One of the crown jewels of the National Park System, Yosemite National Park is a must see for the camper, backpacker, or anyone who appreciates the outdoors. Yosemite National Park is located in the central Sierra Nevada of California and lies 150 miles east of San Francisco and only a six-hour drive from Los Angeles. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity. The 750,000-acre, 1,200 square-mile park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads. Two federally designated wild and scenic rivers, the Merced and Tuolumne, begin within Yosemite’s borders and flow west into California’s Central Valley. Annual park visitation exceeds 3.5 million, with most visitor use concentrated in the seven square mile area of Yosemite Valley.
Things to Do
Yosemite offers a wide array of outdoor activities including hiking, biking, horseback riding, birdwatching, water activities, stargazing, and rock climbing. The spectacular scenery is also very popular for artists and photographers. The hiking trails range from low impact paths around the Yosemite Valley to strenuous climbs alongside some of the most breathtaking waterfalls you will ever see. The best known hike in Yosemite is hiking to the top of the famed Half Dome. It is approximately 15 miles (roundtrip) and you gain nearly 5,000 feet of altitude on your way up. While making your way to the top, you will have magnificent views of the Vernal and Nevada falls, and once you achieve the summit, an amazing view of the valley below. The final 400 feet of the climb requires the use of a cable to negotiate the steep ascent. Plan on this hike taking all day (10 – 12 hours), and for many, the next couple days to recover.
If you are not quite ready for hiking through Yosemite, you can take a two hour bus tour conducted by the National Park Service or enjoy the 12 miles of bike trails that wind around the Valley. There are several short and relatively easy trails where you can view and feel the spray from some of the highest waterfalls in North America. You can also spend time in the Ranger Stations learning about the history and wildlife, and even enjoy some ice cream at the general store.
The winter months also have plenty of activities for the whole family. The Badger Pass Ski Area has downhill and cross country skiing, snowboarding, and tubing. For the more adventurous, there are backcountry ski tours with the Yosemite Mountaineering School. Rental equipment is also available.
Yosemite also offers a variety of lodging options. The campgrounds are outstanding with electricity at some sites for RV or trailer campers. There are shuttle buses that travel all around the valley so it is very easy to go from the camping areas to the village or other locations. For a little more structure, you can stay in canvas tents in Curry Village. And if you prefer the comforts of home, there are a number of lodges and hotels in the Park. Getting a campsite can be a challenge, as most of the reservations are filled on the first day they become available. Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. You can go to http://www.recreation.gov, or call 877-444-6777 or 518-885-3639 from outside the US or Canada.