Yosemite is one of the country's oldest, best-known and most-photographed national parks. It's a California icon, but I'm always surprised at how many people, even those who have lived in California their entire lives have never been there. From much of the state, you can get a taste of Yosemite in a weekend, so why wait?
This guide will help you plan a 2 to 3-day Yosemite getaway that takes in all of the must-see sights.
Will You Like Yosemite?Yosemite National Park covers a large area in the mountains, but many visitors limit short visits to the Yosemite Valley and areas nearby. It's popular with nature lovers, photographers and hikers. Families also enjoy camping at Yosemite and off-season, you can attend some fun food and wine events.
To see why people like the place so much, take a look at the Yosemite Pictures.
Best Time to Visit Yosemite
Yosemite weather is best in spring and fall, and it's less crowded then.
Frankly, this beloved national park can be more crowded in summer than sale day at the local department store. The best strategy for a summer trip is to stay out of the valley, spending your time in cooler, less-crowded spots like Tuolumne Meadows.
To get insight into the pros and cons of each time of year, consult the guide to the best time to go to Yosemite.
Don't Miss These Views
Glacier Point: Views from this lookout above Yosemite Valley have inspired photographers from Ansel Adams to Moose Peterson. It's a short walk from the parking lot to vista points that you might otherwise have to hike hours to reach. To get there, take Hwy 41 south from the Valley and watch for the turnoff.
Tunnel View: You can see three of Yosemite's iconic landmarks - El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall - from this viewpoint on Hwy 41 south of the valley. The parking area is just before you get to the tunnel.
5 More Great Things to Do in Yosemite
There's a lot to do at Yosemite, and much of it is free after you pay the entrance fee.
- Yosemite Valley: This is where you'll find Half Dome, El Capitan and many other famous sights up close. You'll enjoy the Valley a lot more if you stop and walk, even if it's only a little distance from the road. Everything you need to know is in the Yosemite Valley Guide.
- Take a Hike: If you're more in the mood for a nice, long walk than a strenuous hike, try these easy Yosemite day hikes. For something more challenging, there's a complete list of hikes at the National Park website
- Tuolumne Meadows: This is a great place to head on a hot day when the park is crowded. Find out how to get there and what you can see and do in the Tuolumne Meadows guide.
- Take a Ranger-Led Tour: Check the Yosemite Today newspaper or ask in the visitor center to find out what tours are planned during your visit. They include a variety of activities such as winter snowshoe hikes, camera walks and children's programs.
- Watch the Sunset: From Tunnel View, you'll get a view of the entire Yosemite Valley, and if you hang around for longer than the scant five minutes that most visitors give this stop, you can watch the afternoon light play across Half Dome and El Capitan. Linger after the sun goes down and you may be treated to a rare alpenglow, a red-tinted, glowing sky that can sometimes be observed in the east shortly after the sun sets.
Annual Events You Should Know About at Yosemite
- Bracebridge Dinner: This holiday dinner has been an annual Christmas tradition at Yosemite since 1927, transforming the Ahwahnee dining room into a 17th century English manor set up for a holiday feast. To have your pick of dates, make reservations the previous February.
- The Ahwahnee sponsors special events all year long, including the Vintners' Holiday, Chefs' Holiday and a New Year's Eve celebration. Most require advance planning and reservations.
Tips for Visiting Yosemite
- For the most beautiful approach to Yosemite, especially if this will be your first trip, take CA Hwy 140 through Merced and Mariposa. The drive along the Merced River is a good warm up for sights in the Valley.
- To be a smart trip planner, check out these smart Yosemite trip tips.
Yosemite's Best Bites
The Ahwahnee dining room is the park's most famous place to eat, but there are plenty of other options, including the lovely dining room at Yosemite Lodge, where the quality of the photography displayed on the walls threatens to upstage the dishes on your plate. The Ahwahnee Hotel serves Sunday brunch featuring nine buffet stations, but it's so popular that reservations are a must during busy times (call 209-372-1489).
If the weather is nice, you can pick up makings for a picnic meal at Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village.
Where to Stay at Yosemite
The most important thing to do when planning your trip is to make your hotel reservations as early as possible. Yosemite is a popular area and all the best places fill up in advance. You'll find a full list and recommendations in the Yosemite lodging guide.
To keep costs down for a Yosemite getaway, think "camping." That doesn't mean you have to sleep on the ground, fight off bears and do battle with uncooperative tent poles, though. Check out options to keep your expenses on track in the guide to Yosemite on a budget.