Encompassing almost 750,000 acres and 1,169 square miles, the majority of Yosemite National Park is designated as wilderness area. Yet most visitors will find themselves in three relatively developed areas of the park: Yosemite Valley, Southern Yosemite, and Northern Yosemite.
Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Village
The true center of the park is Yosemite Valley. This is where busloads of visitors gawk at the world-famous views of the massive granite monoliths carved from the Valley's walls. The Valley is also home to Yosemite Village, where the bulk of Yosemite's services and facilities are found.
The first stop for most visitors is Yosemite Village, nestled along both sides of the Merced River. Driving into the Valley by car is acceptable, but once you are there, park staff encourages you to leave your car in the day parking lot (no charge) and hop on one of the free shuttles. In fact, many roads in the east end of the valley banned private traffic to create a system of one-way roads for the shuttles and allow for extensive biking and walking trails.
A natural starting place on any visit to the park is the
While it may be tempting to spend your time exploring the buildings and lodges, remember that you are in one of the most spectacular natural settings in the world. Easy walks, short hikes and more strenuous climbs open up breathtaking sights including
Wawona and Southern Yosemite
Visitors are often pleasantly surprised at the relative quiet in the southern end of Yosemite National Park. From the amazing views at Glacier Point, to the charming historical village of
The village of Wawona drips old-fashioned delights. The historic
The Yosemite High Country comprises almost two-thirds of the total area of the park, much of it wilderness. Access to this remarkable area is via the Tioga Road, which crosses the backbone of the Sierra Nevadas. The road reaches almost 10,000 in feet in elevation at its crest at Tioga Pass.
Not far from the park entrance on Highway 120 West is the
Tioga Road bisects the park's rugged high county, and takes visitors to
Reservations within the park for everything from campgrounds to the luxurious and historic Awahnee Lodge can, and probably should, be made as far as a full year in advance.
Yosemite Valley and Yosemite Village
There are seven hotels or lodges within the park itself. The most glamorous is the Awahnee. Right in Yosemite Village, this is truly a world-class hotel and a National Historical Landmark. The lovely Yosemite Lodge, built in 1915, was constructed largely of wood and glass to blend with its natural surroundings. The Lodge offers magnificent scenic views.
At the southern end of the park is the Wawona Hotel, which was built in 1879, and retains much of its 19th century charm. Curry Village also has a long history; it was built more than 100 years ago and maintains a distinct old-fashioned feel. The property offers unparalleled views. Best of all, its accommodations—from standard rooms to tent cabins—suit every budget.
Along the Merced River you will find Yosemite's well-known House Keeping Cabins. These cabins, with canvas roofs and walls and shared restrooms, feature direct access to the river and are hugely popular. Not only are they are relatively inexpensive, but they also offer the 'roughing it' element. Despite some modern amenities, the property is primitive, allowing guests to reflect on how conditions were for the Park's first visitors.
There are seven campgrounds in the Valley set up for just tents or both tents and recreational vehicles. All of these are located at the eastern end of the Valley, clustered on both sides of the Merced River. North Pines, Upper Pines, Lower Pines, Upper River and Lower River are for tent camping. The two walk-in camps, Sunnyside and Backpacker, are both designed to facilitate backpackers and climbers.
Tuolumne Meadows and the High Country
The Tuolumne Meadow Lodge offers tent cabins in the High country on the east side of the park, an area that many consider the most beautiful. Some people spend a week or more here, while others use the cabins as a staging point for backpacking trips. White Wolf Lodge, also in the high country, offers tent cabins along the Middle Fork of the Tuolumne River.
Outside the Park
Yosemite National Park is quite large—750,000 acres. The protected acres are contiguous to several different geographic regions of California. On the east, steep mountains plunging into the almost desert-like Mono Lake area and the Owens Valley. This side of the park is subject to more extremes in temperature as well as altitude, and, in winter is more likely to be snowed in.
On the east, in Lee Vining, accommodations span from the functional Murphy's Motel to the graceful Tioga Lodge nearby on Mono Lake. The glamorous Double Eagle Resort and Spa is not far away. On a creek in the June Lake area, it is the perfect spot for a conference or a wedding.
To the south and west you will find the Pines Resort and Conference Center near Oakhurst, also a good place for weddings. The Yosemite Trail Camp which offers cabins, RV and tent spaces in Midpines, boasts tons of activities for the whole family. The Hounds Tooth Inn is a sweet bed and breakfast with a Victorian flair just outside the Park entrance on Highway 41.
First-time visitors to the park will want to venture to all three districts: Yosemite Valley, Southern Yosemite and Wawona, and the Tioga Road/Tuolumne Meadows region. Exploring by car is advisable, considering that the terrain can be rather harsh.
Lower Yosemite Falls In Yosemite Valley, stop into the Visitor Center, then head to Bridalveil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls. Browse the collections at Ansel Adams Gallery and the Indian Cultural Exhibit, then dine at Mountain Room Restaurant.
Mirror Lake See the Valley by shuttle, with stops at Yosemite Lodge, Happy Isles and Mirror Lake. Don't forget to check out The Awahnee village and stay for dinner.
Mariposa Grove Explore the little village of Wawona. Enjoy breakfast in the Wawona Hotel's gorgeous dining room. Stop into the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a living museum dedicated to showcasing life in Yosemite's early days, then wander the Mariposa Grove.
Hetch Hetchy Reservoir Have breakfast at Yosemite Lodge Food Court before heading north. Explore the secluded Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the massive O'Shaughnessy Dam and the education-oriented Parsons Memorial Lodge. Enjoy dinner at nearby Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Grill.
Golden Chain Theatre Just outside the Park, to the south, you'll find the Grimmer Gallery and the Timberline Gallery, both showcasing local art. Nearby is the Golden Chain Theatre, which provides family-friendly entertainment. Dinner can be found at Jackalope Bar and Grill or Tenaya Lodge Sierra Restaurant.
Arranging a professional tour or two is a good idea when exploring the park and surrounding areas. Yosemite offers many interesting hiking, train and bus tours to suit your needs.
Hiking Tours Exploring Yosemite Natural History ( +1 209 379 2324/ http://www.yosemite.org ) High Country Wildflower Hikes ( +1 209 379 2324/ http://www.yosemite.org ) Twilight Strolls ( +1 209 372 0200/ http://www.yosemitepark.com ) Grand Yosemite Adventure ( +1 209 379 2321/ http://www.yosemite.org ) Ostrander Lake Fall Backpack Adventure ( +1 209 379 2321/ http://www.yosemite.org ) Y explore Yosemite Adventures ( +1 800 886 8009/ http://yexplore.com )
Bus Tours Yosemite Valley Shuttle System ( http://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/bus.htm )
Train Tours Yosemite Sugar Pine Railroad ( +1 559 683 7273/ http://www.ymsprr.com/ )