The ultimate guide for visiting Yosemite National Park

por Postcards from IvI

If I had to recommend only one destination for travelers who travel to the United States and love outdoors it would definitely be to visit Yosemite National Park in California. Stunning landscapes, mountains, forests, waterfalls, lakes and wildlife. Visiting Yosemite National Park is an amazing experience. 

Yosemite is the temple of nature, as described by naturalist John Muir who was one of the people who promoted the foundation of Yosemite National Park in 1890. There is no easy way to describe the greatness of Yosemite. Even if you see photos of the park, you have to visit it to understand its immensity.

How to get to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is located about 300 km east of San Francisco and it is a must stop in any West Coast road trip. These are the different ways you can get to Yosemite:

  • By car

 The best way to visit Yosemite is by car. The park has parking lots at different points and the routes to the park are great. In my opinion this is the best option to visit Yosemite since it allows you to visit the park at your own pace and stop whenever you want without depending on a tour schedule.

Some of the most popular car rental companies in US are Hertz, Alamo, Budget, Avis, etc. I always recommend using rentalcars.com, a website that compares prices of all rental companies and usually offers a lower price than by booking directly with the rental company.

  • Bus

If you don’t have a car, you can also get to Yosemite by bus. YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transit System) buses have several routes to Yosemite from different cities in California such as: Merced, Sonora, Mammoth Lakes and Fresno.

If you are staying in San Francisco you can take an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus to Merced and get on the YARTS that will leave you at Yosemite visitor center. More information about prices, schedules and routes of the buses at yarts.com.

Another option is to book this private transfer offered by GetYourGuide. They have pickup points at different hotels in San Francisco.  

Yosemite offers a free shuttle service to move within the park between the different areas. For more info about transport in Yosemite check put the official site.

  • Tours to Yosemite

If you can’t rent a car or you simply don’t want to worry about transport you can join a tour. Most tours start at San Francisco, here are some options:

1-day tour to Yosemite + Sequoias: a 1-day tour that starts in SF and stops by the Giant Sequoia trees before returning.

Yosemite + Alcatraz: a 2-day combo that combines Yosemite with San Francisco’s iconic prison. Includes transportation to Yosemite, entrance ticket to Yosemite and ticket for Alcatraz.

2-day tour to Yosemite: if you have time I strongly suggest you take this tour as you’ll have more time to see Yosemite. It includes the transportation to and from San Francisco and a stay at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. 

Best times to visit Yosemite

You can visit Yosemite at any time of the year. Each season has its advantages depending on what you like to do.

  • April-May: Spring is the best time to visit Yosemite and see the waterfalls at their peak.
  • June-August: Summer is the best time for those who want to go hiking in Yosemite. It is also the most popular season in terms of visitation so it can be a bit crowded, specially on weekends.
  • September-November: During autumn most of the routes and trails remain open (unless a lot of snow falls) and you will be able to visit the park with very few visitors. At this time the waterfalls barely have water. The autumn foliage is beautiful and September is a great month for hiking.
  • December-March: During winter some access routes to the park close so always check the conditions of the routes on the official Yosemite website. Most of the hiking trails also remain closed in winter due to the snow but the good thing is that you will see a unique landscape with all the snowy mountains and there will less people visiting the park.

Entrance fees to Yosemite

There are several types of passes and tickets to enter Yosemite. Tickets can be purchased online or directly when entering the park. The options are:

  • 7-day pass per vehicle (up to 15 people): USD$35 per vehicle
  • 7-day pass per person if entering on foot or bicycle (over 16 years old): USD$20 per person
  • Annual pass: USD$70 per person

There are also free entrance days within the year. You can check all the info at Yosemite website.

How many days should you visit Yosemite National Park?

Yosemite is huge and the number of days will depend on the activities you want to do and the time you have.

If you visit by car, I recommend a 3-day stay to explore the park at your own pace and enjoy the scenery.

Where to stay in Yosemite National Park

 Many people travel to Yosemite from San Francisco and go back that same day to sleep in the city. I don’t recommend doing this because it is not a short trip and you will spend a lot of time driving and seeing only a small part of the park. The best thing is to sleep at least 1 night in the park or near it.

Accommodation inside Yosemite National Park

If you want to spend a night inside the park you need to book a place as soon as possible, specially if you’re traveling during summer. If it’s too late and everything is booked (as I experienced) you can still find a place to stay near Yosemite National Park.

Yosemite offers visitors different lodging options, from luxurious hotels to cheap motels, cabins and campsites. Waking up and being surrounded by the mountains of Yosemite is a unique experience.

These are some options:

Accommodation near Yosemite National Park

Another option is to sleep in any of the cities located near the access points to the park where you can find a lot of accommodation options with different categories and prices. You will have to drive everyday to the park but it is a great option.

There are 5 entry points to Yosemite: Hetch Hetchy Entrance, Big Oak Flat Entrance, Arch Rock Entrance, South Entrance and Tioga Pass Entrance. Some nearby cities where you can stay (as long as you have a car to go to the park every day) are: Mariposa, Oakhurst and Sonora.

These are some  of the accommodation options:

What to see in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park covers an area of 3,029 km so there are obviously many places to see. The main attractions are located in the area of Yosemite Valley.

Main areas in Yosemite National Park:

  • Yosemite Valley: Yosemite Valley is where many of the famous cliffs and waterfalls are located. I will detail each place you can visit below.
  • Mariposa Grove: located in the southern area of the park, Mariposa Grove is where you will find more than 500 giant sequoias!
  • Crane Flat: a pleasant forest and meadow area located near the Tuolumne and Merced Groves of Giant Sequoias.
  • Tuolumne Meadows y Tioga Road: Tioga Road is a 47-mile scenic drive that crosses Yosemite. The Tioga Road is open from May or June through October or November. Tuolumne Meadows is a large meadow surrounded by peaks and domes. During summer Amtrak trains and YARTS buses have a service to Tuolumne Meadows.

Main places to visit in Yosemite Valley:

Yosemite Valley is where most of the park attractions are located and therefore the most visited area. Some of the main attractions are:

  • Valley Visitor Center: this is where you can find all the information you need about the park and activities.
  • Yosemite Museum: a museum offering exhibits about the park’s history.
  • The Ansel Adams Gallery: if you love photography you can’t miss visiting the Ansel Adams Gallery, a photographer famous for his incredible photos from the park.
  • Tunnel View: a viewpoint with an amazing view of the valley. It is located at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel along the Wawona Road (Highway 41).
  • El Capitán: El Capitán is a vertical rock formation 914 m tall. The favorite place for climbers.

Yosemite National Park - El Capitan

  • Half Dome: the symbol of Yosemite. Half Dome is a 1440 metre high granite dome. You can hike or rock-climb to the top. 

The ultimate guide for visiting Yosemite National Park

  • Yosemite Falls: Yosemite Falls are composed of the upper, the middle and the lower falls. You can see them from different points at the valley and there are also hiking routes to them. They are a must-see especially if you travel during spring, when they’re at their peak.
  • Mirror Lake: a small lake located in Tenaya Canyon.
  • El Capitan Meadow: a great area to admire El Capitán.
  • Sentinel Bridge: a bridge from where you can see the Half Dome reflected in the Merced River. 
  • Glacier Point: a viewpoint with the best views from Yosemite. You can get there by car or hiking the 4 mile trail. During winter the road to Glacier Point remains closed.

Things to do in Yosemite National Park

There are plenty of activities to do in Yosemite, it will all depend on your interests and the climate. During winter you can ice skate. During spring and summer you can hike, fish, camp, bike through the park and more.

Hiking in Yosemite National Park

For the ones who love hiking Yosemite is perfect! Each area of the park has different hikes from easy to strenuous ones. You can check out all the day hikes here

  • Lower Yosemite Falls: this short trail is perfect for the day of arrival, when you don’t have much time because it’s not far from the road. Peak flow is May. I went in July, when it becomes only a trickle.

Yosemite Lower Falls hiking

  • Sentinel Meadow: easy walk through the meadows enjoying beautiful views of Yosemite Falls and Half Dome. Also perfect for the day of arrival as it doesn’t require a big effort.

  • Four Mile Trail: This hike takes 3-4 hours one-way and offers spectacular views of the valley. You need to start as early as you can because it becomes really hot at midday. The trail ends up at Glacier Point, where you get to see unique views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite’s high country. It is also accessible by car

Tips for visiting Yosemite National Park:

  • Plan your visit: there are many places to see in Yosemite, so the best thing to do is to plan ahead which places you want to visit so you don’t lose time at the park.
  • Respect wildlife: It is very likely that you encounter wildlife at the park. Don’t feed squirrels, deers or any other animal you see.

The ultimate guide for visiting Yosemite National Park

  • If you hike: follow the park’s recommendations: bring enough water, use the right clothes and shoes, stay on the established trail, inform someone of where you’re going and when you plan to return. Make noise so you prevent an encounter with bears as they won’t come close to the trail if they hear noise.
  • Visiting Yosemite with your pet: In case you were wondering if you could bring your dog, the answer is yes! dogs in Yosemite are allowed. Visit Yosemite National Park website to know exactly which places in the park are dog friendly.
  • Where to eat at Yosemite: There are different restaurants and shops inside the park where you can eat. Check out Yosemite’s website to see the location of all the restaurants. There are also stores where you can buy groceries, drinks and souvenirs. Most of them are located close to the camping sites.
  • Yosemite has a service of free shuttles that take you throughout Yosemite Valley. You can park your car and use the shuttles to move around. More information here

Yosemite National Park was one of my favorite visits in California and I’ll definitely plan to go again soon. A real temple of Nature which grand scale beauty will make you feel tiny.

I hope this guide for visiting Yosemite National Park helps you plan your trip. If you have any questions please comment below or send me an email. 

Disclaimer: This post contains affiliate links. That means, if you click on certain links within this post and make a purchase, I earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. Read more about it here.

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Rebecca April 14, 2016 - 8:45 am

Yosemite is incredible! I was there back in 1991 and would love to visit again. If anyone is even considering a visit, don’t hesitate. One of the most beautiful places in the US.

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Virgen Eells April 6, 2016 - 4:48 am

I’m grateful you decided to be talking about this. Feeling enlightened!

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Anita March 17, 2016 - 8:38 am

Great post, nice pictures. I was short of time to include it in my previous visit to California. Maybe next time. Thanks for sharing!

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:53 am

Thank you! Definitely worth visiting 🙂

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carla March 17, 2016 - 8:10 am

Yosemite has been on my bucketlist for the longest time! Aaargghhh need to act on it soon! Great photos, I’m dying with envy.

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:55 am

Thank you Carl! you should go 🙂

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GlobalMary March 16, 2016 - 12:12 pm

This park is one of the mein reasons I want to go to the USA. Great post!

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:55 am

Thank you Mary!

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Crazy Travelista March 16, 2016 - 11:52 am

I lived in Cali for 8 years and I never made it out to Yosemite…and I’m kicking myself for it! It looks absolutely incredible!

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:58 am

Yes it is beautiful! Hope you have the chance to go someday 🙂

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Jacqueline March 16, 2016 - 11:18 am

Omigod. YES YES YES YES YES. I always want to read about Yosemite, and your photos are legit. I’ve only ever seen Yosemite Trickle, ha, and when I went Mirror Lake (Mirror Pond? something like that) was a puddle — but the entire area is still so amazing. Great post!

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:57 am

Thank you Jacqueline! I’m glad you liked it 🙂

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Jess March 16, 2016 - 10:53 am

I have several friends who want to travel to Yosemite and I never really got the enthusiasm for the place. Your post really opened my eyes about this beautiful location.

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 9:58 am

I’m glad it did Jess! You should go 🙂

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Valery March 16, 2016 - 10:51 am

Wow! Loved the pictures in this post! Adding this to my “Will visit list”.

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 10:00 am

That’s great Valery 😀

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Sarah March 16, 2016 - 10:34 am

I’ve always wanted to go to Yosemite but haven’t had the chance. Thanks for bringing me on this tour.

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Postcards from IvI March 18, 2016 - 10:09 am

Thank you Sarah!

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Stephanie March 16, 2016 - 10:19 am

We have such great destinations here in the US. I really need to make sure to visit some of these!

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Natasha March 16, 2016 - 10:11 am

Great post! I’m currently living in Asia, but when I head back home — I want to explore so much more of the United States! I would love to see gorgeous Yosemite someday! Thanks for the write-up and the great photos. 🙂

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Postcards from IvI March 28, 2016 - 3:32 pm

Thanks Natasha! You should, your country is beautiful 🙂

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