Anyone who has ever been to Yosemite National Park knows that there are an endless amount of reasons why one should visit. However, I focused on five major highlights of the park. Yosemite is one of my favorite National Parks and I am more in love with it each time I visit. Thank you, John Muir, for saving and preserving Yosemite for all of us!
1. The Views
Yosemite has some of the most beauty scenery on earth. Upon my first glance entering the park on Tioga Pass, I was stunned at the remarkable beauty within the Sierra Nevada Mountains. What’s unique about Yosemite is that you are able to see the most stunning area of the park from your car. Here are a few of the park’s most popular views:
Glacier Point – Unfortunately I have never viewed the valley from this famous spot, but it’s definitely a must-see location. The drive to Glacier Point takes about one hour from the valley. At 7200 feet elevation, it’s a popular spot for tourists, photographers, and sunsets. The road access is only open June through October.
Olmsted Point – This vista is located in upper Yosemite on Tioga Road. Olmsted Point gives you a view of the valley from the east and a view of the northern side of Half Dome. The Tioga Road is open to cars from late May or early June to sometime in November.
Tunnel View – Enter the park from the West and take Wawona Road (Highway 41) to the valley. There you will take in Tunnel View, one of the most popular viewpoints in the whole park with views of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and Half Dome. This is another crowded vista, so arrive here early.
2. The Waterfalls
Yosemite boasts numerous waterfalls throughout the park, but the most popular are found in the valley. The best time to see these falls is in spring when snow melt fills the rivers and streams.
Bridalveil – This is often the first fall that visitors see when entering the main area of the park. At 620 feet, Bridalveil Fall usually flows all year. This is a popular spot for visitors since it’s the first viewpoint area, so be sure to plan on getting to the valley early to see this incredible fall.
Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls – Yosemite Falls is a majestic three-tier waterfall that ends in Yosemite Valley. There is an upper fall, a middle cascade section, and a lower fall. Peak flow occurs around May and the Falls usually flow from November through July. Upper Yosemite Falls is one of the world’s tallest waterfalls in the world at 2,425 feet. If you decide to hike to the top early in morning, be sure to carry bear spray with you. About half way up to the top of the falls, my husband and I encountered a bear on the trail with us. Everything turned out okay, but it was an eye-opening experience!
Vernal Fall – Hike to the base of Vernal Fall via the Mist Trail. This is a busy trail where you hike alongside the water flow. Expect lots of water spray and mist as you hike uphill. If you hike to the base, there is a bridge that crosses the water. Hike to the top to see a beautiful view from 317 feet. Flow peaks in May but the fall usually flows all year.
Nevada Fall – This waterfall is located right below Liberty Cap, a large granite dome in the western side of Little Yosemite Valley. Fed by the Merced River, this fall usually flows all year, but peaks in May.
3. The Rocks
Yosemite National Park is a granite wonderland. In fact, the Sierra Nevada Mountain range is mostly made up of granite. Although the rock looks the same throughout the park, it is in fact, different varieties. These differences in mineral composition and texture, for example, affect the rock’s resistance to weathering, fracturing, and overall strength. Granite within the park has a salt and pepper like appearance, with visible mineral grains. Here are the most popular formations:
Half Dome – Perhaps the most famous icon of Yosemite, Half Dome is easily seen throughout the valley. Popular for hikers and climbers, permits are now necessary to climb to its top. Its shape came about through fire first and later ice, creating the iconic formation that it is today.
El Capitan – Another famous image from Yosemite, El Capitan is a vertical rock formation that rises 3,000 feet from the valley floor to its top. The majesty of its size can easily be enjoyed in the valley and picnic area opposite the rock. This is the ultimate climbing experience for rock climbers. Sit and enjoy the view while you watch rock climbers inch up the face of the rock.
Cloud’s Rest – This mountain is popular for hikers and climbers due to its closeness to the valley floor and its amazing panoramic view. You can hike to the summit from either Tioga Pass Road or from Happy Isles in the valley. Glaciers eroded the granite on either side of the mountain to create the thin ridge of rock that creates Clouds Rest.
Lembert Dome – Lembert Dome is a prominent granite dome in Tuolumne Meadows (upper Yosemite). This dome rises 800 feet above Tuolumne and provides a granite playground of sorts. People of all ages are seen walking, climbing, and running up and down its slopes.
4. The Sequoias
In the southern border of Yosemite, near Wawona, lies Mariposa Grove, the largest area of giant Sequoias within Yosemite. Seeing these majestic trees up close makes a person feel incredibly small. In this grove, you will find the famous Grizzly Giant tree, which is the oldest tree in the area at 1900-2400 years old.
Many of the trees in the grove are named and are recognized for certain characteristics. For example, the California Tunnel tree (see above) is the only tree remaining that was cut (in 1895 as a marketing scheme) to allow coaches/cars to drive through it. Mariposa Grove is currently closed until spring of 2017 as it undergoes a large restoration. However, there are other places within the park to see Giant Sequoia trees. Click here for more information.
5. The Solitude
Due to the popularity of summer visits to Yosemite, you won’t be able to find solitude unless you trek off from worn paths. Just as with any national park, there is solitude to be found, but here you will need to seek it. Drive up to Tuolumne Meadows; it won’t take long to find silence. Camping in the park, outside of the valley, can also bring nighttime solitude.
If you are a stargazer, make sure you visit during a new moon, when the light from the moon doesn’t illuminate the night sky. Enjoy the sounds of nature, see the stars, and enjoy the silence. Take time for introspection, meditation, just enjoy being at one with nature.