Yosemite National Park Guide


This incredible national park is known for towering sequoias, beautiful waterfalls, and iconic rock formations such as Half Dome and El Capitan. Yosemite is great for families, beginner hikers, expert outdoors-people, and anyone in between. There is so much to explore in this famous park and I’ll tell you everything you need to know about planning your trip!

Need to Know:

Currency: USD

Language: English


FAT – Fresno (1.5 hours)

SFO – San Francisco (3 hours)

SJC – San Jose (3 hours)

Electrical Outlets: 120V supply voltage and 60Hz

Planning Your Trip

Accommodation – There are a lot of lodging options for Yosemite and it really depends on what kind of trip you are planning.

  • Camping in Yosemite is a popular option, but I would highly recommend reserving a campsite in advance. It is almost impossible to snag a “first-come, first-serve” site. People will line up at 6 AM to score a spot. I would recommend looking at camping resorts that take reservations. It’s worth the $50 per night for the comfort of having a spot booked. There are a bunch of sites on the way to Mammoth Lakes that you can look into, or on the west side of Yosemite, there is Yosemite Lakes Resort. We camped here two nights and it was super convenient.
  • Half Dome Village is my favorite place that I’ve stayed. It is such an amazing location right in the valley, but it is expensive for just cots in structured tents. I would recommend getting a group of four a splitting the cost of a tent. You get the experience of camping without having to bring all your own gear.
  • Hotels near Yosemite are very expensive, but it can be really nice to come back to a bed and shower after a long day of hiking. The main thing to think about here is where in the park you want to spend your time, and then book a hotel closest to that entrance. There are only a few hotels in the park, so most of them will be a bit of a drive outside the entrance.
  • Airbnbs are a good alternative option to hotels. You can drive a bit further and get an Airbnb in Mammoth Lakes. This is a popular ski town, so there are usually tons of affordable condos in the Summer. It may seem far from Yosemite, but if you get up early enough, the drive really isn’t too bad for the luxury of staying in a condo.

Getting Around – ​You really need a car to get around Yosemite, preferably a car with all-wheel drive and high clearance. Yosemite is a BIG park, it takes over two hours to drive from one side of the park to the other, and you can go even further within the park.

There are shuttles that run through the park, but we mainly used these to get from valley parking to the other trailheads because parking is limited. You can also use the YARTS bus system to get to Yosemite, but this takes a long time to get where you want to go.

If you are going in the winter, make sure you check the road conditions and closures. You will need to have an all-wheel drive car and chains in case they become required.

Camping yosemite
Tioga Pass

Yosemite Valley:

Yosemite Valley is the home of most of Yosemite’s iconic features and views such as Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El Capitan, and more. This is the most popular area to visit in Yosemite and also usually the busiest.

Lower Yosemite Falls: This is a short hike to get out to the lower view of Yosemite Falls. Similar to Mirror Lake, the falls are much better earlier in the season because they will dry up by the end of the summer. If you’re looking for more of a challenge, check out Upper Yosemite Falls.

Difficulty: Easy       Length: 1.2 mile loop        Elevation59 ft

Mirror Lake:This is a nice and easy hike with limited elevation gain to see the beautiful Mirror Lake. If you want to see the lake, make sure to go early in the season, because the lake dries up in the Summer and is pretty much completely gone by the Fall.

Difficulty: Moderate            Length: 4.4 mile loop           Elevation: 301 ft

Vernal and Nevada Falls: The Mist Trail is one of the most heavily trafficked trails in Yosemite, but leads you to these two beautiful waterfalls. Despite it feeling very accessible, this is NOT an easy hike. To do the full hike to both of these falls, it is 8.8 miles round trip with 2,191 ft. elevation gain. This hike starts in the valley, near Happy Isles trailhead. The beginning of the hike is paved, but pretty steep uphill. You can also just go to Vernal Falls and this reduces the length of the hike from 6 to 4 miles. 

Difficulty: Hard               Length: 6 mile loop                Elevation: 2,162 ft

Four Mile Trail: The Four Mile Trail is the hike from the valley floor up to Glacier Point. It is a beautiful hike with a gorgeous vista at the end. One thing to keep in mind is that you can also drive up to Glacier Point, so it can be a bit discouraging to climb 3,600ish ft. and then arrive where everyone else just drove. If you want to get away from the crowds, you can then hike up to Sentinel Dome for another amazing view.

Difficulty: Hard           Length: 9.2 miles out & back              Elevation: 3,612 ft

The Ahwahnee Hotel: This grand lodge in Yosemite is famous for its stunning dining room and is probably the most luxurious place to stay within the park. It’s worth swinging by just to see it even if you’re not going to stay there.

Sentinel Bridge and Swinging Bridge: These are just two bridges with stunning views of the valley. If you are tired from hiking and just want to wander around with some views, you can swing by here. 

Nevada Falls
Yosemite Falls

Glacier Point:

Glacier Point View: Located 3,300 above Yosemite Valley, this is an incredible viewpoint. It is named Glacier Point because you can see the glacial valleys where Tenaya Creek and the Merced River meet.
Tunnel View: This is on the way from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point and a popular view point. This stop is famous for its expansive view framed by the rock structures.
Sentinel Dome: This is a short hike that starts from Glacier Point. You can get away from the crowds and see sweeping views of the valley.

Difficulty: Moderate                Length: 2.1 mile out & back          Elevation: 456 ft

Taft Point: This is an easy hike to get out to this stunning view point and incredible photo op. This is definitely worth a stop for this incredible view.

Difficulty: Easy           Length: 2.3 mile out & back           Elevation: 367 ft

Glacier Point
Tunnel View
Sentinel Dome

Tuolumne Meadows:

Tenaya Lake: One of my favorite activities after a long hike on a hot day is cooling off in Tenaya Lake. There is a parking lot with restrooms as well as street parking available to access the Tenaya Lake Beach. There is plenty of sandy beach to enjoy the cool waves of this gorgeous lake. I would also recommend bringing a kayak, raft, or paddle board. The water can be a little cold for comfortable swimming, but it sure does feel good after a hike!
Olmsted Point: Check out this beautiful viewpoint off Tioga Pass Road.
Cathedral Lakes:Cathedral Lakes is one of my favorite hikes in Yosemite. It’s not too easy or too strenuous, and it offers fantastic views of these serene lakes. If you follow the signs to Cathedral Lake, it will lead you to Lower Cathedral Lake. It is a great spot to stop for lunch and dip your toes in the water. Then start heading back the way you came until you come to a fork in the trail with a sign. Head down the other trail for about half a mile and you will see paths jet off on the right, leading you to Upper Cathedral Lake. This lake is better if you want to take a plunge and cool off!

Difficulty: Moderate                Length: 8.5 mile out & back          Elevation: 1,607 ft

Clouds Rest: In my opinion, Clouds Rest offers the best views of Yosemite. We started from the Tenaya Lake trailhead. You can also start from Yosemite Valley, but that is a much longer hike. The hike starts as a nice flat trail for the first few miles, then really starts to climb, before descending again for about 1,000 ft. You continue on a few more miles and then start the final climb up the rocks to the top of Clouds Rest. That “nice” downhill on the way up, becomes pretty disheartening on the way back, so make sure you’re mentally prepared. I’d recommend bringing about 3-4L of water, and using trekking poles if you have them. This is an incredible hike!

Difficulty: Hard           Length: 14 mile out & back           Elevation: 3,166 ft

Mount Hoffman: I used this hike as an acclimatization hike for Mount Whitney. The trail also borders May Lake, making a great lunch stop.

Difficulty: Hard           Length: 5.6 mile out & back           Elevation: 1,912 ft

Mount Dana: Mount Dana is a wonderful but challenging hike. Beware of the false summit during your ascent. It looks like you’re nearing the top, but when you get over the first major hump, you still have a ways to go to climb up all 3,000+ ft. There are spectacular views from the summit.

Difficulty: Hard           Length: 7.0 mile out & back           Elevation: 3,103 ft

Cathedral Lakes
Tenaya Lake
Clouds Rest

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