Yosemite Valley is what most visitors think of when they say "Yosemite." Seven miles long and one mile wide at its broadest, its glacier-carved granite walls are near vertical, hemming it in with mile-high cliffs. It's the spectacular heart of Yosemite National Park and at 4,000 feet (1,200 meters) elevation, it's accessible nearly year round. To visit it, you'll need to pay the National Park entry fee.
Scenes from Yosemite Valley
Enjoy some of our best shots in this Yosemite Valley Photo Tour
Sights and Things to Do in Yosemite Valley
Taking up barely 7 square miles out of Yosemite National Park's 1,200-square-mile reach, this little part of the park is jam-packed with some of the park's most iconic sights, including Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan. These - and a few other great spots easily reachable from the Valley - are outlined in the guide to seeing Yosemite in a day.
The Merced River flows through the middle of Yosemite Valley and when there's enough water, you can rent an inflatable raft at Curry Village for a nice float downstream. Prices and details are in the Yosemite Park website.
You can also take a guided horseback ride from the Yosemite Valley Stables to Mirror Lake or a half-day ride to Clark’s Point. Details are here.
Many of the Yosemite trailheads are in the east end of the Valley, most easily reached by taking a shuttle from Yosemite Village. You don't have to be a hearty hiker capable of carrying heavy packs on long treks to enjoy a little hike in Yosemite, though. If you'd like to see more of the Yosemite Valley by foot, try one of these Easy Yosemite Valley Hikes.
Food and Lodging in Yosemite Valley
All of the lodging, shops, campgrounds and places to eat are on the east end of the Yosemite Valley. Yosemite Village is the main visitor area, where you'll find the visitor center, Ansel Adams Gallery and Yosemite Museum. You'll also find gift shops, a grocery store, places to eat, an ATM machine and a post office.
Curry Village offers standard, motel-style rooms, cabins and canvas tent cabins. You'll also find a grocery store, bike rentals, gift shop, showers, lodging and a couple of places to eat. All the details are in the Curry Village Guide.
The two big hotels in the Yosemite Valley together have a little more than 300 rooms, less than the number of people who would really like to stay there, making advance reservations a must. The classic Ahwahnee Hotel offers public spaces so beautiful that it's worth a visit even if you aren't sleeping there. Yosemite Lodge is also where you can catch bus tours, attend evening programs in their amphitheater - and they also have a great restaurant. You'll find more info about them in the Ahwahnee Hotel Guide and Review and the Yosemite Lodge Guide and Review.
Getting Around Yosemite Valley
Only one loop road runs through Yosemite Valley. It's called Southside Drive on the way in and Northside Drive on the way out. It's all one-way with only two places to connect between them, so if you're driving around it's well worth your time to look at a map and see where your stops are. Otherwise, you'll be driving around too much. See where they all are on the Yosemite Valley Map.
During the busy season, it's much easier to get around the busy end of Yosemite Valley on one of the shuttle buses that loop from Yosemite Village through the campgrounds and to both of the hotels.
Outside of that area, you can enjoy looking around without worrying about traffic and get some great insight into the park at the same time by taking a guided tour. A variety of them are offered and in summer, you can travel in an open-air tram. Check out what they offer and find out how to reserve a spot at the Yosemite Park website.