Yosemite National Park - Main Sights
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 later spring through late fall via Highway 120 from Lee Vining (the Tioga Road. Many activities and services are available in Yosemite Valley. A few of its most famous attractions are described below.
The Yosemite Indians (Ahwahneechee) called this place "Pohono" or spirit of the puffing wind. The wind swirls about this place, often lifting Bridalveil Fall and blowing it sideways.
This massive monolith is the largest single granite rock on earth, standing nearly 4,000 feet from base to summit. Rock climbers from around the world come to challenge their abilities on the face of El Capitan. From the turnout along El Capitan meadow, spring to fall, you can spot them inching their way up the sheer walls. But, please do not walk into this meadow or picnic upon it, as it and most other meadows in the national park are easily damaged.
These trails travel along spectacular routes from Yosemite Valley to Glacier Point. The Four-Mile Trail is a strenuous 3 to 4 hour climb to Glacier Point, beginning on Southside Drive at road marker V 18. The more moderate route is along the Panorama Trail, 8.5 miles, and taking 4 to 6 hours one way. It begins at Happy Isles. A hiker's bus can be taken from yosemite Valley to Glacier Point.
Along Northside Drive, past El Capitan Meadow, you will find a turnout which looks back toward El Capitan. It is a serene spot beside the Merced River. Here you'll find one of the best Valley-level views of El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall and the Valley.
Walk to the edge and catch your breath along with one of the most spectacular overlooks on earth. From this perch on the rim of Yosemite Valley, you'll look down 3,214 feet to the Valley floor and have an eagle's view, an overlook, with a commanding view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the High Sierra. It is located 30 miles (one hour) from Yosemite Valley. Take Highway 41 for fourteen 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.
Yosemite's most distinctive feature, Half Dome, dominates the valley view. Half Dome rises 4,733 feet from the valley floor and at 87 million years old, it is the youngest plutonic rock in the valley. A hike to the top of Half Dome provides the physically fit with a strenuous walk, intimidating climb and rewarding view. This trek is not to be undertaken without care and preparation.
No one can leave this place unhappy, or so the saying goes. The Merced River rushes around two little islands near Shuttle Bus Stop #16. Bridges connect foot paths to the islands. Bring a picnic lunch or get a snack at the snack stand. The trails that lead to Vernal and Nevada Falls begin here.
Hetch Hetchy, similar in character to Yosemite Valley, is located near the Highway 120 West (Big Oak Flat) entrance. The name "Hetch Hetchy" is derived from a Miwok Indian word for a grass with edible seeds which grew abundantly there. In 1913, after a lengthy legal battle, famed Sierra conservationist John Muir lost his fight to save the valley from being dammed. Today a large hydroelectric dam on the site holds water for the City of San Francisco. Studies are now being made as to whether it is feasible to remove the dam and restore Hetch Hetchy to its former wilderness state.
Located behind the Yosemite Museum and always open. Sometimes there is the opportunity to join Indian Cultural Program staff for demonstrations or programs about Ahwahneechee skills and culture.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, located at the southernmost end of Yosemite, is the largest stand of giant sequoias in the park. Allow 1.25 hours driving time from Yosemite Valley. Cars are prohibited beyond the parking area, however many giant sequoias can be seen from there. The access road to the Grove may close for extended periods due to heavy snowfall. Call 209-372-0200 for current road and weather information. If the access road is closed, add an extra half-hour walking time from the South Entrance of the park to the Grove.
Mirror Lake is a moderately easy 1-mile walk from Shuttle Bus Stop #17. Here you will find impressive views and mirror reflections of Tenaya Canyon during spring and early summer. The lake is evolving into a meadow, drying up by summer's end... a natural process. A 3-mile trail loops the lake. If you're bicycling, park your bike at the base of the Mirror Lake hill and walk to the lake; riding back down on the hill is dangerous.
On the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada is Mono Lake, one of the oldest lakes in North America. The lake has high concentrations of salt and alkali. A significant migratory bird resting area, Mono Lake provides the nesting grounds for 90% of the California Gull population. Along the shores of Mono Lake are starkly-shaped calcium formations called "Tufa Towers."
Hours of operation vary. Check door of Gallery for current schedule. Exhibits may include historic paintings from the Yosemite Museum collection (through 15 February), and Yosemite Renaissance XII, contemporary works of art selected from juried competition (opens 28 February).
See horse drawn wagons, walk across a covered bridge, and visit historic buildings out of Yosemite's past. Take a 30-minute, self-guided tour through the Pioneer Yosemite History Center and learn about people and events of Yosemite. The Center is always open, and explanatory signs and brochures are available. Located adjacent to the Wawona General Store, across the Covered Bridge.
There are several fine hikes long the Glacier Point road. One is the 2.2 mile round-trip out to Sentinel Dome from the Sentinel Dome-Taft Point trail head along the Glacier Point Road. The hike to the top is a small price to pay for the 360 degree view.
The Miwok in Yosemite is a short loop trail that winds through a reconstructed Miwok-Paiute Village in the Indian Village of Ahwahnee. It introduces Southern Miwok life, history, and language. The trail begins behind the Yosemite Museum building.
Located just below "Inspiration Point," the turnout at the eastern end of the Wawona tunnel on Highway 41 has one of the most photographed vistas on earth. It provides the classic view of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Fall.
This grove of giant sequoia stands near the junction of Highway 120 and Tioga Pass (at Crane Flat). The grove is a one mile hike from the parking lot at Crane Flat on Tioga Road. To avoid the one-way trip, park your car and walk the short distance into the grove.
Tioga Pass (Highway 120 East), at 9,941 feet is the highest vehicle pass in California. A number of scenic pullouts and parking areas are located along the way. A wonderful stop is found at Tenaya Lake, one of the most beautiful lakes in the Sierra. Farther on, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada. California bighorn sheep can sometimes be seen grazing along the Tioga Road beyond the eastern boundary of the park. Closed in winter.
Among the most popular hikes in Yosemite Valley is the Mist Trail. This hike starts at Happy Isles (Shuttle Stop #16) and climbs beside the scenic Merced River to Vernal Fall (317-ft drop) and Nevada Fall (594-ft. drop). The first mile is moderately difficult. Beyond the Vernal Fall view footbridge, the Mist Trail is a strenuous climb. However, you are rewarded by seeing rainbows in the mist of the falls when the light is at the right angle, and Nevada Fall is awesome. Carry a poncho or rain jacket in springtime.
This historic cemetery is located across the street and just west of the Yosemite Museum. People buried here include Native Americans, casual park visitors, and people who played important roles in the development of what is now Yosemite National Park. A Guide to the Yosemite Cemetery is available at the Valley Visitor Center.
The base of Yosemite Falls is an easy walk from Shuttle Bus Stop #7 near the Yosemite Lodge. Impressive views are seen on the path to the falls. The upper and lower falls, connected by the intermediate cascades, drop 2,425 feet, making them the highest in all of North America and fifth tallest in the world.
Travel to the southern end of the park on Highway 41. At Wawona, you'll find a lovely Victorian hotel of the 1800's and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Six miles farther south is the magnificent Mariposa grove of giant sequoias.
General Park Information
Yosemite National Park covers a huge area of the western Sierra Nevada mountains in central California and has innumerable lakes,meadows, forests and rocky summits with endless unspoilt Alpine scenery. At the centre is Yosemite Valley, a half-mile deep depression carved by glaciers during the last ice age, which now has soaring 3,000 foot high granite domes and many powerful waterfalls, includingthe third and seventh highest in the world. The area received National Park status in 1880, as a result of the efforts of the pioneering Scottish naturalist John Muir, and has grown in popularity ever since.
The Merced River runs through the valley, and is followed either side by two scenic drives. Unfortunately this area is the preferred destination of three million visitors each year, most of whom do little more than drive around the congested roads and stop at neighbouring viewpoints.
Parts of the valley have become spoilt by badly-planned developments, overcrowding and commercialism; however in January 1997 severe flooding destroyed half the campsites and one third of the buildings. It was decided that many would not be rebuilt, and instead the land is to be returned to nature. Other improvement measures include a reduction in the number of roads available to private cars and increased use of shuttle buses, as is the case, for example, with Zion Canyon in Utah and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. Still, even in the heart of Yosemite Valley, perfect solitude is only a 30 minute walk away along one of the many trails leading into the wilderness, and despite the overcrowding, the scenic drive is a must for any visitor to California. Highlights include the various waterfalls that tumble into the valley, and Glacier Point, an elevated overlook with arguably the best easily-reached view in the whole of the Sierra Nevada range.
Yosemite is 200 miles east of San Francisco; three state roads (CA 120, CA 140 and CA 41) approach from the west and converge on the lower end of the valley. CA 120 continues east across the Sierras via the Tioga Pass, a route that is often closed by snow until July. South of here there are no through roads across the mountains for 140 miles. At the western end of the valley where the mountains at either side come close together, the roads become narrow, cut precariously into the cliffsides, and pass through several tunnels - these open to reveal an astonishing vista of vertical cliffs and green woodland, fading into the hazy distance; this is Yosemite Valley, central attraction of the park.