Established in 1890 as the United States’ (U.S.) third national park, Yosemite is regarded as one of the most beautiful places in the country. Known for its grandiose waterfalls, towering granite cliffs, and ancient Sequoia trees, the protected section of land in California attracts almost 4 million visitors each year.
After stepping foot into the park’s perimeters, it’s easy to get lost in its magical atmosphere. A sense of peace and wonderment can be found while walking on the valley floor, or staring up at the stars from a mountain peak. You can travel back in time while wandering about the groves of giant Sequoias, or visit some of the most iconic views in the park without ever leaving the car.
Whatever may spark your desire in visiting, you’ll never find yourself bored in such a special environment. Here are five must-do activities in Yosemite National Park that will make for an epic trip!
Situated in the midst of the Sierra Nevada mountains, it’s no surprise that the number one activity tourists in Yosemite dive into is hiking. Whether you carve out 10-12 hours of your day to hike the infamous Half Dome or take a leisurely stroll through the meadows, there’s something for everyone to enjoy in the 750 miles of trails throughout the park.
Valley Loop Trail
Clocking in at 13 miles total with a mostly flat elevation gain, this trail takes you on a journey through Yosemite Valley. Wander through forests, meadows, and along the Merced River. Enjoy some peace and solitude with striking views of El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, and Bridalveil Falls.
Vernal Fall/Mist Trail
Cool off by walking through a fog of mist created by the powerful 300+ foot Vernal Falls when hiking this trail. While it’s considered more challenging due to the elevation gain, it’s an experience you won’t want to miss.
Sometimes the best part of exploring a national park is discovering incredible viewpoints along the way. A lot of sights don’t even involve you leaving the car, and when you’re in a time crunch, that’s exactly what you need. Yosemite is filled with such awe-inspiring beauty that no matter what portion of the park you’re in, there’s always something to look at.
A trip to Yosemite wouldn’t be complete without driving up Glacier Point Road. After traveling roughly 13 miles, the road leads you to an overlook with an unbelievable view of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls—all from 3,214 feet above the valley floor! This road is open seasonally from May-October, so plan accordingly.
By entering the park from the southeast through Wawona Road (Highway 41), you’ll travel through a mile-long tunnel that opens up to one of—if not the—most famous view of the Valley. Showcasing just how immense El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Rock, Cathedral Rocks, and Bridalveil Falls are, the view is unmatched.
When the sun sets and the pink and purple hues fade from the sky, the show of twinkling lights that the universe puts on for us is spectacular. When visiting a national park, spending at least one night staring at the sky must make it onto your itinerary. Light pollution has become so prevalent in the U.S. that at this very moment, 80% of Americans are unable to see the Milky Way.1 Being as remote as it is and miles away from the nearest city lights, Yosemite is a prime location to stargaze. For an added bonus, be sure to bring your binoculars and a constellation chart.
If you’re looking to get away from the overcrowding that is inevitable at certain spots in national parks, this is the place for you. Above the hustle and bustle of Tunnel View lies a lesser-known, more secluded area with the same magnificent view of the valley. While getting to Artist Point involves a short 1-mile hike, those who decide to stargaze here never regret it. Watch the sky fade to black and take in the billions of stars that surround you. Just make sure to pack a headlamp for the hike down.
Olmstead Point is one of Yosemite’s most popular vistas. While it takes roughly 50-60 miles to drive here from the valley, the remote feel of it makes it that much more unique when watching the stars—it’s like you’re the only person in the world. Bring your wide-angle lens for your camera to capture the Milky Way shining above you.
4. Big Trees
Yosemite is home to three groves of giant, ancient Sequoia trees. Found only in California, these trees are dubbed “…the most massive living thing(s) by volume”.2 They can grow upwards of 270 feet tall with an average diameter of 20-26 feet. If that isn’t mind-boggling enough, you’re able to get up close and personal to them when visiting Yosemite.
The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias is located in the southern section of the park, and is also the most visited. Once you get off the free shuttle ride and start your trek through the woodlands, you’ll understand why. The trail winds through over 500 mature sequoias and at one point plops you right in front of the Grizzly Giant, a 3,000-year-old tree with a diameter of 30 feet! Just past it, you’ll also get the chance to walk through the trunk of the California Tunnel Tree; the tunnel was dug in 1895 to allow horse-drawn carriages to pass through. Now, you can use it as a photo-op.
For those who want a more relaxing vibe during their vacation in the park, there’s a plethora of other things to do in or near Yosemite that don’t involve vigorous exercise or staying awake all night to watch the stars. With a little bit of research, you can discover many things to do in the area.
Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad
A few miles beyond the southern entrance of the park, the Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad allows visitors a chance to ride on the tree-carved bench seats pulled by a historic, restored steam train. It takes you on a narrated, 1-hour-long journey through four miles of the Sierra National Forest. Sit back, relax, and capture the moment with pictures of the scenery surrounding you.
Ascent Spa Tenaya Lodge
Who doesn’t love a little pampering now and then, especially in a national park? Ease your sore muscles and partake in some self-care at Ascent Spa. Located right outside the park’s limits, you can indulge in a massage, a soothing facial, or sweat it out in a sauna while appreciating the architecture that’s inspired by the breathtaking beauty of Yosemite.
Whether you visit to connect with the natural world, or simply want a getaway in a different part of the country, nothing beats a trip to Yosemite National Park. With hiking, historical tours, and unparalleled views, you’ll never run out of things to do in one of the U.S’ most popular parks.
Author Conor Knighton once stated in his book Leave Only Footprints: My Acadia-to-Zion Journey Through Every National Park: “I don’t know what, if anything, comes after this life. But I can tell you this: If there is a Heaven, I bet it looks a lot like Yosemite.” When you make the trip yourself, you’ll absolutely understand why.