Famous for its plunging cataracts and massive granite formations, this unparalleled parkland attracts more than four million visitors each year—with good reason. Nearly the size of Rhode Island and covering more than 1,100 square miles, Yosemite National Park dazzles with unforgettable natural beauty.
Most visitors head directly to Yosemite Valley, a 4,000-foot-deep trough lined by sheer cliffs of glacially sculpted rock. (Ed. note: Before driving to Yosemite, visitors are advised to check the park's Current Conditions page. There can be road closures due to snow, flooding, and other weather conditions). Although glacial valleys with similar features exist elsewhere in the world, none can compete with this one, which legendary naturalist John Muir called “the incomparable Valley.” The crystal-clear Merced River bisects its verdant meadows. Powerful waterfalls, fed by spring snowmelt, plunge over its sheer granite walls. A mélange of wildlife—black bears, mule deer, coyotes, chipmunks, and hundreds of bird species—make their home within the Valley’s monumental walls.
Organized park activities include open-air tram tours, ranger-led nature walks, evening theater performances, photography seminars, art classes, and rock-climbing lessons. Organized park activities include open-air tram tours, ranger-led nature walks, evening theater performances, photography seminars, art classes, and rock-climbing lessons. If you prefer to take in this kind of natural grandeur in a more solitary manner, free of compromises, you can do that too—read about Yosemite’s activities for the solo traveler here.
When the Merced River quiets down to its summer flow, you can rent an inflatable raft and float gently three miles downriver, passing Instagram-worthy landmarks like El Capitan and Yosemite Falls. Pedal around Yosemite Valley’s floor on paved bike paths and watch the setting sun cast a rosy glow on the mighty Half Dome, with its singular sliced-in-half profile. Ride a tour bus or drive your car to Glacier Point, one of the grandest viewpoints in the West. Or just lace up your hiking boots and set out on any of dozens of hiking trails, like the celebrated Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, or the easy Mirror Lake Loop.
Yosemite’s south side is anchored by the small community of Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, a dense cluster of the world’s largest trees by volume. Take a walk among the stately sequoias, then take a dip in Wawona’s swimming holes or go for a horse-drawn carriage ride at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Spend the night at the 19th-century Wawona Hotel, an elegant reflection of days gone by.
In summer and fall, the park’s high-alpine country in and around Tuolumne Meadows is accessible via Tioga Pass Road. At 8,600 feet in elevation, this pristine meadow extends for more than two miles along the Tuolumne River, making it the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. Lace up your boots and wander trails to the summits of lofty domes and granite-backed lakes. Book in advance to join a multiday trekking trip through this alpine region and enjoy great meals and a comfy bunk at the famed High Sierra Camps.
For unforgettable snowy beauty, visit Yosemite during the park’s quietest season from November to March. Take part in ranger-led snowshoe walks, ice-skating at Curry Village, winter photography workshops, and holiday extravaganzas and culinary events at the park’s grand dame hotel, The Ahwahnee. Or make your way to Badger Pass Ski Area for alpine or cross-country skiing. If the weather feels too chilly for outdoor play, head to Yosemite Valley’s visitor center to learn about the region’s natural and human history and stop by the Ansel Adams Gallery to see works by one of California’s most acclaimed photographers.