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Yosemite National Park: Outsized scenery in California

Giant sequoias, towering waterfalls and steep rock faces mark this classic destination.
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March 20, 2018 12:51 PM
The view of Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View in Yosemite National Park, California, United States.

Yosemite's majestic landscape inspires people to idolize it. You've seen it captured in Ansel Adams' iconic photos and in countless other travel features, but California's natural wonder can't be boiled down to one snapshot. Take the family and create your own unforgettable images.

Mirror Lake
Mirror Lake

Facts and figures

  • Yosemite was the fifth most visited park in 2017, with 4.3 million recreational visits
  • The park spans 748,436 acres, or 1,169 square miles
  • There are 800 miles of trails
  • The towering Yosemite Falls is actually made up of three waterfalls
  • The Grizzly Giant sequoia is more than 200 feet tall
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Miwok Paiute ceremony in 1872 at current site of Yosemite Lodge

History

Native Americans lived on Yosemite lands for thousands of years, until the 1849 Gold Rush brought prospectors and conflict. During the ensuing Mariposa War, a Euro-American militia sought to drive the native people out.

As more settlers came to the area, interest grew in conserving the wilderness, and Yosemite came under California's protection in 1864. Word about the region continued to spread, aided by admirers such as painter Thomas Hill and writer-activist John Muir. Yosemite became the third U.S. national park in 1890.

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El Capitan in Yosemite National Park viewed from the Valley Floor.

Things to do and see

Many of the park's sights can be seen from Yosemite Valley, which is accessible by car and open all year. From November through July, visit one of the world's tallest waterfalls: the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls. For up-close views, hike an easy, one-mile loop on Lower Yosemite Fall Trail.

At Glacier Point overlook, you can get a panoramic view of the valley, falls and Half Dome, the formidable granite slab that ambitious hikers take an entire day to climb. Head 38 miles northwest of Yosemite Valley to Hetch Hetchy, a placid valley with a glass-like reservoir.

For a memorable car tour, take Tioga Road, which winds west to east across the park and is open seasonally, from late May to early November. To the east, it leads straight to Tuolumne Meadows, an expanse surrounded by peaks and traversed by the Tuolumne River.

Heading south from Yosemite Valley, it's about an hour-long drive to Wawona basin and Mariposa Grove and its famed giant sequoias, including the Grizzly Giant, thought to be about 1,800 years old.

Yosemite has 13 campgrounds. Some, such as Upper Pines and Wawona, are open all year, while others are open seasonally. Reservations are required at many, and the first-come, first-served sites fill up fast. No matter where or when you go, you'll want to make a camping plan well in advance of your trip.

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A view from Yosemite Valley.

Best time to go

The busiest months at Yosemite tend to be from May through October, which is also when you'll be able to see more. Plan to arrive early when driving in. To avoid the peak crowds but beat the winter shutdowns, aim for October. Winter and spring are also beautiful and far less crowded, if you don't mind missing out on some seasonally accessible places.

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January 18, 2018 09:48 AM
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