There are a number of things to do while enjoying Yosemite National Park. These activities include but are not limited to biking, camping, fishing, hiking, horseback riding, mountaineering, photography, ranger activities, stargazing and winter sports activities.
Yosemite is home to variety of birds. The most commonly seen birds include the Stellar's jay, American robin, Brewer's blackbird, acorn woodpecker, raven, and black-headed grosbeak. In spring, listen for the splendid glissade of the red-wing blackbrid (most often seen in meadows) or watch the American dipper dart in and out of creek and river rapids.
Some of the more sought-after birds to see in Yosemite include the great gray owl, Peregrine falcon, pileated woodpecker, and northern goshawk.
In general quiet forests away from developed areas and meadows (particularly in the mornings) are the best places to see some of the less common birds.
Bring along or buy a plant key or book about trees or wildflowers. Then wander the meadows and forests trying to identify the various plants and trees. It can be a rewarding, educational, and fun experience!
Wildflowers typically begin appearing in spring at the lower elevations (around El Portal, just outside the park along Highway 140). Flowers become showy above Yosemite Valley sometime in June (Pacific dogwoods start blooming in May), and at Tuolumne Meadows in July.
Yosemite Valley is world famous for its impressive waterfalls, cliffs, and unusual rock formations. It is open year-round and is reached via Highway 41 from Fresno, Highway 140 from Merced, Highway 120 from Manteca, and in later spring through late fall via Highway 120 from Lee Vining (the Tioga Road. Many activities and services are available in Yosemite Valley. A few of its most famous attractions are described below.
The Yosemite Indians (Ahwahneechee) called this place "Pohono" or spirit of the puffing wind. The wind swirls about this place, often lifting Bridalveil Fall and blowing it sideways.
This massive monolith is the largest single granite rock on earth, standing nearly 4,000 feet from base to summit. Rock climbers from around the world come to challenge their abilities on the face of El Capitan. From the turnout along El Capitan meadow, spring to fall, you can spot them inching their way up the sheer walls. But, please do not walk into this meadow or picnic upon it, as it and most other meadows in the national park are easily damaged.
These trails travel along spectacular routes from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. The Four-Mile Trail is a strenuous 3 to 4 hour climb to Glacier Point, beginning on Southside Drive at road marker V 18. The more moderate route is along the Panorama Trail, 8.5 miles, and taking 4 to 6 hours one way. It begins at Happy Isles. A hiker's bus can be taken from yosemite Valley to Glacier Point.
Along Northside Drive, past El Capitan Meadow, you will find a turnout which looks back toward El Capitan. It is a serene spot beside the Merced River. Here you'll find one of the best Valley-level views of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and the Valley.
Walk to the edge and catch your breath along with one of the most spectacular overlooks on earth. From this perch on the rim of Yosemite Valley, you'll look down 3,214 feet to the Valley floor and have an eagle's view, an overlook, with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the High Sierra. It is located 30 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Valley. Take Highway 41 for fourteen miles to the Chinquapin junction, then turn left onto Glacier Point Road. The road ends at Glacier Point. In winter, the road is plowed as far as the Badger Pass Ski area and Glacier Point can be reached via skis or snowshoes only.
Yosemite's most distinctive feature, Half Dome, dominates the valley view. Half Dome rises 4,733 feet from the valley floor and at 87 million years old, it is the youngest plutonic rock in the valley. A hike to the top of Half Dome provides the physically fit with a strenuous walk, intimidating climb and rewarding view. This trek is not to be undertaken without care and preparation.
No one can leave this place unhappy, or so the saying goes. The Merced River rushes around two little islands near Shuttle Bus Stop #16. Bridges connect foot paths to the islands. Bring a picnic lunch or get a snack at the snack stand. The trails that lead to Vernal and Nevada Falls begin here.
Hetch Hetchy, similar in character to Yosemite Valley, is located near the Highway 120 West (Big Oak Flat) entrance. The name "Hetch Hetchy" is derived from a Miwok Indian word for a grass with edible seeds which grew abundantly there. In 1913, after a lengthy legal battle, famed Sierra conservationist John Muir lost his fight to save the valley from being dammed. Today a large hydroelectric dam on the site holds water for the City of San Francisco. Studies are now being made as to whether it is feasible to remove the dam and restore Hetch Hetchy to its former wilderness state.
Located behind the Yosemite Museum and always open. Sometimes there is the opportunity to join Indian Cultural Program staff for demonstrations or programs about Ahwahneechee skills and culture.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, located at the southernmost end of Yosemite, is the largest stand of giant sequoias in the park. Allow 1.25 hours driving time from Yosemite Valley. Cars are prohibited beyond the parking area, however many giant sequoias can be seen from there. The access road to the Grove may close for extended periods due to heavy snowfall. Call 209-372-0200 for current road and weather information. If the access road is closed, add an extra half-hour walking time from the South Entrance of the park to the Grove.
Mirror Lake is a moderately easy 1-mile walk from Shuttle Bus Stop #17. Here you will find impressive views and mirror reflections of Tenaya Canyon during spring and early summer. The lake is evolving into a meadow, drying up by summer's end... a natural process. A 3-mile trail loops the lake. If you're bicycling, park your bike at the base of the Mirror Lake hill and walk to the lake; riding back down on the hill is dangerous.
On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada is Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America. The lake has high concentrations of salt and alkali. A significant migratory bird resting area, Mono Lake provides the nesting grounds for 90% of the California Gull population. Along the shores of Mono Lake are starkly-shaped calcium formations called "Tufa Towers."
Hours of operation vary. Check door of Gallery for current schedule. Exhibits may include historic paintings from the Yosemite Museum collection (through 15 February), and Yosemite Renaissance XII, contemporary works of art selected from juried competition (opens 28 February).
See horse drawn wagons, walk across a covered bridge, and visit historic buildings out of Yosemite's past. Take a 30-minute, self-guided tour through the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and learn about people and events of Yosemite. The Center is always open, and explanatory signs and brochures are available. Located adjacent to the Wawona General Store, across the Covered Bridge.
There are several fine hikes long the Glacier Point road. One is the 2.2 mile round-trip out to Sentinel Dome from the Sentinel Dome-Taft Point trail head along the Glacier Point Road. The hike to the top is a small price to pay for the 360 degree view.
The Miwok in Yosemite is a short loop trail that winds through a reconstructed Miwok-Paiute Village in the Indian Village of Ahwahnee. It introduces Southern Miwok life, history, and language. The trail begins behind the Yosemite Museum building.
Located just below "Inspiration Point," the turnout at the eastern end of the Wawona tunnel on Highway 41 has one of the most photographed vistas on earth. It provides the classic view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.
This grove of giant sequoia stands near the junction of Highway 120 and Tioga Pass (at Crane Flat). The grove is a one mile hike from the parking lot at Crane Flat on Tioga Road. To avoid the one-way trip, park your car and walk the short distance into the grove.
Tioga Pass (Highway 120 East), at 9,941 feet is the highest vehicle pass in California. A number of scenic pullouts and parking areas are located along the way. A wonderful stop is found at Tenaya Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Sierra. Farther on, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. California bighorn sheep can sometimes be seen grazing along the Tioga Road beyond the eastern boundary of the park. Closed in winter.
Among the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley is the Mist Trail. This hike starts at Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop #16) and climbs beside the scenic Merced River to Vernal Fall (317-ft drop) and Nevada Fall (594-ft. drop). The first mile is moderately difficult. Beyond the Vernal Fall view footbridge, the Mist Trail is a strenuous climb. However, you are rewarded by seeing rainbows in the mist of the falls when the light is at the right angle, and Nevada Fall is awesome. Carry a poncho or rain jacket in springtime.
This historic cemetery is located across the street and just west of the Yosemite Museum. People buried here include Native Americans, casual park visitors, and people who played important roles in the development of what is now Yosemite National Park. A Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery is available at the Valley Visitor Center.
The base of Yosemite Falls is an easy walk from Shuttle Bus Stop #7 near the Yosemite Lodge. Impressive views are seen on the path to the falls. The upper and lower falls, connected by the intermediate cascades, drop 2,425 feet, making them the highest in all of North America and fifth tallest in the world.
Travel to the southern end of the park on Highway 41. At Wawona, you'll find a lovely Victorian hotel of the 1800's and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Six miles farther south is the magnificent Mariposa grove of giant sequoias.
See the Calendar Page and Hiking Page for more information.
Information provided by the National Park Service
Activities & Calendar
Brochures, Maps, Written Info
Glacier Point Area
Hetch Hetchy Area
Junior Ranger Programs
Jobs, SCA, Volunteer Positions
Sequoia Groves Area
Shuttle Bus Service
Size & Visitation
Tuolumne Meadows Area
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