Streams, waterfalls and cliffs…oh my! Yosemite National Park is, without a doubt, one of the best US National parks and destinations on the planet, with its vast landscape of meadows, groves, waterfalls, mountains, and so much more. Even the changing seasons won’t stop you from going on an adventure around the park!
With so many things to do in Yosemite and so little time, it’s hard to choose which activities or attractions to start with. This bucket list will ensure you get the most out of your journey be it winter, spring, summer, or fall!
Attractions, Activities & the Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park & Valley
1. Climb Half Dome
One of the most well-known landmarks in Yosemite National Park is Half Dome. Rising over 4,737 feet from the valley floor, the path up the rock formation is by no means an easy task (dangerous even, especially for novice hikers), and a permit needs to be secured first before climbing.
You can take the Cable Route hike (13km), or if you are feeling adventurous, there are also several rock-climbing routes on the Regular Northwest Face (with a Grade VI difficulty).
Even with Half Dome’s difficulty, many people still come back for more, given how beautiful the views are at the summit, and it is definitely one you can proudly tick off your hiking bucket list!
2. Don’t Miss the Highest Waterfall in the Park: Yosemite Fall
If you just want a quick (and stunning!) view of Yosemite Falls in all its glory, park at Yosemite Valley Lodge and just walk across the street to take a peak. This area is also where you can hike the easy one mile lower falls loop. It’s not that long but the short walk offers fantastic views of both the Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls.
Getting to the top of Yosemite Falls is much more strenuous – 7.2 miles round trip with a 2,700 foot elevation gain. But, from the top your effort will be rewarded with surreal views.
3. El Capitan View
After the Majestic Hotel stop you will hit a fork in the road heading back towards the tunnel view on Northside Drive, this is an incredible place to get a glimpse of the massive El Capitan. The granite monolith extends about 3,000 ft. from base to summit along the tallest face and is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbing and base jumpers.
4. Explore the Park After Dark
Having fun and exploring Yosemite National Park does not end when the sun sets on the horizon. When night comes, you’ll get to see a different side of the park and new activities to enjoy.
From camping in one of the thirteen campgrounds to stargazing at Glacier Point to hunting for the elusive “moonbow” in one of the many falls of the park and more, this is one experience you definitely don’t want to miss!
5. Get an Epic Photo at Taft Point
One of the most popular hikes you can take in the park is Taft Point, a short 2-mile hike from Glacier Point Road. The viewpoint offers a scenic view of the other attractions like Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, and El Capitan and is a perfect spot for taking epic photos!
You’ll also be coming upon deep fissures on your way to the viewpoint, which is also worth checking out.
Just be careful not to get too close to the fissures or the edges of the trail and the viewpoint to avoid any accidents!
6. Get the Valley View
As you head out of Yosemite Valley, get one last breathtaking glimpse at the Valley View that’s just before the Pohono Bridge (just past the sign for 120/140). It’s a picturesque scene with El Capitan to the left, plus the towering Cathedral Rocks which reflect off of the Merced River.
7. Go Skiing and/or Snowboarding
Winters in Yosemite National Park is something you should not miss, especially if you love skiing or snowboarding. During this season, the vast landscape is a haven for winter activities and also opens up fun exploration opportunities while traversing on a ski or snowboard.
Some of the best skiing spots you should try include Badger Pass (also perfect for snowboarding), Crane Flat, and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. If it is your first time skiing or snowboarding, you can also get lessons through the Nordic Center at the Badger Pass Ski Area.
8. Hike Clouds Rest
Clouds Rest is another popular spot for hikers, mainly because of the amazing view you will see from up top (be sure to bring some binoculars!). Though the mountain towers at over 9,900 feet (1000 feet more than Half Dome), it does not require any permits beforehand.
The hike up the mountain is a bit difficult, but the reward waiting at the summit is a scenic panoramic 360-degree view of the surrounding area. And if you are up for a game, see how many of the park’s landmarks and attractions you can name and spot there! :)
9. See Lembert Dome
If ever you are in the Tuolumne Meadows area, one of the things that will catch your eye is Lembert Dome. Located at the right side of the meadows near the Tuolumne Meadows Campground, the dome stands a mighty 800 feet above the meadow area with a vertical face on one side and sloping on the other.
Hiking the dome is one of the easiest and shortest ones in the park, but still a bit challenging, especially near the summit. At the top, the views of the surrounding landscape will surely deliver!
10. Ogle Tuolumne Meadows
Are you looking for scenic views and tons of hiking opportunities? Then Tuolumne Meadows is the place to be! Stretching over 2 miles along the Tuolumne River, it is a vast, open subalpine meadow at the eastern part of the park with a backdrop of towering mountains and domes around it.
From taking photos of the majestic scenery and wildlife to fishing to hiking and many more, you will truly feel free and one with nature here!
11. Go Ice Skating
Ice skating is one of the popular outdoor activities you can do during the winter in Yosemite. And what better way to experience gliding across the ice than going on a trip to its famous outdoor ice rink at Curry Village!
If you think that it wouldn’t get any better, imagine if you have the Half Dome and Glacier Point as your backdrop! Aside from ice skating, you can also enjoy sitting by a cozy fire pit while enjoying the views around you.
12. See Bridalveil Fall
Bridalveil Fall is one of the most prominent waterfalls and an iconic view in the Yosemite Valley; it attracts millions of tourists every year. It’s a very short uphill hike to the waterfall, which is 188 meters in height and flows year round.
During the spring, the melting snow brightens the water force and visitors can feel the water breezes from a far distance. During the winter, snow lines the fall and glistens the top of the rocks. But, be very careful because it can get slippery at this time too. The ice was such a challenge for me, that I fell on my butt and slid halfway down the short hill with my camera in hand!
13. Go Sledding
When there is snow on the ground, it becomes a chance to do some sledding! Sliding down the snowy slopes of the park’s magical winter landscape on a sled is just a thrilling and exciting experience.
You’ll find plenty of hills to slide down on your sled at the Crane Flat Snow Play area, and for kids of all ages, there is also the snow tubing area at Badger Pass!
14. See Curry Village
When you are in Yosemite Valley and looking for a perfect road trip stop for a cheaper bite to eat, then Curry Village is right up your alley. You can spend the night in one of their 60 cabins, but we made a stop strictly for some food. Dining in the Yosemite Valley is EXPENSIVE, so a quick $20 pizza lunch was welcomed. There’s also a store there in case you need to pick up some mittens, a jacket or a bag of chips!
15. See Horsetail Falls (a Firefall Waterfall)
Yosemite National Park is home to many waterfalls, but there is one whose name has been known due to its once-in-a-blue-moon natural phenomenon: meet Horsetail Falls.
During mid to late February, when conditions are right, the setting sun causes the seasonal falls to transform into a fiery color, which has been called a “firefall”.
Be sure to go to the viewing area near the El Capitan Area if you wish to see Horsetail Falls in its blazing glory!
16. See the Art at the Ansel Adams Gallery
Seeing things up close and personal is exceptional, but seeing its beauty from a camera’s lens or a piece of art is a different level of awe altogether.
Located between the Post Office and the Visitor Center at the heart of Yosemite Valley, Ansel Adams Gallery showcases an extraordinary collection of landscape photographer Ansel Adams’ original photographs and other artists’ work.
The outside of the gallery is just as stunning, with incredible views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and Glacier Point.
17. See the Waterfalls on Mist Trail
The Mist Trail is for hikers who love to walk moderate terrains. It is 3 miles (a lot of uphill) to Vernal Fall and 7 miles round trip to Nevada fall starting from the Trailhead parking. If you want to explore more than you can walk from Half Dome Village (formerly Curry Village) and add an extra 1.5 miles.
This trail is not just about the falls, it’s about the beautiful scenery along the way – stone bridges, flowing streams and the peace of being surrounded by nature.
If you want to make it all the way to the falls, ice traction cleats are recommended because the trail can be dangerously iced over in the winter.
18. Sip Vino On The Madera Wine Trail
A trip to Yosemite National Park is not just about enjoying the great outdoors. You will also get the chance to enjoy tasting some award-winning wine!
Just a couple of miles south of the park lies the Madera Wine Trail. It is home to several small family-owned wineries, each with its own unique wine and winery styles. What’s more, you will get to learn about the region’s rich history while sipping their signature wines at their tasting rooms on your visit!
19. Spend the Night Camping
Spending a night camping and sleeping under the stars at a place like Yosemite is probably one of the most bucket-list things you can do on your adventures. With over 13 campgrounds around the park, you have plenty of options to camp for the night, and even engage in fun activities like stargazing!
The National Park Service manages all campgrounds, which include standard tent camping, RV camping, and wilderness camping. Be sure to check out their guidelines as well for more information.
20. Spot Some Wildlife
The rich, diverse habitats of the park are home to over 400 different species of wildlife, making it a perfect place to do some wildlife spotting!
Some of the common ones you will find are black bears, mule deers, red foxes, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions. Head over to meadows like Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows, and you will likely spot even more animals.
Of course, be sure to respect the animals (and their space) and quietly observe and appreciate them at a safe distance so as not to disturb them as they go about their day.
21. Stand Amongst the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove is home to the largest grove of giant sequoias, located at the southernmost part of the park. These massive trees stand proud and tall, with the tallest of the bunch (The Columbia Tree) reaching 286 feet in height.
Strolling through the giant sequoias will make you feel like you are in Jurassic Park (minus the dinosaurs), and what better way to capture the moment than having your picture taken beside one!
Some notable ones include the Fallen Monarch, the Bachelor and Three Graces, the Columbia Tree, and the Grizzly Giant (believed to be around 1900-2400 years old!).
22. Stand on the Summit of Cathedral Peak
Cathedral Peak is most notable for its dual pointed peak, which resembles a cathedral (hence the name). You can find this majestic range near the Cathedral Lakes (another fantastic hiking destination) at the Tuolumne Meadows area.
Reaching the summit of Cathedral Peak is no easy feat (rated as Class 4), as you would need to climb to get to the very top. If you have experience climbing, be sure to bring your climbing gear with you. Once you reach the summit, the view is just unbelievable!
If you have no climbing experience, it is also possible to hike. This would take you around 150 feet or so from the base of the summit block but would still require some scrambling as you near the destination. Still, it offers fantastic views of the lake and the surrounding landscape.
23. Stay at a Backcountry Hut
After spending a day outside the snowy landscape of the park during the winter, staying at one of Yosemite National Park’s backcountry huts is a great place for weary adventurers to sit back and rest. The huts offer basic accommodations and cooking facilities, which is fantastic, especially if you are staying overnight.
There are currently two backcountry ski huts in the park, the two-story Ostrander Ski Hut (at the edge of Ostrander Lake) and the Glacier Point Ski Hut. Both are managed by the Yosemite Conservancy and Yosemite Hospitality respectively, and you can make reservations online through their websites.
24. Stay at the Ahwahnee Hotel/Majestic Hotel
Grab a mug of peppermint hot chocolate and relax on the comfy couches in front of the wood burning fireplace at the historical Majestic Hotel (formerly Ahwahnee Hotel). If you opt out of pizza at Half Dome Village, the Majestic is also a very nice place to stop for lunch, albeit a little pricier. You can check out their menus here.
After you’ve warmed up, take a stroll around to look at its stunning interior and exterior architecture.
25. Stop by the Yosemite Valley Chapel
The Yosemite Valley Chapel was built in 1879 and considered to be the most holy place of Yosemite Valley. It was built by architect Charles Geddes in the carpenter catholic style. Many people find it a very peaceful place as it creates a very positive aura and helps you ease your mind.
The chapel was originally built in the “Lower Village” as called then, its site at the present day is about 1/4 mile past the Swinging Bridge picnic area. It’s one of the first major buildings you will see after entering the valley. If you time it right, you can add to your bucket list experience by attending a service (service schedule)!
26. Take a Dip in Tenaya Lake
Tenaya Lake is the largest lake in Yosemite National Park and is also known as the Jewel of the High Country. It is one of the most popular summer destinations in Yosemite, and with its inviting blue waters coupled with postcard-worthy scenic views, you will surely don’t want to miss the chance to take a dip!
You can find the lake a couple of miles west of Tuolumne Meadows along Tioga Road. Aside from swimming, you can also do some kayaking, picnicking, and even fishing (California regulations apply).
27. Take a Sleigh Ride
Though we won’t be riding a sleigh pulled by magical reindeers like Santa does, riding a sleigh pulled by horses with bells on Yosemite’s picturesque landscape is more than a close alternative.
You can check out Yosemite Trails Horseback Adventures for this unique Yosemite winter experience. They are located 2 miles south of Yosemite National Park’s south entrance.
The trail will take you from the park’s Tenaya Lodge to Skidders Camp at Big Sandy Road south of the park.
28. Take in the Tunnel View Yosemite
Tunnel View is a scenic overlook on Wawona Road (highway 41) and is one of the most popular places to visit in Yosemite National Park. Entering the valley by road, it is the first stop after going through the tunnel (hence the name tunnel view!). It’s a must-do stop as you can take photos of the most famous panorama of Yosemite Valley and can admire a perfectly framed forest of pine trees with wide blue skies above.
We stopped here on our way into the valley and again on the way out!
29. Take in the View at Glacier Point
Glacier Point is another favorite among visitors, located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley. With an elevation of 7214 feet (3200 feet above Curry Village), it offers a superb view of several of the park’s landmarks, like Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest. It is also a perfect spot for bird watching and stargazing!
You can reach this viewpoint by car or bus via Glacier Point Road. If you are feeling adventurous and don’t mind the strenuous hike, you can also trek the Four Mile Trail, Panorama Trail, or the Pohono Trail.
30. Take the Scenic Tioga Road Drive
Tioga Road (California State Route 120) is a stunning scenic byway that connects Crane Flat from the west to Lee Vining at the east. A straight drive through the road without stopping will take about 1.5 hours. However, with lots of magnificent stops along the way in addition to the scenic views, it’s impossible not to!
Some of the stops that you will see along the way include Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake, and Lembert Dome, to name a few.
31. Time Travel at Classic Holiday Feast
When you think of Yosemite National Park, some things that come to mind are nature, bears, hiking trails, you name it. But of course, the park is always full of surprises :)
Enter Bracebridge Dinner, an elaborate and fanciful feast with an old English theme hosted by The Ahwahnee Hotel in Yosemite Valley around Christmas time since 1927.
Aside from the holiday feast, this Yosemite tradition showcases outstanding performances and pageantry from professional singers and actors.
32. Try Rock Climbing
I think we can all agree that Yosemite is a climber’s paradise. From Half Dome to Yosemite Valley and more, you will find the perfect challenge for you.
If you have no experience doing rock climbing and are looking for a sign, well, I say go for it! Learning how to rock climb opens lots of opportunities for you to go on your adventures, like reaching the summit of Cathedral Peak, for example.
The Yosemite Mountaineering School and Guide Service offer climbing lessons to help you get started on your rock climbing journey.
33. Try Snowshoeing
It’s hard to navigate Yosemite National Park during winter. However, snowshoeing gives you the freedom to explore its snowy landscape at a walking pace. Plus, it is also a great winter exercise!
For those who are unfamiliar, snowshoeing is a type of hiking that involves walking over snow using specialized outdoor footwear called snowshoes.
It can be hard to keep your balance at first, especially if you are starting out given how big the snowshoes are. But once you get the hang of it, you are only one step away from exploring the different routes in the park, like Glacier Point Road, Crane Flat, and Mariposa Grove!
34. Visit the Happy Isles Art and Nature Center
Unleash your inner artist by going on a trip to Happy Isles Art and Nature Center! Located in Happy Isles, in the Merced River east of Yosemite Valley, the center encourages people (especially kids) to connect with nature through art.
In addition to art classes and exhibits on natural history, the center also has interactive displays that you can check out. There are also four short trails in the vicinity, each one focusing on a specific environment: forest, river, talus, and fen.
As you can see, a trip to this national park will surely be an unforgettable experience filled with activities whether it be in the winter or summer. From its jaw-dropping attractions to scenic landscapes, there are the best things to do in Yosemite.
Essential Tips for Visiting Yosemite
Getting There: Fresno Yosemite International Airport is the closest modest regional airport to Yosemite. You can easily check for the best fare deals at Skyscanner, which also has the option to choose ‘cheapest month’ as the departure to find the lowest priced dates to fly to your destination. From the airport to the city center, you can take a bus.
Where to Stay in Yosemite: Many choose to sleep inside the park at the Majestic Hotel or Yosemite Valley Lodge, both give easy access to drive the loop (or take the valley shuttle) but there are great choices just outside the park gates too.
On our first visit we stayed at the Evergreen Lodge, which is a smaller and quainter version of the Majestic Hotel. The last time, we absolutely loved the Tin Lizzie Inn which was very close to Yosemite National Park’s south gate (and across the street from Tenaya Lodge). Both were about a 45 minute drive to the center of the valley, but the views along the way occupied the time nicely! Plus, the Tin Lizzie is next to a decent sized city that offers some other dining options and a movie theater. It will be a bonus if Carmen and Jeb are the innkeepers when you are there, because together they are simply the best! She makes delicious breakfasts, he gives informative Yosemite suggestions and both of them are just all around lovely people.
You can search some great deals on hotels of your choice at Booking.com. If you’re looking for more of a home atmosphere (or are traveling with a group of people), head over to VRBO that has houses, apartments and even just a room for rent in every price range.
Getting Around: If you are driving your own car be sure to have an AWD with snow tires or carry chains (you will need them most of the time throughout the winter). My Jeep Wrangler in 4WD got along just fine, but we saw some cars sliding a little when they failed to put on any chains! After all, driving in the snow can become pretty dangerous.
There is also a complimentary Yosemite Valley shuttle that can get you to most of the stops you’ll want. See the map here.
Best Tours in Yosemite: You can find some of the top tours at Get Your Guide or Viator, and here are some of the top ones. tours:
- From Lake Tahoe: Yosemite National Park Full-Day Tour
- Yosemite Valley 3-Day Camping Adventure
- From San Francisco: Cedar Lodge 2-Day Yosemite Park Tour
- Yosemite National Park: Valley Orientation Tour
Insurance: It’s always a good idea to travel fully insured so you are protected in case of trip cancellations
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