Photo courtesy of Kenny Karst / DNC Parks & Resorts at Yosemite, Inc.
This eight-mile-long, one-mile-wide valley, sliced down the middle by the Merced River, is the heart of Yosemite and by far the most-visited area of the park. Of the three entrances to the valley, none affords a more spectacular first view than the Tunnel Overlook on Highway 41, where the pine-clad valley floor gradually gives way to granite spires, with El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls in the foreground and Half Dome shining in the distance. If you’re entering the valley in the summer high season, you’ll have plenty of time to take in your surroundings—from your car, stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic. The valley is open all year, so do yourself a favor and time your visit to early spring, when the waterfalls are at their fullest, or autumn, when the days are still warm, the nights just a bit chilly, and the crowds, thankfully, nowhere to be found.