Is there a place more treasured within the U.S. National Park system than Yosemite National Park? This country’s modern understanding of conservation of public lands begins with the Yosemite’s designation as a National Park.
While the idea of Yosemite has great importance, the Park itself offers unimaginable beauty that can only be experienced in person! From the famous waterfalls, protruding cliffs, miles and miles of tranquil meadows, alpine beauty, giant and unique mountains, Yosemite has a lot of natural wonders.
I’ve been lucky to visit the Park twice so far and there is still so much to see and experience here!
Offering a variety of hikes that are fit for all abilities and levels of challenge, hiking in Yosemite National Park is a matter of picking your adventure. Generally, the park can be divided into four big areas with each offering a unique experience whether you’re on foot, vehicle or climbing.
Yosemite Valley: The most iconic part of the park is filled with valleys and unbelievable views of huge and plunging waterfalls (e.g., Yosemite Falls), towering granite walls (e.g., El Capitan) famous for offering some of the hardest climbs in the world, and views of impressive mountains (e.g., Half Dome). This is also where trailheads to some of the most popular hikes are located (e.g., John Muir Trail, Mist Trail, etc.). Although this part of Yosemite is open year around, the full range of services is only available seasonally. When visiting the Yosemite Valley don’t forget to make a stop at the famous tunnel view for a mind-blowing glimpse of the three iconic wonders of Yosemite framed into one view.
Glacier Point Area: Nearly a 45-minute drive away from Yosemite Valley, this area offers some breathtaking views of Yosemite. From Glacier Point visitors can see unencumbered views of Half Dome or catch a breathtaking sunset at Taft Point. This area is full of Instagram worthy spots, but closed for the winter and can open fairly late into spring.
Tuolumne Meadows Area: Most notable for meadows filled with incredible wildflowers in late spring and early summer, this area offers pristine alpine lakes, picturesque views of the Cathedral Range and a glimpse into the Sierra Mountains. There are day hikes and backpacking adventures galore to be had in Tuolumne Meadows but it is only accessible seasonally via the Tioga Pass Road, the highest mountain pass in the west coast.
Hetch Hetchy Area: This is one of the most remote and least crowded parts of Yosemite. The granite valleys, streams and creeks can feel like it’s own reward. For those taking on a multi-day trip in to this area, there is a camping area dedicated to backpackers.
– Mist Trail
– Yosemite Falls
– Taft Point
– Soda Springs & Parson’s Lodge
– Clouds Rest (Backpacking)
– Half Dome (Day Hike/Backpacking)
– John Muir Trail (Multi-Day Backpacking)
There are several airports within driving distance to Yosemite National Park. The YARTS shuttle is available for transportation between the airport and the park. Reservations are required and the price of the ticket includes the entrance fee to Yosemite.
The loop road that encircles Yosemite Valley sees heavy congestion during summer months, so park officials encourage visitors to use the free Yosemite shuttle service when traveling within the Park. If you’re planning to spend most of your time in Yosemite Valley, you can get away with not having a car.
There are a plethora of large and small airports to choose for your travels to Yosemite.
As with other National Parks, there is an entrance fee for Yosemite National Park.
– Cars/Other Vehicles, $35; Motorcycles, $30; & Bicycle/Walk-In, $20/per person (seven day pass)
– Annual Yosemite Pass (unlimited visits to Yosemite): $70
– Annual National Park Pass (unlimited entrance to any public lands operated by NPS): $80
From deluxe rooms to open air sleeping areas, there are nine different type of lodges inside Yosemite. Reservations for each of these open 366 days in advance of the date of arrival and are managed by Yosemite Hospitality.
There are 13 campgrounds within Yosemite and eight of them require reservations during peak season and the remaining five are first-come, first-served. These campgrounds fill up early in the day. The water source for three of the campgrounds is a nearby creek, so regular restrooms are not available either.
Group sites are available at Wawona, Hodgdon Meadow, Bridalveil Creek, and Tuolumne Meadows campgrounds. Horse sites are available at Hodgon Meadow, Bridalveil Creek and Tuolumne Meadows but reservations are available by phone only (209.375.9535).
High Sierra Camps: Yosemite offers a unique hiking experience for the 50 mile loop in the most beautiful terrain of Yosemite’s high country. Each camp is located 5 to 10 miles apart and offers basic accommodations along with breakfast and dinner. Reservations are awarded on a lottery basis and open in October for the upcoming summer season.
Backcountry Camping: There are many backcountry campgrounds in Yosemite including Little Yosemite Valley, for hikers that want to break up their Half Dome trek. Reservations for these sites are managed through Yosemite’s wilderness permit system.
Private Rentals & Gateway Towns:
There are several types of private rentals within the park boundary in Yosemite West, Foresta and Wawona. There are a range of towns and small cities surrounding Yosemite in every direction of the Park with varying degrees of services.
– Yosemite National Park Website
– YARTS Airport Shuttle
– Curated Day Hike List
– Hiker Reviews
– Wilderness/Backcountry Permits
– Half Dome Permits
– John Muir Trail Permits
– High Sierra Camps & Other Park Lodging
– Private Rentals (Yosemite West, Foresta, and Wawona)
– Gateway Towns Guide
The Ahwahnechee inhabited the lands now known as Yosemite Valley for centuries and the Central Sierra Miowok (Me-Wuk) in the area near Tuolumne Meadows. These two tribes and several others were trading partners along a major trading route over Mono Pass.
In the mid 19-century a rush of white settlers started encroaching on Ahwahnechee land in search of gold. The tensions between the two groups resulted in the year-long Mariposa Wars, which ended when a government-funded militia pursuing Ahwahnechee fighters entered Yosemite Valley, burned the villages, and marched the people to a reservation in Fresno, California. Several years later, a small group of Ahwahnechee successfully petitioned the U.S. government to return to Yosemite Valley. (Source: Outside Magazine)
For the Central Sierra Me-Wuk, gold mining caused irreparable damage to the land and environment which made their way of life untenable in the Tuolumne Meadows. They were also hard hit by diseases the settlers brought with them and the government made several attempts to forcibly remove and annihilate the surviving Me-Wuk. As a result of the culmination of all three threats, the Me-Wuk fled their homeland for more isolated areas. (Source: The Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians)
Yosemite became a battleground between conservation-minded and business-minded settlers after the native communities were forcibly removed from their lands. John Muir emerged as a fierce advocate for the “people-free” public land movement, which in part was driven by his racist perception of native people and became a strategy to unjustly and forcibly indigenous communities from their lands. After Yosemite was officially designated a National Park in 1890, the National Park Service led several evictions campaigns to remove the few remaining families from within the boundaries of Yosemite. In 1969, Yosemite staff evicted the last Ahwahnechee people living in the park and razed their homes. (Source: Outside Magazine)
Although the Ahwahnechee integrated with other native communities in the region, the Central Sierra Me-Wuk still live in the area and advocate for land rights within Yosemite. In 2019, after decades of advocacy Yosemite National Park signed a 30-year agreement with the American Indian Council of Mariposa County to build and use a wahhoga (village) inside Yosemite although no one will live there.