Yosemite guide: what you need to know for an ideal vacation in the park - ForumDaily
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Yosemite Guide: What You Need to Know for the Perfect Park Vacation

Travel&Leisure told you how to plan the perfect trip to Yosemite National Park. Naturalists and park experts shared their secrets to a great getaway.

Woman hiker with a yellow backpack on her back climbing a stone path next to Nevada Fall

Photo: iStock.com/Stefan Tomic

National Park Yosemite, known throughout the world for its majestic granite monoliths and stunning beauty, received UNESCO World Heritage Site status back in 1984. Yosemite boasts five of the tallest waterfalls on the planet, pristine streams, three redwood groves, picturesque meadows and rich biodiversity. The park offers a variety of activities and experiences.

To enjoy all that Yosemite has to offer, there are a few important aspects you should know, including logistics, routes, and places to stay.

Planning your visit

Standard input ticket Costs $20-$35 - all depending on whether you walk, enter by motorcycle or drive a personal vehicle with up to 15 passengers. The pass applies to everyone in the vehicle and is valid for seven consecutive days.

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A $70 annual admission ticket gives you access to Yosemite for 12 months. The park is open year-round, although some roads, such as Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road, are closed during the winter season due to snow.

Advance reservations are required to enter Yosemite from April 13 to October 27, with a few exceptions:

  • from April 13 to June 30, reservations are required on weekends and holidays only;

  • From July 1 to August 16, reservations must be made every day of the week;

  • From 17 August to 27 October, reservations are required for weekends and holidays only.

Each reservation costs $2. Tickets can be bought here.

How to get there

There are five main entrances to Yosemite:

  • Hetch Hetchy Entrance: This seasonal entrance is accessed from Highway 120, which crosses the park;
  • Big Oak Flat Entrance: Located just off Highway 120, this is a convenient entry point if you're coming from the Bay Area;
  • Arch Rock Entrance: If you're visiting in winter, choose this year-round entrance off Highway 140;
  • South Entrance: This is best if you're coming from San Diego or Los Angeles;
  • Tioga Pass Entrance: Accessed via Highway 120, it is open May through October.

Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) operates year-round on Highway 140 from Merced, California to the park's Central Valley. There are also seasonal routes. You can stay in one of the nearby communities (such as Merced, Mariposa, Midpines and El Portal) and take advantage of YARTS, which connects with other transportation companies Amtrak and Greyhound.

Best time to visit

What's the best time to visit Yosemite?

“Perhaps, when tourists ask this question, they mean the good weather season. But I think Yosemite is best explored in snow or rain, even though people consider it bad weather. To me, that's when Yosemite is so amazing,” said Corey Gehring, Yosemite's senior naturalist who has lived in the park for 17 years. “On my desktop or on my phone, I don’t put photos of beautiful sunny days in Yosemite, but rather cloudy days when the clouds move over the rocks.”

Winter and early spring are Goering's favorite times of year to visit the park. An unexpected snowstorm can create spectacular scenery. If you visit Yosemite in winter, be sure to monitor weather conditions, which can be unpredictable. In addition, keep in mind that you will have to tinker with the chains on the tires.

“The next day after a heavy downpour, you come out in the morning and the fog rises over the valley. “The clouds sliding over the rocks is amazing,” Goering noted. “These conditions require a little more planning, but these are some of the most magical times in Yosemite.”

Although it all depends on what you need. Some experts recommend spring if you're a fan of waterfalls and wildflowers. High passes and viewpoints may be closed if it snows. For the best treks, experts recommend the period from June to August, especially if you want to go to high altitude areas. Just keep in mind that there will be more tourists.

The earlier you go in the summer, the less likely you are to encounter complications associated with wildfires.

Best entertainment

Yosemite Valley

In addition to famous views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley features visitor centers as well as access to many trails. Goering suggests walking through the meadows and along the river to fully appreciate the beauty of the park.

“It’s not just about the peaks and it’s not just about going to the top,” said Micah Meyer, who visited 3 U.S. National Park Service sites over three years. He became the first person to do this in one trip. “I encourage you to explore the paved loop trail on foot or by bike.”

Giant sequoias in Mariposa Grove

“Here in Yosemite there are three groves of giant sequoias and a Mariposa grove. This is a grove of over 500 mature giant sequoias. In a sense, these redwoods helped spark the idea of ​​a national park,” Gehring explained.

In 1864, Abraham Lincoln's Yosemite Land Grant protected Mariposa Grove and Yosemite Valley, laying the foundation for the national park system. Although not the first national park (Yellowstone holds that honor), Yosemite's conservation efforts were instrumental in the formation of the National Park Service.

Sunset at Glacier Point

Enjoy a breathtaking sunset at Glacier Point, accessible by road up the mountain.

“The lift is easily accessible for wheelchairs. You can easily walk right up to the point and see the Yosemite Valley at an altitude of almost 900 m,” Goering emphasized.

“Plan to stay at least 30 minutes,” Meyer advised.

Trip to the tunnel

“The view of the tunnel is one of the most iconic views in the entire national park system,” Meyer said.

Guided hike

Guided walks accompanied by a naturalist or park ranger provide insight into Yosemite's geological history and diverse ecosystem. If you're short on time or unfamiliar with the area, a guide's experience will greatly enhance your Yosemite trip.

Astronomical programs

Yosemite's stargazing opportunities are incredible. Even without an official program, you should admire the night sky—you might even witness phenomena such as the lunar arcs at Yosemite Falls during the full moon.

“There is a saying that half the park is only visible at night,” Goering said. “At night, the cosmic desert opens up.”

The best hikes

There is no shortage of incredible hikes in Yosemite. Yosemite Valley Loop Trail offers full and partial route options of 17 km or 11 km respectively. Enjoy lush forests, meadows, and scenic pedestrian bridges over the Merced River.

Cathedral Lakes Trail takes you into the alpine region of Yosemite through the Tuolumne Meadows. Mist Trail - to Vernal Falls. Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are gentle trails with great views. And a small trail hidden behind the Happy Isles Nature Center takes you to Fen, a serene area teeming with wildlife.

Goering's favorite trail Four-mile Trail - it is difficult, but interesting and leads to Glacier Cape via the Panorama Trail.

“Climb up to Glacier Point to see this panorama. You'll need to climb out of the valley next to Sentinel Rock, and then you'll be back on the Panorama Trail through Illilouette Falls. Or take the Mist Trail, which I don’t recommend. This trail will be tough on your knees. But you can return via the John Muir Trail. True, this will add an extra kilometer, but the descent there is a little softer,” he clarified.

Places to stay

Chateau du Sureau

If you want equal parts luxury and adventure on your trip to Yosemite, head to Chateau du Sureau, Relais & Châteaux Hotel. This holiday country house is reminiscent of the south of France with 10 rooms and a luxurious manor house.

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Firefall Ranch

A new rustic place called Firefall Ranch near Yosemite's northwest entrance offers 55 cottages and villas on spacious grounds. Each room features luxurious amenities such as indoor/outdoor fireplaces and covered patios.

Tenaya Lodge

Hotel Tenaya Lodge located near the southern entrance to Yosemite. It offers a variety of rooms, as well as three different restaurants, including a pizzeria. Cottages have private entrances, outdoor seating areas and fireplaces. For more privacy, you can choose Explorer dwellings. They offer rooms with two bedrooms, a cozy living room and a private terrace.

Rush Creek Lodge

Located near the northwest entrance of Big Oak Flat, Rush Creek Lodge offers cozy cottages and villas and secluded living amid the natural beauty of Yosemite.

Upper and Lower Pines Campgrounds

Upper and Lower Pines Campgrounds suitable for family holidays.

“We get four million visitors a year from all over the world, so you can camp next to someone who has flown here from the other side of the world,” Goering said.

Camp 4

Camp 4, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is a first-come, first-served campground. It is located near Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Valley.

Places to eat

Restaurant Elderberry House at Château du Sureau has maintained its status as the region's premier fine dining restaurant for over three decades with its seasonal menu and wines. From the hotel dining room Ahwahnee, located in the park, offers a surreal view.

“Bring lunch and find a rock near a river or a spot you like. Eat a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It might be the best peanut butter and jelly sandwich you've ever had on the banks of the Merced River, with the chirping of a red-winged blackbird and the sound of Yosemite Falls,” Gehring concluded.

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