Yosemite National Park is California’s oldest National Park and well known for its year round outdoor adventures, epic views, and waterfalls. Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and Half Dome are just some of the attractions that people come to see when they visit this gem. We’ve put together our list of the top ten things to do in Yosemite year round, and our top sites you won’t want to miss in your ultimate Yosemite bucket list. Perfect for couples, families and kids.
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What Not to Miss in Yosemite, California
There is so much to see and do in Yosemite that you could spend a week or two here no problem. But we realize not everyone has that amount of time to spend. Add Yosemite National Park to your California Bucket List.
So we put together our short list of the top ten things to do in Yosemite if you are short on time, and don’t want to miss the quintessential experience.
- Visit or hike to Yosemite Falls / Lower Yosemite Falls
- Hike the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
- Picnic in El Capitan Meadow
- Sunset at Tunnel View
- Tour Yosemite Village & Curry Village (Previously Half Dome Village) (Ice skate in winter)
- View Yosemite Valley and Half Dome from Glacier Point
- Photograph Bridalveil Fall
- Meander along Mirror Lake Trail
- Hike the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls & Nevada Falls
- Walk amongst Giant Sequioas in Mariposa Grove
TOP 10 THINGS TO DO IN YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK
If you are short on time, and looking for a unique experience, a private guided tour can help you experience all Yosemite has to offer, without having to worry about all the details.
Plus this one helps support local kids summer camps, which I think is pretty cool.
Yosemite Falls are one of Yosemite National Park’s most famous attractions – this waterfall is the highest in North America at 2425 ft . Yosemite Falls is at it’s peak in spring, and can be up to five times higher than normal. To get to Yosemite falls, you can hike Yosemite Falls Trail. The waterfall is often dry late July or August through October.
You can see the falls from both the Yosemite Falls Trail, and Lower Yosemite Falls Trail.
Yosemite Falls Trail
The Yosemite Falls Trail is a moderate to strenous hike that gives great views of the falls. There are two main destinations, along the trail. To start the trail, head to Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2) along the Valley Loop Trail:
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip
Time: 2-3 hours round trip
Begin at: Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2). Open year round, but conditions vary season to season.
Perfect for: People who don’t mind hiking up hill,
The Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Rock is a moderate 2-3 hours hike round trip. If you make it to the rock you will be well rewarded for your hard work with with spectacular views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock.
Add another 0.5 mile to get to a gorgeous view of the Falls.
Top of Yosemite Falls
Distance: 7.2 miles (11.6 km) round trip
Time: 6-8 hours round trip
Begin at: Camp 4 area (near shuttle stop #7 and El Capitan Shuttle stop #E2). Open year round, but very icy , slippery with lots of snow in winter.
Perfect for: adventurers, or people with a fair bit of fitness, or experienced hikers.
To hike to the top of Yosemite Falls, past the Columbia Rock is a strenous 6-8 hours round trip. It is steep and rocky, and you can see Yosemite Creek which feeds the falls. Use caution.
Lower Yosemite Falls Trails
Distance: 1 mile (1.6 km) loop
Time: 30 minutes
Begin at: Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6 when it is running). Open year round
Perfect for: Families and kids, and anyone who wants an easy hike to see the falls, and doesn’t mind crowds (in busy season).
For an easy hike, take the Lower Falls Trail which is about a 30 minute 1 mile (1.6 km) loop to the base of the falls. This trail is open year round.
Start at the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (shuttle stop #6). The flow peaks in spring and early summer and the trail will reward you with fantastic views of both Upper and Lower Falls, as well as Yosemite Creek.
From the Valley Visitor center, walk along the bicycle path to shuttle stop #6 and begin the trail
PRO TIP: For the best views of the Falls, walk the loop in a clockwise direction. It is a paved trail, and the eastern loop is wheelchair accessible if not covered in snow.
👉 Check out your 1 and 2 Day Yosemite Itineraries & Travel Guide for all the tips & details you’ll need to plan your awesome vacation.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail
Distance: 11.5 mi (18.5 km) full loop or 7.2 mi (11.6 km) half loop
Difficulty: Moderate, mostly level trail, with some hilly areas and varied surfaces (paved, dirt, rocks, sand)
Time: 5-7 hours full loop, 2.5-3.5 hours half loop
Begin at: Lower Yosemite Fall (shuttle stop #6). Head west along the bicycle path until you see signs for the Valley Loop Trail. Open year round, but the south side of the valley can be snowy and icy in places in the winter.
Yosemite Valley Loop Trail offers amazing views of Yosemite Valley and El Capitan Meadow. This is a great way to relax after Yosemite Falls.
The Yosemite Valley Loop Trail takes you past roads, meadows, base of granite cliffs and along the Merced River. This trail is a great option if you want to slow down and take in all the Yosemite Valley scenery.
PRO TIP: Take a map with you as it can be difficult to find the route at times, and you will find it easier to navigate if you can pinpoint landmarks.
El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan is one of Yosemite’s most iconic landmarks, located in the eastern part of Yosemite Valley and is accessible from Northside Road or from the Valley Loop Trail. The massive monolith has an elevation of 7569 ft high, making it a popular destination for rock climbers from all over the world.
The El Capitan meadow is Yosemite’s most popular picnic area, with stunning views of Lower and Middle Cathedral Rock, and the Cathedral Spires, in the background. The meadow is also home to a variety of wildlife, including deer, coyotes and more.
For many visitors to Yosemite National Park this is their favourite place in Yosemite.
One of the most popular stops on Yosemite’s valley rim is Tunnel View located on Highway 41 (Wawona Road) at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel. This viewpoint offers amazing views of Yosemite Valley that are simply not to be missed.
From here you can see El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome. This is the viewpoint that made Ansel Adams famous!
PRO TIP: While the view is amazing all year round, the best time to visit Tunnel View is early spring, when Bridalveil Falls is at it’s peak flow, and in winter when the granite domes are covered in snow and ice.
Yosemite Village & Curry Village (previously known as Half Dome Village)
Yosemite Village and Curry Village are the two main Yosemite National Park services areas, offering a variety of accommodation, food and service options.
Yosemite Village is located near the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center, and has a grocery store, visitor center, post office, and more. The Yosemite village offers Yosemite accommodations ranging from camping to cabins and hotel rooms.
Curry Village is located below Half Dome & Glacier Point, and has shops, restaurants, lodgings, outdoor pool and mountaineering school.
Yosemite Village is Yosemite’s main tourist hub, with shops, restaurants and information centres. This village offers Yosemite visitors a great base for exploring the Yosemite Valley. Some of the not to miss highlights of Yosemite village include the Yosemite museum, Yosemite art gallery, and the history of Yosemite exhibit.
- The Yosemite museum is open daily and is a great place to learn more about Yosemite National Park. The museum offers an interactive experience for all visitors interested in learning more about Yosemite’s natural history. The hours of operation are daily, except on December 25th. Yosemite art gallery is located in Yosemite village and features a rotating collection of Yosemite National Park’s finest arts and crafts .
- History of Yosemite exhibit is a great place to learn more about the history of Yosemite National Park. The exhibit is open daily.
- The Yosemite Heritage centre (aka the visitors centre), offers educational programs & opportunities, a children’s corner and library. Open late May to September.
- Ansel Adams gallery is located in Yosemite Village and features Yosemite black and white photography by famous photographer Ansel Adams. These prints are available for sale to the public, with proceeds going back into Yosemite National Park. The hours of operation at this gallery are daily except December 25th, from 11:00 am to – 18:00 pm.
Curry Village ( Previously known as Half Dome Village)
Curry Village is an unincorporated community within Yosemite National Park , it serves as one of the primary visitor services complex in the park.
If you are looking for a place to stay in Yosemite National Park, Curry Village is a great option. This village offers visitors comfortable lodging (hotel rooms, cabins & tent cabins) as well as dining options.
The village is also close to Yosemite’s main tourist attractions and is located just east of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 4000 feet.
You can even ice skate there in winter and roast s’mores in their fire pits. Or rent a bike and tour around the bike path in the park in warmer weather.
Usually you can drive up to Glacier Point, on Glacier Point Road from late May to November. However there will be road closures the next couple of years due to construction:
- In 2022 – road will be closed to all traffic in 2022 for repairs.
- Winter 2022-23 – The portion of the road to Badger Pass will be open in winter 2022–2023 when the ski area is open (typically, mid-December through March).
- In 2023 – Then there will be 30-minute delays in 2023 likely from Spring to Fall.
The only access to Glacier Point in 2022 will be via the Four Mile, Panorama, and Pohono Trails, which are all rated strenuous hikes.
The road leading up to Yosemite’s best viewpoint can be steep and narrow in places, so use caution when driving up to Glacier Point. Yosemite’s Glacier Point is a perfect place for Yosemite hikers and Yosemite sightseers alike.
There are two moderate hikes from Glacier Point, that are well worth the effort, if you are able to do a bit of an incline.
- Taft Point is a popular 2.2 km moderate hike to do for sunset, with otherworldy views and the Fissures. The Fissures are vertical cracks in the edge of the granite cliff. Use caution as there are not guard rails in most of the area. Bring a headlamp, and make sure you know where the trail is as it will be hard to see once it gets dark on the way back.
- Sentinel Dome is a 1.1 mile, 30-40 minute moderate hike to 360 degree views of the park.
Four Mile Hike to Glacier Point
Distance: 4.8 mi (7.7 km) one way and 9.6 mi (15.5 km) round trip.
Time: 3-4 hours one-way, 6-8 hours round trip
Start: Four Mile Trailhead is along Southside Drive near the base of Sentinel Rock in Yosemite Valley
If you are looking for a Yosemite hiking challenge, then the Four Mile Hike to Glacier Point is the hike for you.
This strenuous Yosemite hiking trail will take you to one of Yosemite’s most popular viewpoints and straight to amazing views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls.
Yosemite hikers and photographers love to photograph Glacier Point.
PRO TIP: When the road to Glacier Point is open you can hike the trail one way and have someone drive you / pick you up at the other end, or return on the tour bus.
It is recommended you take the bus up from the Valley to Glacier Point as you can buy a ticket in advance, and then hike down. If you do the hike in reverse, you won’t be able to book a ticket, so you will take the chance of having a full bus.
Distance: 0.5 mi (0.8 km) round trip
Time: 20 minutes
Start: Bridalveil Fall Parking Area. Parking is available at trailhead accessible by Wawona Road or Southside Drive
Bridalveil Fall is one of Yosemite’s most photographed waterfalls. This waterfall is easily accessible and a great place to start your Yosemite day.
The Bridalveil Fall trailhead is located just east of Yosemite Valley near the Yosemite Lodge at the falls. The hike to the top of this 620-foot waterfall is only 0.5 miles and is a great Yosemite family hike.
The Bridalveil Fall waterfall is best visited in the spring when water levels are high, although the water tends to flow all year round.
NOTE: Bridalveil Fall Trail will be closed until Fall 2022 due to their rehabilitation project.
Mirror Lake Trail
Distance: 2 miles (3.2 km) round trip to lake and back; 5 miles (8 km) loop around lake
Difficulty: Easy to Moderate
Time: 1 hour round trip to the lake (end of paved trail); 2-3 hours for full loop
Start: Mirror Lake Trailhead (shuttle stop #17). The trail is open year round.
The Mirror Lake Trail to the lake and back is another great easy option for families. Continue along the loop to enjoy Tenaya Creek and Canyon and scenice bridges along the way.
There are exhibits along the trail that highlight cultural history of the area and the story of Mirror Lake’s lake-to-meadow succession.
In late summer, don’t expect to see a lake as the water recedes and grass and sandy areas appear.
Mist Trail to Vernal Fall & Nevada Fall
Vernal Fall Footbridge
Distance: 1.6 mi (2.6 km) round trip
Time: 1-1.5 hours
Top of Vernal Fall
Distance: 2.4 mi (3.9 km) round trip (via Mist Trail)
Time: 3 hours
Top of Nevada Fall
Distance: 5.4 mi (8.7 km) round trip (via Mist Trail)
Elevation gain: 2000 ft (610 m)
Time: 5-6 hours
All start at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16).
The Yosemite hiking trail known as the Mist Trail is one of the most strenuous Yosemite Hiking trails. It will take most hikers between two to six hours to complete, depending on how far you go.
This Yosemite footpath will lead hikers over Vernal Fall Foot Bridge to Vernal Fall, which is a moderate 3 hour hike.
The path continues on to Nevada Falls, but only experienced Yosemite hikers should go this far. From here you can get a spectacular view of Half Dome.
Mariposa Grove is one popular area, due to the majestic Giant Sequioas, some that are 2,000 years old and the fun family friendly trails.
Mariposa Grove’s Big Trees Loop Trail is an easy, family friendly and wheelchair accessible hiking trail located just south of the National Park. It is perfect for a Yosemite itinerary that includes kids.
This family hike on newly renovated boardwalks will take you through some wonderful giant sequoia forests and past California historic markers. It is only 0.3 mile (0.5 km) and will take 30 to 45 minutes.
The highlight of Mariposa Grove for many people includes the Grizzly Giant, the world’s second largest tree. The Grizzly Giant Loop Trail is a moderate, 2 mile (3.2 km) hike that will take about 1.5 to 2 hours.
Start at the Big Trees Loop and continue along the trail to see the iconic Bachelor, Three Graces, the Grizzly Giant, and California Tunnel Trees.
PRO TIP: This area can be quite crowded during peak season, so we recommend going early in the morning (before 8am) to get a parking spot, and avoid the crowds. Or visit during the shoulder seasons in spring and fall.
Hiking in Yosemite
There are many other great hikes in Yosemite Valley, but there are also some spectacular trails outside of Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite National Park offers over 800 miles of hiking trails – these vary from easy to difficult so you can find the right hike for your group. You will definitely want to add at least one hike to your 2 day Yosemite itinerary if you are able.
Here are a few other hiking options we haven’t yet mentioned. For a full list and more info check the NPS website for all hiking trails
Cook’s Meadow Loop – Easy
Yosemite’s Cook’s Meadow Loop is a great place to start on a family friendly hike. This hikers trail is flat with beautiful views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Sentinel Rock.
Rated easy, this trail is one Yosemite hikers of all ages will be able to enjoy the 30 minute hike. It’s also wheelchair accessible when not covered in snow.
Panorama Trail – Strenuous
The Panorama Trail also begins outside Yosemite Valley, but this lengthy, strenuous hike takes you from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley. The views from this Yosemite Hiking trail are spectacular and you will be able to see Falls and panoramic views of eastern Yosemite Valley.
It starts at Yosemite’s historic Glacier Point and leads hikers down to Yosemite Valley before joining the Mist or John Muir Trail, taking you past Nevada Fall and Vernal Fall. You can also stop halfway through this hike for an amazing view of Half Dome from the Panorama Cliff.
Wawona Meadow Loop – Easy
For another easy hike, try the Wawona Meadow Loop in Spring for an explosion of lower elevation wildflowers with names like shooting stars, primrose and seep-spring monkeyflower.
This Loop starts at Wawona Hotel, crosses over the golf course to an unpaved fire road, that loops around the meadow. It’s close to the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequioas, so you could make a morning out that way.
John Muir Trail – Mutli-Day Strenuous
The John Muir Trail is a 200 km trail through California’s high Sierra mountains located deep in Yosemite’s backcountry.
It offers spectacular views of Yosemite, Half Dome and Mount Lyell. This Yosemite hiking trail is a strenuous but hikers who complete the full length hike will be rewarded with amazing Yosemite scenery.
- You can access the John Muir Trail by starting at Yosemite’s at Lyell Canyon (Tuolumne Meadows) or start at Yosemite’s Happy Isles Trailhead, the more traditional starting point, to Whitney Portal Trailhead.
- It will take Yosemite hikers between 3-4 weeks to complete the full length of Yosemite’s John Muir Trail.
- A permit is required, however they have become more difficult to get. Wilderness permits are now by lottery 24 weeks in advance, then first come, first serve an availability up to seven days in advance.
If you are serious about doing the whole trail, or just want to read what it’s like, you will enjoy reading one of these books:
- Trudge, A Midlife Crisis on the John Muir Trail, by Lori-Oliver Tierney
- Almost Somewhere, by Suzanne Roberts
- Highs and Lows of the Jon Muir Trail, by Inga Aksamit
With so many Yosemite hiking trails to choose from, you’re sure to find the right hike for your group!
Fishing in Yosemite National Park
There are many opportunities for fishing in Yosemite, including the Merced River, Tuolumne River, and Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife stocks these waters with trout every year.
You will need a valid California Fishing License to fish in Yosemite . Fishing is permitted year round in the Merced River located throughout the Yosemite Valley . However, fishing regulations may change according to where you are fishing.
If you are looking for a great fishing spot to add to your Yosemite National Park itinerary, try Yosemite’s Tuolumne River below Shaughnessy Dam. This area is known for its excellent trout fishing and offers hikers beautiful views of Yosemite’s high country.
Make things easy on your vacation and grab a fishing guide:
- Family Fun Private Half Day Fly Fishing Adventure – Catch trout in the Tuolumne and Merced Rivers
- Private Full Day Fly Fishing Adventure – Fish the Tuolumne and Merced River watersheds for rainbow, brown, brook and golden trout
In the Fall, the lakes are your best option. Tenaya Lake and the Hetchy Hetchy reservoir, both reachable by car, are two great choices.
Rangers tell visitors that the Inyo National Forest, is even better, and it is where the Forest Service actively stocks trout.
Make sure you check with Yosemite National Park staff for updates on fishing conditions and closures before heading out on your Yosemite fishing adventure.
With so many spots to choose from, you’re sure to find the right Yosemite fishing hole for you!
Top 10 Things to Do in Yosemite
With so many things to do in Yosemite, you could spend days here. Choose your top few sites you don’t want to miss in Yosemite, and focus on those. Have an awesome trip!
Related California & US National Park tips and ideas:
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- Road Trip packing list for families (+ Free packing List)
- Fun 7 day road trip itinerary to Zion, Bryce, Grand Canyon
- One Day in Bryce Canyon, what to see, do and places to stay
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