Just a few hours' drive from Los Angeles, Las Vegas or San Francisco, Yosemite National Park is one of the most beloved natural wonders in the United States. It is also, thankfully, incredibly accessible and should not be missed when planning your California holiday. Located in the High Sierras, Yosemite is known for its wide-open spaces, dramatic granite monuments, spectacular waterfalls, and biological diversity. Such is the beauty of the park that it inspired John Muir to pave the way for the US National Park System.
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Begin your all-American self-drive Journey in the bay city of San Francisco. Continue through California where you can embrace the outdoors at Yosemite National Park,
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The Great Outdoors
Yosemite is one of the greatest places on Earth to experience the great outdoors. Whether you like your adventures from the comfort of the car, stopping off at stunning vistas, or a multiple-day assault on one of the most challenging climbing routes in the USA – El Capitan – there’s something here for you. Trekking trails are clearly marked across the park and through the whole of Yosemite Valley with regular mileage markers which direct you to the nearest viewpoints.
Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove
Yosemite National Park is home to some of the most spectacular natural attractions in North America. The awesome Mariposa Grove, home to numerous giant sequoias – not to mention one of the world’s largest living trees: the Grizzly Giant – is just one of them. As well as offering numerous photo opportunities these trees will fill you with a sense of wonder as you walk around, dwarfed by the gigantic trunks and past uprooted bases along a boardwalk and hiking trail. You can even walk through the centre of one of these giants, otherwise known as the California Tunnel Tree. Mariposa Grove is located to the south of the national park.
A ski area during the winter, the Mammoth Lakes are a collection of crystal-clear waterways in the north-eastern corner of Yosemite National Park, surrounded by snow-capped mountain peaks. The area is, like many places in Yosemite, perfect for hiking and kayaking and getting completely reacquainted with nature away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
The jewel in Yosemite’s beautiful crown is undoubtedly the valley itself. When you first drive in, be sure to stop off and catch a glimpse from Tunnel View – this is the photo you'll see in all the guidebooks. Indeed, this popular stop looks directly down the valley, carpeted with pine trees, past the imposing rockface of El Capitan, which sits opposite Bridalveil Fall and onto Sentinel Rock, Half Dome and Clouds Rest. If you want to capture all of Yosemite's best bits in one pitstop, this is the place to do it.
You certainly aren’t short of waterfalls in Yosemite. The highest cascade in the park, Yosemite Falls, tumbles an epic 739 metres and is one of the big draws here. The best time to view the falls is in late spring when the flow of water reaches its peak. Vernal Falls, on the Merced River, is another highlight. It sits downstream from Nevada Fall and is accessible via a gentle walking trail from the Yosemite Valley. The most accessible of the bunch is Bridalveil Fall, which is often the first port of call for those touring the valley. Or, if you are lucky enough to be in the park in February, with the right conditions you can see something spectacular at Horsetail Fall. Illuminated by the setting sun it looks as though fire is flowing down the rockface, emulating the man-made firefall that used to occur here.
This high alpine meadowland sits at roughly 2,500 metres above sea level, towards the North Eastern Corner of Yosemite National Park and on the way to (or from) Tioga Pass. It is an area awash with great hiking trails for trampers of all abilities and is surrounded by high peaks of the Sierra Nevada, which makes for a stunning backdrop. The area is covered in snow from late September/early August until late May/June so the best time to visit is in late July to August when you should be able to see blooming wildflowers.
One of the best-known viewpoints in the park, Glacier Point is the ultimate spot to appreciate the epic proportions and sheer grandeur of Yosemite National Park. Looking back through the valley from 1,000 metres up, you can see Tenaya Canyon, Half Dome, and the Vernal and Nevada waterfalls. Likewise, the views from nearby Sentinel Dome are just as spectacular, except you can expect fewer crowds than at Glacier Point.
On the north side of the Yosemite Valley is an unmissable vertical monolithic face of granite. Famous in the climbing world, and attempted by only the most competent of climbers, El Capitan is a spectacular place to be completely awed and humbled while watching intrepid adventurers make their ascent.
More About California & Yosemite National Park
Currency: US Dollar
Vaccinations: Extra vaccinations are not required.
Main Airports: Los Angeles International Airport, also known as LAX, and San Francisco International Airport.
Visas: British Citizens require an ESTA, which you can apply for online.