Tips when Visiting Yosemite National Park
• National parks in the US generally attract huge crowds. While summer tends to draw visitors at peak volume, Yosemite National Park will always be busy at any given time of the year owing to its immense popularity. I traveled in mid-September and there will still loads of people everywhere I looked.
• Yosemite National Park is comprised of four geographic zones:
- High Sierra
- Granite Cliffs
- Sequoia Groves
- Yosemite Valley
• We entered the park through the Arch Rock entrance. From this point, the road leads you directly to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Theater. The other two visitor centers in the park are at Wawona (summer only) and Tuolumne Meadows.
• There are entrance fees for Yosemite National Park. If you are like me and visit a couple of national parks every year, I would recommend the America The Beautiful Annual Pass for $80. It makes travelling to national parks a whole lot cheaper.
• Please note there are no gas stations in Yosemite National Park because it is a fire-prone area. Remember to fill your car tank before visiting.
• There are plenty of dining options, drinking fountains and bathrooms in Yosemite Valley, such as The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Half Dome Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge.
• While driving a personal vehicle is permitted in Yosemite National Park, I would recommend parking your car in the visitor parking lots. Take advantage of the free shuttle buses that drop of you at key points of interest. A car is only useful if you are going a drive on the Tioga Road or the Glacier Point Road.
• California has frequent forest fires, which affects parts of Yosemite National Park. If you have asthma or other sensitivities to smoke, acquaint yourself with the latest park conditions and avoid fire areas.
• Check on road conditions before going on drives in Yosemite National Park. Some roads may be closed due to snow or fire, and have detours or delays. For example, I had to skip Glacier Point Road as it was closed because of fires.
Note: The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is closed until spring 2018 for restoration work.
• While it is tempting to wade or swim in Yosemite’s rivers and waterfalls, it is dangerous. Please use common sense and follow park rules, so you don’t get yourself drowned. Water levels are especially high during early spring and summer, and the currents are deceptively strong.
• While I didn’t have time to do it, hiking the Half Dome is one of Yosemite’s most popular activities. The 16 mile (round-trip) trail is strenuous with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet. You will need at least half a day to complete this hike. There is a permit required for the last leg of the hike to the summit of Half Dome. This entails a series of steps followed by metal cables. A maximum of 300 hikers are allowed on the cables each day. You need sturdy shoes, gloves with a good grip, outdoor apparel for varying weather, as well as provisions such as food, water, flashlights, etc. The cables are off-limits during winter and inclement weather.
• Do not depend on cell phones and GPS. Service is either non-existent or unreliable.
• Backcountry maps, shuttle schedules, USGS hiking topographic maps, programs and activities calendar, as well as other park brochures are available at the visitor centers and ranger stations.
There are many scenic drives in Yosemite National Park, but Tioga Road by far offers some of the most gorgeous views. It was sheer delight to the eyes, and a feast for my photographer soul. If the drive itself wasn’t so long, I would have kept stopping every few minutes just to absorb the astounding scenery around me.
The Tioga Road is 39 miles long, beginning at Crane Flat and ending at Tioga Pass. It takes around 2 hours (one way) to drive from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. So, if you are planning on doing other activities in Yosemite National Park, start early and get a move on it.
On the drive back from Tioga Pass, we stopped at Tuolumne Meadows. I was kind of tired of watching all this magnificent beauty go by from the car, and wanted to actually walk around.
The Soda Spring Trail get its name from the carbonated cold water bubbling from the ground. This short easy hike takes you through the meadows and past Historic Parsons Memorial Lodge. You can also see the Lembert Dome, a granite rock formation which is popular with rock climbers for its clear lee and stoss slopes.
What a sea of yellow! Interspersed with lush greens and flowing streams, snow capped peaks frame the background to this postcard perfect environment. With the sun bright in the sky and a gentle wind blowing, I loved every of bit of my nature exploration. I highly recommend driving the Tioga Road. It does take up some time, but it will make your trip to Yosemite National Park very memorable.
Don’t forget to stop and check out El Capitan. This massive monolith is Yosemite National Park’s most iconic symbol, and is a world famous destination for rock climbers everywhere. However, this 3,000 foot tall sheer rock is no smooth climb as evidenced by sudden rock falls. Climbers have sustained serious injuries and have died.
Needless to say, things are pretty safe for those on the ground like me. You can relax and admire El Capitan for what it truly is, an incredible sculpture standing testament to the erosive forces of Mother Nature.
Lower Yosemite Falls
North America’s tallest waterfall, Yosemite Falls ranks high on visitors’ things to do list. During the fall, most waterfalls in Yosemite National Park drop from their peak volume. But when I visited in September, Yosemite Falls still had a pretty high flow rate. You can have incredible views of the entire waterfall from certain points on the road itself.
The vast majority of visitors to Yosemite National Park settle for the Lower Yosemite Trail, a 1 mile hike that takes 30 minutes to complete. The trail leads you to a wooden footbridge at the base of the Lower Yosemite Fall. Standing 320 feet tall, the falls are a sight to behold. Be prepared to get wet from water spray if you are hiking during spring or summer!
There are drinking water fountains and vault toilets available at the footbridge.
Note: You can also see the Upper Yosemite Fall from the footbridge. If you wish to hike up to the top, you have to climb a series of steep switchbacks and these are super tiring! It can take hikers up to 10 hours to hike up the entire Yosemite Falls, so plan your trip to Yosemite National Park accordingly.
This famous vista point in Yosemite National Park is located just outside Wawona Tunnel on State Highway 41. There is no hiking involved. Just park in one of the lots, and walk up to the Tunnel View vista point. There can be a crowd, so try to arrive early.
This was my last point of interest in Yosemite National Park. By the time I arrived, it was sunset. I could see the illuminated peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome, glistening in the yellowish-reddish rays of the sun. I could barely make out Bridalveil Fall, though if you come in early spring, it would be at peak flow. There is a quote from Joseph Campbell that would best summarize the beauty of this vista point, “The goal of life is to make your heartbeat match the beat of the universe, to match your nature with Nature.”