Editor’s Note: The recent shutdown of portions of Yosemite, due to the deadly Ferguson fire, had this beloved National Park and the state of California on the minds of many across the U.S. But now that the fire has been contained by some amazing, hard-working individuals, the park is getting back to normal operations and you can start planning (or re-planning) your visit! However, please keep in mind that these tips from our contributor are based on her family’s trip in the spring, so just make sure you check that you will have access to these destinations before heading out on your own Yosemite adventure.
Yosemite is a magical place and one of those locations you should visit at least once in your lifetime. When you drive into the valley, you see these massive mountains and beautiful scenery all around you … and that’s just the start. We highly recommend spending a week exploring Yosemite National Park and have included our tips and can’t-miss activities below.
Where to Camp
If you can fit and if you can get a spot, definitely stay in Yosemite National Park. You will be so glad that you did. Staying in the park at one of the campgrounds means you won’t have to wait in line at the entrance to get in every day. You can walk or take the bus to pretty much everywhere in the Valley.
Note: There is no sewer, electric or water hookups at any of the campgrounds, so be prepared for that. But I promise it is worth it! They do have water spigots located near the bath houses in the campgrounds, so you can fill large containers of water to bring back to your campsite. They also allow generator usage during certain times of the day. But, they do not have a dump station in the park. Check their website for more details.
Also, for those that are traveling full-time and need internet for work, or those just dying to share their pictures on social media, there was a strong Verizon signal at most of the campgrounds in the Valley.
If you can’t stay in the park, another option is the Yosemite Valley Thousand Trails Campground. The campground is very nice, but it will take you about one hour to get into Yosemite Valley and there is absolutely NO internet at the campground. They also offer a bus that runs from the campground to the Valley daily.
Hiking the Mist Trail
We have done a lot of hiking through our travels and one of our favorites of all time is in Yosemite – The Mist Trail. On this hike, you walk right up and past a massive waterfall – especially if you visit in the spring.
It is a strenuous hike (2000’ elevation gain). So, if hiking isn’t your thing, you may want to just start the hike and stop at the view of the falls. However, if you are able to keep going, then do it! I promise it is worth it when you get to the top of the falls.
Visiting Lower Yosemite Falls
If you are looking for something easier, then Lower Yosemite Falls is for you. It is about a one-mile loop hike to the gorgeous falls. However, this hike does attract a huge crowd since it is short and easily accessible.
Drive to Glacier Point
We loved taking a drive up to this amazing viewpoint in Yosemite. The views at Glacier Point are spectacular! You can walk around the area and get a variety of different views of Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Half Dome and the waterfalls around the park.
They also have a concession stand and gift shop up there. It does get busy, so if you want a parking spot, you should plan on getting there before 9 a.m.
Half Dome Village
Half Dome Village is an interesting place to visit. You get your rock climbers that are staying at Camp 4, who totally look rough, rugged and maybe like they haven’t showered in a week. And then your tourist crowd.
The vibe was very cool and we really enjoyed spending time in this area. You can buy a beer at the general store with some snacks and sit out at a picnic table, order pizza, or enjoy your meal inside in the cafeteria setting. They also have a variety of speakers and presentations that they do at the amphitheater setup in Half Dome. You really could spend a full day just hanging around here!
The other village in the park is Yosemite Village. This is where you will find the Visitor Center. This is always worth a visit to enjoy the educational displays about the park and to ask the rangers what they recommend doing while you are there.
There is also a museum in the village and an art gallery. The museum had a few hands-on activities for the kids to do, which is always great.
This will take you outside of the Valley and up to about 10,000 feet where you get a totally different perspective on Yosemite and a lot less people. It is a bit of a drive, but we highly recommend it and love going to places that are less busy.
Once here you can stop by the Tenaya Lake (where there may still be snow on the ground!) and then head out on one of the many hikes in the area. We did a short hike to the top of a boulder called Pothole Dome and it was perfect since it gave us a beautiful panoramic view. Just remember it will be cold up there, since you are so high up!
Another great place that is away from the crowds is Hetch Hetchy. You actually have to leave the park and then enter it again in another location to get to Hetch Hetchy. It is a reservoir that produces drinking water for San Francisco and the surrounding area.
We did a five-mile hike along the reservoir that brought us to a waterfall that we could walk practically under! Again, we were here in the spring, so the water was flowing. But, I do know it slows down later in the season.
Yosemite can be very busy in the summer, but even with the crowds it is worth going. Just be prepared to have to wait and try to get places early. Or plan to take the shuttle bus in the park to wherever you want to go. You can park in Yosemite Village for the day and then hop on the bus.
We went in May right before Memorial Day and if you are looking to see the waterfalls in all their glory, this is the time to go! It may be a little cooler, but dress accordingly and you will be all good. Fall also has cooler weather and fewer crowds, and all areas of the park are usually open through October.