, some roads and trails can be closed due to snow from late fall through early spring, so it’s important to check current conditions before planning your visit.

What are the best hikes in Yosemite for beginners?

For those new to hiking or traveling with families, the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail and Mirror Lake Trail are excellent choices. Both are relatively flat and offer stunning views with minimal effort.

Are there any activities for adventure seekers in Yosemite?

Yosemite offers world-class rock climbing, particularly on famous formations like El Capitan and Half Dome. For those who enjoy backcountry adventures, there are numerous challenging hikes and overnight backpacking options.

What is the best time of year to visit Yosemite for waterfalls?

The waterfalls in Yosemite are typically at their fullest and most spectacular in the late spring, from May to early June, when the snowmelt is at its peak.

Is wildlife viewing possible in Yosemite?

Yes, Yosemite is home to a diverse range of wildlife. Visitors can spot deer, black bears, bobcats, and a variety of bird species. To increase your chances of seeing wildlife, visit during the quieter times of the day, such as early morning or late evening.

What should I not miss when visiting Yosemite for the first time?

First-time visitors should not miss experiencing the view from Glacier Point, exploring the trails in Yosemite Valley, and witnessing the giant sequoias in either Mariposa Grove or Tuolumne Grove. Additionally, taking a guided tour can enhance your understanding of the park’s history and ecology.