Yosemite National Park in California is visited by 3.7 million people each year, and most spend their time in Yosemite Valley, a good-luck-finding-any-privacy campground strewn around modern amenities that would offend a true outdoorsman. Apart from this (though it’s not a bad choice for families on the camping grind), the valley is a solid base for exploring the rest of the park’s features, from cliff faces and waterfalls to mountain peaks and hiking trails. A few highlights:
Bridalveil Fall – A 617 ft. fall just outside Yosemite Valley. The native tribe who once lived near this fall thought that breathing in its mist improved luck in marriage, and when the wind picks up visitors will notice that the fall gives the appearance of falling sideways. Tradition seems to be to carve your name in a large log that lies alongside the fall’s trail.
Glacier Point – A scenic overlook at the south end of Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point provides spectacular views of Half Dome, Nevada Fall and other popular features of the park. Visit at sunset (during warmer months) for an outdoor presentation given by one of Yosemite’s park rangers.
Half Dome – Pictured above (as viewed from Glacier Point), thousands of crazies ascend it each year, using steel cables bolted down along the final stretch of the trail to reach the top of this granite crest. Was I game to hike the strenuous 8.5 mile trail that climbs 4,800 ft to Half Dome’s peak? Review those numbers (and note a lack of telling photos) and take a guess.
Tunnel View – Ne’er has a destination in Yosemite National Park been so photographed. Tunnel view, at the east end of Wawona Tunnel (hence the name), is an overlook famous for its views of iconic formations like El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall. Push your way to the front of the crowd for the Yosemite photo to make your friends jealous.
El Capitan – A 3,000 ft. tall cliff of solid granite, El Capitan is a popular destination for rock climbers and a source of controversy within the base jumping community, many of whom wish the sport would became legal within the park (restrictions certainly haven’t kept a few rebels from doing it anyway). The less athletically inclined set (look this way) can always admire El Capitan from the safe floor of Yosemite Valley.
Tuolumne Meadows – In the nicest way possible, while scenic, Tuolumne Meadows isn’t much to look at compared to the more rugged regions of the park – but these meadows at the eastern edge of Yosemite National Park offer camping, hiking and access to plenty of rock climbing. Tuolumne’s biggest perk: it’s not nearly as crowded as its similarly flat counterpart, Yosemite Valley. That in itself is something.
Tioga Pass Road – Bypass this paragraph if visiting during winter; Tioga Pass Road, an east-west route through the Sierra Nevadas, more or less closes up mid-October through May. If accessible, drive the pass to feel “above the park” at an elevation of nearly 10,000 ft. and consider venturing outside of Yosemite National Park via its eastern gate to see the alienesque Mono Lake.
Learn more about Yosemite National Park here.