Yosemite National Park is a vast wilderness area located in the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range of Northern California. The park was established in 1864 and marked the first time that the government protected land because of its natural beauty and for the purpose of public enjoyment. The ancient sequoia trees, abundant waterfalls, deep valleys, and awe-inspiring granite cliffs of El Capitan and Half Dome have been calling to rock climbers, hikers, artists, and naturalists alike for centuries. Vehicles pay an entrance fee of $30 in the summer and $25 in the winter.
Best Time to Visit Yosemite
Springtime is generally thought of as the best time to visit the park. At this time the large crowds haven’t arrived yet and the weather is warming although rainy, stormy days are still common. The wildflowers are beginning to bloom, and the park’s famous waterfalls are flowing at their strongest from the snowmelt. The drawbacks to visiting in the spring are that many places in the park may not be open yet due to weather conditions. Specifically, Glacier Point Road and Tioga Road may be closed until late spring. Be prepared for nights that drop below freezing as well as days that could reach into the ’70s (20°C).
The beautifully warm and dry weather and iconic scenery invites large crowds at this time. Avoid visiting on holidays and long weekends. Daytime temperatures can reach 100°F (38°C) and afternoon thunderstorms are common, although skies are generally clear again by night. The impressive waterfalls begin to diminish but as the snow finishes melting, the higher elevations in the park become accessible. Visiting the higher elevation and cooler temperatures of Tuolumne Meadows at this time is a good idea and provides access to backpacking trips in the High Sierras.
Fall days tend to stay warm and clear through October as the night time temperatures begin to decrease. The cooler temperatures and thinner crowds of fall make it a great time for hiking and rock climbing in the park. The trees begin to change color and waterfalls and streams continue to decrease. Higher elevation roads begin to shut down and close after the first heavy snowfall.
Winters in the park are cold and wet. Snow typically begins to stick in the valley by the end of November and the park hosts the least amount of visitors. Skiing, snowboarding, ice skating, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, and snow tubing become the park’s main attractions at this time. By mid-February, hundreds of visitors flock to the park for the chance to see the “Firefall” phenomena. The famous Horsetail Waterfall appears to be on fire when the orange light of sunset is reflected off the water as it pours over the face of El Capitan.
Getting to Yosemite
By Plane and Vehicle
Los Angeles – Fly into Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and rent a car for the 279 mile (449 km) drive to Yosemite which takes about 4.5 hours via the CA-99 N.
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San Francisco – Fly into San Francisco International Airport (SFO) where you are able to rent a car to drive 167 miles (269 km) to Yosemite which takes approximately 3 hours and 10 minutes via the I-580 E and CA-120 E.
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Sacramento – Fly into Sacramento International Airport (SMF) and rent a car for the 141 mile (227 km) drive to the park which takes 2 hours and 40 minutes via the CA-99 S and CA-120 E.
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Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) provides bus service into Yosemite.
AMTRAK Trains serve San Diego, Los Angeles, Fresno, San Jose, San Francisco, and Sacramento to and from Merced/Riverbank and connect with the YARTS bus lines for direct buses into Yosemite Valley.
It’s always a good idea to start off any National Parks trip with a stop at a visitor center. At the centers, you can speak to rangers, watch the Spirit of Yosemite park film, view exhibits on the park’s natural and cultural history. You can also join a ranger-led program, pick up your backcountry permits, or shop for books or maps.
Yosemite Valley Visitor Center – 9035 Village Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA and is open year-round.
Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center – 9006 Southside Drive, Yosemite Valley, CA and is open from late May to early September.
Valley Wilderness Center – open May to October.
Happy Isles Art and Nature Center – open from May to September.
Things to Do and Main Attractions
The Yosemite Museum displays the history and culture of the Ahwahnechee people who first lived in the valley. Behind the museum is a replica of the Native American Village of Ahwahnee. This village from Yosemite Valley is meant to depict Native American life from the 1870s. Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery which features the work of Ansel Adams, contemporary photographers, and other artists.
There are many scenic drives in the park with access to viewpoints and hiking trails. Stop along State Highway 41 to see Tunnel View, an iconic vista made famous by photographer Ansel Adams. Drive Glacier Point Road or take one of the strenuous hikes to reach Glacier Point, a panoramic viewpoint above Yosemite Valley. Tioga Road is another scenic drive with many stops along the way including Tuolumne Grove and Mariposa Grove. These stops are home to around 500 mature giant sequoia trees that are thousands of years old.
There are endless hiking trail options in Yosemite. The park has everything from casual, family-friendly nature walks to multi-day backpacking excursions. Watch the sunset illuminate the faces of Half Dome and El Capitan in brilliant reds and oranges. Or visit some of the parks most famous waterfalls while hiking along Mist Trail. You can also hike the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail to see Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall.
Yosemite is one of the most famous rock climbing destinations in the world due to its iconic granite cliffs. Yosemite Mountaineering School & Guide Service are the only authorized climbing guides in the park. They offer gear rentals, climbing lessons, and trips for everyone from complete beginners to advanced climbers.
Yosemite has 12 miles (19 km) of paved bike paths. Cyclists are also allowed to ride on regular park roads with caution.
Due to the diversity of habitat, the park is a great place for birdwatchers. Some of the most sought-after birds are the great gray and spotted owls, peregrine falcon, pileated woodpecker, and northern goshawk.
In the winter months, Badger Pass Ski Area opens which has trails for cross-country skiers, lifts for alpine skiers, a terrain park, and a tubing area. There are a variety of tours offered including open-air tram tours and guided bus tours to different areas of the park. Alternatively, attending ranger-led and interpretive programs such as the nature and history programs, photography walks, outdoor adventures, and Yosemite Theater activities are a great way to learn about the park and these talks, walks, and programs are most often free of charge.
Where to Stay/Getting Around Yosemite
Yosemite has 10 campgrounds suitable for RV’s which fill up quickly in the summer and require reservations as soon as possible. Electrical, water, and sewer hookups are not available in the park. Dump stations are available at Upper Pines Campground (open all year) and near Wawona Campground and Tuolumne Meadows Campground which are both open only in the summer months.
The Ahwahnee Hotel, formerly the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, is open year-round and is a traditional lodging at the base of Yosemite Falls. Cedar Lodge is located 8 miles (13 km) from the park in El Portal. Rush Creek Lodge is located a few minutes drive away from the Big Oak Flat Entrance. The Groveland Hotel is a half-hour away from Yosemite’s year-round northern entrance. Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn is located a few miles away from the parks south entrance. Yosemite Southgate Hotel & Suites is also only minutes away from the parks south entrance in Oakhurst.
Park your car upon arrival and enjoy the parks free, eco-friendly shuttle service.
Bus services are available to Tuolumne Meadows and Glacier Point.
Things to Remember While Visiting the Park
- Pets are not allowed on any park trails for their safety and the safety of park wildlife.
- Respect wildlife from a distance: don’t feed or approach them or let them approach you.
- Human food has a serious impact on wildlife. Don’t feed wildlife, keep camps free of all traces of food, store food in an animal-proof food locker, and place all garbage in an animal-proof trash can.
- Cellphone signal is unreliable within the park
- Computers with Internet access and Wi-Fi are available to the public at the small Mariposa County library branch in Yosemite Valley. Free Wi-Fi is also available at Degnan’s Kitchen.
- Fill up on gas before entering the park. Gas prices tend to rise the closer you get.
- Don’t drive if you can help it. Take advantage of free shuttles or bicycle rentals and save yourself some trouble over parking and traffic.
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Is a tour of National Parks on your bucket list? Then check out Joshua Tree National Park in an RV for more great places to visit with your next RV rental.