Mention Yosemite National Park and it conjures up images of extraordinary beauty and diversity – from deep green valleys to mountains, ancient forests to glaciers and waterfalls. It is one of those rare places in the world that offers something to everyone. Whether you enjoy the peace and quiet of the remote valleys, or action packed activities, such as rock climbing and river rafting, there will be something for you to see and do.
It is no wonder that Yosemite National Park has been called the “the greatest temple of nature”. In John Muir’s own words, “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was ever permitted to enter”. Make sure you don’t miss the following sights any visitor to Yosemite should witness.
Yosemite National Park wilderness is home to countless waterfalls. The best time to see waterfalls is during spring, when most of the snowmelt occurs. Peak runoff typically occurs in April ,May or June depending on the snow season, with some waterfalls (including Yosemite Falls) often only a trickle or completely dry by August. Storms in late fall rejuvenate some of the waterfalls and all of them accumulate frost along their edges many nights during the winter. Visiting Yosemite National Park wilderness in winter is highly recommended ; it’s like a wonderland to peace, solitude and serenity.
Yosemite Falls, located in the central Sierra Nevada mountain range, is a major attraction in the park. At 2,425 feet, these Falls are one of the world’s tallest and is made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet).
Look for the ice cone at the base of the upper fall during winter, and for roaring runoff April through June. You can see Yosemite Falls from numerous places around Yosemite Valley, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge. A one-mile loop trail leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall (the eastern side of the loop, from the shuttle stop to the base of the waterfall, is wheelchair accessible).
Sentinel Falls, at about 2,000 feet, is located on the south side of Yosemite Valley, just west of Sentinel Rock. It comprises multiple cascades, which range in height from 50 to 500 feet. You can see this waterfall from areas along Southside Drive near the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area, and near the Four Mile Trailhead. Alternatively, you can view it from across Yosemite Valley near Leidig Meadow, or while hiking the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail.
Bridalveil Fall, at 620 feet, is often the first waterfall visitors see when entering Yosemite Valley. In spring, it thunders. During the rest of the year, look for its characteristic light, swaying flow. You can see Bridalveil Fall from near the tunnels on the Wawona Road (Highway 41) or Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120) and from a signed parking lot on your way into Yosemite Valley. You can walk to the base via a short, but steep (up to 24% slope), trail in just a few minutes.
You can also see Ribbon Fall from the road as you drive into Yosemite Valley, just beyond the turn for Bridalveil Fall (parking is available in turnouts).
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. Here visitors can look up in awe at one of the largest living things on Earth – a giant sequoia – and it’s also one of the oldest trees in the world. Within Yosemite’s Mariposa Grove of 500 giant sequoias, you will find trees of more than 2500 years old!
Glacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country, is accessible by car from approximately late May through to October/November. You can drive to the overlook via State Highway 41, or you can take the Glacier Point Tour. This is also a good starting or finishing point for some of Yosemite’s most popular trails, including the Four Mile Trail and the Panorama Trail.
Only two glaciers, the Lyell and Maclure, survived the ages. These ice bodies are important to local ecosystems because they provide a year-round supply of cold water to the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River, especially during the late summer and fall after the winter snowpack has melted.
The 145-mile-long Merced River is responsible for carving out a glacial valley know as Yosemite Valley. The valley is about 8 miles long and a mile deep, with an amazing vantage point offered at Valley view. The main fork of the Merced River is a great place for swimming, hiking, fishing, rafting, gold-panning, camping and general recreation during the summer months. It’s low elevation also makes it a great place for a day hike in the winter.
Discover the meadow section of Yosemite along the Tualomne River. Wild, wonderful plant and tree species include Ross’s edge, lodgepole pine and dwarf bilberry. The area also offers day-hike and camping opportunities, which is the best way to experience the true essence of the park.
Granite dominates the geology of Yosemite National Park. The park boundary perfectly frames a landscape that is composed almost entirely of granite, and it’s no surprise that this landscape contains some of the most iconic rock formations on earth.
Half Dome, the most well-known rock formation in Yosemite National Park, and perhaps even in the entire United States, is such a granite dome. It is located on the eastern end of Yosemite Valley. One side is a sheer granite face, while the other three sides are smooth and round, making it appear like a dome cut in half. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 feet (1,444 m) above the Valley floor. Half Dome towers above Yosemite Valley and can be easily seen from many vantage points around Yosemite by car. A couple of popular vista points include Tunnel View and Glacier Point.
El Capitan is 3,000 vertical feet of sheer rock granite. It is a beacon for visitors, inspiration for photographers and one of the world’s ultimate challenges for climbers.
And it can be viewed any day of the year, although some of the most poignant moments are during the last two weeks of February, when conditions align perfectly and the setting sun turns the waters of Horsetail Fall into a dancing fire of light. Another great view is from El Capitan Meadow. The view from this beautiful meadow is view straight up El Capitan and also provides a great view of Cathedral Rocks. Located along one-way N
orthside Drive, you can stop here on your way out of Yosemite Valley.
Journey along state route 41 and you’re in a for a treat. The viewpoint known as Tunnel View offer a breathtaking snapshot of Yosemite Valley and several of its attractions. This vista changes with each season to show something new, but the best times to see Tunnel View are early spring (when Bridalveil Fall is at peak flow) and winter, when the beautiful granite domes are draped in snow and mist. You will find it just outside the Wawona Tunnel. No hiking is required, you simply park at one of the lots and make your way to the vista. This spot can be very popular in summer, so try to arrive early.
A visit to Yosemite will not be complete without stopping at the Yosemite Museum and Visitor Center. Though few realize it, the Yosemite Museum was the first building constructed as a museum in the national park system, and its educational initiatives served as a model for parks nationwide. The primary collection was donated in 1925. The museum encourages visitors to view the exhibits chronologically, beginning with geological exhibits describing the formation of the Valley and proceeding through time to the stage coaches that brought early visitors to the park. The museum is open year-round and offers special exhibits.
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