Yosemite is stunning and there are many things to do. Here are our top picks
1. Sunrise or Sunset at Glacier point –One of the best view of the Yosemite Valley and Half Dome is from Glacier Point, and no better time to do it than during Sunrise/Sunset. Only 100 meters from the parking lot, the area is well gloomed for tourists and is wheel chair accessible. During sunset/sunrise, you will find many photographers here trying to capture that perfect shot. Check the sunrise/sunset time and bring warm clothing as it is 8000 ft high and cold in the evening (even in summer). A box of pizza and a bottle of wine to go with the view would be great. In summer, you can also book a 4.5hrs (starts at 7pm) Stargazing tour from the DNC. Sunset from Glazier Point is a MUST SEE.
2. Taft Point and Sentinel Dome – It wasn’t until our 5thtrip to Yosemite until we decided to explore these 2 gems. Only about 3 miles from Glazier Point, it is often overlooked. From the parking lot off Glazier Point road, 1 mile easy hike to the left is Taft Point where you will be testing whether you are afraid of heights as you can look down the cliff to the valley floor below with no railing protection. Toward the right of the parking lot, 1 mile in is Sentinel Dome, where you can get a 360 degrees view of Yosemite (similar to that from Half Dome but w/o the 18 miles hike).
3. Tunnel View – A top tourist attraction/itinerary for most day tour buses. If you are coming from the Southwest Wawona entrance, the parking lot and vista point is right after the long tunnel (no hiking necessary). From here, you get the sweeping view of the Yosemite Valley with Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome and El-Capitan in the background.
4. Bike Ride through the Yosemite Valley Floor – A great way to enjoy the late afternoon/early evening is to ride a bike around the valley floor. Yosemite Valley has 12 miles of paved bike path. You can enjoy the breeze, the glow of the dying sunlight on the beautiful meadows and the creeks/rivers. Bikes can be rented for $11/hr or $31.50/day from Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village Recreation Center (8:30am – 8:30pm). The rental bikes have classic look/feel, throwing you back 30-50 yrs.
5. Lower Yosemite Fall and Bridalveil Fall – Aside from being one of the top things to see in Yosemite, they are also the top 2 great super short hikes for everyone. Only 0.5 mile from the parking lot (near the Wawona CA 41/Yosemite Valley loop intersection) is Bridalveil Fall. During the spring, you will be soaked wet trying to get to the bottom of the fall. Lower Yosemite Fall is 1.0 mile from shuttle stop #6 (or the parking area around Cook’s Meadow/Yosemite Lodge). There are 2 path and 1 of which is accessible to wheelchairs. From the foot bridge where you can get that perfect photos. During spring, be careful as the rocks/path may be wet/slippery as you get closer to the fall.
6. Vernal Fall/Nevada Fall – The top medium hike for those who like to explore is the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Fall. Mist Trail is one of the most beautiful (yet dangerous) hiking trail in America. About 1.5 miles in, you will walk up 20-30 minutes of pure stairs and be soaked due the mist coming out of Vernal Fall. It takes 1-1.5 hrs (2.5 miles from trailhead parking lot) to get to the top of Vernal Falls. Continuing on if you have the stamina (another 30 minutes of pure stairs) is Nevada Fall (2-3 hrs, 4.4 miles from trailhead parking lot). Hiking shoes are a must for Mist Trail. It is slippery/dangerous as there are no railings to protect you from falling down the cliff due to miss steps on the slippery stairs. For the super adventurous and the prepared, you can hike to Half Dome (permits needed) (see our Half dome post here).
Yosemite Less Visited (But Abolutely Stunning)
The next 3 (Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, and Tuolumne Meadow) are often less visited as they are 1-1.5 hours away from the Valley Floor. However, it is one of the most beautiful and spectacular drive in America. One of our favorite drives in spring and early summer (when snows are still on the mountain tops).
7. Olmsted point – About 1 hr. drive from the Valley Floor is Olmsted Point, where you have a great view back to Yosemite Valley/Half Dome (similar to that from Tunnel View, but the other side view that most often don’t see). It is a beautiful view of granite mountain ranges and rocks, and you can see people scaling Half Dome Cables. If you take a short walk (0.3 mile) from the Vista Point parking lot, you will get to a beautiful dome where you can also see Tenaya . It is one of the park’s most spectacular vista point.
8. Tenaya Lake – A beautiful high country lake a short distant from Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake may be the most beautiful of all Yosemite’s lakes. It’s a mile long and bordered on 3 sides by granite peaks and domes. The lake basin was formed by glacial action, which left a backdrop of light granite rocks, whose beauty was known to the Native Americans. The views are stunning. Here, you can kayak, swim, hike, or just sit and dip your feet into the chilly lake. There is also a beach area. It is a beautiful spot to have a picnic or spend the day doing the activities above.
9. Toulumne Meadow – About 1.5 hrs from Yosemite Valley, Toulumne Meadow is a gentle, dome-studded syb-alpine meadowy section of the Tuolumne River. Tuolumne Meadows has a good view of the Cathedral Range (south), Lembert Dome and Mount Dana (north). Camping is available at the Tuolumne Meadows campground. Excellent hiking and rock climbing are accessible from Tuolumne Meadows, which tends to be less crowded than Yosemite Valley. The meadow is very beautiful, especially during sunrise and sunset, and its photo often make front pages (yet less visited!).
10. Mariposa Grove – Lastly, 2 miles from the southwest CA 41 entrance, 45 minutes from Yosemite Valley is Mariposa Grove. It is where the giant Sequoia lives. The key attraction here is the California Tunnel Tree and the Giant Grizzly, both are some of the biggest trees in the world. California Tunnel Tree has a tunnel cut through it; big enough for a small car to fit through. It is a perfect spot to take a photo of yourself being tiny compared to the gigantic trees.