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Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park | Roadtrip USA (56)

Yosemite Valley National Park is one of the most visited national parks of the United States and is an absolute must-see during your tour of Western America. It is no coincidence that photos of this park are shown on the front page of almost all online magazines and travel brochures about America. The entire park is a bizarre natural spectacle full of surprises.

Yosemite Valley National Park is best known for its beautiful waterfalls, giant sequoias and its spectacular granite mountains and precipices. The park is very popular with the more active holiday maker and walking here is a unique experience.

Here are our tips for Yosemite Valley National Park; one of our favorite places on earth!


The ultimate tour of North America

This article is part of a large one-year tour the United States en Canada in 2022, with a Dutch 4×4 camper that we shipped ourselves… It is a bucket list worthy and a once in a lifetime experience that will never be forgotten.

The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl
The ultimate roadtrip route through America and Canada | Wereldreizigers.nl

We wrote almost 100 articles about this ultimate tour. Below is a handy overview in 5 expandable categories.

1. Preparation
2. Highlights & Itineraries
3. Cities & places of interest (AZ)
4. National Parks & Monuments (AZ)
5. Plan your vacation to America here

About Yosemite Valley National Park

The Yosemite Valley National Park is the most visited national park in the US state of California. Within the United States, Yosemite is number 3 on the list of most visited national parks with 3,3 million visitors in 2021.

Chris and Malou with parents (in-law) in Yosemite National Park
Chris and Malou with parents (in-law) in Yosemite Valley National Park

Yosemite Valley National Park is also one of the oldest national parks in America and has been on the UNESCO World Heritage List for several years.

Yosemite Valley National Park was first protected in 1864. Within its nearly 1.200 square miles you will find deep valleys, wide meadows, ancient giant sequoias, a vast wilderness area, big game and much more…

Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park
Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park

Top 10 sights

1.Half Dome

Half dome (Location here ), the nearly vertical north face, is Yosemite's most recognized geological feature. The gigantic vertical wall has been luring mountaineers for more than a century. Regular visitors can also reach the top via the Half Dome Trail (more info at hiking), a brisk trail from the bottom of Yosemite Valley.

Visitors who don't like the idea of ​​an extreme hike to Half Dome can also enjoy Half Dome. You'll get great views of the park's most famous landmark from dozens of locations and vantage points throughout the park. You can see an example below, a photo taken from the valley.

Half Dome from the valley | Tips for Yosemite National Park
Half Dome from the valley | Tips for Yosemite

2. Bridalveil Fall

bridalveil fall (Location here ) is one of the first things people see when they enter Yosemite from the west. The 188-meter-high waterfall is most impressive in spring, when melting snow makes the waterfall grand and impressive.

The waterfall is subject to the wind in every season. The way the waterfall sways back and forth is part of what makes this water feature so distinctive. Later in the day with a low hanging sun, a beautiful rainbow often appears as seen in the photo below.

Bridalveil Falls from Tunnel View | Tips for Yosemite National Park
Bridalveil Falls from Tunnel View | Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park

Those who visit the park in winter can even admire the waterfall as if it were on fire. Every year for two weeks in February, the sun sets at a certain angle and illuminates the waterfall in luminous orange and red, giving it the appearance of a liquid fire. It must be a bizarre sight, here some photos of the natural spectacle can be seen.

A 20-minute walk from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot takes visitors to the base of the falls. Despite a steep climb at the end of the trail, it's one of the easiest hikes in the park. If you want to admire the waterfall from a distance as in the photo above, it is best to do so from tunnel view (Location here ).

3. El Capitan

One of the most famous landmarks in Yosemite Valley National Park is the Granite Monolith. El Capitan rises 910 meters (3.000 ft) vertically from Yosemite Valley. It is the favorite challenge among experienced mountaineers. were in 1958 Warren J. Harding, Wayne Merry and George Whitmore the first toNose of El Capitan' climbed using ropes, hooks and expansion bolts.

El Capitan | Tips for Yosemite National Park
El Capitan | Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park

This famous Yosemite attraction is best seen from the roads in western Yosemite Valley (as seen in the photo above). Also tunnel view, bridalveil fall en El Capitan Meadow are good places to go El Capitan to admire.

4. Yosemite Falls

The highest waterfall in the USA, Yosemite Falls, plunges down a cliff in three waterfalls (upper, middle and lower). The lower and upper falls can be admired from many places in the park. You can also take a short walk to the lower falls (Lower Yosemite Falls Trail – more info at hiking), where you can get close to the waterfall.

Yosemite Falls (upper, middle and lower) from Glacier Point
Yosemite Falls (upper, middle and lower) from Glacier Point

For scenic views of the falls, it's best to go up high, away from the falls. You can take beautiful photos from multiple locations in Yosemite Valley National Park. The photo above showing all three falls was taken from Glacier point (Location here ). This is by far my favorite spot in the park, as you can see the entire park from there.

5. Vernal Falls

Located in the eastern part of Yosemite Valley, the 97-foot-tall stream flows Vernal Falls all year round in the Merced River. This waterfall continues even when all other waterfalls in the park have already dried up.

Climbing the more than 500 steps to the top of the falls is one of the park's most popular hikes. Keep in mind that climbing these stairs can cause you to get quite wet, because the fog regularly blows over the stairs.

Vernal Falls from the footbridge
Vernal Falls from the footbridge

Still, it is definitely worth making the climb. The views from the top are truly spectacular! For the less adventurous, a footbridge halfway up the climb offers scenic views of the falls and valley floor, as seen in the photo above.

6. Mariposa Grove

De butterfly grove (Location here ) is located in the southernmost part of Yosemite Valley National Park. It is a protected forest with giant sequoias, some of which are over 2000 years old.

Giant sequoia specimens include the Washingtontree, the largest in the forest, and the CaliforniaTunneltree, which was cut down in the 1800s to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass. Fallen giants like the Fallen monarch are also noteworthy.

A giant sequoia tree
A giant sequoia tree (giant sequoia)

But it's not just the gigantic trees that you can admire here. Because Mariposa Grove is relatively remote, it is a lot less crowded than the rest of the park. As a result, the chance is much greater that you will encounter large game here. Like a black bear, seen in the photo below.

Black bear in Mariposa Grove
Black Bear in Mariposa Grove | Yosemite Valley National Park

7.Tunnel View

tunnel view (Location here ) is a lookout point where visitors can enjoy fantastic views El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Half dome and the beautiful Yosemite Valley. The lookout is very popular with park visitors, attracting between 5.000 and 10.000 visitors per day during peak tourist season.

Tunnel View, valley view
Tunnel View, valley view

8.Nevada Fall

Nevada Fall is a 181 meter high waterfall and in my opinion this is the most impressive of Yosemite. This is because you can admire this beautiful waterfall from very close and from multiple angles. You can even get to the edge of the waterfall to watch the water plunge straight down!

Nevada Fall | Tips for Yosemite National Park
Nevada Fall | Tips for Yosemite National Park

I have now visited the waterfall twice, both times in October (in 2016 and 2022). The difference in hydropower was huge. So you have to be a bit lucky that rain has fallen earlier or that you are there in spring, when a lot of meltwater comes down from the mountains.

Who the Panorama Trail you can admire the Nevada Falls from the south first (as seen in the photo above), and then stand on the edge of the falls (video below).

Warning: looking up the edge of the Nevada Fall is unsuitable for people with a fear of heights! In the video above I am indeed looking 181 feet straight down from the edge, with no fences or anything like that.
I saw people go to the edge with shaky knees to take a selfie. Don't do it if you're nervous, because if you stumble, you won't tell anyone. You won't be the first to fall down here. In 2018, another 18-year-old boy fell and died here who wanted to take a selfie on the edge…

9. Illilouette Fall

Illouette Fall is a 116 meter waterfall on the tributary Illilouette Creek of the Merced river in Yosemite. It is located in a small canyon that cuts into the south wall of Yosemite Valley directly opposite Vernal Fall. This waterfall is best viewed via the Panorama Trail, which starts (or ends) at Glacier point.

Illilouette Fall | Tips for Yosemite National Park
Illilouette Fall | Tips for Yosemite Valley National Park

10. Glacier point

Glacier point is my personal favourite. The lookout has a fantastic, panoramic view of Yosemite Valley and Half dome. It is accessible on foot (a tough walk), by car or by shuttle bus.

Because the four-mile trek (it's called the Four Mile Trail), to the point is extremely steep and tough, most visitors prefer to drive or take a shuttle bus via Wawona Road. It takes about an hour to drive the winding road to the top from the visitor center in the valley, but it is totally worth it.

Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point
Half Dome and the Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point

Glacier Point not only offers panoramic views of the valley floor, but also brings visitors up to eye level with the park's iconic Half Dome.

If you look to the left from Glacier Point, you will see the three Yosemite Falls (see photo at number 5 about Yosemite Falls). If you turn your head slightly to the right again, you will see the other two large waterfalls in the distance, Nevada Falls en Vernal Falls.

The view from Glacier Point | Tips for Yosemite Valley

In my opinion, this is the best place to start or end your visit to Yosemite Valley National Park. From this point you can see almost all sights in one, gigantic panoramic overview. The grandeur of the valley and the madness of Half Dome does something to you. So definitely put this place at the top of your list of things to see in Yosemite. I promise it won't disappoint!


Plan your vacation to America here


What to do

Who with the camper or shuttle bus driving through the valley and disembarking at the various stops can admire much of the top 10 sights above. However, due to the crowds and popularity of the 'standard spots' in the park, you don't experience the real Yosemite here.

For the best viewpoints (op Glacier point after then…), waterfalls and experiences you will have to put in a little more effort. Those who deviate a little further from the beaten track will be treated to unique viewpoints and, with a bit of luck, also see big game.

Walking

The best way to discover the park is to go hiking. Malou and I combined to hike 5 well-known trails in Yosemite Valley National Park, ranging from easy to moderately difficult. The Panorama Trail is our absolute favourite, because it takes you past the large waterfalls and because you start at the most beautiful viewpoint of the park, Glacier point.

Panorama Trail information board at Glacier Point
Panorama Trail information board at Glacier Point

Admittedly, it is a long and full day's walk. The good news, however, is that you start high and actually only walk down. The walk has a length of 13,7 kilometers and the descent in terms of altimeters during this walk is -975 meters.

Malou on the Panorama Trail | Yosemite Valley National Park
Malou on the Panorama Trail | Yosemite Valley National Park
Yosemite Falls (in the distance) on the Panorama Trail
Yosemite Falls (in the distance) on the Panorama Trail

Other hikes that won't take you (and your feet) all day are the Bridalveil Fall Trail (roughly 20 minutes), Lower Yosemite Fall Trail (roughly 45 minutes) and Vernal Falls Trail (roughly 1,5 hours).

Trails

Looking for more Yosemite Valley hiking inspiration? Below I have added an overview of the most popular hiking trails in Yosemite Valley. To make choosing and planning the right hiking route easy for you, I have included links with each hiking route where you can find more information about the specific trail.

TrailDifficultyDistanceElevation
Bridalveil Fall Trail*Easy0.8 km (round trip)24 m
Lower Yosemite Fall Trail*Easy1.6 km (entire loop)15 m
Cook's Meadow LoopEasy1.6 km (entire loop)Flat
Mirror Lake LoopEasy to Moderate3.2 km (lake & back)
8 km (entire loop)
35 m (lake)
70 m (walk)
Valley Loop TrailModerate10.5 km (half loop)
20.9 km (full loop)
Mostly flat
Vernal Fall Trail*Moderate2.5 km (round trip)120 m
Nevada Fall Trail*Strenuous13 km (round trip)600 m
Yosemite Falls TrailModerate to Strenuous3.2 km (round trip)
11.6 km (round trip)
328 m
825 m
Snow Creek TrailStrenuous15.1 km (round trip)825 m
Four Mile TrailStrenuous7.7 km (one way)975 m
Half Dome TrailStrenuous22.4km-26.2km (round trip)1475 m
Panorama Trail*Moderate to Strenuous13.7 km (one way)- 975 m

Remark: the trails with an * are the trails that we have walked ourselves.

To help you choose a suitable trail, I've added another illustration below that shows you how much a trail ascends or descends.

Yosemite Valley Trails - Information about the difficulty (elevation) of trails.
Hiking in Yosemite | Yosemite Valley National Park
Hiking in Yosemite | Yosemite Valley National Park

Spotting animals

Black bears & deer: With a bit of luck you can see many wild animals in the park. We mainly encountered many cute squirrels, but were also treated to several groups of deer and even a black bear relaxing in the grass. Pumas or panthers are also spotted with some regularity. Although they generally stay far away from the much used hiking trails.

Deer | Yosemite Valley National Park
Deer | Yosemite Valley National Park

We even (with some luck) saw a black bear near the visitor center. The people who had spotted the animal in the grass generally kept an appropriate distance. Unfortunately, things regularly go wrong in the park, and you are warned in all kinds of ways. When you walk into the visitor center, you immediately see warnings and there are confrontational videos everywhere. Apparently many people still often have the feeling of walking in a zoo and think that the animals are sweet enough to approach or even pet. Nothing is less true!

Also read: Taking bears and other wildlife into account (tips)

Black bear in the grass | Yosemite Valley National Park
Black bear in the grass | Yosemite Valley National Park

A bus driver even told us that a tourist who tried to put his/her child on one of the young deer for a fun ride. This, of course, did not end well. The deer defended the calf resulting in an injured child… What fools!

Stellar Blue Jay in Yosemite

Birds, reptiles and insects: Furthermore, there are many different birds, foxes, reptiles and insects to see in the park. This is because there is great diversity in habitats. Dry, humid, woody and rocky. For many animals this is the ideal place to live and you will notice that. It is buzzing with life here.

A black raven in Yosemite. Very smart birds that make bizarre sounds
A black raven in Yosemite. Very smart birds that make bizarre sounds

Practical information and tips

Camping

Yosemite is one of the most visited national parks in the United States, so you will have to plan your visit well, especially during the high season. During our one-year tour of America, we found planning difficult. But for Yosemite, we had no choice. We had to.

Our spot at Wawona Campground
Our spot at Wawona Campground

Four months in advance, we managed to get one of the last spots at Wawona Campground. The rest (13 campsites!) were already full.

Tip:: This was a reservation for the month of October! So far outside the high season... If you want to stay at one of the campsites in the park during the high season, it is best to book this 6 to 12 months in advance. The sooner the better.

The Merced River at Wawona Campground
The Merced River at Wawona Campground

Wawona Campground is about a 45 minute drive south of the visitor center, so still in the National Park. The campsite is located on a small river, the Merced River. Despite the considerable distance from most popular sights, it was wonderful to wake up by the river.

The Merced River at Wawona Campground
The Merced River at Wawona Campground

Campgrounds

Below is an overview of the 13 campgrounds that Yosemite Valley National Park has. This information comes directly from the official website where you can also reserve a camping spot. Click on the name of the campsite for more information.

campsiteOpenMaximum
RV Length
ReservationPrice
Yosemite Valley
Upper Pinesall year35 ft. / 24 ftYes$ 36
Lower PinesApr 14–Oct 1240 ft. / 35 ftYes$ 36
North PinesApr 11–Oct 1240 ft. / 35 ftYes$ 36
Camp 4all yearNo RVs/trailersMay 20–Oct 31$ 10

South Yosemite
You seeall year35 ft. / 35 ftApr 28–Oct 11$ 36
Bridalveil CreekClosed until 202335 ft. / 24 ftYes$ 36

North Yosemite
Hoddon Meadowall year35 ft. / 30 ftApr 11–Oct 11$ 36
CraneflatClosed until 202335 ft. / 35 ftYes$ 36
Tamarack FlatJun 20–Oct 15RVs/trailers not recommendedYes$ 24
White wolfJul 19–Sep 527 ft. / 24 ftYes$ 30
Yosemite CreekJul 15–Sep 15RVs/trailers not recommendedYes$ 24
Porcupine FlatClosed until 2023RVs/trailers not recommendedNo$ 20
Tulumne MeadowsClosed until 2024 or 202535 ft. / 35 ftClosed 2022-2023$ 36

Hotels

Just like with the campgrounds, it is also wise to book your hotels and lodges in and around the park as far in advance as possible. This makes a huge difference in price. When availability is low prices skyrocket so it really pays to book early. The sooner the better.

Below is a list of offers from hotels and lodges that can be booked in the park.

Booking.com

Tip:: Check if you can cancel for free. Sometimes you pay a small additional price for this. But if you book far in advance, this is recommended because it makes everything a lot easier when canceling and you do not have to submit complex claims to your Travel Insurance.

The access roads

Tioga Pass (from Death Valley): Tioga Pass is a highlight in itself. It is one of the most beautiful routes in America and extremely popular among motorhome travelers. State Route 120 runs through it and serves as the eastern entry point for Yosemite Valley National Park, at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station (Location here ). With an altitude of 3031 meters, it is the highest highway pass in California and in the Sierra Nevada!

However, it is a mountain pass that is closed by default in the winter months due to heavy snowfall and rocks rolling onto the road. Even in the early and late season and even in the summer, it still regularly happens that the pass is temporarily closed. This can take days or weeks depending on the amount of snowfall or rocks blocking the road. So it is important on the official website check if the mountain pass is open. Even in summer!

Yosemite Valley Vista Point on the Big Oak Flat Road, en route to Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley Vista Point on the Big Oak Flat Road, en route to Yosemite Valley

Route 108 (from Death Valley): is Tioga Pass closed? Then your first alternative route 108 is the one Death Valley en North Yosemite Valley connects together. Here too it sometimes happens that the road is temporarily closed, but this only happens sporadically and only in the winter months.

Route 41 (from Fresno): Route 41 from Fresno is basically open 365 days a year. This route is popular among travelers visiting Yosemite Valley and Sequoia and / or Kings Canyon National Park want to combine. It is also a good alternative to travel to or from Death Valley in extreme weather conditions in the north routes 155 and 178.

Route 120 (from San Francisco): If you travel from San Francisco to Yosemite Valley, it is best to take route 120. In principle, this road is always open and is considered the main access road to Yosemite Valley National Park.

Eat Drink

There are shops for regular groceries in the national park, but trust us, you really don't want to do your shopping here. The prices of normal products such as eggs, milk, butter, peanut butter or meat are so extremely high that you almost think it's a joke.

On average, the prices here are I think 300% higher than in a normal store. If you wanted to cook spaghetti for a family of four, it would cost you at least 50 euros in groceries for the ingredients. No joke!

Therefore, always make sure that when you travel through America with a motorhome, you do your shopping outside the national parks. It really hurts a lot.

Of course there are also plenty of options for eating out in the parks or just outside. The prices in the restaurants are also slightly higher than normal, but not as shockingly high as with groceries. On the other hand: you are probably on vacation, so don't forget to look at the prices too much and enjoy!

Best time to travel

Is the best time to visit Yosemite Valley National Park? Yes, of course! The park has very specific seasons and depending on the experience you are looking for, you can adjust your trip accordingly.

Peak season: The best time to visit Yosemite is June to September. In this period you have a pleasant temperature and almost no precipitation. The highest average temperature in Yosemite Valley is 25°C in july. Yet in July and August temperatures above 30 degrees in the Valley are no exception. July and August are very busy though.

Sun in Yosemite | Yosemite Valley National Park
Sun in Yosemite | Yosemite Valley National Park

Before and after season (April-May and October): If you want to see the largest, most imposing waterfalls in Yosemite Valley National Park, it is best to visit the park at the end of April or the beginning of May. Due to the winter meltwater from the mountains, the waterfalls are more powerful than ever and nature is in full bloom. With average temperatures of 12 to 17 degrees during the day, it is on the cool side, but the many hours of sunshine definitely make up for that. Incidentally, the crowds are not too bad in these months, which also makes it an attractive period.

Yosemite Valley

Winter season: The lowest average temperature in Yosemite Valley National Park is 4°C in January. Generally, Yosemite gets a lot of snow in the winter and most hiking trails and mountain passes will be closed. Yet a winter experience in the park is an intense and unique experience with mostly sunny days and animals that defy the cold.

Conclusion

These were our tips and experiences for Yosemite Valley National Park, one of our absolute favorite places in America and perhaps the world. The park is unique with its deep valleys, imposing rock walls and roaring waterfalls.

We have already seen and experienced quite a few beautiful natural parks in the world, but Yosemite Valley is definitely a park that year after year firmly on our ticked off list. bucketlist. stands. It sounds cliché but there is a reason why we wanted to return here again 6 years later.

Half Dome from the meadows in Yosemite Valley
Half Dome from the meadows in Yosemite Valley

If you are thinking about visiting the park yourself: take your time. Plan that extra day and overnight stay. Go take that long walk! Go to that viewpoint and give yourself time to really sit there and absorb the nature around you, without having to rush on to the next sight. Your future self will thank you!


Plan your vacation to America here


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Chris

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