The best things to see in Yosemite: find out what are Yosemite must-see sites to seek out during your vacation in Yosemite.
If you are planning a trip to Yosemite, chances are you have seen photos of this stunning National Park and are wondering where you can go to experience that beauty in person.
Indeed, it is hard to overstate how beautiful Yosemite actually is.
Carved by glacier erosion over the course of millions of years, Yosemite Valley runs amidst tall granite peaks and hosts some of the world’s highest waterfalls, giant sequoias, alpine meadows and a plethora of animal species including deer and bears.
With a surface of over 3,000sq mt, Yosemite is huge and if you want to see the best that the park has to offer, some planning is necessary.
The first step is to identify what to see.
Yosemite must-see places and best things to do
Yosemite’s best viewpoints
Yosemite is beautiful no matter how you look at it and you will be hard-pressed to find an ugly spot.
However, there are some viewpoints that offer breath-taking views and are the best place to catch a view of Yosemite Valley, main peaks and overall majestic size.
The best viewpoints in Yosemite are:
Tunnel View: probably the most famous of all viewpoints in Yosemite, this is where you catch a view of some of Yosemite’s most famous and beautiful sites such as Bridal Veil Fall, El Capitan and Half dome.
Glacier Point: easy to reach and spectacular, Glacier Point is a spectacular overlook with breath-taking views of Half Dome and the Valley below.
Valley View: a lovely spot to catch a view of El Capitan and the Merced River, the river meandering the Yosemite Valley Floor.
Olmsted Point: Along the scenic Tioga Road (see also below), this is the most famous viewpoint along the most scenic drive in Yosemite
Yosemite’s best waterfalls
Yosemite is rich in waterfalls and is home to 5 of the tallest in the world.
In the right season, the water flows majestically yet gracefully from the granite peaks and reflects the sun in blinding sparkles of light.
Some of the best waterfalls to see in Yosemite are:
- Yosemite Falls (2,425 ft): one of the tallest waterfalls in the world, Yosemite waterfalls is 3 waterfalls in one! It comprises of upper Yosemite fall, middle cascade and lower Yosemite falls.
- Bridalveil falls (620 ft): one of the most famous and often the first one visitors encounter when driving into the valley
- Sentinel Falls (about 2,000 feet)
- Ribbon Fall (1,612 feet)
- Horsetail Fall (1,000 feet)
- Vernal Falls: 317 feet
Yosemite giant sequoias
Several areas of Yosemite are covered by giant sequoias, majestic trees sometimes as old as 3000 years of age!
The main area in Yosemite to see giant sequoias is Mariposa Grove, neat the South Eastern Park entrance however, you also have sequoias in Toulumne Grove and Merced Grove.
Yosemite visitors center + Attend a ranger talk
Yosemite became National Park in 1864 and has been in the care of the park rangers ever since.
They are a wealth of knowledge and hold regular talks that teach about the park, its history, its peculiarities and protection challenges.
The talks are informative, entertaining and fun and significantly add to your Yosemite experience.
You can find the list and exact schedule of talks each day in the Yosemite publication available at the visitor’s centers.
Good to know: if visiting Yosemite with kids, you can join the ranger talks that are specific for families. They are great fun and truly educational.
Yosemite best day hikes
Yosemite is a hiker’s paradise and you, if you choose the right path, you can get a taste for what hiking in Yosemite is all about no matter what your level of fitness happens to be.
There are too many hikes in Yosemite for me to list them here however, these will give a sense of the variety of options available.
Find more info about Yosemite dau hikes from the official park site here
- Happy Isle walk – Easy
- Bridalveil Fall Trail – Easy
- Lower Yosemite Fall Trail – Easy
- Cook’s Meadow Loop – Easy
- Mirror Lake Loop – Easy to Moderate
- Valley Loop Trail – Moderate
- Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls Trail – Moderate
- Yosemite Falls Trail – Moderate/Strenuous
- Snow Creek Falls Train – strenuous
- Four Mile Trail – strenuous
- Half Dome Trail – strenuous
The Merced River
The Merced River flows on the Yosemite Valley Floor and it is a wonderful place to relax on the water, especially in summer or for water activities.
The river is perfect for wading, sunbathing, swimming and it is also possible to rent rafts in summer.
While there is a lot to do in Yosemite, you can also simply enjoy the park staying in Yosemite Valley.
You can enjoy this area on foot, renting bikes, hopping onto the Yosemite shuttle bus or just settling in one of the beautiful Yosemite hotels and soak in the atmosphere (the Ahwahnee is special!)
Yosemite’s beautiful lakes
Yosemite has several beautiful lakes however, only a handful of them are easy to reach.
Among these, worth seeing are Tenaya Lake, very popular for picnics, swimming and canoeing, Mirror Lake, famous for its reflections of Half Dome and Hetch Hetchy reservoir (no swimming allowed here)
Yosemite’s historic buildings and museums
Yosemite has several buildings and museums worth seeing.
Yosemite museum tells the story of the people of Yosemite and it is also where you can see the reconstructed Ahwahnee Village.
The Nature Center at Happy Isle teaches about the animals and nature of Yosemite and it is a great place for kids and to learn about bears.
The Ansel Adam’s Gallery showcases work of Yosemite’s most famous photographer.
The Ahwahnee Hotel is a historical hotel with elegant rustic interior worth seeing (and one of the best places to stay when visiting Yosemite if your budget allows it)
Tioga Pass is a tall pass in Yosemite park only open in summer if the weather allows and famous for breathtaking views.
While it must be avoided if you are afraid of heights, it is a must-see place if you love scenic roads.
I hope you enjoyed this overview of the best places to visit in Yosemite. Safe travel planning!