Located in California, USA, Yosemite National Park is one of the nation’s most beautiful and most visited natural spaces. With so much to see and do, your first trip to the park can seem overwhelming. To get the most out of your trip, a little planning will go a long way. Whatever your itinerary, make sure to squeeze these 10 must-see sights into your calendar – and don’t forget your camera!
1. Valley View
It can be difficult to truly grasp the raw natural power which forms the backbone of Yosemite. From the viewpoint at Valley View, visitors can take in Yosemite Valley in its entirety. Clearly visible are the original lines formed by the glacier which carved out the valley. For best viewing, visit in the early morning before crowds start to form.
2. Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall anywhere in North America. At a dizzying height of 2,425 feet, the waterfall offers stunning views both from Yosemite Valley below and from the waterfall’s head above. The best time to view the waterfall is in early spring when the snowmelt causes the falls to swell, and the wildflowers below are in bloom.
3. Tuolumne Meadows
The Tuolumne Meadows offers a welcome antithesis to the park’s many soaring heights. Located in the eastern end of the park along the ambling Tuolumne river, the meadow offers breathtaking expanses studded with wildflowers and natural grasses, and stunning views of the Cathedral range in the distance. Visit the meadows in the early morning for a truly unforgettable sunrise.
4. The Half Dome
Made entirely of Granite, Yosemite’s Half Dome is located at the opposite end of Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Falls. Rising an impressive 4,737 above the valley floor below, the dome is best viewed in the early morning sunlight. For the truly adventurous, a hike to the dome’s top offers unparalleled views; however, hikers must use cables to reach the summit.
5. Cathedral Peak
A child range of the Sierra Nevadas, the Cathedral Range offers some of Yosemite’s most soaring peaks. Although the entire range is well worth a look, the undisputed crowning glory is Cathedral Peak, a towering pinnacle located in Mariposa County, California. The mountain’s namesake spire was created by glacial activity. Although the climb is out of reach for amateur hikers, the view from the base is well worth the trip.
6. Lembert Dome
If you don’t have the climbing credentials to mount the summit of the Half Dome, Lembert Dome is a more manageable option that offers similar stunning views with a less strenuous climb. The peak, at 800 feet above the valley, offers excellent views of the Tuolumne meadows below.
7. Tunnel View
Not all of Yosemite’s most stunning views require a hike. In fact, Tunnel View provides an incredible vista from the comfort of your car. Located along Route 41, Tunnel View offers a breathtaking snapshot of Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and the Half Dome. Picnic tables and seating are available, making Tunnel View an excellent location for a mid-trip lunch.
8. Vernal Falls
Although Vernal Falls is far from the highest waterfall at Yosemite, its comparatively short stature is more than made up for by sheer volume. During the rainy season, Vernal drops more water per hour than almost any other waterfall in the park. The falls are accessible via a 4 hour, moderate skill-level hike, which is most pleasant in the early summer before temperatures rise.
9. Glacier Point
For sheer, raw sweeping power, look no further than Glacier Point. This vantage point is among the highest anywhere in the park, at a staggering 7,214 feet. From Glacier Point, you’ll be able to spot Nevada Falls, Vernal Falls, the Half Dome, and many other landmarks.
10. Giant Sequoias at Mariposa
Yosemite offers trees that seem to match the scale and grandeur of the surrounding landscape. At Mariposa, you’ll find the largest and oldest trees in the park. The oldest sequoias are over 3,000 years old and rise to a height of over 200 feet.