Yosemite National Park Travel Guide

Photo Courtesy of Tyssul Patel

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why you should visit Yosemite National Park now

Located in California’s Sierra Nevada, Yosemite National Park encompasses some of the country’s most spectacular outdoor wonders. The tallest waterfall in North America (Yosemite Falls), some of the largest trees on Earth (sequoias), and granite monoliths like Sentinel Dome are just some of the iconic sights enjoyed by the park's millions of annual visitors. One of the most popular national parks in the United States, Yosemite is particularly attractive to rock climbers. It would take a lifetime to explore the entire park, so it’s best to concentrate on just a few highlights.

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Photographer Ansel Adams made the Yosemite landmarks famous through his large-format black-and-white photography, but to truly understand the majesty of these places you must see the sights with your own eyes. El Capitan is a 3,000-foot granite wall that's famous for its multi-pitch climbing routes. It's best viewed from Valley Loop Drive or El Capitan Meadow. Half Dome is perhaps the most recognized landmark in Yosemite and can be seen from almost anywhere in the park. The vertical face is also famous for big wall climbing. Yosemite Falls is the most recognized and visible waterfall in the park and can be viewed from Yosemite Village. At 2,425 feet, it's the tallest waterfall in North America.

Nature and Conservation

In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant to protect the wild lands of Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove. Yosemite became a federally designated national park in 1890 with the National Park Act. Yosemite’s iconic polished granite domes, walls, and valleys—the result of glaciation—are the basis for the park’s preservation. John Muir and Ansel Adams are credited for conservation efforts through their respective writing and photography. Yosemite has an elevation range of approximately 3,000 to 13,000 feet, and is home to diverse ecosystems and microclimates. The expansive forest is home to hundreds of animal species, including the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.

By Region

Within the park boundary, Yosemite can be divided into regions. Located in the western end of the park, Yosemite Valley is about eight miles long and a mile wide. The Merced River flows through the glacial valley and is the hub of tourist amenities. At an elevation of around 9,000 feet, Tuolumne Meadows at the eastern border is sub-alpine meadow known for its polished domes, and is a popular climbing destination. The Hetch Hetchy Valley is another glacial valley in the northwestern region of the park. The reservoir, which supplies San Francisco with water, was the source of environmental conflict in the early 1900s.


The Awhanechee are the American Indian people who lived in the Yosemite Valley when the first settlers made contact during the early 1800s. After conflict with the settlers, Chief Tenaya led his people to eastern California, though the valley is still called Awhanee by the Awhanechee. Some settlers became leaders in the conservation movement, and integral to the federal protection lobby. Later, in the 1960s, the area became a destination for rock climbing. Notable climbers like Yvon Chouinard, Royal Robbins, and Ron Kauk designated routes that are still classics today.

Practical Information

Located about 200 miles east of San Francisco in central California, Yosemite is open year-round. Though it’s most visited in the summer, waterfalls are at their peak in the spring, and fall is a fantastic time of year to see the leaves change colors. Winter is cold and snowy, but the park is quiet and there are an abundance of outdoor adventures. Some roads and entrance gates may be closed seasonally because of snow. Bus service is available to the park and a free shuttle is available within some areas of the park. Yosemite Village is the hub of amenities, including restaurants and hotels, and is the location of the main visitor center. Black bears live in Yosemite—proper food storage is required by law.

Guide Editor