Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a big park; you're bound to spend part of your time driving. But that should be a pleasure, not a pain. The Sierra scenery can't be beat, and there are plenty of places to stop to grab a view or a leg-stretching hike. The bulk of tourist traffic is in Yosemite Valley in the summer. You may have heard of the traffic snarls: They're real, but not constant. If you want to see the valley, either try to get a very early start, or go during the off-season. If that doesn't work into your schedule, we highly recommend the other, less-trafficked areas of Yosemite. Mariposa Grove is where to go to see the big trees. You can see down into the valley at Glacier Point. The Tioga Road portion of Highway 120 passes through the park, with many attractions on the way, including Crane Flat, another big tree spot, and the unsurpassed Tuolomne Meadows. Hetch Hetchy is where you're most likely to get a little solitude.
When all's said and done, there's scarcely a part of this park that isn't thrilling...
Yosemite Valley is world famous for its impressive waterfalls, cliffs, and unusual rock formations. It is open year-round and is reached via Highway 41 from Fresno, Highway 140 from Merced, Highway 120 from Manteca, and in late spring through late fall via Highway 120 from Lee Vining (the Tioga Road). Many activities and services are available in Yosemite Valley.
Located at the eastern (valley) end of the Wawona Tunnel on Route 41, this is one of the most photographed vistas in the world. Stop, get out of your car and see what the fuss is all about. This is the classic vista of Yosemite Valley.
The Ahwahneechee called this Pohono, "spirit of the puffing wind." The wind swirls about the cliff, lifting and blowing the water from side to side. Bridalveil Fall is not served by the shuttle bus, but can easily be see reach by automobile on your way into the valley. The short walk from the parking area to the Fall is wheelchair accessible, with assistance.
The base of Yosemite Falls is an easy walk from Shuttle Bus Stop #7. Impress views of both the upper and lower falls are seen on the path to the base of the falls. The short walk from the parking area to the Fall is wheelchair accessible, with assistance.
At Shuttle Bus Stop #16, Happy Isles and the Nature Center provide family-centered exhibits, and wonderful wheelchair- and stroller-accessible paths that wind around the rushing Merced River. This is an ideal place for a family outing. The Valley Junior Ranger program operates from the Nature Center during summer months and there are many educational (and interesting!) exhibits in the new Nature Center.
Mariposa Grove and Wawona
The Mariposa Grove of Giants Sequoias is located 36 miles (1 and 1/4 hour) south of Yosemite Valley via Highway 41, two miles from the park's South Entrance Station. The Mariposa Grove is the largest stand of giant sequoias in Yosemite and home of the Grizzly Giant, the oldest tree in the Grove and one of the largest sequoias in the world. The road to the Mariposa Grove is not plowed in winter and is subject to closures for extended periods. Activities include hiking, ranger-led walks, and for a fee, tram tours of the Grove from late spring through fall.
Glacier Point, an overlook with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the High Sierra is located 30 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Valley. From Yosemite Valley, take Highway 41 for 14 miles to the Chinquapin junction, then turn left onto Glacier Point Road. The road ends at Glacier Point. In winter, the road is plowed as far as the Badger Pass Ski area and Glacier Point can be reached via skis or snowshoes only.
A visit to Glacier Point for sunrise is highly recommended. For a special evening, enjoy the sunset and stay to watch the moon rise and the stars come out.
Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows
The Tioga Road portion of Highway 120, generally open from late spring through late fall, offers a 39-mile scenic drive through forests and past meadows, lakes, and granite domes between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows. Many turnouts offer broad and beautiful vistas.
Tuolumne Meadows is a large, open sub-alpine meadow graced by the winding Tuolumne River and surrounded by majestic peaks and domes. Picnic areas and miles of hiking trails are available. A hikers' bus and free local shuttle bus service operate during the summer. During the winter, this area is only accessible by cross-country skis or snowshoes.
Crane Flat is a pleasant forest and meadow area located 16 miles from Yosemite Valley on Highway 120. Travel into the Tuolumne Grove of giant sequoia is limited to foot traffic. Park at the Tuolumne Grove parking area. The two-mile (3.2 km) round-trip has an elevation change of 500 feet. (150 meters). This moderate to strenuous hike will take approximately two hours for the round-trip. Nature walks with a ranger to the big trees are offered during the summer.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, a source of drinking water for San Francisco, is also home to spectacular scenery and is the starting point for many less-used back-country trails. Towering cliffs and high waterfalls are easily seen from the walkway on top of O'Shaughnessy Dam. Hetch Hetchy Reservoir is located 40 miles from Yosemite Valley via Highway 120 and Evergreen and Hetch Hetchy Roads. Although the road to Hetch Hetchy is open year-round, it may close periodically due to snow in winter and spring. Vehicles over 25 feet are prohibited on the road to Hetch Hetchy due to its narrowness.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication