Yosemite National Park: The highlights

As I mentioned in my last post, Yosemite National Park really is the outdoor enthusiast’s dream. From hiking, climbing and cycling to horse-riding, rafting and BASE jumping, pretty much any activity you can think of can be done here – I was exhausted just watching everyone swish by on their bikes or head off into the wilderness with their big backpacks.

Unfortunately we only had a day and a half in the park, so after doing a hike to Lembert Dome the afternoon before, we opted for an easier day in Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite National Park Lembert Dome

Enjoying the view from the top of Lembert Dome

On the way we had a quick stop at Tuolumne Meadows, which is located in the west of the park and is filled with wild flowers and has outstanding views of the surrounding granite domes.

Yosemite National Park Toulouse Meadows

Looking down on Toulouse Meadows

We then drove on to Yosemite Valley. To give you an idea about how busy the valley gets, I’ll give you some stats. Yosemite National Park covers an area of 747,956 acres (3,026.87 km2) However most of the 3.7 million people who visit it every year spend their time in the valley, which is just seven square miles (18 km2). So, after the quietness of the north of the park, entering the valley can feel a bit like arriving in Disneyland, albeit it a greener one.

But despite the crowds, there’s no denying its beauty and you’d be hard pressed not to find something to fall in love with.

Here are just a few of our highlights:

Yosemite Falls

I’m a big fan of waterfalls and the park has a number of different ones, including Yosemite Falls, the highest in North America. We just followed the short one-mile loop trail to the base of Lower Yosemite, but it is also possible to do a day hike to the top of the falls.

Yosemite National Park Yosemite Falls

We visited in the summer, but the best time to see the falls is in the spring

El Capitan

El Capitan is a huge granite rock, which towers over the surrounding landscape. It’s one of the most well-known sights of Yosemite and can be reached by a hike. If you’d prefer to just admire it from the bottom, the best place to view it is from El Capitan Meadow, on your way out of Yosemite Valley.

Yosemite National Park El Capitan

The intimidating El Capitan

Half Dome

Half Dome is another granite formation and can be reached by following an 8.5 mile (13.7 km) trail from the valley floor. The last part is so steep that visitors have to use steel cables to haul themselves up. Not one for the faint-hearted.

Yosemite National Park Half Dome

The towering Half Dome

Mariposa Grove

Away from the valley, at the very south of the park, this grove of sequoias is filled with hundreds of redwood trees.

Some are estimated to be thousands of years old and two of its trees are among the 30 largest giant sequoias in the world. If ever anything is going to make you feel inconsequential in the world, it’s this.

Yosemite National Park Mariposa Grove

Standing underneath a tree which has been made into a tunnel

The details

Costs: It is $20 per car to enter the park for a 7-day pass.

Where to stay: Visitors can apply for a camping permit and there is also a range of accommodation available, from a metal-framed tent like the one we stayed in to more pricey lodges.

Getting around: As the park is so big, most people drive between the main spots. However, a free shuttle service also operates to cut down on congestion.

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