Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places in the world! It’s known for its iconic granite rock formations, amazing waterfalls, and scenic landscapes. It is every adventure lover’s dream. Yosemite is filled with spectacular sights and incredible hikes. In this travel guide, I will be sharing the best things to do and see in Yosemite National Park.
Best Things to do in Yosemite National Park
Moderate Day Hikes
The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hikes in Yosemite National Park. You will find everything from waterfalls, rivers, picturesque mountain views and beautiful views of the Yosemite Valley. It is a 7 mile round trip where you will get to pass Vernal and Nevada falls. There are a lot of stairs and going uphill so get ready for a leg workout! The Mist Trail is a very challenging hike, but the views are absolutely incredible. It took us around six hours to complete the trail, including stopping for a lunch break and photos.
Please note that the waterfalls are the most flowing in the spring so people tend to get wet on this trail. The two waterfalls on this trail flow all year, but the water flow is much less in the summer and fall.
Lower Yosemite Falls
Lower Yosemite Falls is an easy 1.2 mile loop trail near Yosemite Valley. It’s a beautiful scenic trail that is perfect to do after a long hike. We hiked this trail in September and the waterfall was dried up, but it was still a great trail to explore.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Upper Yosemite Falls is a challenging 7.6 mile hike near Yosemite Valley that takes a little over 5 hours to complete. You will be rewarded the amazing panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley. The best time to do this hike is spring and early summer when the waterfall is flowing.
Half Dome is one of the most challenging hikes in Yosemite National Park. It is an extremely steep and strenuous 14-16 mile hike. You gain almost 5k feet in elevation and it can take between 10-14 hours to complete. For the last 400 feet, you have to pull yourself up using steel cables to get to the top! This is the ultimate bucket list hike!
If you are interested in doing this hike, you must have a permit for Half Dome. You can find out more information here!
We wanted to do this hike, but after being so exhausted after the Mist Trail, we knew we weren’t ready for Half Dome – maybe next time!
Cloud’s Rest is another challenging hike in Yosemite. It is a 12.2 mile hike that takes about 7 hours to complete. This hike has very similar views to Half Dome. This hike isn’t as crowded as Half Dome so a permit isn’t required. There are no steel cables and the elevation gain isn’t as high.
Biking is a fun way to explore Yosemite National Park. Yosemite Valley has over 12 miles of bike paths to explore between early spring and fall. If you need to rent bikes, there are three rental locations: Yosemite Valley Lodge, Curry Village, and Yosemite Village.
Must See Sights in Yosemite National Park
Tunnel View is one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley. It is a must stop on your visit in Yosemite National Park! This view is absolutely stunning. You will see El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls. To get to this view, there is no hiking required. You can find it just outside the Wawona Tunnel on State Highway 41. There is a parking lot right by the vista. During the summer it can get pretty popular so I recommend getting there early.
El Capitan is one of the most iconic rock formations in Yosemite National Park. It is 3000 vertical feet of sheer rock granite. You can find the meadow to see El Capitan on the north side of Yosemite Valley. It makes such an awesome photo spot!
You can even climb to the top, but it is a long strenuous hike of 15 miles!
Hetch Hetchy Valley
If you want to get off the beaten path in Yosemite National Park, head to the peaceful northwest corner to explore Hetch Hetchy Valley. It is a reservoir that supplies water to the San Francisco Bay Area. The Valley is drained by the Tuolumne River. Trails around Hetch Hetchy offer great views of the water and granite cliffs.
Here is the list of hiking trails that you can explore in Hetch Hetchy Valley:
- Lookout Point (moderate) – 2 miles that takes about an hour. It involves moderate uphill climbing and takes you to a viewpoint overlooking Hetch Hetchy Valley
- Wapama Falls (moderate) – 5 miles that takes about two hours. This hike includes up and downhill hiking. You will see amazing views of Tueeulala and Wapama Falls.
- Rancheria Falls (moderate) – 13.4 miles that takes about 6-8 hours. This trail continues past Wapama Falls and you will see more beautiful views of the valley.
- Smith Peak (moderate to strenuous) – 13.5 miles that takes about 6-8 hours. This trail takes you through a forest and meadow to Smith Peak, which is the highest point in the area.
- Poopenaut Valley (strenuous) – 3 miles that takes about two hours. This trail leads you to the Tuolumne River below O’Shaughnessy Dam.
We did the Wapama Falls trail. It was a relaxing hike that had amazing views of the Valley. We loved seeing a different area of Yosemite National Park. Since this area is not as popular as Yosemite Valley, there were only a few people there and it felt like we had the entire place to ourselves.
Olmsted Point is a famous overlook off Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park. From this viewpoint, you can see amazing views of Half Dome, Tenaya Lake, and Cloud’s Rest. The elevation at Olmsted Point is a little over 8,000 feet! When we were there, it was snowing!
Sequoia Trees in Yosemite
Did you know you can find Sequoia Trees in Yosemite National Park? You can find them in these three groves:
- Mariposa Grove – this is the largest grove in the park and home to over 500 mature giant sequoias. You can find a variety of trails to explore. It’s located an hour and 15 minutes from Yosemite Valley.
- Tuolumne Grove – this is where I went to visit and it’s home to about two dozen giant sequoias. They have a one mile hiking trail. The drive is 45 minutes away from Yosemite Valley.
- Merced Grove – they also have about two dozen sequoias that you can see on their 1.5 mile hiking trail. The drive is 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley.
How Many Days Should You Spend in Yosemite National Park
Carl and I spent three days in Yosemite National Park and we thought it was the perfect amount of time to see all the highlights and different areas of the park. If you are interested in doing more challenging hikes, I recommend spending at least four days.
Best Lodging Near Yosemite National Park
If you are deciding where to stay, one of the best lodging near Yosemite National Park is Rush Creek Lodge and Spa. We loved our stay here! It has the perfect balance of sophisticated and “cabin in the woods” feel and the rooms are great and spacious! The drive from Rush Creek Lodge to Yosemite Valley is about 45 minutes.
There are not a lot of dining options around Yosemite National Park so we ate at the restaurant at Rush Creek Lodge and Spa every night for dinner and loved it. They had a good selection so we were able to have something different every night. I highly recommend their crispy fried cauliflower and the king salmon.
Rush Creek also has fun daily activities. You will find many things to do for both adults and children. They have nature trails, a heated pool and hot tubs with a pool bar. You will find a bunch of games like bocce ball, corn hole, ping pong, shuffleboard, foosball, kid zip lines and a kid playroom. Every night they have smores. They also offer fitness classes and various seasonal activities.
Our favorite part of Rush Creek Lodge was their spa. Their spa features incredible indoor and outdoor spa elements inspired by the natural beauty and power of Yosemite. They have an aromatherapy steam room, Himalayan salt block sauna, a cool mist room, sensory room and warm river rock beds. After two and a half days of hiking, it was so nice getting a massage and spending an afternoon relaxing at the spa.
Things to Know Before Your Visit to Yosemite National Park
There is an entrance fee to visit the park. If you are visiting in a non-commercial car, pickup truck, RV or van, it is $35 which is valid for seven days. If you are visiting in a different type of vehicle or are interested in an annual pass, check out this Fees & Passes page on their website.
Please note that from May 20th to September 30th, you must make a reservation to drive into Yosemite National Park. Driving through the park between 6am – 4pm requires a reservation. Each reservation costs $2 and counts for a three day period.
Glacier Point Road is closed in 2022
The entire Glacier Point Road is closed in 2022. The only access to Glacier Point, Sentinel Dome, Taft Point, and other Glacier Point road destinations is via a long strenuous hike.
There is limited dining around the park. The park is huge so depending on where you are, dining might not be convenient. I recommend going to the grocery store and packing lunch to eat on the trails. Carl and I bought items from the grocery store for breakfast and lunch. For breakfast, we bought oatmeal and milk. And for lunch, we bought turkey, cheese, bread, and mustard for sandwiches.
Yosemite is Huge!
Yosemite National Park is a huge national park. It can take 5-6 hours to drive across Yosemite. If you are planning on visiting different areas of the park, be prepared for it to take 1-1.5 hours to get there. When planning your trip, I recommend exploring a specific area of the trip each day so you don’t spend a lot of time driving.
What to Wear in Yosemite National Park
We visited Yosemite National Park in September. In the mornings and evenings, it was chilly and throughout the day, the weather was warm. It even rained one day while we were there. If you are deciding what to wear in Yosemite National Park, I recommend packing layers so you can easily take off or put on a layer as it gets cooler or warmer. I also suggest packing a rain jacket just in case there is a chance of rain during a hike. Here is some outfit inspiration on what to wear in Yosemite:
Hope you enjoyed reading my post on the best things to do and see in Yosemite National Park!