Filled with millions of years of history and vistas that’ll know your socks off, Yosemite is the kind of national park that’s totally worth the hype. From mountain treks to iconic vistas, there’s a heap of the best things to do in Yosemite that is dotted all across the park.
For me, Yosemite was one of the first national parks in the US that I ever visited; and boy was it a good way to start!
During my visit, I headed out on a heap of hikes, taking in all the stunning views that Yosemite has to offer. I got to see the most incredible plunging waterfalls, sprawling meadows, towering granite cliffs, and huge sequoia trees – it was all just so awe-inspiring.
Nature really is on a grand scale in Yosemite. So, to help you make the most out of your time in the national park, I wanted to share some top places I loved most when visiting.
Take a look, below, at the best things to do in Yosemite National Park. Have fun in California!
1.) Tunnel View
Tunnel View is easily one of my favourite vistas in Yosemite National Park. Just shy of the Wawona Tunnel, it’s the kind of spot that’s totally easy to visit by car (especially when heading down the highway towards Yosemite West).
Now, for me, this viewpoint is what Yosemite is all about – it really shows how vast and dramatic the park is.
Standing on this vantage point, you’ll see the lush valley before you, with Bridalveil Fall on the right, El Capitan on the left, and Half Dome somewhere in the distance. Try and spot them all if you can.
Heading over? The best time to go to Tunnel View is in the afternoon when you’ll see the granite walls shimmering in the sunlight.
If you do decide to go in the morning, you get to see the valley silhouetted by the sheer cliffs.
Both are gorgeous but personally, I prefer an afternoon trip here.
Fancy stretching your legs? Join the nearby Artist Point trail that’ll take you closer to Dewey Point.
Oh, and don’t forget, you can book this incredible tour to Yosemite from San Francisco. The tour departs San Francisco and takes around 14 hours.
It’s a long day, but totally worth it; especially as you’ll get to see Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and so much more. Just be sure to book tickets before arriving in San Francisco. This way, you won’t be disappointed if all the tickets sell out.
2.) Half Dome
You can’t go all the way to Yosemite and not spot Half Dome! Seeing it is easily one of the best things to do in Yosemite and an iconic part of the national park.
There are so many vantage points where you can get a good view of Half Dome. You can admire it from a distance at Tunnel View or you can go to Mirror Lake and see Half Dome up close.
That being said, if you want a stunning view of this geological wonder, head up to Glacier Point and see how it towers over the other mountains and stands like a sentinel over the valley below.
Looking for a more adventurous experience of Half Dome? You can climb up to its summit; just make sure to secure the necessary permits first.
Oh, and always hike with care, I did this hike and found it pretty gruelling and tough!
3.) Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is made up of three waterfalls that, when combined, makeup one of the tallest waterfalls in the world.
Upper Yosemite requires a more challenging hike up to the crest, but Middle Cascades and Lower Yosemite Fall can be accessed with a fairly easy hike.
For a totally epic experience of Yosemite Falls, walk the one-mile trail at the base. More experienced hikers can opt to do an all-day hike to the crest of Upper Yosemite and be rewarded with an amazing view of the area. Just be sure to plan ahead and only hike with accredited guides and the right gear.
This all being said, you can also see Yosemite Falls without hiking at all. It repeatedly pops into view as you drive through the valley and is kinda hard to miss. If you’re anything like me, you’ll keep pulling over to see every viewpoint of the falls!
4.) Glacier Point
Another breathtaking vantage point in Yosemite, Glacier Point is a place that shouldn’t be left out in your trip around the park. Standing at over 7000 feet, it gives you a whole new perspective of the entire Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
For me, early spring or fall is the best time to drive to Glacier Point, when the world is bursting with colours, but you can also check it out in the winter months especially if you’re a cross-country skier.
There are plenty of activities to do at Glacier Point, you can also try stargazing and birdwatching if that’s your thing Though, wrap up warm as you’ll get chilly fast!
Of course, hiking is pretty popular here, too. You can choose either the Four Mile Trail or the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point to Yosemite Valley that is totally amazing.
Finally, be sure to check out Washburn Point. It is only a few strides south of Glacier Point and offers a spectacular view of Vernal Fall.
Oh, and if you’re visiting in the chillier months, keep driving towards the nearby Badger Pass Ski Area. It’s a great place to ski the slopes, especially for newbie skiers.
5.) El Capitan
Dominating Yosemite Valley’s west end, El Capitan is a legend among mountain climbers. Standing around 3,000 feet above the valley floor, it is a dramatic rock formation that really makes Yosemite so unique to visit.
Feel like a challenge, join the El Capitan Trail that’s for more experienced hikers. Although tough, is well worth the 8-10 hour trek for the views. Just be sure to be a confident and responsible hiker on the trail.
Not hiking? For some great views of El Capitan, head towards Tunnel View or the El Capitan Meadow provides for a more intimate, close-up gander.
6.) Bridalveil Fall
Seeing Bridalveil Fall is easily one of the best things to do in Yosemite and a sight to behold.
Although it really comes alive with a thundering flow of water in early spring, it’s still impressive all year round. So, don’t fret about what time of year you visit, the views are still great.
You can take an easy hike along the paved trail leading to the base, where you will be rewarded with the cool drenching mists of Bridalveil Fall.
For the views, head over to Bridalveil Falls Viewpoint where you can drive right up to.
7.) Mariposa Grove
Home to about 500 mature giant sequoia trees, Mariposa Grove is often considered the heart of Yosemite National Park.
After all, the birth and foundation of the park were rooted in Mariposa Grove. From a legislature in the 1980s, Yosemite Valley and Mariposa Grove were set aside for the preservation of the sequoia trees for us all to enjoy.
Easy to visit from the south entrance of Yosemite National Park, the towering sequoia trees are living specimens of art sculpted by nature. It sounds cheesy but you’ll see exactly what I mean when you arrive.
On your trails around Mariposa Grove, you’ll find out that some trees even have names, like the Fallen Monarch, the Faithful Couple, and the Clothespin Tree.
Perhaps the most popular of them all is the Grizzly Giant, one of the largest in the grove and estimated to be more than 2,700 years old. There are some serious rings in that tree!
8.) Tuolumne Meadows
If you’re looking for a dreamy and magical retreat, Tuolumne Meadows offers a totally tranquil escape.
Nestled between rising granite peaks and the Tuolumne River, this amazing spot in Yosemite National Park shouldn’t be missed. This is especially true when you’ve got so many spots to see around the meadows.
Once here, two miles of blooming fields await, offering unparalleled views of Lembert Dome, Cathedral Peak, and Pothole Dome.
Of course, spring is the best time to take a gander here., This the time when the grasses are lush and the flowers are just starting to bloom.
9.) Cathedral Peak
With the best view from Tuolumne Meadows, Cathedral Peak is a granite masterpiece off-shooting from the Sierras. Formed by glaciers thousands of years ago, Cathedral Peak is a wondrous vista from any angle and totally worth a visit.
You can even reach its summit if you’re an extremely seasoned climber. John Muir, after whom the John Muir Trail was named, was the first person to ever ascend Cathedral Peak in 1869. It has been a famous climbing spot in Yosemite National Park since then.
If you’re not a climber, follow the trails to Lower Cathedral Lake (for some epic views) from Cathedral Lakes Trailhead.
10.) Taft point
Just west of Glacier Point, Taft Point that’s easily accessed via the Pohono Trailhead that’s just off the road.
Just like Glacier point, the views are stunning but you must always act responsibly around viewpoints like these. They can be dangerous and you must make sure to not take undue risks by scaling over barriers or dangling on rock edges.
After all, no one likes a reckless national park visitor!
11.) Vernal Fall
At 317 feet high, Vernal Fall is one of the best things to do in Yosemite if you love a good hike. You can take a misty stroll through John Muir Trail or Mist Trails (which I did) to get a good look at Vernal Fall from the footbridge.
Now, just remember to take plenty of water and sugary and salty snacks. I hiked this route in June and was so exhausted at the top due to lack of sugar and the glaring sunshine.
Though don’t feel like you can only hike these trails in summer, Vernal Fall is awe-inspiring at any time of the year.
Spring and early summer are great times to hop on the trails, but the Mist Trails can get slippery due to the water spray-off.