AAA Travel Guides
Current Search Destination:Yosemite National Park, California
Travel Information for major cities, national parks and other destinations across North America, Mexico and the Caribbean.
Overview
Overview
Essentials
Attractions
Restaurants
Insider Information
Recreation
Places in the Vicinity
Marc Liyanage / flickr

Introduction
At Yosemite National Park it's all about the view. Want proof? Then consider the panorama of Yosemite Valley as seen from the east end of the Wawona Tunnel, where you emerge out of darkness to behold an absolutely picture-perfect landscape dominated by the vertical granite face of El Capitan and the cascading beauty of Bridalveil Falls (surely a change of scene on par with what Dorothy witnessed after that tornado deposited her in Oz). Or the Mist Trail, where little rainbows created by flying spray from Vernal Falls hang in the air for one enchantingly ephemeral moment. Or the valley on a frosty winter morning, when sheets of frozen spray from Yosemite Falls spectacularly break loose from the cliffs in a succession of thundering booms. Or the park on a moonlit winter night, bare branches glinting with hard ice, the sky impossibly clear and brimming with thousands of diamond-bright stars.
Inspector 511 / AAA
Native Americans have inhabited this spectacularly rugged portion of the Sierra Nevada for thousands of years, but the first visitors didn't arrive until the late 1850s. They sketched and took photographs of the awe-inspiring geologic features. In 1864 President Abraham Lincoln signed a congressional bill making both the Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias designated public lands—the first time the nation's scenic riches were set aside solely for the enjoyment of its citizens.
Sachet Dube / flickr
Yosemite's greatest champion was Scottish-born naturalist, geologist and environmentalist John Muir. After Muir's first visits climbing mountain peaks and hiking old Indian trails he advocated federal park status for the valley and surrounding land as a means of protecting it from both human and animal (specifically, livestock) encroachment. His tireless conservation efforts were instrumental in establishing Yosemite as a national park in 1890. Theodore Roosevelt—who joined Muir on a backcountry camping trip in 1903—signed a bill 3 years later giving control of the parkland from California to the federal government, thus ensuring its preservation.
Several million people come here every year, but one of the nicest things about Yosemite is that despite the crowds, you can still find your own little corner to contemplate nature's majesty in solitude. It may take a bit of planning (winter and spring are less crowded than summer and fall) or an extra mile of hiking along a secluded trail, but once you've found that spot we guarantee it's going to seem like heaven. What are you waiting for?

In Depth
Reached by SR 140 (El Portal Road) from Merced, SR 41 (Wawona Road) from Fresno, and SR 120 (Big Oak Flat Road) from Stockton, Yosemite National Park lies in central California on the western slope of the Sierra Nevada in a region of unusual beauty.
Glaciers transformed the rolling hills and meandering streams of pre-Pleistocene Yosemite into the colossal landscape of the present. And although Indian tribes lived in the Yosemite area for thousands of years, the first non-Indian visit was probably made by the Joseph Walker expedition in 1833.
It was not until 1851, however, before the existence of the magnificent valley became well known. The Mariposa Battalion was sent to the area that year to extinguish an ongoing conflict between gold miners seeking their fortune and the resident American Indians. The battalion entered Yosemite Valley at Inspiration Point, and word of the land's beauty quickly spread.
To preserve it for posterity, Abraham Lincoln set aside the Mariposa grove of giant sequoias in the Yosemite Valley as the nation's first state park on June 30, 1864. John Muir, one of America's earliest and foremost naturalists and conservationists, tirelessly advocated federal park status for Yosemite Valley and its surroundings, and 26 years later, in 1890, Yosemite became a national park.
The park is much greater both in area and beauty than most people generally realize; Yosemite Valley actually comprises only a very small portion of park land. The territory above the rim of the valley is less celebrated principally because it is less well-known. However, 196 miles of primary roads and more than 800 miles of trails now make much of this mountain region easily accessible to both motorist and hiker.
The crest of the Sierra Nevada is the park's eastern boundary, and the two rivers that flow through the park—the Merced and Tuolumne—originate among the snowy peaks. The Merced River flows through Yosemite Valley, and the Tuolumne River carves a magnificent gorge through the northern half of the park. Though spectacular through most of the year, many of the park's famous waterfalls are often dry during the late summer months.
With the exception of the Tioga Pass Road portion of SR 120, the Glacier Point Road and the Mariposa Grove Road, all of which are closed late fall through early summer, all roads are open year-round; chains may be required at any time during winter months.
The road to Mirror Lake and Happy Isles, at the eastern end of Yosemite Valley, is closed to most cars but is served by a free shuttle bus. Southside Drive is one-way eastbound from Bridalveil Fall to Half Dome Village; Northside Drive is one-way westbound from the Yosemite Valley Lodge; and the road between Half Dome Village and Yosemite Village also is one-way westbound.

General Information
Yosemite National Park is open daily all year. Many roads in Yosemite Valley are one-way, and traffic can be heavy, especially in summer. Maps and information are available at the park's four visitor centers, and schedules of events are provided at park entrances and posted throughout the valley. A free shuttle bus operates in the east end of the valley daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m., in summer; hours vary rest of year. In the winter a shuttle runs from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
Wilderness permits, required of all overnight backpackers, are free at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center or at any other wilderness permit station. Some stations are open seasonally; phone ahead to confirm locations and hours. Reservations also are available for a fee of $5 per reservation plus $5 per person if obtained by phone or mail; phone (209) 372-0740. To make reservations by mail write Wilderness Association, P.O. Box 545, Yosemite, CA 95389. For information about wilderness permits phone (209) 372-0200.
A California fishing license is required for all park waters; an annual permit costs $47.01 for residents. A 10-day non-resident pass also is $47.01. A 2-day resident or non-resident license costs $23.50. Information about bicycle rentals is available at Half Dome Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge; tour bus information also is given at these spots as well as at all lodging facilities.
Ranger-naturalists conduct year-round nature walks that last from a half-hour to 2 hours; snowshoe walks are available in the winter. Evening programs are presented all year at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, and in summer at Half Dome Village, Lower Pines, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Wawona and White Wolf campgrounds.
An open-air tram offers frequent 2-hour tours of the valley during summer and occasional trips after Labor Day; reservations can be made at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Half Dome Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Other tours depart daily in summer to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. Guided horseback tours of Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows and the valley also are available, as are multiday saddle and pack trips. A hiker shuttle goes to Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows.
Self-guiding tours of a re-created Ahwahneechee Indian village as well as a historic cemetery are available at Yosemite Village in Yosemite Valley. A museum houses photographs and historic books, while the artifacts in the Indian Cultural Exhibit depict the history of the Miwok and Paiute. A visitor center, a theater and an art center also are found in the village.
Skiing and skating can be enjoyed in winter. Half Dome Village has an outdoor skating rink; Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area has downhill and cross-country skiing. Cross-country ski trails lead from the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard and Crane Flat areas. Snowshoe tours are offered.
Child care is available in winter for a fee at Ski Tots Playhouse at Badger Pass. During summer the Junior Ranger Program of nature walks and classes welcomes students in grades 3 through 6; phone (209) 372-0200.
Campground reservations are available through the National Recreation Reservation System; phone (877) 444-6777, or TTY (877) 833-6777.
The main visitor center in Yosemite Valley is open year-round. Additional visitor information can be obtained at Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne Meadows and Wawona centers that usually are open June through September; for recorded information about camping, roads, weather conditions and recreation, phone (209) 372-0200.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is by $30 private vehicle fee ($25, Nov.-Mar.), $20 per motorcycle or $15 per person arriving by other means, and is good for 7 days.

PETS
PETS are not allowed on the trails or in public buildings and accommodations and must be leashed at all times. Pets are permitted in Upper Pines in Yosemite Valley, the west end of the campground at Tuolumne Meadows, and at White Wolf (Section C), Bridalveil (Section A), Crane Flat (Section A), Wawona, Hodgdon Meadows and Yosemite Creek campgrounds. Dogs can be boarded in Yosemite Valley from late May to mid-October.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries concerning the park to the Superintendent, Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389. Phone (209) 372-0200.
GEM Description
One of the jewels of the national park system, Yosemite includes the spectacular valley for which it was named, along with more than 1,100 square miles of nearly pristine land in the Sierra Nevada.
Don Graham / flickr

Essentials
In a park with an embarrassment of spectacular views, driving the Tioga Pass Road provides an opportunity to enjoy many of them. This backcountry alternative to crowded Yosemite Valley is a feast of granite peaks, jagged canyons and other glacier-created formations, but keep in mind that the road is open seasonally (normally late May to the end of October).
Inspector 511 / AAA
Walk among the giants at Mariposa Grove . The majesty of this living cathedral is magnified by the sheer number of sequoias standing in silent witness to the centuries. Note: The grove closed to visitors in summer 2015 for a 2-year restoration project.
One of Yosemite's most beloved spots is Tuolumne Meadows . Mountain fields are sprinkled throughout the park's middle and upper elevations, but Tuolumne is particularly breathtaking. Spend the day hiking, horseback riding or—in summer—gazing at nature's dazzling display of wildflowers.
Practically nothing can prepare you for the jaw-dropping views of Yosemite landmarks as seen from the perspective of Glacier Point . If you're prodigiously fit you can hike to the point (the elevation gain is a strenuous 3,200 feet), but most make the journey by bus, enjoying bracing high-country scenery along the way.
Yosemite Valley is the park's most-visited section, and driving around during the busy summer season can be a bit of a distraction. The perfect solution? Take a guided tour of the valley's domes, pinnacles and waterfalls (in an open-air tram from May through late October, a heated motorcoach the rest of the year) and focus on getting that picture-postcard shot.
If you enter the park via SR 41 you'll drive into the Wawona Tunnel, blasted through 4,230 feet of solid rock in 1933. Emerging from the tunnel's eastern end, be sure to stop at one of Yosemite's most stunning viewpoints—a panorama that takes in thick forest, steep granite cliffs and lofty El Capitan .
Make reservations, get dressed up and have dinner in The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel , a historic Yosemite hotel that first opened its doors in 1927.
There's probably no bad place for sunset watching in Yosemite, but Olmsted Point is one of the best. Along Tioga Pass Road just west of Tenaya Lake, this vista overlooks a dramatic landscape dominated by Cloud's Rest and Half Dome , two imposing granite formations.
A really scenic (and pretty easy) Yosemite hike is the round-trip, 5-mile trek from O'Shaugnessy Dam to the base of Wapama Falls, in the Hetch Hetchy Valley. Prepare to get wet during the spring months, when the cascading waters rage.
Finally, sign up for one of park's many organized activities—everything from campfire sing-a-longs to sunrise photography walks to a snowshoe hike under a full moon. They'll help you get the most out of this spectacular slice of Sierra Nevada wilderness.

Attractions
In a national park with dozens of points of interest, you may have trouble deciding where to spend your time. Here are the highlights for this destination, as chosen by AAA editors. GEMs are “Great Experiences for Members.”
While Yosemite Valley and the resort town of Wawona are all-year destinations, the seasons determine what can be seen in Yosemite National Park—and when. Summer (basically June through September) offers the most accessibility and therefore has the most visitors. Weekends in particular can be very crowded, especially in the valley, so take advantage of shuttle transportation and bus tours for sightseeing excursions. In fall (October and November) many areas are still open, days are still mild and the crowds have thinned out somewhat.
Yosemite is quietest December through March. While the wintry weather curtails a number of summertime outdoor activities, the park has a frozen beauty as well as an appealing lack of visitors. Popular drives like the Glacier Point and Tioga Pass roads are closed, while skiers head to Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area. Spring (April and May) is prime time for waterfall watching; as winter snows begin to melt every creek rushes with water, and small waterfalls and cascades pop up in delightfully unexpected places.
The park has five entrances. The south entrance is via SR 41 from Fresno; Wawona Road continues into Yosemite Valley. The Arch Rock entrance is from the west via SR 140; El Portal Road continues into Yosemite Valley. The Big Oak Flat entrance also is from the west via SR 120; Big Oak Flat Road continues into Yosemite Valley. The access road to the Hetch Hetchy Valley branches off SR 120 just west of this entrance. From the east, the Tioga Pass entrance is via US 395 and SR 120 from Lee Vining; Tioga Pass Road traverses the backcountry north of Yosemite Valley.
Note: Tire chains are often required when driving on park roads from October through April, and you must carry and use them when conditions warrant, regardless of the type of vehicle. Check with the park regarding road conditions and anticipated weather if planning your visit outside of the summer season.
Most visitors spend all of their time in Yosemite Valley , and while we would argue that some of the park's most magical places are elsewhere, the valley does have its share of awesome sights, plus loads of tours and activities to take advantage of. The park headquarters and many of its facilities—overnight accommodations, restaurants, a couple of museums, stables, a medical clinic, a chapel—are concentrated in Yosemite Village.
At Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Wilderness Center next to park headquarters you can sign up for organized tours or ranger-led activities and learn about Yosemite's geologic and human history. High-country hikers and campers can obtain those all-important trail maps, as well as camping permits and other information.
A guided tour lets you see the sights without the hassle of driving. Sightseeing excursions hit the park's high points, including Glacier Point, Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows. The 2-hour Valley Floor Tour, departing from the Yosemite Valley Lodge , is a good first-time introduction to Yosemite landmarks. It's also fun to take an evening tour under a full moon, when the canyon walls hemming in the valley are eerily illuminated. (Bring a jacket; nights can be nippy even in summer.)
Backpackers and day hikers can use the tour buses to get to specific trailheads (but purchase tickets in advance to guarantee seating). Once inside the park, reservations for tours and ranger-led activities can be made at the Half Dome Village tour kiosk or the tour desks at Yosemite Lodge and the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center. For general information phone (209) 372-1240. Note: Mariposa Grove and Mariposa Grove Road are closed for a restoration project and are scheduled to reopen in early summer 2017; phone ahead for updated information.
Major roads in Yosemite Valley are one way and also clogged with traffic in summer, so getting around aboard the free Yosemite Valley shuttle bus is a good idea. The route includes 21 stops; buses arrive at approximate 10-minute intervals. Bus transportation also is available to Yosemite Valley Ski & Snowboard Area (normally mid-December through mid-March) and to points within Tuolumne Meadows (mid-June through early September).
In a park famous for waterfalls, Yosemite Falls stands head and shoulders, so to speak, above the rest of the pack. The upper fall alone plunges some 1,430 feet, and the sight is awesome indeed by May or June, when the waters are at their furious peak. Many visitors walk to the base of the lower fall, where there is an accessible viewing area. In between these two falls is a succession of smaller plunges often referred to as “the cascades.” Even though the middle fall drops some 675 feet, it is not easily seen from most valley viewpoints.
One of the most intriguing things about Yosemite Falls is the huge pile of ice that forms from a winter-long accumulation of frozen spray at the base of the upper fall. Shaped like an upside-down ice cream cone, it can reach the height of a 25-story building.
Glacier-sculpted granite formations abound in this U-shaped valley, itself gouged over time by the movement of masses of ice. The two most famous are Half Dome and El Capitan. Half Dome is a monolith that looks exactly like what its name implies—a dome cleaved in two—that soars to an improbable height of 8,842 feet, some 5,000 feet above the valley floor. The sheer face of El Capitan, or “El Cap,” is not only an incredible sight but an irresistible challenge for climbers the world over. There are more than 75 different ways to get to the top of this monumental rock, but the vast majority of visitors are inclined to photograph rather than scale it.
It takes a pretty grand hotel to compete with the valley's grandeur, but The Majestic Yosemite Hotel fills the bill. “Comfortably luxurious” basically describes the ambience at this stone-and-timber lodge, which has one of the most impressive backdrops of any hotel in the country. The main dining room, with its lofty beamed ceiling, huge windows, warm woods and candlelit chandeliers, provides an elegant setting for a special occasion. The big fireplaces and comfy armchairs in the public sitting areas are perfect for snuggling up with a good book on a blustery day.
Ansel Adams is celebrated for his depictions of the West's rugged beauty, and many of his visionary photographs captured the Yosemite Valley. Adams first visited Yosemite in 1916 at the age of 14, taking pictures with a Box Brownie camera given to him by his parents. The prints and other gifts at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village (next to the visitor center) make lovely souvenirs. Works by contemporary photographers and artists are on display as well.
A good place to take kids is the Happy Isles Nature Center, a short walk from Yosemite Valley shuttle bus stop #16. It has interactive natural history exhibits focusing on wildlife and the park's different environments. Nearby are a couple of easy walking trails. It's open late May through September.
Of course Yosemite is much more than its namesake valley, although the far-flung areas are harder to reach. A couple of attractions are en route if you access the park from Fresno via SR 41 (a AAA Scenic Byway beginning north of Oakhurst). Just south of Fish Camp, board the Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad for a scenic trip through the Sierra National Forest. During the first 3 decades of the 20th century the locomotives that now carry passengers hauled massive loads of logs over miles of narrow-gauge track operated by the Madera Sugar Pine Lumber Co.
Put the Mariposa Grove, also in the southern part of the park, near the top of your must-see list (in 2017 or later; in summer 2015 it closed for a 2-year restoration project). Neither the oldest living thing (that would be the bristlecone pine) nor the tallest (the related coast redwood soars higher), Sequoiadendron giganteum is considered the world's largest tree based on total volume. The tallest giant sequoia in this grove stands at about 290 feet, and the oldest specimens may have sprouted more than 3,000 years ago.
Notable trees include the Fallen Monarch (on the right at the beginning of the grove's main trail), which biologists estimate toppled more than 500 years ago; the Grizzly Giant, one of Mariposa's biggest and oldest sequoias; and the Faithful Couple, two large trees that have fused together at the base but otherwise grow separately.
The Pioneer Yosemite History Center in Wawona offers a look at what early Yosemite life was like. The jail, blacksmith shop, barns and other buildings were relocated to the center from various sites in the park. Wawona was the largest stop in the Yosemite region during the late 19th-century days of stagecoach travel, and barns and corrals—used for harnessing and repairing coaches and shoeing horses—were a common sight back then.
Glacier Point just might be the most spectacular vantage point in the continental United States. It can be reached via 16-mile Glacier Point Road. Branching east off SR 41 at Chinquapin, the road climbs quickly to Yosemite Valley Ski & Snowboard Area and then continues to Washburn Point, where the view east across Illilouette Gorge to the Merced River Canyon—with Vernal and Nevada falls tumbling over what seem like giant steps—is nothing short of awesome.
About a mile farther north the road ends at Glacier Point, at an elevation of 7,214 feet. Hike the short trail to the point and take in the mesmerizing views of the Yosemite Valley below. One guardrail and a stone wall at the edge of a precipice are the only things holding you back from a free fall of more than 3,000 feet. The valley's forests and meadows are a checkerboard of green shades, nestled between canyon walls soaring a couple of thousand feet skyward. El Capitan, Half Dome and Yosemite, Nevada and Vernal falls are all absolutely stunning from this lofty perspective.
Note: Glacier Point Road is open seasonally from late May until the end of October, weather permitting. During the busy summer season it's more convenient to take this trip by bus rather than drive your own vehicle. But take our advice: If you're afraid of heights, the vertigo-inducing views may well be too unnerving.
Relatively few travelers head to Yosemite from the east (via US 395 and SR 120, both AAA Scenic Byways), which automatically makes it a nice alternative to the busier approaches. The town of Lee Vining is the eastern gateway to Yosemite. It overlooks Mono Lake, a salty, cobalt-blue body of water known for the stark white salt flats and tufa deposits (curious-looking pillars of calcium carbonate) that rim its southwestern shoreline. The lake's water level has dropped nearly 45 feet since 1941, exposing these previously submerged formations. Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve protects the lake and its natural features.
Just south of Lee Vining, SR 120 branches west toward the towering east flank of the Sierra Nevada. Also known as the Tioga Pass Road, it crosses the park's remote central uplands. Starting out on this journey you can look back and still see Mono Lake, but tall granite peaks soon block the view; the route gains 3,000 feet in elevation in a little over 10 miles. You'll want to stop at every roadside pullout and take in the monumental vistas, and when you do note the distinct chill in the air. In the vicinity of glacier-carved Ellery Lake the mountains on the horizon are in the 12,000-foot-plus range.
Note: The park entrance station is at Tioga Pass—elevation 9,941 feet. Tioga Pass Road is normally open from late May to the end of October. Tire chains should be carried, as weather conditions can change quickly even when the road is open.
Seven miles west of Tioga Pass is Tuolumne Meadows, one of Yosemite's loveliest spots. The largest sub-alpine meadow complex in the Sierras is surrounded by granite domes and peaks, all carved by glaciers. The rolling countryside (dotted with wildflowers in early summer) and jewel-like lakes are the perfect backdrop for a picnic or a day hike, but you'll need to acclimate to the high altitude. Many hiking trails into the high country begin at the Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center, open from Memorial Day through late October.
A few miles west of Tuolumne Meadows is exceptionally scenic Tenaya Lake, named for an Ahwahneechee Indian chief; the pursuit of the Ahwahneechee by a United States Army battalion inadvertently led to the discovery of the Yosemite Valley in 1851. The granite rock formations rising from the eastern shore bear the distinctive shiny surface of a type of glacial erosion known as polishing. The lake's sandy beach is a delightful picnic spot.
Continuing west, Tioga Pass Road passes Olmsted Point. You can pull off here and take a short stroll to a sublime viewing area that overlooks Tenaya Canyon, with the profile of Half Dome in the distance. Looking down on Yosemite Valley from the east, as you do here, provides quite a different perspective than the view from Glacier Point.
The area to the north of Tioga Pass Road is The Grand Canyon of the Tuolumne, a smaller-scale version of Yosemite Valley that once rivaled it in scenic spectacle. The Tuolumne River was dammed in the early 20th century, creating the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir to supply San Francisco with a source of water. The project was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson after years of national debate; it flooded some 300 feet of the lower canyon and was a bitter defeat to John Muir and other conservationists who opposed the measure.
As Tioga Pass Road continues west it winds through forests of sugar pine, mountain hemlock and fir, with maples, oaks, Pacific dogwoods and other deciduous trees taking over as the elevation drops. At the town of Crane Flat is the junction with Big Oak Flat Road, where a 1-mile hiking trail leads downhill to Tuolumne Grove, one of three giant sequoia groves in Yosemite. This one has a half-mile nature trail that winds among the 25 or so trees. Keep in mind that it's an uphill trek back to Crane Flat.
See all the AAA recommended attractions for this destination.

Restaurants
Our favorites include some of this destination's best restaurants—from fine dining to simple fare.
Let's be honest—Yosemite isn't about food. When you're face to face with some of the most awe-inspiring views on Earth, dinner isn't the first thing that pops into your head—although raising a glass to the heavens from atop Half Dome makes perfect sense for acknowledging the grandeur of it all.
Of course hiking, backpacking and rock climbing—or just seeing the sights from the comfort of a tour tram—will work up an appetite. But Yosemite isn't about restaurants, either. This is more of a “pack a picnic lunch” or “grab something on the go” destination than a place to sample adventurous fusion cuisine or luxuriate in the gastronomical delights of a multicourse meal.
There is one stunner of a restaurant within the park, though: The Majestic Yosemite Dining Room in The Majestic Yosemite Hotel . This magnificent space has 34-foot-tall beamed ceilings, massive wrought-iron chandeliers, granite pillars and floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto Yosemite Valley . Breakfast, lunch and dinner are uniformly excellent, but go in the evening for the full impact of the restaurant's understated elegance. Resort casual attire—long pants and a collared shirt for men, and dresses, skirts or long pants and blouses for women—is required.
The food is executed with special flair, whether it's an appetizer of Dungeness crabcake with sweet white corn relish and roasted red pepper gazpacho, Caesar salad gussied up with fried capers and sourdough croutons, or a roasted chicken breast sharing the plate with chorizo risotto, green beans, currant tomatoes and a peppery chardonnay sauce. Suggestions from the extensive wine list accompany each entrée.
Otherwise, dining options in Yosemite Valley tend to focus on cafeterias, delis and carry-outs. There's something special, of course, about spreading out a picnic feast surrounded by the natural glories of Tuolumne Meadows or within sight of one of the park's spectacular waterfalls. Degnan's Deli in Yosemite Village creates made-to-order sandwiches, along with salads and snacks.
Also at Yosemite Village is the Village Grill, convenient for a quick burger or sandwich. The food court in the Yosemite Valley Lodge offers burgers, pizza, sandwiches, salads and baked goods and is open all year, not always a given at this seasonal destination. Stock up on supplies or picnic fixings at the grocery stores and markets in Mariposa, Oakhurst and El Portal.
The following restaurants are within 10-20 miles of the SR 120 and SR 41 park entrance gates. Due to traffic (heaviest in the summer months) and the twisty, winding roads, count on an hour or more to reach Yosemite Valley from any of these places, or to get to them from the valley.
Oakhurst offers choices from down home to divine. Perhaps the most exquisite spot in the Sierras for a special eating occasion is Erna's Elderberry House Restaurant , in the equally exquisite Château du Sureau . Surrounded by—appropriately enough—elderberry bushes, both the lovely restaurant and the intimate 12-room inn could have been whisked straight from the French countryside. The three dining rooms are graced with antique furnishings, oil paintings and beautiful tapestries. Entrées emphasize seasonal ingredients: pan-seared Tasmanian sea trout with heirloom tomatoes, polenta and a braised leek puree, or grilled Angus beef accompanied by sweet potato bread pudding and rosewater-glazed asparagus. And from the beginning amuse bouche to meal-ending petit fours, service is impeccable and unfailingly gracious.
More down to earth is Crab Cakes , in a small shopping center just off SR 41. Given the name, ordering here should be a no-brainer—and the cakes made from “Grandma Marie's special recipe,” served with a tomato-basil sauce, are indeed satisfying. But there's much more on the menu, from oysters on the half shell, a classic shrimp cocktail and New England clam chowder to lobster, scallops and catfish. Take advantage of the “sunset specials” offered from 4 to 6 p.m.
In Fish Camp, The Narrow Gauge Inn Restaurant has all the touches a nice rustic lodge should—stone fireplaces, antique oil lamps and stained-glass decoration. Start with coconut prawns served with a lively mango salsa or a char-broiled portobello mushroom stuffed with tomato, basil and feta before moving on to black Angus prime rib or rainbow trout stuffed with fresh spinach, shallots and sun-dried tomato and served with a peppercorn and brandy cream sauce. If you have time, stroll through the inn's meticulously kept gardens, the perfect way to cap off your meal. The restaurant is open seasonally (late April through mid-October).
Closer to the park—about 2 miles from the south entrance gate—is the Sierra Restaurant . Located just off the lobby of the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite , the spacious dining room is dominated by a towering limestone fireplace. Winter dining by the warm glow of firelight while snow falls outside can be enchanting, but summer casts its own magic if you sit outside on the patio and take in the mountain views. Fortunately the food—seasonal produce paired with meat, seafood or pasta—measures up to the grand surroundings. The wine list includes offerings from the Sonoma and Napa valleys.
Big Trees Lodge, on Wawona Road near the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias, has been receiving guests since the late 19th century. This Victorian-style lodging has an equally quaint dining room—high-backed chairs and tables set with cloth linens. It's a bright, airy setting for breakfast (pancakes, French toast, build-your-own omelets) or a buffet-style lunch. The outdoor patio is a great spot to watch the sun set, and if you're departing Yosemite, the bountiful Sunday brunch will leave you with fond memories of this little corner of California.
See all the AAA Diamond Rated restaurants for this destination.
Dion Hinchcliffe / flickr

Waterfalls That Wow
There may be no other place on Earth where so many thundering waterfalls appear in so small an area—and that doesn't include hundreds of transitory falls that pop up when it rains. Yosemite's stats are impressive indeed: Numerous falls have a drop of more than 500 feet, and the park also contains the highest falls in North America.
Several factors make this region a mother lode for cascading streams of water. The hydrologic process of fluvial geomorphic response may mean nothing to the average person, but it—along with the easier-to-grasp concepts of seasonal flooding and the slow but inexorable movement of glaciers—is fundamental in creating the geological features that permit waterfalls to exist. Both the alpine glaciers of the Ice Age, which did much to sculpt Yosemite's terrain, and the park's present-day small glaciers (found in locations that are in almost perpetual shade) have done their part in forming the sheer drops and hanging valleys that provide platforms for waterfall activity.
Another factor is the numerous lakes and streams and two reservoirs that feed groundwater movement and thus waterfall flow. High-country snowmelt contributes in May and June, the months of peak waterfall activity. In contrast, summer's hot, dry weather slows many falls to a trickle or dries them up completely—even Yosemite Falls is a shadow of its normally robust self from August through October. Others, including Bridalveil, Nevada and Vernal falls, flow all year, albeit at a greatly reduced rate by late summer. One general rule of thumb: the wetter the winter, the more spectacular the waterfalls the following spring.
The mightiest of them all is Yosemite Falls in Yosemite Valley . Together the three separate cascades plunge a total of 2,425 feet, making this one of the highest falls in the world. It's an arduous all-day hike to the top of the upper falls, but you can take a shuttle bus to the bottom of 320-foot Lower Yosemite Fall, which also is an easy walk from the parking lots in the vicinity of Yosemite Valley Lodge . The spray from voluminous spring runoff is guaranteed to give you an unintended bath. Vernal Falls is a comparative pipsqueak (“only” 317 feet), but it flows all year. The Mist Trail hike alongside the falls is a beaut, despite being a difficult climb up hundreds of granite steps; the farther you go the better the views get.
Bridalveil Falls also flows all year. This is the first waterfall visitors see arriving at Yosemite from the south (via SR 41). It runs through a “hanging valley,” a geologic feature glaciers carved out of the surrounding rock. The movement of a glacier has the power to erode a deep valley shaped like a “U,” while a smaller tributary glacier can create a shallower valley, also U-shaped, which appears to be hanging above the main valley. Water flowing through the upper valley often forms a waterfall. From the falls parking area off Wawona Road (SR 41) a short distance east of the Wawona Tunnel, it's an easy 20-minute walk to the bottom of this 620-foot natural wonder. The same vantage point also provides a view of 1,612-foot Ribbon Falls, which—as its name implies—is long and skinny and flows only during the spring.
docentjoyce / flickr
If you want to observe a waterfall that appears to be on fire, plan on visiting Yosemite sometime in the latter part of February. Horsetail Falls tumbles off the east buttress of El Capitan, one of the Yosemite Valley's singular rock formations, and reflects the deep orange glow of sunset during its vigorous but short-lived winter flow. The picnic area on Northside Drive (SR 140) about 3 miles west of Yosemite Lodge offers a good vantage point for viewing both El Capitan and—if you're lucky—this natural phenomenon.

High-Altitude Health
Temples throbbing, gasping for breath and nauseated, you barely notice the scudding clouds or the spectacular view.
You might be suffering from Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS). Usually striking at around 8,000 feet (2,450 meters) in altitude, AMS is your body's way of coping with the reduced oxygen and humidity of high altitudes. Among the symptoms are headaches, shortness of breath, loss of appetite, insomnia and lethargy. Some people complain of temporary weight gain or swelling in the face, hands and feet.
You can reduce the effect of high altitude by being in top condition. If you smoke or suffer from heart or lung ailments, consult your physician before your trip. Certain drugs will intensify the symptoms. To avoid Acute Mountain Sickness, adjust to elevations slowly; a gradual ascent with a couple days of acclimatization is best if you have time. For example, if you are planning a trip to the Rocky Mountains of Colorado, you might want to spend the first night in a lower altitude city such as Denver as opposed to heading directly to an environment with extreme elevations.
On the way up, eat light, nutritious meals and stay hydrated by drinking a large amount of water and taking care to avoid caffeine, alcohol and salt. In addition, your doctor may be able to prescribe medication that can offset the effects at high altitude.
If you develop AMS, you should stop ascending; you will recover in a few days. If the AMS is mild, a quick descent will end the suffering immediately.
Other high-altitude health problems include sunburn and hypothermia. Dress in layers to protect yourself from the intense sun and wide fluctuations in temperature.
Finally, after you lounge in the sauna or whirlpool bath at your lodgings, remember to stand up carefully, for the heat has relaxed your blood vessels and lowered your blood pressure.

General Information
Yosemite National Park is open daily all year. Many roads in Yosemite Valley are one-way, and traffic can be heavy, especially in summer. Maps and information are available at the park's four visitor centers, and schedules of events are provided at park entrances and posted throughout the valley. A free shuttle bus operates in the east end of the valley daily 7 a.m.-10 p.m., in summer; hours vary rest of year. In the winter a shuttle runs from Yosemite Valley Lodge to the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area.
Wilderness permits, required of all overnight backpackers, are free at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center or at any other wilderness permit station. Some stations are open seasonally; phone ahead to confirm locations and hours. Reservations also are available for a fee of $5 per reservation plus $5 per person if obtained by phone or mail; phone (209) 372-0740. To make reservations by mail write Wilderness Association, P.O. Box 545, Yosemite, CA 95389. For information about wilderness permits phone (209) 372-0200.
A California fishing license is required for all park waters; an annual permit costs $47.01 for residents. A 10-day non-resident pass also is $47.01. A 2-day resident or non-resident license costs $23.50. Information about bicycle rentals is available at Half Dome Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge; tour bus information also is given at these spots as well as at all lodging facilities.
Ranger-naturalists conduct year-round nature walks that last from a half-hour to 2 hours; snowshoe walks are available in the winter. Evening programs are presented all year at the Yosemite Valley Lodge, and in summer at Half Dome Village, Lower Pines, Glacier Point, Tuolumne Meadows, Crane Flat, Wawona and White Wolf campgrounds.
An open-air tram offers frequent 2-hour tours of the valley during summer and occasional trips after Labor Day; reservations can be made at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, Half Dome Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge. Other tours depart daily in summer to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. Guided horseback tours of Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows and the valley also are available, as are multiday saddle and pack trips. A hiker shuttle goes to Glacier Point and Tuolumne Meadows.
Self-guiding tours of a re-created Ahwahneechee Indian village as well as a historic cemetery are available at Yosemite Village in Yosemite Valley. A museum houses photographs and historic books, while the artifacts in the Indian Cultural Exhibit depict the history of the Miwok and Paiute. A visitor center, a theater and an art center also are found in the village.
Skiing and skating can be enjoyed in winter. Half Dome Village has an outdoor skating rink; Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area has downhill and cross-country skiing. Cross-country ski trails lead from the Yosemite Ski & Snowboard and Crane Flat areas. Snowshoe tours are offered.
Child care is available in winter for a fee at Ski Tots Playhouse at Badger Pass. During summer the Junior Ranger Program of nature walks and classes welcomes students in grades 3 through 6; phone (209) 372-0200.
Campground reservations are available through the National Recreation Reservation System; phone (877) 444-6777, or TTY (877) 833-6777.
The main visitor center in Yosemite Valley is open year-round. Additional visitor information can be obtained at Big Oak Flat, Tuolumne Meadows and Wawona centers that usually are open June through September; for recorded information about camping, roads, weather conditions and recreation, phone (209) 372-0200.

ADMISSION
ADMISSION to the park is by $30 private vehicle fee ($25, Nov.-Mar.), $20 per motorcycle or $15 per person arriving by other means, and is good for 7 days.

PETS
PETS are not allowed on the trails or in public buildings and accommodations and must be leashed at all times. Pets are permitted in Upper Pines in Yosemite Valley, the west end of the campground at Tuolumne Meadows, and at White Wolf (Section C), Bridalveil (Section A), Crane Flat (Section A), Wawona, Hodgdon Meadows and Yosemite Creek campgrounds. Dogs can be boarded in Yosemite Valley from late May to mid-October.

ADDRESS
ADDRESS inquiries concerning the park to the Superintendent, Yosemite National Park, P.O. Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389. Phone (209) 372-0200.
Lorenzo Tlacaelel

Recreation
Biking, swimming, backpacking, fishing, hiking—whatever your interest, make sure you experience these recreational highlights, as chosen by AAA editors.
Yosemite National Park is an absolute paradise for outdoor lovers, and hiking is one of the most rewarding ways of experiencing what it has to offer. There are hiking trails galore, from easy 20-minute walks to strenuous all-day journeys, and they enable you to get up close and personal with some of the park's deservedly famous natural features. If you're interested in a particular hike or backpacking trip, stop at one of the visitor centers to pick up maps and trail guides or speak to a ranger for details.
Yosemite Falls and Bridalveil Fall are two of the coolest waterfalls in Yosemite Valley , and fortunately hikes to each one are easy. The paved trail to the base of Lower Yosemite Fall is a half-mile round trip from the shuttle bus stop for the falls. From the parking area for Bridalveil Fall off Southside Drive (SR 41), the paved trail is another short walk with a slight uphill climb. On a breezy day watch how the wind blows Bridalveil's cascades of water across the rocks.
Another valley hike begins at the Mirror Lake trailhead (shuttle bus stop #17, less than a mile from Half Dome Village). From there it's a 5-mile round trip along an old paved trail around Mirror Lake, named for the way Half Dome and other features are reflected on its glassy surface (best seen in spring). More a pond than a lake, the water dries up to practically nothing by late summer, but it's still a nice walk with impressive views looking up at the dome.
One of the valley's most popular hikes is the Mist Trail to the top of 594-foot Nevada Falls, climbing beside the Merced River and passing shorter Vernal Fall along the way. The trailhead begins at the Happy Isles Nature Center, about half a mile south of Half Dome Village (Yosemite Valley shuttle bus stop #16). The hike to the top of Nevada Falls and back is about 7 miles.
The uphill trek is fairly strenuous as far as the Vernal Fall footbridge, where you get your first view of the falls. It's even more so from the footbridge to the top of Nevada Falls, the trail paved with a seemingly endless procession of precision-fitted stone steps. They make the journey easier, but it's still quite a taxing climb. The trail above the footbridge is closed November through April. And as the name implies, it can be slick. Watch your step and expect to get wet in spring and early summer, which is also when you'll want to do this hike because both falls are at their spectacularly rushing peak.
Hiking in Tuolumne Meadows can be a challenge due to the high altitude, but the scenery is fantastic. One all-day hike that goes easy on the elevation gain (just 200 feet over 8 miles) is along the John Muir Trail through Lyell Canyon. It begins at the Dog Lake/John Muir Trail parking area off Tioga Pass Road , near Yosemite's eastern entrance and the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge. The trail meanders through Lyell Canyon, mostly following a fork of the Tuolumne River.
Two other hikes begin at this trailhead. The trek to Dog Lake is shorter (about 3 miles round trip) but steeper, leading to a high-country lake that's a scenic spot for fishing or picnicking. Even more strenuous is the hike to the top of Lembert Dome, from which there are terrific panoramic views of Tuolumne Meadows and Cathedral and Unicorn peaks. Both can be combined in one 5-mile loop, hiking first to the lake and then the dome; you'll be pooped by the end of the day, but the scenery makes the effort worth it.
Perhaps Yosemite's standout high-country hike is the trek to Cloud's Rest. The trailhead (Sunrise Lakes) is off Tioga Pass Road at the southwestern end of Tenaya Lake. This full-day adventure (14 miles round trip) starts out as a fairly flat and easy hike, but a strenuous mile of uphill switchbacks must be negotiated during the ascent to the summit. Your reward is an astounding view from the top of a granite precipice that takes in Half Dome, El Capitan and the valley below. A small lake at about the halfway point is a good spot to catch your breath both coming and going. Do not attempt this hike if you're afraid of heights or not used to exertion at high altitudes.
Note: Wilderness permits are required for trips into Yosemite's backcountry. Permits are available at the visitor and wilderness centers in Yosemite Valley, the Hetch Hetchy park entrance station on Big Oak Flat Road (SR 120) and in season at the Tuolumne Meadows Ski Hut (at the entrance to Tuolumne Meadows Campground).
Another very challenging hike is to the top of Half Dome ; wired cables strung along the shoulder of this gigantic granite rock assist climbers up the last 900 feet. The view from the summit is unsurpassed, but it's a grueling and intimidating experience scrambling up the side of the rock wall—albeit one eagerly welcomed by physically fit thrill seekers, who line up on summer weekends for a chance to scale the dome.
The hikes to Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are much easier while offering the same dizzying views. They begin at the Sentinel Dome/Taft Point trailhead parking area off Glacier Point Road. Hikers can scramble up Sentinel Dome's relatively gentle slope for a 360-degree view of the Yosemite Valley. Taft Point provides a similar panoramic vista, with the valley 2,000 feet below. Some of the viewpoints aren't protected by rails, so be very careful.
Acrophobes will definitely want to avoid these two and instead head to the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias for great hiking without perilous dropoffs. Uphill trails into the grove begin at the far end of the parking area. From May through September take the free shuttle bus instead of driving, as the lot can fill up quickly. Note: In summer 2015, Mariposa Grove and the Mariposa Grove Road closed in preparation for a 2-year restoration project. Phone ahead for updated reopening information.
Some handy hints if embarking on a long and/or challenging hike: Shuttle buses stop at many of the more remote trailheads. Most trails are well marked and easy to follow, but it's a good idea to bring along a map and/or trail guidebook. Carry plenty of water for high-elevation hikes in late summer, when much of the park is dry. Wear sturdy hiking boots with grip soles. In addition to providing stability, trekking or hiking poles help ease the wear and tear on knees, feet, legs and back, especially if you're lugging a backpack.
If you don't relish huffing and puffing in order to appreciate Yosemite's wonders, take advantage of the park's bus and shuttle excursions—and make sure you bring a camera.
Red Junasun / flickr
Our list of “best spots to take pictures” would include Tunnel View (the view from the east end of the Wawona Tunnel reveals Yosemite Valley in all its glory), Glacier Point (the valley from a totally different perspective), Tuolumne Meadows (nature and wildflowers), Sentinel Bridge (just off one-way Southside Drive) for the reflection of Half Dome in the Merced River, and Valley View (off one-way Northside Drive just before the Pohono Bridge) for the vista looking up Yosemite Valley from alongside the river. This last spot is a lovely farewell if you're leaving the park via SR 140.
Yosemite Ski & Snowboard Area offers downhill as well as cross-country trails and is known for its gentle slopes and family-friendly atmosphere, making it a good place for beginners to learn the ropes. In addition to the downhill runs, you can snowboard or go snow tubing or snowshoeing. This full-service ski area offers instruction, rental equipment and free shuttle service from Yosemite Valley. It's normally open from late November through mid-April, weather permitting.
More than 12 miles of designated bike paths run through the eastern part of Yosemite Valley; cycling on the often-crowded roads and shuttle bus routes is not recommended. Bicycles can be rented at Half Dome Village or the Yosemite Valley Lodge .
The Merced River flowing through Yosemite Valley and the myriad lakes and streams of the high country provide numerous opportunities for fly-fishing; rainbow and brown trout are the primary catches. A catch-and-release policy is emphasized. Lakes and reservoirs are open to fishing year-round; the season for stream and river fishing runs from late April to mid-November. Anglers 16 years of age and older must have a valid California fishing license. Licenses and supplies can be obtained at the Yosemite Village Sport Shop, the Curry Village Mountain Shop and at the general stores in Wawona, Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows.
This is a great park for bird-watching. Yosemite's protected habitats are home to robins, jays, blackbirds, swifts and ravens as well as the seldom-seen Peregrine falcon, great gray owl and pileated woodpecker. Forests and meadows away from developed areas are the best places to observe, and morning is the best time.
Camping allows visitors to enjoy Yosemite's many beautiful wilderness areas. Keep in mind that most Yosemite campgrounds are not open all year; the high-country campgrounds only stay open for 2 or 3 months in the summer. Fishing, hiking, swimming and marveling at the scenery are the main activities.
Rock climbing draws hordes of enthusiasts to Yosemite. The sheer wall of El Capitan is acknowledged to be one of the world's finest—and certainly biggest—climbing surfaces. Some of the climbs to the top of this monster are challenging in the extreme, requiring expert skills, climbing aids such as ropes and cables or even a night spent on the wall. That doesn't stop the dedicated from trying, though. Late spring and early summer is the best time for rock climbing due to tranquil weather and long hours of daylight.
The Yosemite Mountaineering School conducts rock-climbing classes for every skill level from beginner through advanced. Guided day hike and overnight backpacking jaunts are available as well; phone (209) 372-8344.
Places in Vicinity

X
Click to View Map
Top Hotels
Current Location: Yosemite National Park, California
1
The Westin Monache Resort
50 Hillside Dr. Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Book Now
AAA Inspector Rating
Members save up to 15%, plus SPG® benefits when booking AAA rates!
2
Best Western Plus Yosemite Gateway Inn
40530 Hwy 41. Oakhurst, CA 93644
Book Now
AAA Inspector Rating
Members save 10% or more and earn 10% bonus Best Western Rewards® points when booking AAA rates!
3
Chukchansi Gold Resort & Casino
711 Lucky Ln. Coarsegold, CA 93614
Book Now
AAA Inspector Rating
4
Juniper Springs Resort
4000 Meridian Blvd. Mammoth Lakes, CA 93546
Book Now
AAA Inspector Rating