Follow wilderness activist John Muir in discovering Yosemite National Park, America's third National Park encompassing 750,000 acres of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range in California. This World Heritage Site feels more like five different parks in one, with a diverse array of geographies and history to explore. While many visitors focus their time in Yosemite Valley, Compass & Key invites you to expand beyond the valley to truly experience this incredible natural treasure.
Our curated guide brings you a breadth of experiences throughout the park, from its granite domes to giant sequoias, majestic meadows to powerful waterfalls.
Established October 1, 1890
800 miles of hiking trails
Tallest waterfall in North America
4 million annual visitors
Year-round. April/May offers waterfalls at their peak and meadows of wildflowers. By June, most of the roads are open allowing greater access to all parts of the park. July and August are the busiest times in the park but also the warmest. We visited in September, and while the waterfalls were low, we had many hiking trails to ourselves. To be able to access all of these hikes, plan to visit May-September, and always check the latest park conditions.
Yosemite is one of the few National Parks with a wide variety of lodging available within the park. From the luxury of The Majestic Yosemite Lodge to rustic camps in the High Sierra, you can choose the lodging style that fits you best. Secure reservations at least six months out as lodging fills up early. High Sierra camps are available via a lottery system that opens in November of the previous year.
Compass & Key recommends avoiding the crowds in Yosemite Valley and staying near the south entrance of the park at the Victorian era Big Trees Lodge, ($$, travelyosemite.com), formerly known as the Wawona Hotel. Designed with antique furnishings and period pieces, this cherished 1879 National Historic Landmark is rustic but offers plenty of amenities, including hiking trails, golf, swimming and more right at your doorstep, plus one of the best restaurants in the park. About half of the rooms have en-suite bathrooms so make sure to book early.
Gaze across Wawona Meadow from the Adirondack chairs on the front porch, enjoy evening cocktails with resident pianist Tom Bopp in the hotel lobby and meet your neighbors at the Summer Saturday Barbecues. Visit the onsite information station for hiking inspiration from a Park Ranger and tour restored 19th-century cabins and a covered bridge at Pioneer Yosemite History Center. Admire the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove since the site reopened in June 2018 after a 3-year restoration project designed to better protect these majestic trees.
Should you decide to explore the area just east of Yosemite, as we recommend with our itineraries for Bodie ghost town and Devils Postpile, we recommend the Westin Monache Resort ($$$, westinmammoth.com) in Mammoth Lakes. The summer months offer some quiet outside of the busy ski season and the resort is adjacent to the village at Mammoth, with plenty of restaurants and shops.
It is easy to find dining options in almost all areas of Yosemite National Park. We enjoyed most of our morning and evening meals at The Dining Room at Big Trees Lodge, particularly on the veranda as weather permitted. The historic ambiance is delightful and the menu is varied. We packed our own lunches for day hikes around Yosemite using provisions from the Pioneer Gift & Grocery shop (open 8a-6p daily) next door to Big Trees Lodge. The best dining in Yosemite is at the spectacular Dining Room at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, open for all meals and offering a beautiful Sunday brunch (advance reservations recommended). After a day of hiking, we brought a change of clothes to enjoy dinner at The Majestic on one of our last nights in the park.
HOW TO GET THERE
Compass & Key recommends flying to nearby Fresno and renting a car to tour the park. The closest airport is Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT), which is serviced by all the major car rental companies. Expect 1.5-hour drive to Big Trees Lodge or 2.5-hours to Yosemite Valley. San Francisco International Airport (SFO) is another option, but expect a 4-hour drive. If you already live out west, plan a roadtrip to Yosemite to enjoy the comfort of your own vehicle.
Most visitors drive around the park, so expect some traffic, particularly during the busy summer season. However, getting an early start and visiting during off-peak months helps avoid these issues. Yosemite offers free shuttle buses in Yosemite Valley, a tour bus to Glacier Point and a hikers bus to Tuolumne Meadows if you prefer to park the car and leave the driving to someone else. Learn more about public transportation here.
All passes can be purchased at any of the park entrances. A 7-day pass is $35 per car while an annual pass is $70. If you're planning to visit more than one National Park in a 12-month period, purchase the America the Beautiful National Parks pass for $80. Seniors have access to an $80 lifetime pass and U.S. Military personnel and dependents qualify for a free annual pass. We love supporting the parks and purchase the $80 annual pass each year.
Learn about all entrance fees here.
The National Park Service offers fee-free days on select holidays throughout the year. For the 2019 list of free days, click here.
CHECK FLIGHT TIMES TO FRESNO (Yosemite International Airport)
WHERE TO GO
Compass & Key has curated a list of five hikes within Yosemite National Park, plus two intriguing excursions just east of the park. Scroll below the map overview to select a hike with trail notes and photos, and view our interactive map to plot your course. To save these hikes, visit our AllTrails hike list for Yosemite, and download the AllTrails app to reference your saved hikes on the go. You can also peruse other hikes in the park based on difficulty, distance, and community reviews.
This is the ideal traveling companion for an in-depth guide to Yosemite, plus information for nearby Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
Many of our National Parks are in the west, so if you're planning on touring other parks outside Yosemite, this guide is for you.
The National Park visitor centers have lovely souvenirs, but we are also fond of the unique creations by the artist community. For everything from vintage posters to original art, tea towels to jewelry, check out our curated list of National Park mementos on Kit. If you're looking for a specific location other than the one featured, many of the products are available for different National Parks, just search within the individual shops.
National Park Service website for Yosemite National Park
National Park Service website for Devils Postpile National Monument
Official Visitors Bureau for Tuolumne County, including Yosemite's Tuolumne Meadows area / Insider tip: 'Tuolumne' rhymes with 'follow me'
Yosemite Conservancy, offering tours, workshops and volunteer opportunities; donations and event proceeds support trail, wildlife and habitat restoration projects
The Ansel Adams gallery - no doubt you have seen the iconic black-and-white photographs of Yosemite National Park by photographer and environmentalist Ansel Adams. A family vacation to Yosemite in 1916 captured Adams, and from then on, he visited annually. The Ansel Adams gallery, located just east of the Yosemite Museum in Yosemite Valley, commemorates his work and offers photography classes and workshops.
Explore some of our favorite places in Yosemite National Park through our interactive map. This is only a small sampling of the trails, historic sites and natural wonders to discover.
OR, take the Compass & Key map of Yosemite with you by downloading the Mapstr app and following us @compassandkey.
More About Our Trip
Here are the specifics of our itinerary for Yosemite National Park at the end of August/early September, coinciding with the Labor Day holiday. We flew to Fresno, rented a car at the airport and drove to the Wawona entrance to Yosemite. We stayed at the Big Trees Lodge for the first two nights and last night of our five-day visit to Yosemite, and at the Westin Monache Resort in Mammoth Lakes on the third and fourth nights while we explored the high country, Bodie ghost town and Devils Postpile National Monument.
Day 1: Glacier Point at sunrise, followed by Sentinel Dome & Taft point hikes through early afternoon, relaxing evening dinner at Big Trees Lodge
Day 2: Yosemite Valley, starting with Wawona Tunnel View, then hike to Inspiration Point, on to the valley and Cook's Meadow Loop and dinner at The Majestic Yosemite before returning to Wawona
Day 3: Tioga Pass, stopping at Olmsted Point, Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center; exited Yosemite to stay in Mammoth Lakes for the night
Day 4: Devils Postpile National Monument & Rainbow Falls hike from morning through mid-afternoon, dinner back in the village at Mammoth Lakes
Day 5: Returned to Yosemite, first visiting Bodie State Historic Park for the morning, then back to Yosemite Valley for the Mist Trail hike (very crowded), stayed at Big Trees Lodge one last night
From Yosemite, we continued our vacation to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks, a few hours south.
CURATED STORIES FROM AROUND THE WEB
Yosemite's staff geologist, Greg Stock, spends most of his workdays studying and trying to prevent rockfall in the park. On his off days, he hikes and climbs--particularly to these top five favorite spots. Among them: Lyell Glacier, Snake Dike on Half Dome, and Glacier Point.
Burns, documentarian and director of "The National Parks: America's Best Idea" lends his voice and his insight on of the world's most magical spots, musing on the mystical nature of its beauty - and even goes so far to say Yosemite brings you closer
There truly are no words to sum up the wonders of Yosemite National Park , but perhaps a poem can begin to express what is captured in the latest Centennial Poster, carefully hand crafted from the park itself.