7 Things you Have to See in Yosemite National Park
Has anyone ever asked you what your favourite place in the world is? It’s a tricky one to answer – there are plenty of destinations I’ve visited and loved, but would I be able to return again and again, and always find something new to discover? With over 800 miles of trails, countless waterfalls and the largest exposed granite monolith in the world, it’s fair to say you’ll never be stuck for things to do in Yosemite National Park – which is why it’s my favourite place on Earth. It would take a lifetime (probably) to explore everything this amazing park has to offer, so if you only have time to tick off a few sights, make it these…
Our very first morning in Yosemite saw us up and out at the crack of dawn to take in the first stop on our list; Tunnel View (top tip: it’s best to fight through the jetlag and hit the road early, as parking in the valley is limited and that way, you can feel smug that you’ve beaten the crowds). Among the most popular of Yosemite’s vantage points, we parked up and got an eyeful of all the park’s big hitters in one jaw-dropping view – Half Dome, El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall. We breathed in the fresh scent of the pine trees all around us and gazed out upon the sheer granite cliffs, which stretched for as far as we could see; it was the perfect introduction to everything we had to look forward to over the next three days. I couldn’t wait to get down onto the valley floor and explore.
This one is tough to miss. Standing at 739m and among the tallest waterfalls in north America, there are plenty of viewpoints to admire Yosemite Falls from. We started on the valley floor, where we parked up (thanks again, early alarm clock) and walked until we were facing the towering plume. Deciding we needed a closer look, we hiked up to the middle cascades, where the roar of the water was deafening and we felt the cooling spray on our faces – most welcome, after a rather sweaty hike. We were also lucky to be visiting in May, when the falls are at their most powerful; water flows between November and July.
Think of Yosemite, and you’re probably conjuring up an image of El Capitan in your head. Those iconic granite cliffs dominate Yosemite Valley, stretching towards the sky for 914m – more than three times higher than the tip of the Eiffel Tower. One of the world’s ultimate challenges for climbers, it’s tough to pick the perfect spot to gaze at El Capitan due to its sheer size. But I’ll never forget the moment we drove around the corner in the valley, and there it was, in all its glory, towering majestically over the valley and dwarfing everyone and everything.
Arguably the most recognisable of all of Yosemite’s sights, Half Dome got its name from its appearance; it resembles a large rock which has been cut in half. Rising over 1,400m above the valley floor, this is another favourite among adventurous climbers. You can even try your luck and apply for a permit to hike to the very top – though we opted for simply taking it all in from one of my favourite viewpoints…
For breathtaking views over the entire valley (and an especially good glimpse of Half Dome), you can’t beat Glacier Point. From here, it’s easy to spot the huge rock towering above the valley. Again, the same top tip rings true – avoid visiting this popular spot in the middle of the day, when you’ll be faced with queuing traffic; especially during summer. We got here first thing and had the viewpoint almost entirely to ourselves. When I go back next time (yes, I’m already planning my next trip), I’m determined to not hit snooze on my alarm and actually make it out here in time for the sunrise; seeing Half Dome bathed in that morning golden glow is a travel wish list goal I’m desperate to tick off.
I’ll admit this wasn’t up there among my absolute must-sees, and I wondered if we’d have time to get to Mirror Lake, with two-and-a-half days to explore Yosemite. But I’d been told by a colleague we couldn’t miss it, so we set off on the two-mile looping trail. The hike itself is spectacular; we quickly lost the crowds and found ourselves shaded by towering pine trees, as we passed gently flowing streams and kept an eye out for bear trails. We soon reached the clearing and clapped eyes on the lake; it was perfectly still, shimmering in the late-afternoon sun and offering up incredible reflections of the surrounding cliffs. We spent a good hour just relaxing here; we were deep enough into the park to escape all traffic sounds; all we could hear was the wildlife around us as squirrels scurried over the undergrowth and huge frogs splashed in and out of the water. I know I’m going to have to search long and hard to find somewhere more tranquil than Mirror Lake.
Majestic Yosemite Dining Hall
OK, I’ll admit this one isn’t an obvious big hitter, but it’s too spectacular to not include on this list. On our final day in Yosemite, we decided to treat ourselves to lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel – one of the few hotels located in the park itself. Situated in the heart of Yosemite Valley and dating back to the 1920s, this incredible resort offers one of the finest dining rooms you’re likely to come across. High-ceilings and floor-length windows mean you have every opportunity to gaze out over those world-famous views; there really is no bad seat in the house here. We were shown to a table overlooking Half Dome, where we tucked into bowls of fresh pasta, treated ourselves to a glass of Californian wine, and raised a toast to my favourite place on Earth.
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