Yosemite National Park is best known for its waterfalls, towering granite peaks, deep valleys and ancient giant sequoias. A national park since 1890, it’s iconic and one of the most beautiful places you can visit. It’s also insanely crowded most of the year and requires a lot of advance planning – do start early, give yourself at least three days to visit, and resign yourself to dealing with a lot of traffic.

For most Californians, the slow drive in comes from the West. In the summer, however, **Tioga Pass to the East is excellent. You’ll see one of the park’s great overlooks at ***Olmstead Point.

Lodging and Dining

***The Ahwahnee is the historic lodge in Yosemite valley – the public spaces are grand, it’s expensive, and you’ll generally need to reserve a year in advance (literally, book your calendar and call on exactly one day in advance when reservations open). You can’t beat the location. The rooms are quite dark (not the best feature of the place) and the service is great for a park hotel. Ask for Rooms: 444, 450 (big deck), or 347 (corner room with two windows, nice view).

The hotel’s dining room is famous for its lavish Sunday brunches, but regular breakfast is good here, too (not as good, but the Sunday isn’t so good it’s worth sticking around for). Reservations recommended. “Resort casual” attire―e.g no shorts or tank tops for dinner.

Throughout the valley and around, there are numerous campgrounds. I think I stayed at Curry Village as a kid, but honestly the campgrounds all run together and didn’t seem particularly differentiated.

**The Wawona Hotel Dining Room is “delightfully old fashioned.” It’s cute and kind of Victorian. They have an outdoor Saturday BBQ from 5-7 pm. We haven’t stayed at the hotel.

Yosemite Activities

Hike to **Mirror Lake. Beat the crowds and watch the sun rise on an early morning hike to this lovely lake near the east end of Yosemite Valley. This was easy and pleasant, not quite as pretty when water levels are low, but a good walk.

  • **Raft the Merced. Wild in spring, in summer the Merced River is enjoyably tame as it flows through the valley. Easiest way is to rent a raft (and required personal flotation devices) at Curry Village Recreation Center; the rental includes a shuttle trip from take-out point back to your start. This was fun, and very mellow/easy.
  • **Mist Trail & John Muir Trail: very crowded up the Mist Trail, but nearly empty on the way up to Vernal and Nevada Falls. Take the John Muir trail back down. Beautiful, lots of uphill, about 2.5 hours round trip.
  • **Tunnel View Overlook. This classic view of Yosemite Valley is best seen toward late afternoon, when the sun makes the valley and the Sierra glow even more strikingly than usual. You’ll find the overlook on the Wawona Road, just below the tunnel. You’ll pass it if you go to Wawona or Glacier Point, but don’t bother to do it as a standalone activity.
  • **Glacier Point Overlook. From the valley take Wawona Road south then turn east on Glacier Point Road. Follow it to its end for one of the best views anywhere: Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the Sierra Nevada. We started at the Glacier Point parking lot, hiked to **Sentinel Dome (which has better views than Glacier Point in my opinion), then continued to Glacier Point.
  • The cute **Pioneer Yosemite History Center is a collection of mostly 19th century buildings relocated to this quiet corner of the park; in summer rangers offer living history programs here. 

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