Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park

Sights To See

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley is accessible year-round via Highway 41 from Fresno, Highway 140 from Merced, and Highway 120 from Manteca. In late spring through late fall it is accessible via the Tioga Road (Highway 120 from Lee Vining).

Referred to as "the incomparable valley," Yosemite Valley is seven miles long and one-mile across (at its widest point). It is the most visited section of the park. The Valley was formed by glacial erosion over hundreds of thousands of years. See "The Evolution of Yosemite Valley".

The walls of the Valley are draped with waterfalls that usually run full in the spring and early summer. Visitors enjoy fields of flowers in summer, a show of colors in fall, and brilliant mountain light and relatively mild temperatures in winter. A number of recreational and educational opportunities are available including hiking, biking, nature walks, photography, ice skating, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing, and evening programs. Visitors can also take advantage of lodging, dining, tours and other visitor services. See Yosemite Today for a complete listing of facility hours and Valley activities and ranger programs.

An area rich in history and geologic marvels, Yosemite has a variety of sites you will definitely want to visit. Check at the Wilderness Center or at a visitor center for up-to-date information about trail conditions in the park.

Bridalveil Fall: The Ahwahneechee called this place Pohono, "Spirit of the Puffing Wind." The wind swirls about the cliff, often lifting the falling water and blowing it from side-to-side in a delicate free-fall. Although Bridalveil Fall appears small when viewed against the surrounding canyon walls, it actually has a 620-foot drop, the height of a 62-story building.

Yosemite Falls: The base of Lower Yosemite Fall is an easy walk from shuttle stop #6. Impressive views of both the upper and lower falls are seen on the path to the base. This hike features educational exhibits, a picnic area, and is accessible to the mobility impaired. The upper and lower falls, and an intermediate cascade, drop 2,425 feet and combine to make this the tallest waterfall in North America.

El Capitan: This massive, granite monolith stands 3,593 feet from base to summit. From spring to fall, climbers come from all over the globe to scale El Capitan. Note: Please park on the paved road shoulder next to El Capitan Meadow, as delicate meadows are easily damaged by trampling.

Half Dome: Yosemite's most distinctive monument, Half Dome, dominates most Valley views. Standing at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome rises to an elevation of 8,842 feet. At 87 million years old, the granite of Half Dome crystalized deep within the earth under miles of overlying rock. Forces of uplift, erosion from rivers and glaciers, and rockfall shaped this famous feature.

Happy Isles: W.E. Dennison, Guardian of Yosemite Valley from 1884 to 1887 wrote, "There are three islets… I have named them the Happy Isles, for no one can visit them without for a while forgetting the grinding strife of this world and be happy." Located at the far eastern end of Yosemite Valley, Happy Isles is a place to see dramatic natural processes at work. From the dazzling spray of springtime rapids in the Merced River to the quiet trickling of water through a fen (or marsh), Happy Isles is a must-see. It is easily reached by shuttle at stop #16. Cross the footbridges onto the Isles or wander through outdoor exhibits detailing Yosemite's geologic story. The Nature Center at Happy Isles is a great place to take kids (open early May through Labor Day). For a dayhike, visitors can use this trailhead to reach Vernal (0.75 miles) and Nevada Falls (3.5 miles). Visitors with mobility impairment can obtain a blue placard at the Valley Visitor Center or an entrance station that will authorize them to drive to the Nature Center at Happy Isles or Mirror Lake. Emergency flashers must be engaged on all personal vehicles traveling on the Mirror Lake Road.

Mirror Lake/Mirror Meadow: Mirror Lake is a moderately easy, one-mile walk from the shuttle bus at stop #17. During the springtime, you will see impressive views and mirror reflections of Tenaya Canyon and Half Dome. The lake is naturally evolving into a meadow and dries up by summer's end. If you're bicycling, park your bike at the base of the Mirror Lake hill and walk to the lake. Riding back down the hill is dangerous and not allowed on rental bikes, due to its steepness and amount of pedestrian traffic.

Valley View Turnout: As you exit the Valley (traveling westbound along Northside Drive), past El Capitan Meadow, you will find a turnout that looks back to El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. This serene spot, beside the Merced River, offers one of the most picturesque views of Yosemite Valley.

Tunnel View: Just outside of Yosemite Valley, one of the most photographed vistas in the world can be seen at the turnout at the eastern end of the Wawona Tunnel along the Wawona Road (Hwy 41). It provides a classic view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall. It is particularly spectacular at sunset or after the clearing of a storm.

Yosemite Valley Exhibit Hall: Located in the Valley Visitor Center, these new exhibits will take you on an interactive journey to learn how the landscape was formed, how wildlife adapts, how humans have affected (and been affected by) Yosemite and how the national park continues to evolve.


Located six miles from the park's South Entrance (near Highway 41 to Fresno; 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley), the Wawona area tells the story of Yosemite's human history and pioneer past. American Indians called the nearby giant sequoias "wawona," meaning the sound of the call of the owl (the guardian spirit of the Big Trees). The charming 19th century Wawona Hotel and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center are a history buff's delight. The center is a collection of historic buildings associated with the people and events that shaped the national park idea in Yosemite. Interpretive signs and a brochure provide a self-guiding tour.

A short drive from the hotel is the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Yosemite's largest stand of giant sequoias (about 500 trees), and one of three groves of giant sequoias in the park (road closed to vehicles late fall through early spring). Here, you'll marvel at one of the world's largest trees, the Grizzly Giant. Trail brochures are available in several languages. Take a one-hour tram tour of the grove (normally operating between mid-May and mid-October), which stops at the Mariposa Grove Museum. This audio tour is offered in multiple languages. This rustic log structure features exhibits detailing the natural history of these ancient trees (some date back well over 1,500 years). See Yosemite Today for a complete listing of activities and ranger programs. Audio Tour is now available in five languages and for the visually impaired. Note: To reduce traffic congestion and avoid parking delays, ride the free shuttle spring through fall from Wawona to the Grove. Trailers are not allowed on the Mariposa Grove Road, and vehicles 23 feet and longer are restricted from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily.

Glacier Point

Glacier Point is open late spring through late fall; 32 miles south of Yosemite Valley along Wawona and Glacier Point roads or 14 miles from Wawona to the Glacier Point Road junction.

In the southern part of the park, the Glacier Point Road takes you right to the brink of Yosemite Valley. Along the way to Glacier Point, marvel at green meadows and views of rounded domes and the Sierra Nevada's rugged eastern crest. Once at Glacier Point, go to the railing's edge and catch your breath at one of the most exhilarating overlooks on Earth. From this perch on the rim of Yosemite Valley, you can look down 3,214 feet to the Valley floor for an eagle's view of many of the popular features of Yosemite National Park. Ranger programs and tours from Yosemite Valley are offered in summer. The paved trail to Glacier Point is wheelchair-accessible.

Badger Pass Ski Area

Open mid-December through March (conditions permitting), Badger Pass is located on the Glacier Point Road, a 21-mile drive from Yosemite Valley.

California's original ski area, Badger Pass offers downhill skiing and snowboarding, as well as over 90 miles of trails for cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. Its gentle slopes combined with Yosemite's quiet beauty make this area a wonderful location for winter fun. Ranger-led snowshoe walks are given daily. (See "Winter Fun" for additional ski and pro-gram information.)

Hetch Hetchy

Hetch Hetchy is accessible via the Big Oak Flat Road and Evergreen and Hetch Hetchy Roads; 40 miles from Yosemite Valley. Vehicles over 25 feet are prohibited on the narrow Hetch Hetchy Road.

Once considered a twin to Yosemite Valley, this valley was described by John Muir as "a grand landscape garden, one of Nature's rarest and most precious mountain temples." Hetch Hetchy is located along the Tuolumne River in the northern part of the park and now contains a reservoir created by the O'Shaughnessy Dam. This dam was built to provide drinking water and hydroelectric power for the city of San Francisco, and its construction caused one of the greatest conservation battles in history. The fight against it was naturalist, John Muir's, last. He died a year after President Woodrow Wilson authorized the building of the dam through the Raker Act of 1913. The dam was completed in 1923 and raised to its pres- ent height in 1938. Some opposition to the dam remains today. Hetch Hetchy's towering cliffs, plunging waterfalls and quiet solitude make this a popular hiking area from spring to fall. Hetch Hetchy's relatively low elevation gives the area one of the longest hiking seasons in Yosemite. Lake Eleanor is also nestled in the northwestern edge of Yosemite. Fishing, camping, swimming and motorless boating are permitted on this reservoir. The Lake can be accessed from either Tuolumne City or Highway 120. More information is available at the Hetch Hetchy entrance station or visit www.nps.gov/yose/trip/places.htm to explore a virtual tour of Hetch Hetchy.

Tioga Road and High Country

Tioga Road and high country is open late May or early June through November. It begins at the Big Oak Flat Road intersection near Crane Flat.

Along the 39-mile scenic Tioga Road, the park's trans-Sierra Nevada crossing, there are numerous meadows, brilliant-blue lakes, huge granite domes and an extensive network of hiking trails. The road takes off from Big Oak Flat Road at Crane Flat, home to meadows and the trailhead to the Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. As you travel east, there are several campgrounds (available first-come, first-served) located along Tioga Road. White Wolf offers incredible wildflower shows, day hikes to glacial lakes, and nearby views to the Tuolumne River gorge and northern high country. One of the park's most spectacular vistas can be seen at Olmsted Point, where visitors can witness the immense power of the glaciers, which created sparkling Tenaya Lake with its sandy (but chilly) beaches, and Clouds Rest, which emerges like a granite backbone extending down Tenaya Canyon to a "backward" view of Half Dome.

Tuolumne Meadows

Tuolumne Meadows is accessible by vehicle when Tioga Road is open. In the winter, access is by ski or snowshoe only. It is located near Tioga Pass Entrance Station (Highway 120 from Lee Vining) at the park's eastern boundary.

Located in the heart of Yosemite's high country at an elevation of 8,575 feet, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada and a popular spot for high Sierra day hikes, fishing, camping and ranger programs. Here, the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River meanders peacefully after plummeting from its headwaters along the Dana and Lyell forks. Tuolumne Meadows not only serves as the park's backpacking base camp, its spectacular domes and peaks attract rock climbers from around the world. See Yosemite Today for a complete listing of facility hours, activities and ranger programs.