California’s stunning national park, Yosemite, is famed for its ancient sequoia trees, picturesque waterfalls, deep valleys, and huge granite rocks that have visitors looking up in awe. The national park sits on the western slope of the granite-founded mountain range of Sierra Nevada and spans a large 1,187 square miles (3,027 km²) that is gorgeous in any season.
A much-loved nature destination for Californians and visitors alike to the state, and with Yosemite being just a 3-hour drive from San Francisco or 4-5 hours from Los Angeles, it’s a popular spot not just in California but in the whole country because of its easy access and drop-dead fascinating scenery.
Yosemite boasts some of the best landscapes and views in California and there are tons of things to do in Yosemite that will guide you to those scenic spots. Be sure to put together a Yosemite itinerary before heading out so that you don’t miss the top Yosemite beauty while visiting!
What to Do in Yosemite National Park
This list of the top Yosemite attractions includes popular hiking trails, breathtaking waterfalls, serene lakes, and of course, giant sequoias.
See the sights from Tunnel View
Tunnel View is one of the most famous places to visit in Yosemite, thanks to the incredible vistas this spot showcases across from the park. From here, you’ll see all of the highlights, such as El Capitan, Half Dome, and Sentinel Dome.
The viewpoint is at the right end of the Wawona Tunnel on the left side of the road. There are plenty of parking spots here and more on the other side of the road. I recommend coming here at sunrise or sunset if possible. Witnessing the sky changing shades behind the enormous domes is a truly unforgettable experience.
Admire Yosemite Falls
The tall Yosemite Falls are undoubtedly a Yosemite must-see, and, luckily, they are not hard to miss. The falls consist of two adjoining waterfalls, the upper and the lower, creating a 2,425 feet (739 m) high waterfall that will surely take your breath away.
You’ll see this eye-catching attraction multiple times as you drive through the park, seeing it from different perspectives each time. Although you don’t need to get out of your car to get a good view of Yosemite Falls, there are multiple trails of varying lengths leading there. So if you have the time, I recommend exploring the area on foot.
The 1.9 km (1 mile) Lower Yosemite Falls trail is a quick and easy route that takes you up close to the lower falls without any effort. As a result, this is the most popular way to explore the falls, which means the trail can get busy in peak season.
If you’re looking for a challenge, why not hike up to the top via the 7.5 miles (12.2km) Upper Yosemite Falls Trail? However, take note that this trek will take you all day, so it’s not one of the best activities if you have only one day in the park.
Enjoy a picnic in El Capitan Meadow
El Capitan is an impressive vertical granite rock formation, standing 3,600 ft (1,100 m) above the valley floor. To help you understand just how big it is, El Capitan is double the size of the Empire State Building and triple the height of the Eiffel Tower.
You’ll see this giant cliff as you drive through the valley, but one of the best places to check it out and take some photos is from El Capitan meadow, just off Northside Drive. This peaceful area is also the perfect spot for lunch, so take a picnic with you and enjoy an alfresco meal with a view. You’ll also find a few trails around here that serve as a nice post-walk lunch.
Hike the Mist Trail to Nevada Falls
When it comes to hikes in Yosemite, the Mist Trail is one of the best, which begins at Happy Isles in Yosemite Valley. The route follows the Merced River and passes Vernal Falls and Emerald Pool before arriving at the 594 ft (181 m) Nevada Falls, one of the most famous highlights in Yosemite.
The entire hike is 7.2 miles (11.6 km) and is moderately challenging, with an elevation gain of 2217 ft ( 676 m). If you don’t want to hike the entire trail, you can walk just a section instead. You can also combine the Mist Trail with other popular Yosemite hikes if you’re visiting Yosemite as a day trip.
Check out the reflections in Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake is one of the best places to visit in Yosemite if you enjoy peaceful, serene surroundings. The lake is famous for its mirror-like feature (hence the name), reflecting the trees and mountains that circle the water. You cannot drive all the way down to the lake, but luckily, the trail from the parking lot is not too long or strenuous.
You can trek to the lake and back from the parking lot, which will be a 2 mile (3.2 km) walk. Or you can extend your hike to 5 miles (8 km) by looping around the lake too. The latter will take you 2 to 3 hours whereas you can do the former in one hour. Either way, it’s a gentle hike with minimal elevation and well worth making the trip for.
Watch the sunset at Glacier Point
Glacier Point offers an incredible perspective over the park, sitting 7,214 feet (2,189 m) above Curry Village. You’ll be pleased to hear that you can drive all the way up here. You’ll find the turn-off of Glacier Point Road at the Chinquapin intersection on Wawona Road.
However, prepare for a long drive as it takes around 40 minutes from the turn-off and involves some steep, sharp turns. It’s totally worth the long drive though as you’ll see marvelous views of all the best Yosemite sights such as Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, and Half Dome.
Simply follow the paved path from the parking lot for a minute or two to reach several spectacular viewpoints. The vistas are stunning here any time of the day, but visiting for sunrise or sunset makes it one of the most magical Yosemite attractions.
Stroll around Mariposa Grove
Mariposa Grove is situated in the southern part of the park, approximately a one-hour drive from Yosemite Valley. Although it’s a bit far from the other attractions, Mariposa Grove is still one of the most magnificent things to see in Yosemite. It’s home to over 500 mature giant sequoia trees, including the 3,000-year-old Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree.
There are many pleasant hiking trails in the area. The most popular is the 2-mile (3.5 km) Grizzly Giant Loop Trail that loops around the central part of the Grove. The route passes famous sequoias like The Bachelor and Three Graces, Grizzly Giant, and the California Tunnel Tree (which unfortunately came down in a storm in 2017).
There are various side trails around, too, allowing you to extend your walk if you feel like it. And if you’re looking to spend a day in this part of the park, you could even take the 7-mile (11.3 km) Mariposa Grove Trail. This route loops from the trailhead to Wawona Point and back again, taking 4 to 6 hours.
Refresh at Bridalveil Fall
One of the best things to see in Yosemite in the summer is Bridalveil Fall, situated between Tunnel View and El Capitan. You’ll find many tourists seeking refuge here in hot summer months as the water plunges from 620 ft (189 m) high, creating a cooling mist spray.
The thundering waterfall is so powerful that you’ll experience a spritz as you walk down the short trail leading up to it. However, this does mean the path can get slippery, so be careful with your footing. For those looking for a bit of adventure, you can scramble over the moss-covered rocks to get directly under the waterfall.
Go snowshoeing in Merced Grove
If you’re visiting Yosemite in winter, snowshoeing is undoubtedly one of the top things to do. The giant sequoia grove looks magical in the snow season, and the best way to explore this part of the park is on a snowshoe hike.
You can rent snowshoes from various places in the surrounding towns, or you can join the giant sequoia snowshoe tour. On this tour, you’ll follow the 3-mile (4.8 km) Merced Grove trail to see the 20 ancient Giant Sequoias. The first part of the hike is a gentle downhill stroll, then coming back up, there is a slight incline of 600 ft (180 m).
Go on a guided rock climb
Yosemite is a much-loved destination for experienced climbers who come to tackle the challenging peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome. While most go up with all the safety gear, one daredevil, Alex Honnold, successfully free-climbed El Capitan in 2017.
Now, I’m not about to suggest you do the same. However, even if you have no previous climbing experience, you can still go out on a guided climb to one of the smaller rocks.
The Yosemite Mountaineering School is one guide service that offers intro climbing sessions for beginners and intermediate classes for those who have tried it a few times before. So, if you’re looking for the most adrenaline-filled Yosemite activities, this is it!