Yosemite National Park Travel Guide

August 06, 2021

sunset on horsetail falls in Yosemite national park with a text overpay that says Yosemite National Park Travel Guide

Yosemite National Park is one of the oldest nature preserves in the USA. Known for its beautiful vistas, towering waterfalls, and ancient sequoia groves, it is a magical place that should be explored at least once in a lifetime. We’ve collected all the info you need to plan your trip - how to get there, where to stay, and what to see.  

John Muir wrote, “No temple made with human hands can compare with Yosemite.” Come and see all that this UNESCO World Heritage Site has to offer. You’ll fall in love with it, just as John did all those years ago. 

// this article is a companion to the National Park Bucket Journal //

Get to Know Yosemite National Park

Region: Western 
State: California 
URL: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm 
Webcams: https://us04web.zoom.us/j/147738699?pwd=T2ZNTVdsZWRRdlZPTm9meWlNeXlndz09 

Established: October 1, 1890
President: Benjamin Harrison 
By the numbers: 

  • 1.2 million+ visitors per year
  • 404,000+ acres
  • Lat. 37.74859, Long. -119.58741
  • 5 park entrances
  • 4 visitor centers
  • Highest elevation 13,114 ft.
  • Lowest elevation 2,105 ft.

Entrances 

There are five park entrances with pay station access.  

  1. Big Oak Flat Entrance - Located on Big Oak Flat Road (Hwy 120) about 24 miles east of Groveland.
  2. Arch Rock Entrance -  Located on El Portal Road (Hwy 140), about 32 miles northeast of the town of Mariposa.
  3. South Entrance - From Hwy 99 in Freson, take Hwy 41 north into the park.
  4. Tioga Pass Entrance - On Hwy 120 East, about 13 miles from Lee Vining.
  5. Hetch Hetchy Entrance - Hetch Hetchy Road begins at the junction of Forest Rt 1S02, Mather Road, and Evergreen Road north of Birch Lake, Camp Mather. 

Visitor Centers

There are 4 visitor centers inside of the park. They all share the same phone number when calling for information. 

  1. Big Oak Flat Information Station  - 6107 Big Oak Flat Rd, Groveland, CA 95321 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.  Phone 209-372-0200
  2. Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center - Hwy 120 Tioga Road, between the Sierra High Rt and the Cathedral Lake Trailhead.  9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Phone 209-372-0200
  3. Wawona Visitor Center at Hill’s Studio - 8308 Wawona Rd, Wawona, CA 95389. 8:30 am to 5:00 pm.  Phone 209-372-0200  
  4. Yosemite Valley Visitor Center - 9035 Village Dr, Yosemite Valley, CA 95389. 9:00 am to 5:00 pm. Phone 209-372-0200

Entrance Fees: 

There is a pass for every excursion type! Passes are good for entry for 7 days from the date of purchase.

  • $35 non-commercial vehicle
  • $30 motorcycle or snowmobile
  • $20 on foot, bicycle, horse, or non-commercial can with more than 15 passenger seats
  • $70 Annual pass good for one year for a total of four people
  • $80 America the Beautiful Pass covers the entrance fee to National Parks and other federal fee areas, valid for 12 months from date of purchase
  • $80 Senior Pass provides lifetime or annual admission and discount pass for US citizens and permanent residents, age 62 and older. 
  • Free Access Pass - Lifetime admission and discount pass for US citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities.
  • Free - US Military Annual Pass covers entrance and standard amenity fees for all active US military personnel and their dependents, valid for 12 months from the date of issue. 
  • Free - Do you have a 4th grader? Check out the Every Kid Outdoors pass

journal your national park experiences in the national parks bucket journal

Journal about Your Unique Experiences in Yosemite National Park with a National Parks Bucket Journal

Memories are best made with adventure! All 63 US National Parks are full of unique experiences, dramatic views and natural wonders you simply have to see to believe. 

With a National Parks Bucket Journal, you will never forget the trips you take, the adventures you have, and the people you share it with. A bucket journal makes recording your trip's highlights, and planning your next adventure that much easier!  

 

picture of a Yosemite national park vinyl decal

 

Park Hours and Access: 

Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours per day, 365 days per year. However, the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station is open only during daylight hours and some roads are closed due to snow from around November through May or June. Check the NPS website for details about the season you will be visiting. 

Open all year? Yes, with some road closures, dependent on weather.

Closest Airports:

If you are not close enough to drive to Yosemite try flying into one of several airports and then driving to the park. It is easily accessible from these nine airports:  

Merced Airport (MCE)

  • Driving time: 2 hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year to Yosemite Valley via YARTS

 Fresno-Yosemite International (FAT)

  • Driving time: 1.5 hours to Wawona (2.5 hours to Yosemite Valley)
  • Public transportation: May 15 to September 15 only to Wawona and Yosemite Valley via YARTS; all year via Amtrak or Greyhound (through Merced)

 Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH)

  • Driving time: 1 hour to Tuolumne Meadows (2.5 hours to Yosemite Valley) when Tioga Road is open (typically late May or June until November). When Tioga Road is closed, allow about seven hours to Yosemite Valley. 
  • Public transportation: June through September (conditions permitting) to Tuolumne Meadows and Yosemite Valley via YARTS

Stockton Metropolitan Airport (SCK)

  • Driving time: 2.5 hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

 Oakland International (OAK)

  • Driving time: 3.5 hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

 Sacramento International (SMF)

  • Driving time: 3.5 hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

 San José International (SJC)

  • Driving time: four hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

 San Francisco International (SFO)

  • Driving time: four hours to Yosemite Valley
  • Public transportation: All year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

 Reno/Tahoe International (RNO)

  • Driving time: 3 hours to Tuolumne Meadows (4.5 hours to Yosemite Valley) when Tioga Road is open (typically late May or June until November). When Tioga Road is closed, allow about 5.5 hours to Yosemite Valley (no access by car to Tuolumne Meadows). 
  • Public transportation: June through September (conditions permitting) via Eastern Sierra Transit (to Lee Vining) and YARTS (from Lee Vining to Yosemite); all year via Amtrak or Greyhound.

Things To Do In Yosemite 

There are so many outdoor activities inside the park, be sure to take time and appreciate the animal life around you. There are opportunities for birding, wildlife viewing, and of course photographing the beauty around you.

Kids and adults will like the junior ranger and interpretive programs, which get them involved in hands-on activities. plus there are many areas where swimming is available. especially around campsites. Be sure to stop for a picnic in one of the scenic areas.

Enjoy getting around the park with one of the seven self-guided tours or venture out on your own by biking (rentals available) some of the 12 miles of paved paths. Venture out for hiking, horseback riding, backcountry exploration, rock climbing, fishing, or boating. You’ll never get bored!

Yosemite has an active shuttle system that takes you all around the park. Enjoy visiting Yosemite Valley, El Capitan, Mariposa Grove, or Tuolumne Meadows by shuttle. You can also use YARTS (Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System) to get out from behind the wheel and see the park in a different way. 

How Much Time Do You Need to Explore Yosemite?

Most people recommend at least three days to get acquainted with all Yosemite has to offer. If you have one day in the summer, be sure to take in Glacier Point for its breathtaking view and then stopping by Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View, Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Mirror Lake. It will be a busy day, but worthy of many grand views and photo ops.   

Use one of these itineraries from Travel Yosemite. They have ideas for 2-day and 3-day trips for spring, summer, fall, and winter. 

My Bucket Journals Recommends These Yosemite NP Attractions:

  • Bridalveil Fall
  • Tunnel View
  • Swinging Bridge Picnic Area
  • Sentinel Bridge
  • Yosemite Museum
  • Mirror Lake
  • Drive Glacier Point Road
  • Drive Tioga Road
  • Drive Hetch Hetchy Road
  • See Wawona & Mariposa Groves 

Hike the Trails 

You can find a hike for every level of experience, from boardwalks to back-country adventures. Yosemite is divided into six major areas that have extensive trails to explore. We’ve named a few of them, but be sure to use the NPS app and get even more listings and details about each trail.

Yosemite Valley Hikes: Bridalveil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, Upper Yosemite Fall, Mirror Lake 

Wawona & Mariposa Grove Hikes: Chilnualna Falls, Grizzly Giant, Big Trees Loop  

Glacier Point Road Hikes: Sentinel Dome & Taft Point, Four Mile Trailhead to Glacier Point, Ostrander Lake  

Hetch Hetchy Hikes: Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Wapama & Rancheria Fall, Poopenaut Valley  

Crane Flat & White Wolf Hikes: Merced Grove, Lukens Lake, Porcupine Creek  

Tuolumne Meadows Hikes: Sunrise Lakes, Lembert Dome, John Muir Trail  

There are over 800 miles of trails to traverse in Yosemite National Park. When planning a hike, remember that many of Yosemite’s trails are between 4,000 and 8,000 feet above sea level. If your body is accustomed to the lowlands, a visit to the mountains can have pronounced physical impacts. Check the current conditions page for the most up-to-date information on park trails, roadways, and closures.   

Tours in Yosemite: 

There are many ways to enrich your visit to Yosemite. You can participate in a ranger program, becoming a junior ranger, explore as a young scientist, or go on a tour.  

There are seven self-guided tours available in the NPS app for Yosemite. Many of them are ADA accessible.  Use the NPS app to get information about these tours:

  • Mariposa Grove Big Trees Loop Tour
  • Mairpost Grove Grizzly Giant Tour   
  • Tuolumne Meadows, Soda Springs, and Parsons Lodge Tour
  • Wawona Pioneer Yosemite History Center Tour
  • Yosemite Valley Virtual Walk with a Park Geologist
  • Yosemite Valley Cooks Meadow Loop Tour
  • Yosemite Valley Lower Yosemite Fall Tour  

In addition, Yosemite Hospitality offers bus tours year-round. All tours begin in Yosemite Valley, are seasonal, and weather permitting. Find out more about guided tours and fees here.    

Lodging in the Park: 

There are seven places to stay within the park that are not considered "campsites." These range from beautiful, historic lodges to upscale canvas tents with concrete floors.  

  1. Yosemite Valley Lodge - 241 recently remodeled rooms and 4 family rooms. Gift shop, dining options, swimming pool. Its close proximity to Yosemite Falls makes it the perfect base camp for exploring Yosemite National Park. 
  2. The Ahwahnee - offering hotel rooms, suites, parlors, and cottages. Built in the 1920s, it has dining, a gift shop, bar, and heated outdoor swimming pool. WiFi is available. 
  3. Curry Village - features standard hotel rooms, wood cabins, and canvas tent cabin accommodations. True to the original intent of Curry Village, the tent cabins feature wooden frames wrapped and covered with canvas, wooden floors, and wooden doors. While they do have electric lighting, they don’t have electrical outlets, phones, TVs, or plumbing. 
  4. Housekeeping Camp - like camping with walls! Perched alongside the Merced River in the middle of the Valley, the camp features three-sided concrete structures with canvas roofs and privacy curtains. 
  5. Wawona Hotel - One of California's original mountain resort hotels, established in 1856. 50 standard hotel rooms with private baths, and 54 standard hotel rooms with shared bathrooms. The hotel dining room serves breakfast, lunch, and dinner. 
  6. White Wolf Lodge - 24 canvas tent cabins and 4 traditional wood cabins with private baths. Central dining room with a rustic porch. 
  7. Tuolumne Meadows Lodge -  located 60 miles from Yosemite Valley at over 8,700 feet above sea level. It features 69 canvas tent cabins with no electricity, televisions, or phones. Showers and restrooms are conveniently located in the center of the camp. it’s the perfect place to settle in after hiking in Yosemite

Campgrounds: 

There are 13 campgrounds inside of Yosemite, each offering an exploration of different areas of the park. Use the map below to find locations and links to their individual websites.  

Upper Pines Campground - elevation 4,000 feet (1,219 m) - 235 sites, is located near the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and can be accessed from all park roads.  

Lower Pines Campground - elevation 4,000 feet (1,219 m) - 73 sites, is located near the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and is centrally located near some of the most iconic features.  

North Pines Campground - elevation 4,000 feet (1,219 m) - 80 sites,  is located near the Merced River in Yosemite Valley and can be accessed from all park roads. Food and grocery is available in nearby Curry Village.  

Camp 4 Campground - elevation 4,000 feet (1,219 m) 25 sites,  is located near the base of granite cliffs close to Yosemite Falls. Within biking and walking distance of services.  

Bridalveil Creek Campground - elevation 7,200 feet (2,194 m) 115 sites,  is located along Glacier Point Road, 7 miles west of Glacier Point. Many hiking trails, no services nearby.  

Wawona Campground - elevation 4,000 feet (1,219 m) 97 sites, is located at the southern end of the park along the south fork of the Merced River. Historic attractions and a visitor center are close by.  

Crane Flat Campground - elevation 6,200 feet (1,890 m) 62 sites, is located along Big Oak Flat Road about 30 minutes from the Yosemite Valley. Several trailheads and majestic lookouts are close by.    

Hodgdon Meadow Campground - elevation 4,875 feet (1,486 m) 103 sites, off the Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120), about 45 minutes northwest of Yosemite Valley and adjacent to the Big Oak Flat Entrance Station.  

Tamarack Flat Campground - elevation 6.300 feet (1,920 m) located on Tamarack Creek, is along Tioga Road about 45 minutes north of Yosemite Valley. Hike up to Devils Dance Floor, a flat-topped granite dome located just south of the campground.  

White Wolf Campground - elevation 8,000 feet (2,438 m) 74 sites,  is 2.2 miles southeast of Harden Lake and close to White Wolf Lodge. Enjoy cool nights, but limited services in this area.   

Yosemite Creek Campground - elevation 7,700 feet (2,346 m) has 75 campsites and is located long Old Tioga Road. Play in the creek or hike nearby trails.   

Porcupine Flat Campground - elevation 8,100 feet (2,468 m) has 52 campsites and is situated along Porcupine Creek. Access to Porcupine Creek, May Lake, and Ten Lakes trailheads is nearby. 

Tuolumne Meadows Campground - elevation 8,000 feet (2,438 m) has 304 campsites and has access to many trailheads, services, and a visitor center nearby. 

Is it Hard to Get Reservations for Camping at Yosemite? 

Yes, nearly all reservations for the months of May through September and for some other weekends are filled the first day they become available. Usually seconds or minutes after the 7 am opening bell!

Reservations are required all year for Yosemite Valley's car campgrounds and summer through fall for Hodgdon Meadow, Crane Flat, Wawona, and half of Tuolumne Meadows.

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. 

To make a campground reservation visit www.recreation.gov or call (877) 444-6777. 

Get Connected

The National Park Service App (NPS App) features downloadable information for all the national park sites in the country, including [park name].  This includes an interactive map, self-guided audio tours, and information to make your trip smoother and more interesting. It does not yet include live updates to lodging, campground, or road status.    

Visitor TIP  

Cellular service within the park can be limited. In order to make use of the app while in Yosemite, follow these simple steps before you arrive: 

  • Download the app.
  • In the app, select the "Settings" option.
  • Tap the choice "Download Offline Content."  

This gives you access to most of the app content (except alerts, calendar updates, and real-time updates, although accessing those items before leaving service will keep that information available in the app) Even without cellular service, the app will be able to share your location on the map and bring up all site content.

 

Online Map of the Park

Use our interactive map to plan your trip and view details about visitor centers, campgrounds, lodging, walking tours, and attractions.  

How to Use This Map: Click the tab in the top left-hand corner of the map to view the layers. You can click the checkmarks to hide or show layers. If you click the icons on the map, you can get more information about each point of interest.  

If you click the star next to the title of the map, this map will be added to your Google Maps account. To view it on your phone or computer, open Google Maps, click the menu button, go to “Your Places,” click Maps, and you will see this map on your list.

 

PIN IT FOR LATER >>>
giant sequoias at Yosemite national park. Yosemite travel guide





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