Yosemite National Park is one of the most precious gems in the spectacular wilderness necklace of America’s national parks. It is justly famous for its enormous and impressive cliff faces, gigantic granite monoliths that rise thousands of feet straight up from the valley floor, breathtakingly beautiful waterfalls and colorful meadows.

This is where you will find Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, El and Capitan, Bridal veil and other landmarks made famous by Ansel Adams’ photography. All of it is easily accessible from the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center by car, on foot, via free circulator bus or even on a bicycle. Hiking trails in the valley range from easy and short to challenging.

The valley floor is most visited and most convenient part of the park and has more than enough sights to satisfy the simply smart traveler seeking a view of spectacular wilderness. But there is also a vast expanse of the national park beyond the valley, the equivalent to the area of Rhode Island, beckoning to be explored. The park offers opportunities for hikers and experienced mountain climbers. Those of us who a little less adventurous and who are content to just drive around the park can take advantage of scenic vistas with spectacular views of mountain lakes and remarkable highland vistas. Nearby are also the awe-inspiring Mariposa grove of giant sequoia trees and the Pioneer Yosemite History Center in Wawona with historic buildings and demonstrations of pioneer life.

Plan on spending at least a couple of days in the park. Check in at one of the visitor centers at Yosemite Valley, Big Oak Flat, Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows to get the lay of the land and to learn about the schedule of ranger-narrated tours. We recommend the two-hour, 26-mile tour of the valley floor. It reaches parts of the valley not served by the free shuttles and the ranger narration in the open-air vehicle is very informative. To travel between valley attractions, it is best to park your car and use the free shuttles to get around.

Before you go





Getting there

• By car, California Highways 120 and 140 lead to the park

• The nearest commercial airports to Yosemite Valley are Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), 65 miles away; Mammoth Yosemite Airport (MMH), 42 miles away or Merced Regional Airport (MCE), 72 miles away. Major airports are Sacramento, 152 miles away, and Oakland, 151 miles away.

• The nearest Amtrak station is at Merced, 69 miles from the park. There is a YARTS bus from the station to Yosemite National Park.

For short trip

• Visit the visitor’s center at Yosemite Valley

• Take a ranger-guided or self-guided tour around the valley floor

For a longer trip

• Explore the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias

• Visit small Sierra Nevada towns around the park

• Spend time in the Ansel Adams Gallery

• Get beyond the valley and explore some of the rest of the park

• Tour the California Mining Mineral Museum in Mariposa and enjoy the shops and restaurants in Mariposa. The Mariposa County Visitor Center can supply information and Yosemite maps.

• Try hunting, fishing and photography in the areas surrounding the park

Over 50 advantage

• Gorgeous vista, ease of accessibility, cultural and historical learning

Mobility level

• Low. Accessible parking, lodging, tours, and activities are available throughout the park. Some hikes can be difficult.

When to go

• The park is open year-round. Fall and spring are greats time to visit. Spring, especially April, brings spectacular waterfalls, especially when the preceding winter had a lot of precipitation and dogwood and redbuds Fall crowds are smaller after Labor Day and temperatures are still moderate in September. Winters are cold and snowy.

Where to stay

• There are several hotels in the park, including the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Big Trees Ledge and many cabins and campgrounds. Nearby towns have many motels and hotels catering to park visitors


Jeffrey Orenstein and Virginia Orenstein are publishers of Living on the Suncoast Magazine. They can be reached at jorenstein@simplysmarttravel.com.

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