Yosemite National Park is a United States National Park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in the Sierra Nevada mountains in east-central California. Approximately four million visitors each year come to Yosemite to marvel at its spectacular granite cliffs, towering waterfalls, remote wilderness, massive sequoia trees, and high mountain meadows.
The park encompasses a massive 750,000-acre, 1,200 sq mi (3,100 km2) area and contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1,600 mi (2,600 km) of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads.
Humans may have first visited Yosemite as long as 8,000 years ago, and there is evidence that people have lived in the area for nearly 4,000 years. In 1849 the lives of the native Miwok population changed dramatically as the California Gold Rush brought thousands of miners into the region, resulting in a massive disruption to the way of life practiced by the existing people. By the 1930s the population of Native Americans had dwindled to the point that the last Indian village was disbanded, and by 1969 the last private Indian residences were abandoned.
The beauty of Yosemite Valley inspired early visitors to the area and led to concern about exploitation by commercial interests. After prominent individuals advocated for its protection, on June 30, 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed a bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias to the State of California as an inalienable public trust. This was the first time in history that the US federal government had set aside scenic lands for the purpose of preservation and public use. Following further lobbying by the conservationist John Muir, additional restrictions were put in place against grazing in the subalpine meadows surrounding Yosemite Valley, and on October 1, 1890 the area was declared America's third national park.
Despite its national park status, California controlled the initial grant area until 1906. Following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake that city began looking to Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Valley as a source of drinking water and hydroelectric power, and a bitter political struggle ensued between environmentalists and the city. In 1913, with the passage by Congress of the Raker Act, permission was granted to San Francisco to build the O'Shaughnessy Dam, allowing the Tuolumne River to flood the valley. Today, efforts to remove the dam and restore the Hetch Hetchy Valley continue.
Natural forces often wreak havoc on the infrastructure in and around Yosemite. In January 1997 warm winter temperatures, a late-season tropical rainstorm, and a heavy snow pack combined to produce the greatest flooding on record. The Merced River rose nearly ten feet above its normal level, producing over $178 million in damage in Yosemite Valley. As a result the Valley was closed for over three months, and vast changes were made to the area's management plan. Today numerous structures have been relocated, roads have been re-routed out of the flood plain, and nearly fifty percent of campsites have been removed. Signs showing the floodwater height are still posted throughout the Valley.
Landslides also play a major role in the park. A 1996 slide resulted in 162,000 tons of rock and debris descending to the valley floor near the Happy Isles trailhead, with an impact comparable to a magnitude 2.15 earthquake. Another rockslide, with a volume equivalent to 200 dump truck loads, resulted in several Curry Village cabins being closed in 2008. A 2006 slide buried Highway 140 in up to 300 feet of debris, resulting in a closure that lasted several months and forced the creation of temporary bridges to route traffic to the other side of the Merced River.
Yosemite is best known for its impressive granite cliffs and domes. These formations were born approximately ten million years ago when the Sierra fault began uplifting the Sierra Nevada mountains, forming relatively gentle western slopes and more extreme eastern slopes. Erosion, combined with at least four glacial periods, exposed the underlying granite and resulted in many of the cracked, rounded, and weathered formations that make the park famous. Streams cut deep, narrow valleys, while glaciers covered the area in up to 4,000 feet of ice and generated wide, U-shaped valleys.
The Tuolumne and Merced rivers are the two major river systems in the park, carving canyons that are 3,000 to 4,000 feet deep. In addition, smaller rivers flow through the extreme elevations, generating some of the most impressive waterfalls in the world. In Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, at 739 m (2425 ft), is the tallest waterfall in North America, while Ribbon Falls has the highest uninterrupted vertical drop at 491 m (1612 ft).
Flora and fauna
95% of Yosemite has been designated as wilderness, making it a haven for wildlife. In addition, over 225,000 acres of the park is old-growth forest, having never been significantly altered by logging. The protected habitat, combined with the wide range of elevations, supports a wide array of animals. Over 400 species of vertebrates, including mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish live in the park, along with thousands of different plants.
Herbivores in the park include the commonly seen mule deer and golden-mantled ground squirrels, and less commonly seen animals like mountain beavers, pika, yellow-bellied marmots, white-tailed hares, and the rare Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep that are found only around Tioga Pass. Predators include black bears, mountain lions, coyotes, bobcat and gray fox. While once common, bear incidents have declined significantly in past years due to careful management, but be aware that while visitors are unlikely to see a bear, the animals are particularly active at night throughout the park, including in Yosemite Valley, and will seek out food sources that are available to them; heed all park regulations regarding storage of food items or items such as deodorants that have a smell that might interest a bear. Other animals found in the park include 17 species of bats, as well as over 150 species of birds such as great gray owls, spotted owls, white-headed woodpeckers, Steller's jays and northern goshawk. Reptiles are not common but include the mountain kingsnake and Gilbert's skink.
With elevations ranging from 1,800 feet up to 13,000 feet the park's vegetation zones range from scrub and chaparral communities at lower elevations to subalpine forests and alpine meadows at the higher elevations. Visitors will most commonly experience the park's extensive coniferous forest, but will also be drawn to the isolated groves of giant sequoias, the largest trees in the world. At elevations above 8,000 feet beautiful subalpine meadows flower during July and August, while the treeline ends at 9,500 feet and the vegetation is limited to hardy plants that bloom quickly during the few snow-free months.
|Yosemite National Park|
|Climate chart (explanation)|
Weather can change rapidly during all seasons of the year, and will also vary greatly with elevation. When visiting it is wise to pack for any season with clothing that can be layered, ready to peel off or add on as conditions dictate. Always include some kind of rain gear; the park receives most of its precipitation in the winter months, but storms are common during the transitional spring and fall seasons, and spectacular thunderstorms may occur during summer.
For Yosemite Valley and Wawona (subtract 10-20°F (5-10°C) for Tuolumne Meadows), average weather is as follows:
- Summer: Typically warm and dry, with occasional thunderstorms; temperatures from 50°F (10°C) to the low 90°F (30°C) range.
- Fall & Spring: Highly variable, with typical high temperatures ranging from 50-80°F (10-27°C), with lows from 30-40°F (-1 to 4°C). Rain is less likely early in fall/late in spring and rain or snow is likely late in fall/early in spring.
- Winter: Snowy, rainy, or (sometimes) even sunny days are possible, with highs ranging from 30-60°F (-1 to 16°C) and lows in the high 20°F (-4 to 0°C) range. Winter Storm Warnings indicate a significant storm is impending or occurring.
Warning: There are no gas/petrol stations in the Yosemite Valley!
There are four major entrances into the park. All of these routes are relatively winding mountain roads and appropriate time should be budgeted for them.
- State Route 120 from the west from Oakdale. This is the fastest route from locations west (Bay Area) and northwest (Sacramento). Route 120 is a bit steep, so RVs and trailers should consider Route 140 instead. In winter, snow makes the lower elevations of Route 140 more attractive.
- State Route 140 west from Mariposa and Merced. This route mostly travels up the Merced River Canyon into Yosemite Valley and is the most scenic western entrance. RV and tour bus traffic used to congest this road a bit too much in summer, but the Ferguson rockslide in 2006 has caused restrictions to be imposed that prevent vehicles longer than 45 feet. Highway 140 is now pleasantly less congested and the bridges afford an excellent view of the massive rock slide.
- State Route 41 north from Fresno and Los Angeles/Southern California. Be sure to fill your gas tank in Oakhurst (several stations along highway), or pay dearly as you get closer to the park. Many businesses (including two more gas stations) are on the first half mile of adjoining State Route 49 in Oakhurst.
- State Route 120 from the east (Tioga Pass Road) from Lee Vining and points east. This road is only open when free of snow (usually May - October) so check road conditions in advance.
A secondary entrance exists to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir exclusively (no Yosemite Valley access) off of State Route 120 from the west. It requires taking a side road near the main Route 120 west entrance of Yosemite. Hetch Hetchy has restricted hours for access due to security for the Reservoir.
During the snow season, usually November through March, snow chains may be required. Chain requirements are strictly enforced in Yosemite with potential fines being as much as $5,000, so chains should be carried during those months.
During summer months traffic becomes heavily congested in Yosemite Valley, and parking can be nearly impossible to find. Summer visitors to Yosemite Valley are therefore strongly encouraged to use the YARTS shuttle system (see below) to get into the park.
There are no landing strips within the park. Airports in surrounding communities include:
- Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT IATA), Fresno. About 1½ hours (by car) south of the park's entrance on Highway 41. Not a large airport, but by far the largest of the four airports in the San Joaquin Valley (also known as the Central Valley) west of Yosemite. Has flights to Dallas/Fort Worth (DFW IATA), Denver, Guadalajara (Mexico), Las Vegas, Los Angeles (LAX IATA), Phoenix, Chicago, Portland (OR), Salt Lake City, San Diego, San Francisco (SFO IATA), and Seattle/Tacoma. Has YARTS bus service to Yosemite during the summer months.
- Merced Airport (MCE IATA), Merced. About 2 hours (by car) from Yosemite Valley on Highway 140. Commuter flights from Los Angeles (LAX), and Sacramento. To reach Yosemite, take the YARTS shuttle.
- Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK IATA), Stockton. Allegiant Air offers flights to Las Vegas, San Diego, and Phoenix, and United flies to Los Angeles. About 1 hr 45 min (by car) from the park's west entrance on Highway 120.
Bay Area airports including San Francisco International Airport (SFO IATA), Oakland International (OAK IATA), and San Jose International (SJC IATA) are much larger than any of the above airports and have more frequent flights to more destinations. Driving distance from the Bay Area is approximately four hours. However, landing at SFO requires crossing one of the San Francisco Bay bridges which are usually congested during the morning and evening rush hour. (Likewise for the return flight, and this direction includes a toll booth.) Sacramento International airport (SMF IATA), north of Sacramento, is another large airport option that is also about a four-hour drive from the park. Visitors arriving from the east may choose Reno/Tahoe International (RNO IATA) in Reno, which is about 3½ hours (by car) from the Tioga Pass Entrance (summer only). Combining a flight to a major airport with an Amtrak or Greyhound ride can be an affordable and scenic option.
Small private aircraft land at Mariposa-Yosemite Airport (KMPI) about 5 mi/8 km northwest of the town of Mariposa on State Route 49. There is no control tower, and car rentals in the area are very limited. The YARTS shuttle (see below) is another possibility. Park entrance is an additional 27 mi/44 km via State Route 140.
Amtrak offers service to Yosemite by means of a motorcoach bus that meets its San Joaquins trains in Merced. The San Joaquins provide several departures each day along its route from Bakersfield in the south, Sacramento in the north, and the San Francisco Bay Area in the west. With ample motorcoach connections to and from the trains, this train service serves most of the state, allowing quick and easy access to Merced from most places within the state. The trip to/from San Francisco will take 6+ hours by public transport, compared to 5 hours via car.
By tour bus
Many tour bus companies run tours from the Bay Area. Some will just take you to Yosemite Valley; others provide full tours to see the Giant Sequoias and/or Glacier Point.
By public bus
The Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) offers reasonably-priced transportation into Yosemite Valley from locations east and west of the park including Highway 41 (Fresno, Oakhurst, Coarsegold), Highway 140 (Merced - where you can transfer to Amtrak trains to/from San Francisco, Mariposa, El Portal), Highway 120 (Sonora, Jamestown, Groveland) and Highway 120/395 on the east side of the Sierras (Lee Vining, Mammoth Lakes). Ticket price includes park admission, and adult tickets include a free ticket for one child 12 or under. Tickets can be purchased ahead of time or from the shuttle driver, and round-trip fares are between $7 (from El Portal) to $36 (from Mammoth Lakes) into Yosemite Valley; reduced fares are available to seniors, disabled individuals, and children 12 and under. When combined with the free shuttle service that operates within Yosemite Valley, YARTS can eliminate many hassles for summer visitors.
Fees and permits
Entrance fees are valid for seven days, allowing unlimited re-entry for the week. Fees as of 2020 are:
- $20 for individuals age 16 or older on foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial bus.
- $30 for motorcycles (no per person fee).
- $35 for private vehicles (no per person fee).
- $70 Yosemite Annual Pass (allows park entry for one year)
There are several passes for groups traveling together in a private vehicle or individuals on foot/bike that provide free entry to Yosemite National Park and all national parks, as well as some national monuments, national wildlife refuges, and national forests:
- The $80 Annual Pass (valid for twelve months from date of issue) can be purchased by anyone. Military personnel can obtain a free pass by showing a Common Access Card (CAC) or Military ID.
- The $80 Senior Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents age 62 or over. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and age. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities. Seniors can also obtain a $20 annual pass.
- The free Access Pass (valid for the life of the holder) is available to U.S. citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities. Applicants must provide documentation of citizenship and permanent disability. This pass also provides a fifty percent discount on some park amenities.
- The free Volunteer Pass is available to individuals who have volunteered 250 or more hours with federal agencies that participate in the Interagency Pass Program.
- The free Annual 4th Grade Pass (valid for September-August of the 4th grade school year) allows entry to the bearer and any accompanying passengers in a private non-commercial vehicle. Registration at the Every Kid Outdoors website is required.
The National Park Service offers free admission to all national parks on five days every year:
- Martin Luther King Jr. Day (third Monday in January); next observance is January 18, 2021
- The first day of National Park Week (third Saturday in April); next observance is April 17, 2021
- The National Park Service Birthday (August 25)
- National Public Lands Day (fourth Saturday in September); next observance is September 26, 2020
- Veterans Day (November 11)
Yosemite has grown from a little visited, yet historically significant, park to one of the "crown jewels" of the US National Park System. With this stature comes difficulties; Yosemite is the third most visited national park in the United States, with an annual visitation of approximately 4 million, and a majority of those visitors are concentrated in the 12 square miles within Yosemite Valley (about 1% of the total park land).
With most of the park visitors destined for Yosemite Valley, traffic and parking are significant problems during the busy summer season. As a result, while a car is a great way to tour the park, if visiting the Valley, taking YARTS and the shuttle bus may be a vastly better option. Be aware that the Tioga Pass Road and the road to Glacier Point are seasonal and close as soon as the first major snow falls. Other park roads may close during storms, but in general are always open. The speed limit in all areas of the park is fairly slow, and is strictly enforced by rangers with radar guns; the speed limits are for your own safety on the twisting mountain roads, as well as for the safety of pedestrians and the many animals that use the area.
The loop road through Yosemite Valley is now one-way. For many years this was a two-lane road, but motorists travelling slowly to admire the scenery often created a long backup of annoyed drivers, so the Park Service converted most of the roads in the valley into one-way roads to allow passing. As a result, when driving in the valley be aware that a wrong turn can send you on a one-way five-mile detour.
The one-way routing affects those entering from Oakdale on Hwy 120 the most. You will have to cross over to Southside Drive at the Pohono Bridge. Likewise upon leaving the park, those taking the south exit on Hwy 41 to Fresno also cross the Pohono Bridge, backtrack one mile, before turning right onto Wawona Road.
There are three fueling stations in Yosemite. Fuel may be paid for with a credit or debit card 24-hours a day. The stations can be hours away from your location in the park––if you are running even a little low on gas, it's advisable to fill up at the closest station despite regular wait times of 15-20 minutes or more.
- 1 Wawona.
- 2 Crane Flat. Gas pumps remain open all year––for the majority of travelers, this will be the most centrally located gas station. An attached store that may close in winter has all of the merchandise you would expect to find in a well stocked mini-mart, but also includes camp supplies.
- 3 Tuolumne Meadows. Summer only.
There are no stations in the Valley. The nearest to the Valley is Crane Flats, a 16-mile drive from Yosemite Village so plan appropriately.
For disabled drivers, an attendant will assist with pumping gas during business hours.
To limit traffic congestion the park service runs several free shuttle buses throughout the park (these are not the YARTS system):
- Yosemite Valley. Shuttles operate every 15 minutes from 7AM until 10PM in the eastern portion of Yosemite Valley year-round, stopping at or near all accommodations, shopping areas, and major sights.
- Badger Pass Bus. During the ski season a free bus travels twice daily between Yosemite Valley and the ski area.
- Tuolumne Meadows Shuttle Bus. During the summer season this bus provides access to points in and around Tuolumne Meadows.
- Tuolumne Meadows Hikers' Bus (fee charged). This bus travels in summer between Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows, dropping hikers off along the way. To guarantee seating tickets should be purchased one day in advance by calling ☏ .
- Glacier Point Hikers' Bus (fee charged). This bus provides service between Yosemite Valley and Glacier Point, making stops along the way. To guarantee seating tickets should be purchased one day in advance by calling ☏ .
The shuttle buses all have wheelchair lifts and tie-downs. Drivers provide assistance.
Yosemite Valley has a network of bicycle paths along its north and south sides. Bikes can be rented for the day at Curry Village & turn a thirty-minute walk into a five-minute ride.
Although the road network covers the most popular sights in Yosemite, the vast majority of the park's area can only be accessed using the park's network of trails. Trails including the John Muir Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail lead to areas outside of the park's north and south borders.
If you only have a single day to visit the park, a drive around Yosemite Valley is probably the best option. Longer visits provide options for hiking, visiting sites outside the Valley, and getting a fuller experience of what the Sierra Nevadas have to offer. Visiting in winter provides the opportunity to see dramatic winter landscapes in Yosemite Valley or to ski in Badger Pass, but much of the park will be inaccessible due to winter road closures. Spring is the best time to see the waterfalls at their strongest. During the summertime all park roads are open, and Tuolumne Meadows will be snow-free and full of flowers. The Fall offers a time with smaller crowds, cooler weather, and access to the entire park (unless there is an early snowstorm). The vast majority of tourists to Yosemite will spend almost all of their time in Yosemite Valley––returning visitors and experienced travelers alike would be well-served to avoid the valley and explore the rest of the park, which is considerably less developed and trafficked.
Yosemite Valley is the reason why Yosemite was America's first place set aside by the federal government for its scenic beauty. The cliffs rise around the valley at impossibly vertical angles, waterfalls tumble down unimpeded from a thousand feet above, and the Merced River meanders aimlessly along the valley floor. The Valley is also one of the most accessible places in the park, with roads open year-round and plenty of amenities including lodging and food (but no gas stations). During summer months traffic can make the valley highly congested, so consider using the shuttle to cut down on stress.
Those entering the valley via Highway 41 will be treated to the spectacular viewpoint known as Tunnel View. Named for the tunnel that bores through the granite, the eastern side provides a dramatic view of Yosemite Valley with El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Fall on the right and Half Dome in the center. Photographers should consider this area for pictures after storms, as many of the most famous pictures of the Valley have been taken from this spot as rough weather clears. There are two small parking lots that can get congested, so arrive early in the day if visiting during Summer to ensure a spot.
The sights in the valley include the granite monolith of Half Dome, a mountain that looks like it was split in two, leaving only a vertical face and rounded granite summit behind. In reality Half Dome was formed in the same way that many of Yosemite's granite formations were created - long ago an intrusion of magma deep underground solidified to form a massive granite block, and that block was eventually exposed to the surface via a combination of erosion and uplift. Glaciers that flowed through Yosemite did the rest, carving out the wide, U-shaped valleys that are bordered by sheer vertical walls. These same forces created the wall of El Capitan, a mecca for rock climbers and another of the Valley's famous formations.
Waterfalls in Yosemite Valley include Yosemite Falls, one of the highest waterfalls in the world at 2425 feet (782 m). Bridalveil Fall is another easily accessible waterfall, while Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall can be reached by those willing to do some hiking. While some water flows over the waterfalls year-round, by mid-Summer flows are significantly diminished - plan on visiting in the Spring to see these waterfalls at their grandest.
Wawona is the home to the historic Wawona Hotel, dating from the late nineteenth century. The Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings, is just over the covered bridge from the hotel. Wawona is accessible by car year-round.
The Mariposa Grove is the largest of the three giant sequoias groves in the park (the Merced Grove and Tuolumne Grove are the other two) and is home to over 500 mature trees. While not the tallest or oldest things on earth, by volume the giant sequoias are the largest living organism known to man. The grove is south of Wawona near the entrance station, with parking available in a lot located two miles from the grove, and a shuttle bus available to bring visitors from the parking lot into the grove. Trails lead from the Lower Grove to the Upper Grove - traversing the entire route is a 3-4 mile hike, depending on the paths chosen. Trees within a short walk of the lower parking area include the Grizzly Giant, a massive 1800 year old tree, and the California Tunnel tree, which was cut in 1895 to allow carriages to pass through. Further on, in the Upper Grove, is the Clothespin Tree, which has a natural tunnel in it created by fire that is large enough for a car to pass through, the Wawona Tunnel tree, another tree with a man-made tunnel in it that fell in 1969, and the Telescope Tree, a living tree that is hollow inside, allowing visitors to enter its trunk and stare upwards.
Glacier Point and Badger Pass
Glacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite's high country, is generally regarded as the most spectacular viewpoint in the park. It is accessible by car from approximately late May through October or November. Driving time from Wawona and Yosemite Valley is about an hour, but during the busiest summer weekends delays of up to two hours are possible if the Glacier Point parking lot fills. From the parking lot a quarter mile long paved walkway leads to a viewpoint 3214 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor. From mid-December through March the road is usually closed, but cross-country skiers can experience this view after skiing 10.5 miles. The area is particularly popular late in the day to watch the light changing on Half Dome, and is also an excellent area for stargazing. Washburn Point, just south of Glacier Point, offers views of the southern side of Yosemite Valley.
Badger Pass is the oldest ski area in California, and is along the road to Glacier Point. The road to Badger Pass is plowed year round, and this area is the starting point for downhill skiing, cross-country skiing, and snowshoeing during the winter. During winter months a free shuttle runs twice a day from Yosemite Valley to Badger Pass.
The Tioga Road (Highway 120 East) is an amazingly scenic route through Yosemite's high country that crosses the park from west-to-east and provides access to the Eastern Sierra and Mono Lake. This road is closed in winter and usually opens to vehicles only from late May or early June through the first snowfall in November. It offers a 39-mile scenic drive between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows through forests and past meadows, lakes, and granite domes. Many turnouts offer broad and beautiful vistas. From Tioga Road all the way to the south of Mount Whitney, no other roads cross the High Sierra, making this the northern end of the largest contiguous roadless wilderness in the continental United States. The high point of the Tioga Road at Tioga Pass (elevation 9943 feet) is the only place in the park where visitors might encounter the endangered Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep.
Along the Tioga Road at 8600 feet elevation, Tuolumne Meadows is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada. The Tuolumne River meanders across the meadow while rugged mountain peaks and glacially carved domes surround it. During the brief snow-free summer season the meadow is the site of a massive wildflower bloom, making this an excellent area for day hikes and photography.
Crane Flat is a pleasant forest and meadow area 16 miles (30 minutes) from Yosemite Valley. Crane Flat is accessible by car all year. Bears can be spotted in the meadows in this area regularly, so keep your eyes open and don't block traffic if you see one!
The Tuolumne Grove has about two dozen mature giant sequoias and is on the Tioga Road just east of Crane Flat. Sequoias are only visible after a one-mile hike with 500 feet of elevation loss. (The one-mile hike back to the parking lot gains 500 feet and is strenuous.) The drive takes about 1½ hours from South Entrance. Parking is limited.
The Merced Grove is on the Big Oak Flat Road east of Big Oak Flat Entrance and is home to about two dozen mature giant sequoias. Sequoias are only visible after a 1½-mile hike with 500 feet of elevation loss. (The 1½-mile hike back to the parking lot gains 500 feet and is strenuous.) The drive takes about 1½ hours from South Entrance. Parking is extremely limited.
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Until the completion of the O'Shaughnessy Dam in 1923, the Hetch Hetchy Valley was said to rival Yosemite Valley for beauty. The fight over the dam was a bitter battle between environmentalists including John Muir and the city of San Francisco, and efforts are still ongoing to remove the dam and restore the valley. Today, the dam is used to deliver water from the Tuolumne River 167 miles west to San Francisco. Even though Hetch Hetchy Valley is flooded, it is still home to spectacular scenery and is the starting point for many less-used wilderness trails. Although the road to Hetch Hetchy is open year-round, on a day-to-day basis it has restricted hours due to security for the reservoir. It may close periodically due to snow in winter and spring. Swimming and boating are not allowed in the reservoir.
The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne lies upstream from Hetch Hetchy and is accessible to hikers. Hikers can also visit two of North America's largest waterfalls in the Hetch Hetchy Valley: Wapama Falls, at 1,700 ft (520 m), and Tueeulala Falls, at 840 ft (260 m).
Yosemite is one of the world's most spectacular hiking destinations, and all visitors should consider at least a short hike. The Vernal Fall trail is a short and rewarding trek for valley visitors, numerous trails in the high country along Route 120 are suitable for brief trips to see alpine lakes or granite domes, and the sequoia groves all offer the option of short hikes that can easily be extended. More adventurous and physically-fit hikers might consider the Half Dome trail or any of the park's backcountry trails. Prior to hiking check with rangers for trail conditions; snow and hazards from falling rock close many trails in winter, and the cables on the Half Dome trail are only up from late May through early October (ascending Half Dome when the cables are not erected is possible but is dangerous and strongly discouraged). No permits are required park-wide for day hikes, with the exception of the Half Dome Summit.
Many of the meadows have short trails, some of which are handicap accessible. For those staying in the valley, walking to get around is easy, scenic, and avoids the stresses of car travel in the valley.
- 1 Lower Yosemite Fall (1 mi (1.6 km) loop), Starts at the Lower Yosemite Fall shuttle bus stop (#6). This flat, easy, paved one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Yosemite Fall and provides views of the waterfall along the way. During the spring the sound of the water is deafening, although it may be nearly dry by late summer. There is no parking at the trailhead, but there is a shuttle stop. The eastern part of the loop is wheelchair accessible.
- 2 Bridalveil Fall (0.5 mi (0.8 km) round-trip), Starts from the Bridalveil Fall parking area. Another flat, easy, paved trail that leads to the bottom of the 620 foot (189 m) Bridalveil Fall. Parking is available at the trailhead. Despite being paved, the trail is not wheelchair accessible due to the grade (it ascends 80 feet in elevation). The trailhead to this fall is on the Southside Dr, so it's best to visit it on your way to the Valley.
- 3 Cook's Meadow Loop (1 mi (1.6 km) loop). This flat, easy loop trail meanders through the meadow across from the visitor center and near the Lower Yosemite Fall trail, offering excellent views of Half Dome, Yosemite Fall, Glacier Point and Sentinel Dome. From the visitor center, walk west along the bicycle path toward Lower Yosemite Fall. At shuttle stop #6, cross the street and follow the bike path, bearing left as the path forks. At Sentinel Bridge parking area (shuttle stop #11), walk out onto the bridge to enjoy a classic view of Half Dome before returning to the parking area. Follow the boardwalk back across the meadow, cross the two streets, and turn right to return to the visitor center.
- 4 Mirror Lake/Meadow (2 mi (3.2 km) to Mirror Lake, 5 mi (8 km) around the lake), Starts from the Mirror Lake trailhead shuttle bus stop (#17). The first mile of the trail follows a paved service road and eventually leads to what is a large pond in spring and a meadow the rest of the year. When it contains water the lake reflects Half Dome, but even when the lake is dry the meadow still offers scenic views. Those who are interested can also hike around the lake bed and along Tenaya Creek.
- Valley Floor Loop (6.5 mi (10.5 km) round-trip with cutoff, 13 mi (21 km) without). The loop trail around Yosemite Valley can be hiked in pieces or in full as it travels through meadows, forests, and beside the Merced River, offering great views of Yosemite Valley. Following the road in places, the trail can be shortened by crossing the bridge just east of El Capitan Meadow. The majority of this trail network is wheelchair accessible with the exception of the Superintendent's Bridge and a steep section near Housekeeping Camp.
- 5 Vernal Fall (Mist Trail) (2.4 mi (3.9 km) round-trip), Starts from the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop (#16). This trail gradually gains 400 feet of elevation along the Merced River by the time it reaches a footbridge offering an excellent view of the 317 foot (97 m) high Vernal Fall. From the footbridge the trail quickly gains another 600 feet of elevation as it traverses steep and often slippery granite steps to the top of the waterfall, but the view is hugely impressive and worth the exertion. The Mist Trail is one of the busiest trails in the park during the high season––returning visitors might want to consider a hike outside the valley. From the top of Vernal Fall hikers can continue on to Nevada Fall.
- 6 Nevada Fall (Mist Trail) (5.4 mi (8.7 km) round-trip), Starts from the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop. Nevada Fall is a 594-foot waterfall 1.5 miles (2.4 km) beyond Vernal Fall. The trail from the top of Vernal Fall is relatively easy and passes through a pleasant stretch of the Merced river with several pools (beware of currents!) surrounded by impressive granite cliffs before leading up a steep series of steps to the top of the waterfall. The John Muir trail is a more gradual ascent that can be undertaken from the junction near the Vernal Fall footbridge, but those who choose that route will forgo the view from the top of Vernal Fall as well as the scenery along the Merced River; consider ascending on the Mist Trail and descending on the John Muir trail if you want to enjoy the scenery but limit the trauma to your joints. The total elevation gain from the Happy Isles trailhead to the top of Nevada Fall is 2000 ft (610 m).
- 7 Panorama Trail (8.5 mi (13.7 km) one-way), Starts from Glacier Point. The Panorama Trail offers panoramic views of the valley and passes by three of Yosemite's most impressive waterfalls, although you'll likely only see two of them; while Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls are easily viewed, there is no viewpoint of 370 feet (110 m) tall Illilouette Fall despite the fact that the trail crosses Illilouette Creek only a short distance from the top of the waterfall. Panorama Point is accessible via an easily-missed 100 metres (330 ft) unmarked side trail that can be found 0.5 miles (0.80 km) from the Illilouette Creek bridge and is a detour that should not be skipped. From late May/early June through October, a fee-based hikers bus will take you up to Glacier Point, where you can then hike two downhill miles to Illilouette Creek, ascend 700 feet (210 m) in elevation over 1.5 miles (2.4 km), and eventually descend on either the Mist Trail or the John Muir Trail back down to the valley floor, ending at Happy Isles.
- 8 Four Mile Trail to Glacier Point (4.8 mi (7.7 km) one-way). The trail follows switchbacks from Glacier Point and offers spectacular views up and down Yosemite Valley. Hikers can take the shuttle bus from the valley to Glacier Point and then hike down, or those looking for an extremely strenuous hike can ascend starting from the Four Mile Trailhead just west of Swinging Bridge picnic area. Visitors interested in a long day hike can make a loop on this trail with the Panorama Trail.
- 9 Upper Yosemite Fall (7.2 mi (11.6 km) round-trip), Starts near the Camp 4 shuttle bus stop. One of the oldest trails in the park, the Yosemite Fall trail was built back in 1873 and ascends 2700 feet from the base of the 2,425 foot (739 meter) high Yosemite Falls all the way to the top of the waterfall. The first mile ascends 1,000 vertical feet to Columbia Rock, which offers exceptional views of the valley and Half Dome. A less strenuous half miles further along the trail offers views of the upper Yosemite Fall. The second half of the trail is equally strenuous, but the incredible views reward those who choose to continue. In summer bring a plenty of water and begin hiking early as the trail becomes extremely hot and dusty.
- 10 Half Dome (17 mi (27.4 km) round-trip), Starts at the Happy Isles shuttle bus stop. One of the most spectacular trails in the world, the Half Dome trail travels past Vernal Fall, and Nevada Fall, and then continues rising through a pine forest before opening up near the summit of Half Dome. The final mile is a grueling trek up granite steps, followed by wire cables that lead up the steep ascent to the top of Half Dome. Hikers should bring leather work gloves to protect their hands from the cables; some gloves are often available in a pile at the bottom of the cables. While it is possible to ascend Half Dome while the cables are down (between approximately October 15 and May 15), hikers do so at their own risk. Views and scenery are unforgettable, but hikers should be aware that the final climb up the back side of Half Dome via the cables can be exhausting and, for those with even a mild fear of heights, frightening. While the majority of the trail is accessible without a permit, an $8 permit is required to traverse the final stretch of the trail beyond the base of the Half Dome subdome. 300 permits are available each day (approximately 225 to hikers and 75 to backpackers), with rangers stationed on the trail to turn away hikers without permits. Permits can be obtained in advance via a pre-season lottery (apply online between March 1 and March 31, permits issued in mid-April, an additional online application fee of $4.50 applies), and approximately 50 permits are made available in an evening lottery two days prior to the hiking date.
- 11 McGurk Meadow, Bridalveil Creek, & Dewey Point (7 mi (11.2 km) round-trip), Starts at the McGurk Meadow trailhead parking area (west of the Bridalveil Creek Campground turnoff). This trail leads downhill to an old cabin built by John McGurk and a large meadow. Continue east (right) at the trail junction to get to Bridalveil Creek (4 mi / 6.4 km) or continue west to a Dewey Point (7 mi / 11.2 km), which has a spectacular view of western Yosemite Valley.
- 12 Ostrander Lake (12.7 mi (20.3 km) round-trip), Begins at the Ostrander Lake trailhead parking area (1.3 mi / 2.1 km east of Bridalveil Creek Campground). The first half of this hike gains little elevation; the second half gains about 1,500 ft (450 m). As the trail rises it offers views of the Clark Range before eventually arriving at Ostrander Lake.
- 13 Mono Meadow (3 mi (4.8 km) round-trip), Starts from the Mono Meadow trailhead parking area (2.5 mi / 4 km east of Bridalveil Creek Campground). From its start this trail descends steeply to Mono Meadow, an area which is wet, particularly early to mid summer (be sure to stay on the trail, even if it is muddy). Shortly after leaving Mono Meadow, the trail passes through an unmarked clearing with views of the Clark Range, Mount Starr King, and Half Dome.
- 14 Taft Point (2.2 mi (3.5 km) round-trip), The trailhead is at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead parking area (6 mi / 9.6 km east of Bridalveil Creek Campground). This relatively easy trail leads to the edge of Yosemite Valley. As the trail approaches Taft Point watch for fissures, which are deep cracks extending hundreds of feet downwards. The railed-in Taft Point offers a breathtaking view of Yosemite Valley, 2,000 feet (600 m) below.
- 15 Sentinel Dome (2.2 mi (3.5 km) round-trip), Starts at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead parking area, (6 mi / 9.6 km east of Bridalveil Creek Campground). The Sentinel Dome trail is an easy hike that leads to the base of Sentinel Dome, where you can scramble up the granite slope of the dome (it is not especially steep on its northeast side). From the top, you have a spectacular 360° view of Yosemite Valley (including Yosemite, Vernal, and Nevada Falls) and parts of the high country. A loop including Taft Point is a nice addition, but the climb from Taft Point to the top of the dome goes up several hundred feet.
- 16 Soda Springs & Parson's Lodge (1.5 mi (2.4 km) round-trip), Begins at the Lembert Dome parking area. The trail follows the gravel road northwest past a locked gate. The Soda Springs are protected within a log enclosure. Carbonated water bubbles up through the ground, but drinking the water is not recommended due to possible surface contamination. Further along the trail is the historic Parson's Memorial Lodge, which offers exhibits.
- 17 Dog Lake (2.8 mi (4.5 km) round-trip), Starts at the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. The trail goes up steeply and crosses the Tioga Road, then continues up for 0.75 mi (1.2 km) to a signed junction. Continue straight to Dog Lake. Enjoy fishing and picnicking from this high country lake.
- 18 Lembert Dome (2.8 mi (4.5 km) round-trip), Begins at the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. A strenuous hike that goes up steeply for 0.75 mi (1.2 km) to a signed junction. The trail to the left goes to the top of Lembert Dome. Expect a spectacular panoramic view of Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak, and Unicorn Peak. The top of the dome can be windy and quite a bit cooler than down below.
- 19 Dog Lake and Lembert Dome (5.0 (8 km) mi loop). These two hikes can be combined in a loop that delivers some of the best scenery from any five-mile hike in the park. Do the lake first, before you get tired from the dome climb.
- 20 Glen Aulin (11 mi (17.7 km) round-trip), Starts from the road near Tuolumne Meadows Stables. A moderately difficult trail that follows the gravel road as it loops behind Soda Springs and drops to Glen Aulin. The route is noted for scenic cascades, particularly Tuolumne Falls, 4 miles from the trailhead.
- Elizabeth Lake (4.8 mi (7.7 km) round-trip), Starts near the Tuolumne Meadows Group Campground. This moderately difficult hike climbs steadily to the glacier-carved lake at the base of Unicorn Peak. To reach the trailhead, drive past the group campsites to where the road ends. There are restrooms there.
- Cathedral Lakes (7 mi (11.3 km) round-trip). From the Cathedral Lakes Trailhead the trail climbs steadily (1,000 ft / 305 m) to Upper Cathedral Lake. Near the top, it passes a spur trail to Lower Cathedral Lake.
- John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon (8 mi (12.9 km) one-way). From the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area this relatively flat trail (only 200 ft / 61 m elevation gain over 8 mi / 12.9 km) wanders through Lyell Canyon, mostly alongside the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River.
- Mono Pass (8 mi (12.9 km)), Starts at the Mono Pass Trailhead (6 mi / 4.4 km east of Tuolumne Meadows). A moderately difficult trail that climbs gently at first (1,000 ft / 304 m elevation gain) to a junction with Spillway Lake. The left fork then steeply climbs to Mono Pass, at 10,500 ft / 3,200 m. From the pass, Upper Sardine Lake is another 0.75 / 1.2 km down the pass to the east.
- Gaylor Lakes (2 mi (3.2 km)), Starts from the Gaylor Lakes Trailhead (at the Tioga Pass Entrance Station). A strenuous trail that climbs steeply in the first 0.5 mi / 0.8 km (1,000 ft / 304 m elevation gain) to a ridge with views to both sides. At the ridge, the trail drops 200 ft / 61 m to a lake and meadows, which can be explored with side trails.
- Vogelsang High Sierra Camp, Lake, and Pass (15.8 mi (25.5 km)), Starts from the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area. The trail's first 2 mi / 3.2 km, along the John Muir Trail, are relatively level. The Rafferty Creek Trail then splits off and begins a 1,200 ft / 366 m ascent to Tuolumne Pass, followed by a 160 ft / 49 m climb to the High Sierra Camp. You can continue to Vogelsang Lake (0.5 mi / 0.8 km further) and spectacular Vogelsang Pass (1.5 mi / 2.4 km further).
Wawona & Mariposa Grove
- Wawona Meadow Loop (3.5 mi (5.6 km) round-trip), Starts at the golf course across the street from the hotel. The trail is a pleasant stroll on a fire road around the Wawona Meadow.
- Swinging Bridge Loop (5 mi (8 km) round-trip). A moderate hike leading from the Wawona Store to the swinging bridge, the trail follows the paved Forest Drive 2 mi (3.2 km) upstream from the history center and then continues on the dirt road for a short distance to the swinging bridge (which really does swing). Cross the bridge and bear left onto the dirt road, which soon becomes paved Chilnualna Falls Road. When you reach the Wawona Stable, walk into it towards the Covered Bridge, where you started this hike.
- Chilnualna Fall (8.2 mi (13.1 km) round-trip), Starts in the Chilnualna Fall trailhead parking area. This strenuous hike leads past the cascades of Chilnualna Fall and all the way to the top of the fall. Hikers can expect moderate exposure and a sharp increase in elevation for roughly 4 miles. For the hearty day-hiker, the trip can be extended 18 miles (round-trip) to reach Crescent Lake.
- Alder Creek (12 mi (18.7 km) round-trip), Begins at the Alder Creek trailhead parking area. This strenuous trail climbs through an open pine forest with abundant manzanita on the drier slopes.
- Wawona to Mariposa Grove (6 mi (9.6 km) one-way), Starts near the Moore Cottage at the Wawona Hotel. This generally viewless hike leads to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. From late April through September, you can take the free shuttle bus from the grove back to Wawona.
- Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (6 mi (9.6 km) round-trip). There are numerous trails leading through this grove of giant trees, all starting from the Mariposa Grove parking area. To reach the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree, follow the trail that begins at the far end of the parking area. To reach Wawona Point, continue on the trail past the Grizzly Giant into the upper grove. The old road ascends to Wawona Point from near the Galen Clark Tree.
- Wapama Falls (5 mi (8 km) round-trip), Starts from the O'Shaugnessy Dam. This easy trail leads to the bottom Wapama Falls (and Tueeulala Falls in spring). This trail has very high exposure (little shade).
- Rancheria Falls (13.4 mi (21.4 km) round-trip), Starts from the O'Shaugnessy Dam. A moderately difficult hike that provides numerous views of the Hetch Hetch Valley.
- Poopenaut Valley (3 mi (4.8 km) round-trip). This oddly named trail begins four miles from the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station and provides quick access to the Tuolumne River, descending 1,229 feet (735 m) to the river below O'Shaugnessy Dam.
- Smith Peak (12.5 mi (20 km) round-trip). A strenuous trail from the Hetch Hetchy Ranger Station to Smith Peak. Forests and meadows eventually give way to great views of the Hetch Hetchy area.
The Valley also offers some of the most challenging and spectacular rock climbing in North America, with vertical faces 3,000 and more feet tall. Wilderness permits are not required for nights spent on a wall, but it is illegal to camp at the base of any wall in Yosemite Valley. Additional regulations:
- Do not litter or leave anything behind, including food or water "for future parties". Pick up any litter you see, including tape wads and cigarette butts.
- Don't leave fixed ropes as permanent fixtures on approaches and descents. These are considered abandoned property and will be removed.
- Minimize erosion on your approach and descent. If an obvious main trail has been created, use it. Avoid pushing soil downhill and avoid walking on vegetation whenever possible.
- If an unplanned bivouac is necessary on a summit, fires are allowed only in an existing fire ring and building a new windbreak is prohibited. Make sure your fire is completely out before you leave.
- Clean extra, rotting slings off anchors when you descend. Bring earth-toned slings to leave on anchors.
- Check the Camp 4 Kiosk or the Mountain Shop for the current peregrine falcon closures.
- Minimize the impact of first ascents by choosing routes that minimize erosion, bolts, and loss of vegetation. "Gardening", e.g. killing plants, is illegal in Yosemite. Motorized drills are prohibited.
Commercial guided climbing trips are also available:
- Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service (in Curry Village by the Mountain Shop), ☏ . The only guide service licensed to operate in Yosemite, offering a range of options from daily 8:30AM climbing lessons for beginners through multi-day guided ascents of El Capitan for experienced climbers. Also offers rental camping and climbing gear. Climbing lessons start at $150 per person, guided climbs start around $300 for a one person, 6 hour guided climb, or around $175 per person for a six hour guided climb with three people.
There are still commercial horseback-riding concessions in the Yosemite Valley, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows areas.
- Yosemite Mule & Horseback Rides. Operated by the official park concessionaire, there are three stables in the park. Each offers two-hour ($65), half-day ($88.50) and full-day trail rides. Custom guided trips are also available. Riders must be at least 7 years old, at least 44" tall, and weigh no more than 225 pounds.
- Wawona Golf Course, ☏ . Opened in 1918, this 9-hole, par 35 course measures 3,050 yards and is built to blend into its surroundings. Different tee positions afford the chance to play a full 18 holes. Open June–November, conditions permitting. $21.50/$22.50 for 9 holes and $36/$41.50 for 18 holes (weekday/weekend).
Swimming is allowed in most bodies of water in the park, but is either prohibited or strongly discouraged near waterfalls due to the extreme danger of being swept away - to cite just one tragic example, as of 2010 the total number of people who have died after underestimating currents and being swept over Vernal Fall stands at seventeen. Other places where swimming is prohibited include the following:
- Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, and within one mile upstream along any tributary (e.g., Rancheria Falls).
- Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River
- Emerald Pool and Silver Apron (above Vernal Fall)
- Lake Eleanor Reservoir (when posted)
- Wawona Domestic Water Intake (and 100 yards upstream)
Rafting is permitted on the Merced River between Stoneman Bridge (near Curry Village) and Sentinel Beach picnic area between 10AM and 6PM when the river stage (depth) is less than 6.5 feet at Sentinel Bridge and the sum of air temperature and water temperature is greater than 100°F. All raft occupants must have a personal flotation device immediately available, and children under age 13 must be wearing one. Rafting is also allowed on the South Fork of the Merced River below Swinging Bridge (in Wawona).
Fishing is allowed in streams and rivers from the last Saturday in April through November 15, with the exception of Frog Creek near Lake Eleanor, where fishing season does not open until June 15 to protect spawning rainbow trout. Fishing is allowed in lakes and reservoirs year-round. A valid California fishing license is required for anyone aged 16 or older. Fishing supplies, including fishing licenses, are available at the Yosemite Village Sport Shop and at the general stores in Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows.
Special regulations that apply when fishing in the park include the following:
- No live or dead minnows or other bait fish, amphibians, non-preserved fish eggs, or roe may be used or possessed.
- Fishing from bridges and docks is prohibited.
- In Yosemite Valley and El Portal (Happy Isles to Foresta Bridge):
- Rainbow trout are catch-and-release only.
- Brown trout limit is five per day or ten in possession.
- Only artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks may be used; bait fishing is prohibited.
- Mirror Lake is considered a stream and is only open during stream fishing season.
- In the Tuolumne River from the O'Shaughnessy Dam downstream to Early Intake Diversion Dam
- Maximum size limit of 12 inches in total length.
- Trout limit is two per day or two in possession.
- Only artificial lures or flies with barbless hooks may be used; bait fishing is prohibited.
- Yosemite Art Center, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Daily 9AM-noon, 1-4:30PM. Operated by the Yosemite Conservancy and near the Village Store, the Yosemite Art Center offers artist-led workshops Monday through Saturday from April through October for those who want to capture Yosemite in paint, watercolor, charcoal, or other mediums. Advanced sign-up is recommended, although same-day reservations may be possible. Workshops are typically from 10AM-2PM and are held outdoors. Bring your own supplies, or purchase them at the Art Center. $10 per student per day.
- 24 Badger Pass Ski Area (fomerly Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area). Most years Badger Pass is open around Dec 15th and closes around April 1st. Lifts operate from 9AM-4PM. Badger Pass is the oldest ski area in California, and offers both downhill and cross-country trails. For cross-country skiers the park offers over 350 miles of trails, with 90 miles of marked trails and 25 miles of groomed trails originating at Badger Pass. Downhill skiing options include ten runs at Badger Pass. The majority of these runs are for beginners and moderate skiers, so thrill seekers may wish to ski elsewhere. Both downhill and cross-country lessons are available. Due to NPS regulations in place to ensure the area remains as natural as possible, the Badger area has no artificially-lighted skiing and cannot make its own snow. Lift tickets cost $5.50 for a single run or $48.50 for a full-day ticket.
- 25 Curry Village Ice Rink (Curry Village Recreation Center at shuttle bus stop #13A), ☏ . M-F noon-9:30PM, Sa Su 8:30AM-9:30PM. The ice rink at Curry Village is open from mid-November until early March, conditions permitting. Skating sessions last 2.5 hours with one hour breaks between sessions. $10.50 adults/seniors, $10 children, $4 skate rentals, helmets available for free upon request.
Where'd the Ahwahnee Go?
In March 2016 Yosemite changed its official concessionaire from DNC Parks & Resorts to Aramark. Unfortunately, when the 15-year, $2 billion contract was awarded the former concessionaire sued the park service for breach of contract, stating that Aramark had not been forced to buy trademarks and other intangible property related to concessions in Yosemite (which DNC owned and valued at $50 million). As a result, the park's new concessionaire did not have the right to use names like "Ahwahnee", "Wawona", "Curry Village" and "Badger Pass Ski Area" for the properties it now managed, so for three years visitors instead saw "The Majestic Yosemite Lodge", "The Big Trees Lodge", "Half Dome Village" and "Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area" on their park maps. Following several years of litigation a settlement was finally reached in July 2019, and the names of the park's iconic locations were returned to normal.
Souvenir shops abound in Yosemite. Stores are run by the park concessionaire (Aramark), the Yosemite Conservancy, or the Ansel Adams Gallery, with a few smaller family stores. Aramark, YC, and the Ansel Adams Gallery offer some form of mail order. The Yosemite Conservancy stores specialize in educational materials about Yosemite, many of which are published by the organization; membership offers a 15% discount on most purchases.
Gas is available for purchase at Crane Flat, Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona, and in towns outside of the park. Gas prices tend to be 60 cents to 1 dollar higher than communities like Fresno, Merced, and Modesto.
- 1 The Ahwahnee Gift Shop, 1 Ahwahnee Dr, ☏ . 8AM-8PM. The souvenir shop inside of the Ahwahnee Hotel features American Indian pottery, kachinas and jewelry as well as more standard fare like photographic prints, books and clothing.
- 2 Ansel Adams Gallery (Yosemite Village), ☏ . 9AM-6PM. This gallery first began operating in Yosemite Valley in 1902, and is now operated by the fourth generation of the family that started it. Ansel Adams started a business relationship with the gallery in the 1920s, and today the gallery features his work in books and prints. In addition, the gallery offers exhibitions of contemporary photographers, with exhibits rotating approximately every six weeks, and staff can provide photography advice for those seeking it. In additions to the works of Ansel Adams, the gallery has an extensive collection of books for sale, works by other photographers, Native American and contemporary jewelry, and handcrafted pottery. Offers a 10% discount for Yosemite Conservancy donors.
- Curry Village Gift Shop. 9AM-7PM. Serving as a "camp store", you can find souvenirs as well as groceries, picnic supplies, apparel, ice, firewood, batteries and an ATM.
- Yosemite Mountain Shop, 9032 Village Dr (Curry Village), ☏ . 8AM-5PM. The best sport shop in Yosemite, and one of the best rock climbing gear stores in the world.
- Habitat Yosemite. Th-Su 11AM-4PM, closed in winter. In the Degnan's building in Yosemite Village, the store specializes in environmentally friendly products.
- Housekeeping Camp Store. Seasonal. Best described as a combination between Curry Gift and the Village Sport Shop.
- Museum Store. Operated by the Yosemite Conservancy.
- 3 The Nature Shop (Yosemite Valley Lodge). 11AM-6PM. All merchandise has a "natural" bent but relatively low prices compared to the Ahwahnee Hotel Gift Shop. Low visitation to this store makes it desirable for quiet shopping.
- 4 Village Store, ☏ . The largest store in Yosemite, with the largest grocery selection as well. If you need something for your visit, check here first.
- Village Sport Shop. 10AM-5PM, closed in winter. One of the two camping goods stores in Yosemite Valley.
- 5 Yosemite Valley Lodge Gift Shop. 8AM-7PM. Extremely similar to the Curry Village Gift Shop. Caters mostly to Lodge guest, Camp 4 campers, and tour groups.
- 6 Mariposa Grove Museum (Wawona). Seasonal. Operated by the Yosemite Conservancy.
- Tuolumne Meadows Store. Seasonal. Well visited by long-distance hikers, as the PCT and the JMT go right by the store, it has camp supplies, souvenirs and snacks.
- Tuolumne Meadows Mountain Shop. Seasonal. Home of the TM mountain school, smaller version of the Curry Mountain Shop.
- Pioneer Gift & Grocery (Wawona). 8AM-5PM. Servicing the southern end of Yosemite, this store has groceries, souvenirs, books, fishing supplies, apparel, and a decent wine selection.
Groceries can be purchased in Yosemite Village, Crane Flat, Curry Village, Wawona, and Tuolumne Meadows.
- The Ahwahnee Hotel Dining Room, ☏ . An upscale restaurant in Yosemite Valley serving breakfast, lunch and dinner. Famous also for its Sunday Grand Buffet. There is a "resort casual" dress code for dinner service, meaning shorts and jeans are not acceptable attire, and that dinner reservations are recommended. Breakfast and Lunch attire remain regular casual.
- 1 The Mountain Room. Open daily year-round, this dining room is in Yosemite Valley Lodge and offers dinner with a view of Yosemite Falls. A significant portion of its menu includes organic and sustainable food. Food and service that's just as good as the Ahwahnee Hotel with menu prices that are 20% less and without the dress code. Reservations are not taken for parties of six or less.
- 2 Yosemite Valley Lodge Food Court. Serving cafeteria-style meals in Yosemite Valley Lodge. Offers breakfast, lunch and dinner year-round.
- 3 Degnan's Deli. Open year-round and offering standard deli fare, in Yosemite Village.
- 4 Degnan's Loft. Open to the public from April to October from noon to 9PM, offering pizza, salads and soups in Yosemite Village. Open only to park employees and residents November through March from 5PM to midnight (last call at 11:30PM). Pizzas and salads are available only from 5PM to 9PM. They also add pool tables and video games during the winter. They are removed during tourist season to maximize seating.
- Degnan's Cafe. Next to Degnan's Loft, serving "grab-and-go" food like sandwiches and chips, coffee and soft-serve ice cream. Open Summer Season.
- Village Grill. Fast food in Yosemite Village. Open from Spring through Fall. Closes for the day if weather is poor.
- 5 Curry Village Pavilion Buffet. In Curry Village, offers a breakfast and a dinner buffet.
- Curry Village Taco Stand. Burritos, tacos, nachos, ice cream and beverages. Open Seasonally from April to October.
- 6 Curry Village Pizza Deck. Pizza and salads. Open March through December. The food offered is nearly identical in quality and price as the Loft, but if crowds aren't your cup of tea then it might be best to avoid this establishment.
- 7 Curry Village Ice Cream & Coffee Corner. Open March through December. The ice cream bar closes in mid September.
- Happy Isles Snack Stand. Offering drinks and snacks during the summer near the Happy Isles nature center. Handy when you come off the trail, and want something.
- Wawona Hotel Dining Room. Fine dining, serving breakfast, lunch and dinner daily, with a brunch served on Sundays.
- Wawona Lawn Barbecue. (summer) Sa 5PM-7PM. On Saturday evenings in summer the lawn outside of the Wawona Lodge hosts a barbecue featuring steak, chicken, hamburgers and corn-on-the-cob.
- Wawona Golf Shop Snack Stand. Snacks, beer, and other beverages on the golf course. Open daily from spring through fall.
- Tuolumne Meadows Lodge, ☏ . Family-style meals served in a tent setting. Reservations are required for dinner.
- 8 Tuolumne Meadows Grill. To-go food for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Open daily in summer.
- White Wolf Lodge, ☏ . Near the Tioga Pass Road (about half way between Tuolumne Meadows and Crane Flat) and serving breakfast and dinner. Reservations are advised for dinner.
- Glacier Point Snack Stand. Ice cream, sodas, and nutritious fare.
- The Ahwahnee Hotel Lounge (Ahwahnee Hotel). An upscale lounge in Yosemite Valley, offering cocktails, wine, beer, and bar food (sandwiches, appetizers, salads) with seating available both inside and on the terrace. Opens at 11AM daily, with live piano music most Friday and Saturday evenings.
- 1 Mountain Room Lounge (Yosemite Valley Lodge). In Yosemite Valley Lodge, this lounge offers cocktails and bar food. Televisions are also placed around the room for those who have escaped to Yosemite but can't bear to miss the game.
- Pavilion Bar (Curry Village). In Curry Village, this bar serves cocktails, beer, wine and fast food with inside and deck seating. Extremely popular among employees. Seasonal.
- Wawona Cocktail Service (Wawona Hotel). Within the Wawona hotel a cocktail service is available in both the lounge and on the veranda. Singing piano player performs certain nights.
Demand for lodging in Yosemite Valley in both the hotels and the campgrounds is extremely heavy during the peak season, so you need to book well ahead of time during the late spring, summer and early fall; vacancies are more common during the off-season. As an example, by mid-May in 2015 not a single reservation remained in any campground for any night during the summer season. Cancellations occur on a random basis, so it is also advised to call back frequently for a desired reservation date.
Cheaper and more abundant lodging can be found outside the park. The nearby towns of El Portal, Mariposa, Groveland, Fish Camp, and Lee Vining have lodging. In addition, the community of Yosemite West borders the park and offers numerous rentals; it is accessible only from within Yosemite and provides a convenient option to visitors planning to stay near Wawona or Yosemite Valley. Be aware that despite names like "Yosemite View", no lodging outside the park has a view of the Valley. Lodging is particularly close to the park near the Route 140 entrance and the Route 120 East entrance; for those approaching from the Route 41South entrance, there are many affordable lodging options in Oakhurst, but at the cost of a longer commute distance. In addition, Yosemite is surrounded by national forests that offer numerous campgrounds.
The following lodging options are operated by the National Park Service through a concessionaire.
- 1 The Ahwahnee Hotel (formerly The Majestic Yosemite Lodge), 1 Ahwahnee Rd, ☏ . For those looking for absolute luxury while surrounded by Yosemite Valley, this hotel is a national historic landmark that is known for its massive stone hearths, granite facade, Native American artwork, and upscale service. The restaurant offers gourmet cuisine, rooms face Half Dome, Glacier Point and the West Valley, and there is a small heated pool. 99 luxury hotel rooms, three of which are fully accessible rooms, four partially accessible. There are also 24 cottages, two of which are fully accessible. Rooms and cottages start at about $500 per night, with suites running up to and above $1000 per night.
- 2 Curry Village (formerly Half Dome Village), 9010 Curry Village Dr, ☏ . Check-in: 5PM, check-out: 11AM. In Yosemite Valley, Curry Village offers a wide range of lodging options ranging from "hotel" accommodations to primitive tent cabins. No cooking is allowed at Curry Village and tent cabins also come with a bear locker to store food. There is an outdoor pool, which is free to people lodging there and open to the public for $5. The entire complex includes 46 cabins with private baths, 14 cabins without private bath, 18 standard motel rooms, and 424 canvas tent cabins without private bathrooms. There are five bathroom buildings and one shower building in the camp. There are two cabins, one hotel room, and six canvas tent cabins that are accessible. Rates for tent cabins are approximately $125 per night, while cabins and motel rooms are from $125 to $200 per night.
- High Sierra Camps, ☏ . The five High Sierra Camps are villages of tent cabins in Yosemite's backcountry, with most of the tent cabins holding four people (be prepared for mixed gender sleeping arrangements). Due to their remote locations the High Sierra Camps are normally visited as part of a horseback package tour or a hiking trek, with each camp spaced a day's hike apart. All of the High Sierra Camps include gourmet breakfast and dinner, and eat-in only reservations may be possible for those not needing accommodation. The High Sierra Camp cooking is widely regarded by locals as some of the best food in Yosemite. Some lodges may have hot showers, and all require that you bring your own linens. Demand for the High Sierra Camps is so high that reservations are handled by a lottery held from October 15 to November 30 (call for an application) with final assignments decided by March 31. Be aware that it is sometimes possible to get a High Sierra Camps reservation later if someone cancels. $145 to $151 per night for adults and $87 to $91 per night for children (age 7-12).
- 3 Housekeeping Camp, ☏ . Despite its name, Housekeeping Camp (near Curry Village) offers 266 sturdy tents for visitor lodging. The "tents" have a concrete floor, three concrete walls, canvas tops, a bunk bed, a double bed, and two cots, providing sleeping for up to six. Linen is not provided but may be rented for $2.50 per night. Separate restrooms and shower facilities are within walking distance of the cabins. Open from April through October only. Housekeeping Camp is the only lodging in the Valley that allows for a fire and cooking. $80-$110 per night.
- 4 Tuolumne Meadows, ☏ . Open from mid-July through September, Tuolumne offers 69 tent cabins in Tuolumne Meadows. These tent cabins have wooden frames, a concrete floor, and canvas walls. Bunks beds, linens, candles, and a wood stove are provided, while bathrooms and showers are in a central facility. $107 per night.
- 5 Wawona Hotel (formerly Big Trees Lodge), 8308 Wawona Rd, ☏ . Check-in: 5PM, check-out: 11AM. This national historic landmark overlooks Wawona Meadow in the south part of the park along Route 41. Of the 104 rooms only 50 have a private bath. The lodge is rustic, with no telephones or televisions. In the winter months the lodge is only open on select weekends and holiday periods. Rooms rates are approximately $300 for a room with a private bath, and $150 without. Rates are slightly lower in the winter.
- 6 White Wolf, ☏ . Along the Tioga Pass Road, White Wolf is open from July through September and offers 24 tent cabins and 4 cabins with private bath. The tent cabins are wood frame on a raised wooden platform and include beds, linen, and a wood stove. The lodge was renovated in 2015, including mechanical, structural, electrical and plumbing fixes, as well as ADA enhancements. Rates are $140 per night for tent cabins without bath.
- 7 Yosemite Valley Lodge, 9006 Yosemite Lodge Dr, ☏ . Check-in: 5PM, check-out: 11AM. Near the base of Yosemite Falls, this lodge offers 245 rooms, none of which have air conditioning. Internet access (in-lobby kiosks and WiFi in guest rooms) is now also available. There is an outdoor pool on the premises, as well as the main activities desk for the park. There are five accessible rooms. The public facilities are accessible and most walkways are paved. Room rates are $250-300 per night, with slightly lower prices during the winter.
In addition to the lodging operated through the park service, there are also a handful of private cabins within the park boundaries that can be rented.
- The Redwoods in Yosemite, ☏ , ✉ email@example.com. There are over 130 private cabins in the Wawona area that may be rented from their owners. Ranging from log cabins to spacious vacation homes, all homes are completely furnished, including linens, cookware, dishes, and a barbecue grill. Prices vary by cabin style and date, with economy cabins from $150 per night during low times, and premium cabins as much as $500 per night on holiday weekends.
- Yosemite Vacation Homes. Yosemite Vacation Homes offers 11 unique homes and cabins for nightly rent in the Foresta area. Foresta is inside the gates of Yosemite National Park and only 7 miles from Yosemite Valley. Prices vary by cabin type and range from $230 to $400 per night.
Camping is by far the cheapest way of staying within the park, but campgrounds fill quickly during summer months and may require making reservations months in advance. Reservations can be made through the National Park Service from 7AM-7PM Pacific time, or by calling ☏ or ☏ from outside the United States. Written reservation requests can be made by including desired location, type of equipment you will be camping in (i.e.,tent, RV,etc.), as well as method of payment. Send written requests to NPRS, P.O. Box 1600, Cumberland, MD 21502.
All campgrounds offer bear-safe food storage containers, tap water (except where noted), and flush toilets. Pay showers and laundry are in Curry Village in Yosemite Valley. During summer, showers are also available afternoons at Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.
For backpackers, North Pines in Yosemite Valley and the Tuolumne Meadows campground both have "backpacker camps". These are walk-in sites offered for people with valid wilderness permits to stay the night before and the night after their backcountry trips. For more information contact the Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center or any park campground office.
Use Southside Drive to get to the Pines Campgrounds. Do not cross the Sentinel Bridge, but make a right turn just before this bridge. If staying in the North Pines, cross the river at Clark's Bridge. (The one-way roads in the valley have been reversed to make it easier to get to the campground.)
- 8 Camp 4 (near Yosemite Lodge). 36 sites. All sites are first-come, first-served. This walk-in campground is open year-round. All sites are tent only. With six people assigned to every site this isn't the quietest of campgrounds, so light sleepers may want to bring earplugs. Campground is world famous among the rock climbing community and as such can be extremely popular during the peak season. Prospective campers can expect to see people waiting in line for sites as early as 4AM. As of 2011 all campers wishing to stay at Camp 4 must hold their own place in line. Parking is adjacent to the campground, and from spring through fall a parking permit is required. Camp 4 is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). $6 per person per night (2020 rates).
- 9 Lower Pines Campground (near Curry Village). 73 sites. This campground is open from approximately April through October, requires reservations, and offers sites for both tents and RVs up to 40' in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. Campsites 7, 13, 14, 18, 20 are wheelchair accessible. Lower Pines Campground is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). $26 per night (2020 rates).
- 10 North Pines Campground (near Curry Village). 80 sites. This campground is open from approximately March through October and requires reservations. It offers sites for both tents and RVs up to 40' in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. Campsites 111, 113, and 119 are wheelchair accessible. North Pines Campground is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). $26 per night (2020 rates).
- 11 Upper Pines Campground (near Curry Village). 235 sites. Open year-round, Upper Pines campground is closest to Happy Isles and the trailhead to Half Dome. It requires reservations between mid-March and November, while sites are first-come, first-served from December through mid-March. There are 238 sites for both tents and RVs up to 35' in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. Campsites 21, 27, and 42 are wheelchair accessible. Upper Pines Campground is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). $26 per night (2020 rates).
- 12 Wawona Campground (Off the Wawona Road (Highway 41)). 97 sites, 1 group site. Wawona campground is open year-round, requires reservations from April–September, and offers sites for both tents and RVs up to 35' in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. Campsites 69 and 70 are wheelchair accessible. Wawona Campground is located at an elevation of 4,000 feet (1,200 m). $18 per night first-come, first-served, $26 per night with reservation, $30 per night with horses, $50 per night - Group Site (2020 rates).
- 13 Bridalveil Creek. The Bridalveil Creek campground is along the road to Glacier Pass and is open from July through early September. The campground's 110 sites are first-come, first-served, and sites are available for both tents and RVs up to 35 ft in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. $18 per night.
- 14 Crane Flat Campground (On the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120) just west of Crane Flat). 162 sites. Crane Flat is open from approximately July through mid-October, requires reservations, and offers sites for both tents and RVs up to 40' in length (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. Campsites 423 and 427 are wheelchair accessible. Crane Flat Campground is located at an elevation of 6,200 feet (1,900 m). $26 per night (2020 rates).
- 15 Hodgdon Meadow Campground (Off the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120), adjacent to the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station). 103 sites, 4 group sites. This campground is north of Crane Flat near the park entrance and is open year-round. Reservations are required from mid-April through mid-October, and offers sites for both tents and RVs up to 40 ft in length (no hookups). Four group sites are available for 15-25 people. Water and flush toilets are available. Hodgdon Meadow Campground is located at an elevation of 4,875 feet (1,486 m). $18 per night first-come, first-served, $26 per night with a reservation, $50 per night - Group Site (2020 rates).
Tioga Pass Road
- 16 Porcupine Flat. Porcupine Flat is off of the Tioga Pass Road and offers 52 sites for tents and RVs up to 24 ft in length (no hookups) from July through mid-October on a first-come, first-served basis. Creek water only, must be treated before drinking. Vault toilets are available. $12 per night.
- 17 Tamarack Flat. Open from approximately June through September, this campground is off of the Tioga Pass Road near Crane Flat and offers 52 tent sites on a first-come, first-served basis. Creek water only, must be treated before drinking. Vault toilets are available. $12 per night.
- 18 Tuolumne Meadows Campground (Off the Tioga Road at Tuolumne Meadows). 304 sites, 7 group sites. The Tuolumne Meadows campground is open from July through September and offers 50% of its sites as reservation only, while 50% are first-come, first-served. Sites are available for both tents and RVs up to 35' in length (no hookups). Be prepared for chilly night-time temperatures. Water and flush toilets are available. Tuolumne Meadows Campground is located at an elevation of 8,600 feet (2,600 m). $26 per night, $30 per night with horses, $50 per night - Group Site (2020 rates).
- 19 White Wolf. White Wolf is open only from July through early September and is along the Tioga Pass Road. The 74 sites are first-come, first-served for tents and small RVs up to 27 ft in length only (no hookups). Water and flush toilets are available. $18 per night.
- 20 Yosemite Creek. Open July to September, this campground is off of the Tioga Pass Road and offers 75 sites on a first-come, first-served basis for tents only. Creek water only, must be treated before drinking. Vault toilets are available. $12 per night.
Backcountry permits are free and are required year-round for all overnight trips into Yosemite's wilderness. Wilderness areas operate under a quota system that limits the number of people who may begin overnight hikes from each trailhead, each day. While permits may be reserved for $5 per party plus $5 per person, at least 40% of each trailhead quota is available on a first-come first-served basis the day of, or one day prior to, the beginning of your trip.
Permits can be obtained in person from the wilderness stations in Yosemite Village, Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne Meadows, Badger Pass, Hetch Hetchy and Wawona. In addition, permits can be reserved up to 24 weeks in advance for a fee. There are three ways to reserve a wilderness permit, and forms for advance reservations can be found on the Yosemite wilderness permit web site:
- By fax. A fax sent to ☏ is the park service's preferred method of obtaining a wilderness permit. Forms can be found on the Yosemite wilderness permit web site. Faxes received before 7:30AM are processed before phone calls.
- By phone. Reservations for summer trips are accepted from 2 days to up to 24 weeks in advance by calling ☏ . Phones are staffed M-F 8:30AM-4PM, with extended hours from Memorial Day through Labor Day (M-F 8AM-5PM, Sa 9AM-4PM). You must know your entry and exit trailheads prior to calling.
- By mail. Reservation requests for summer trips are accepted from 2 weeks to 24 weeks in advance by writing to Wilderness Permits, PO Box 545, Yosemite, CA, 95389. See Yosemite's web site for the reservation form to include with written requests. If your requested trailhead and dates are available, you will receive a confirmation letter in the mail. A payment method must be provided with all written requests.
All backcountry campers are expected to leave the wilderness in the same condition as they find it; this means no trash, fire scars, or other evidence of a visit should be left behind. Backcountry campsites must be at least four trail miles from Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point, Hetch Hetchy or Wawona, or at least one trail mile from any road. Groups are limited in size to 15 people, including guides and small children. Pets, weapons, bicycles, strollers, and mechanized vehicles of any kind are not allowed in the wilderness areas, while fires are only allowed in existing fire circles, and are not allowed above 9600 feet elevation.
Bear canisters are required in all areas of the Park and highly recommended in areas close to Yosemite's borders. These canisters must be used for food storage, as well as for storing scented toiletries such as soap, deodorant and toothpaste, and should be stashed at least 100 m from your campsite. Canisters can be rented from the ranger station where you pick up your backcountry permit for $5, good for up to two weeks. Bear canisters are not just to protect hikers' food––they protect bears. There is no good excuse for conditioning bears to rely on human food.
For any emergency in Yosemite National Park, dial 911 from most phones (hotel and retail phones may require 9+911). Yosemite NPS runs its own dedicated emergency dispatch. If you dial from a cell phone, first mention that you are in Yosemite as many cell phones route to a call center in your number's area code.
- 4 Yosemite Medical Clinic, 9000 Ahwahnee Dr (Yosemite Valley), ☏ . Drop-in and urgent care May-Sep: daily 9AM-7PM; Oct-Apr: M-F 9AM-5PM. Routine and emergency medical care, 24-hour paramedic/ambulance services, lab, and Mountain Crisis Services for victims of domestic violence.
Over the years the park's bears have become accustomed to scavenging trash and food left out by humans, and will even break into cars and tents to get it. While not the larger grizzly bears that once roamed California, black bears are strong enough to tear a door off of a car with ease. Luckily they usually prefer to avoid humans, so they'll most likely do their work on vehicles left at trailheads or in parking lots. Prevention is remarkably simple: never leave food or scented items (deodorant, air fresheners) in your car or bring them into your tent. Heed this advice! Leaving even just a tube of toothpaste or empty food wrappers in a car may result in thousands of dollars of damage to your vehicle should a bear choose to investigate the smell! Bear-resistant storage units are provided at park campgrounds and overnight parking areas: use them.
To avoid bear encounters while hiking, make noise so that the animal knows you are coming. This approach will also help to avoid encounters with mountain lions, which also inhabit the park. Other animals, such as the herds of deer which can be found in the park's meadows, can be equally dangerous; a young boy was killed by a deer in Yosemite Valley several years ago. Give all animals their space, and never feed any park wildlife.
Yosemite Valley Lodge (and possibly other accommodation areas) has no outside lighting. This is to reduce light pollution and allow the stars to shine down. If moving about the area at night (even to go to the reception office or restaurant) ensure that you have a flashlight (torch), as walking in the dark can be quite hazardous. In general, avoid long hikes after dark.
Other natural dangers in the park come from the weather. Hypothermia can be a concern at higher elevations where temperatures can drop below freezing throughout the year. Dress in layers, and be prepared for storms and rapid changes in temperature. When storms are approaching avoid open areas such as the summits of the park's many granite domes; lightning strikes these areas regularly. If a storm does approach, get off of high, open ground. When hiking wear sturdy footwear and drink plenty of water - if you are thirsty that is an early sign of dehydration. Be aware that the sun can be intense at higher elevations and when reflected off of snow, so sunscreen is important. In the winter, take the weather term "Winter Storm Warning" very seriously as it means a significant storm is definitely coming.
Every year, visitors to Yosemite will require medical care because they didn't have the supplies and information they needed. While the park has amenities to aid tourists, Yosemite is huge and you can easily find yourself miles away from potable water and information you need. Always do your homework before any hike. Figure these things out:
- Understand not just the length of your excursion, but also the elevation gain (how steep will it be?), the exposure (will there be shade?), and the availability of potable water (where can I fill my water bottle safely?).
- Bring water and food with you, even for a brief excursion––never rely solely on park amenities, which are sparse and sometimes hours hike or drive away from you. At the high season, you might wait 30 minutes or more for gas or food at the limited locations where you can acquire them. The same hike can require different amounts of water depending on the time of day, so a hike that might require a liter of water at 8AM might need 3 liters and a long rest if you start at 2PM. Few trailheads, especially outside of the valley, will have running water.
- If you camp in the backcountry, do your homework; you can seriously endanger yourself without proper knowledge.
- Always set a turn-around time (if you're not at the top of a hike by a certain time, you will turn around to get back to your transportation before nightfall) and tell someone where you are going/what time to expect you back. It's easy to forget that there's not much of a paper trail for where you are hiking––if no one knows where to find you, they cannot help you if you do not return.
On the trails
Hikers should follow all posted signs - if a trail is closed due to ice, landslide, or some other reason do not ignore the closure as doing so endangers both the hiker and any area that must be traversed to go around the closure. On the Half Dome trail, hikers should always remain inside the cables for their ascent and descent. Hikers died on this section of trail in Summer 2009.
The park's waterfalls pose another potential hazard. Do not attempt to get close to the waterfalls, especially in the spring. This includes swimming above the waterfalls at a distance of less than 1 mile (about 1.6 km). The force of the water will easily sweep a person off their feet and over the falls, even if it appears to be flowing slowly. Being swept over any of Yosemite's waterfalls is invariably fatal.
The greatest danger in the park comes from the thousands of park visitors. Petty thieves and traffic accidents are two issues to be aware of. Follow park speed limits, lock your vehicle, and be aware of your belongings, especially in Yosemite Valley. Violent crime is extremely rare in Yosemite, but given the numbers of people that visit you should expect that a few unsavory characters will be visiting too.
The National Park Service provides the primary law enforcement and fire protection in the park. NPS is supplemented by Aramark Security, who handle a number of calls for service on Aramark land assignments. Aramark Fire is paged out along with NPS Fire, and handles a large number of calls in Yosemite Valley.
Lost and found
There are two major Lost and Found operations in Yosemite. One is run by the National Park Service. It can be reached at ☏. The other is run by Aramark, and can be reached at ☏ . They coordinate as best as possible, considering they are a half-hour away from each other. They process thousands of items each year and surprisingly get a number of items back to the rightful owner. Because of the thousands of items lost or found, generally, you will not get a return call unless your item has been found and turned in correctly.
Items that are found that cannot be returned to the owner are generally turned over to recognized charities. So, if you don't get your item back, and if it is turned in by the finder, at least you can rest easy that it will eventually go to a good cause.
The towns of El Portal (west on SR140), Mariposa (west on SR140), Groveland (west on SR120), Fish Camp (south on SR41), Lee Vining (east on SR120) and Yosemite West (midway between Yosemite Valley and Wawona) are all within a few miles of the park border. Other nearby destinations include:
- Devils Postpile National Monument. This national monument protects a formation of lava basalt columns formed 80,000 to 100,000 years ago, and also provides an access point to the High Sierra wilderness. The monument is about 40 miles south of Yosemite off of highway 395.
- Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks. The most extensive groves of the world's largest trees can be found approximately 125 miles south of Yosemite. Sequoia and Kings Canyon are managed as a single unit and provide access to vast groves of giant sequoia trees as well as a huge network of trails that lead to some of the most pristine and remote areas of the High Sierra. Mount Whitney, the highest summit in the contiguous United States with an elevation of 14,505 feet (4,421 m), is within the borders of Sequoia. There is no vehicle access to these parks via US Highway 395, though it's much easier to get a good view of Mt. Whitney this way. To enter, take State Highway 41 (south exit) to Fresno, then State Highway 180 (in downtown Fresno) to Kings or State Highway 198 (via Visalia) to Sequoia.
- Tuolumne County, California's historic gold mining country of the mid-1800s. Towns include Jamestown, Sonora, and Columbia. Take State Highway 120 west to State Highway 49 north (turn at Parrott's Ferry Rd. [E-18] for Columbia).
- Mono County - Yosemite's eastern gateway, remote and expansive Mono County is a destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It is home to the Old West ghost town of Bodie, as well as Mammoth Lakes, a favorite winter skiing getaway. The gigantic Mono Lake is perhaps the county's premier attraction, a stopover for millions of migratory birds and thousands of tourists who explore its alkaline waters and bizarre tufa formations.
- Manzanar National Historic Site During World War II more than 100,000 Japanese Americans were interned in camps, the largest and best preserved of which is between the towns of Independence and Lone Pine off US Highway 395, about 125 miles south of Yosemite. Manzanar is situated in one of the more isolated spots of California, and the climate can be quite extreme at times with heat, dust, and in the wintertime, cold (elevation 3850 ft).
|Routes through Yosemite National Park|
|Fresno ← Fish Camp ←||S N||→ END|
|Manteca ← Groveland ←||W E||→ Lee Vining → Benton|
|Merced ← El Portal ←||W E||→ END|