“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” (Ansel Adams)

Photo by Cam Dicecca

The Basics

  • Established: October 1, 1890
  • Area: 1,169 mi2 (3,038 km2)
  • Time Zone: GMT -8
  • Visitors: Over 5 million people visited Yosemite in 2016
  • Opening hours: 24 hours a day, 365 days per year.

When to Visit

Visit between March and May for spring blossoms. If you don’t mind crowds, the summer is always a beautiful time to visit — experience cooler temperatures in September and October.

Temperatures during the summer peak at 80 degrees F (27C) and drop to 26 degrees F (-3C) in the winter.

To enter Yosemite, there may be some fees — a 7-day vehicle pass ($25-30), Individual Entrance ($15), Motorcycle Entrance ($15), Yosemite National Park Annual Pass ($60)

Photo by Dan Newman
Photo by Adam Welch

Where in the world

Yosemite covers 1,169 square miles and is located in the Sierra Nevada mountain range, which accounts for its amazing peaks and broad valley. From Yosemite’s falls (the highest in North America) to its nearly 8 mile long valley forested with pine trees, the park is a sight to behold. High granite peaks piece the sky and much of the valley is covered by meadow.

A Bit of History

Although Yosemite National Park was officially signed into legislation in 1890, the Valley had been inhabited by indigenous tribes — like the Ahwahnechee people — for thousands of years prior to America’s settlement.  

Accessing the park

Accessing Yosemite is fairly easy: visitors can drive to the park from all major cities in California.

From San Francisco and Sacramento, the trip is just under 200 miles and will take four to five hours. From Los Angeles, the trip is around six hours (and 300 miles), and from San Diego the drive is eight hours and over 400 miles. Though personal vehicles are the most often used, accessing the park by public transport is also an option. Check Amtrak routes for train schedules to Merced, where visitors can connect with a bus that services Yosemite Valley and the surrounding towns.

Photo by Jeremy Bishop

Yosemite has many parking lots for vehicles and designated campgrounds for RV hookups. Shuttles run throughout the valley and on the El Capitan route. Valley shuttles operate from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., every 10 minutes during the day and every 20 in the evening. The El Capitan shuttle runs from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., stopping every 30 minutes.

Where to stay

Yosemite Valley and the towns just outside the park feature an assortment of places to stay, including more traditional bed and breakfasts, cozy lodges, cabins, tent-style accommodations, and campgrounds. For a special visit, book a stay at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahwahnee), famous for its stunning architecture.

Photo by Andrew Scofield

Campers will revel in spending the night on the valley floor, but those interested should be aware that reservations are required ($26/night) and are available online up to five months in advance — though camping spots go quickly and are available only from April to October.

What to Do

Permits are not required for day hikes in Yosemite, with the exception to that rule being Half Dome, which costs $10. Those looking to hike and camp overnight in backcountry require a Wilderness Permit, which is generally free but may cost $5 on popular trails. Wilderness Permits are available up to 24 weeks in advance.

Not sure which hike to make? The Mist Trail (6.7-mile loop) is a moderate loop around the Vernal and Nevada Falls that is primarily traversed by photographers and bird watchers. If you’re up for the challenge, hike Half Dome Trail (15.6 miles), but only if you’re experienced. The Upper Yosemite Falls Trail (5.8 miles) leads to stunning vistas of Yosemite Falls, or the Glacier Point Trail (8 miles round trip) is a steep walk up, but yields fantastic panoramic views of Half Dome, the valley, and the Three Falls.

Photo by Britain Peters
Photo by Britain Peters

During hot summer days, head to Tenaya Lake for a dip. Swimming not your style? Float down the Merced River on a raft or escape the crowds at Carbon Falls, which is located in a beautiful wildflower meadow.

Photo by Simanta Mahanta

Hike the backcountry of Yosemite on the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, 70 miles of which winds through Yosemite. Climb Donohue Pass at 11,056 feet (3,369 m), or descend into the valley that holds Benson Lake at 7,560 feet below sea level. Hikers can also take the John Muir Trail, which stretches from Yosemite Valley to Mount Whitney.

Badger Pass is one of three areas serviced by a ski lift in the national park. Skiing and snowboarding season at Yosemite opens on December 15 every year and closes on April 1. A half-day pass costs $22 for children and $40 for adults.

Know before you go

If you’d like to have all of your information on the go, apps will be your thing. Consider downloading the Yosemite app by Chimani (available for iOS or Android), which will work without a WiFi or data connection — helpful because service is likely to be spotty throughout the park.

Pets are allowed in the valley, on paved roads, in developed areas, and in campgrounds (except Campground 4). Pets must be restrained on leashes, and their food must also be stored in secure bear boxes. You are not allowed to bring pets on trails (except the Wawona Meadow Loop), in lodging areas, in walk-in campgrounds, or on the shuttle buses.

Photo by Felipe Silva

Yosemite is home to some 300 to 500 black bears. The park recommends adequately storing food in the provided bear-proof lockers and startling bears away by yelling if they do enter into developed areas. There is a peaceful coexistence between Yosemite’s bears and visitors — over the course of the history of the park, not a single person has been gravely or fatally injured.

Photo by Britain Peters

Those staying at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village, and Big Trees Lodge are granted Internet access through a wifi code. You’ll find free WiFi at Degnan’s Kitchen, or use a computer with Internet access at the Mariposa County Library in Yosemite Valley. Or, visitors can register a device’s WiFi capabilities (for $5 each) at Half Dome Village. Call reception is difficult to access in the valley, outside of Yosemite Village, so don’t rely on making telephone calls.