Arguably the most beautiful National Park in the United States, Yosemite has towering rock formations, giant sequoia trees, cascading waterfalls and sweeping alpine wilderness. With millions of visitors a year you might have to jostle for the best view of Half Dome, but check our Yosemite travel guide for the best times to go, where to stay and how to minimize the crowds.
The Ahwahneechee people inhabited Yosemite for thousands of years before settlers ‘discovered’ it in the 1800s. The gold rush led to the US military removing the Native tribes and in 1890 it became a National Park, putting it on the map for the first tourists. Today you can hike, kayak, climb, gaze at the stars, or go wildlife spotting in this wild part of the US. This Yosemite travel guide acknowledges the history of the park to pay respect to the Native people who still live in the region and gives visitors a deeper understanding and connection to the landscape.
Best time to visit Yosemite
Yosemite is 1,169 square miles of near wilderness with varying terrains and varying climates. The best time of year to visit in terms of weather is between June and September but bear in mind visitor numbers are 5 to 6 times higher in July and August.
Spring and early summer are best for hiking through wildflower meadows and November to April are wonderfully quiet outside of the holidays. The high elevation Tioga road and the road to Glacier point are usually closed in November depending on the weather.
Where to stay in Yosemite
There are three main options in Yosemite: camping, hotels or lodging through sites like Airbnb in the gateway towns outside the park. Camping spots must be reserved and can be very competitive in the summer, but the upside is they only cost $6. There are 13 campsites and roughly half are first come, first served so arrive as early as possible.
The most budget friendly hotel in the park are the cabins and motels offered in Curry Village or the Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you want to splurge, The Ahwahnee has rooms from $426 and is a beautiful old hotel with a grand fireplace and heated pool.
Check out towns El Portal, Wawona, Mariposa and Groveland for lodging options near the park.
What to do in Yosemite
No Yosemite travel guide is complete without the downlow on Half Dome and El Capitan but if there’s going to be somewhere you step off the beaten track, make it Yosemite.
So, first things first. Half Dome is a magnificent chunk of rock 4,737 feet above the valley floor. Its sheer face looks out across the vast landscape and it's hard to take your eyes off it from the ground. To really knock your socks off, hike to the top where the last 400-foot ascent requires clinging from cables as you scale the dome. You’ll be rewarded with 360-degree views you will never forget.
A 3,000ft granite tower with a cascading waterfall in the winter. It attracts thrill seeking climbers from all over the world and is a sight you cannot miss.
It’s worth taking the car to be able to drive to Glacier Point, probably the most mind-blowingly scenic drive you’ll ever take. From this point you can take in all the big hits- Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and Clouds Rest. A huge scene that will make you feel very, very small.
Between Yosemite and Tuolumne Meadows and is a crystal-clear alpine lake surrounded by the peaks of the park. Shallow waters, sandy beaches and easy hikes make it a top summer draw.
Hetch Hetchy Valley
Not many visitors make it to to this peaceful northwest corner, which is exactly why you should head there. Further from the crowds you can take in the wildlife, flowers, waterfalls and lakes and enjoy the solitude of nature.
Best places to eat and drink in Yosemite
Of course, the best thing to eat in Yosemite is a s’more fresh from the campfire but you’ll probably need a little more sustenance for all that hiking. The Ahwahnee dining room is the most upmarket place to get dinner but there are plenty of more casual places. Curry Village has a pizza patio and open-air bar, Tuolumne Meadows has a summertime grill and Meadow Grill does breakfast burritos and rice bowls.
How to be conscious visitor to Yosemite
3 million visitors a year create a lot of trash, erosion and pollution. It’s important for any Yosemite travel guide to emphasize responsible travel. Take out any trash you bring with you, use eco-friendly bug spray and sunscreen, take reusable containers and don’t cause unnecessary noise or light pollution. And don’t forget to bear-proof any food if you’re camping!
Long Story Short…
Yosemite is one of the United States’ greatest landscapes and should be on everybody’s travel bucket list. We hope this Yosemite travel guide inspires some wilderness hiking and sleeping under the stars this summer or any other summer to come.
Written by Laura Sedlak