Sweeping meadows, soaring cliffs, and roaring waterfalls: few places in the United States match the astounding natural beauty of Yosemite National Park in central California.
Explored by naturalist John Muir, protected by President Abraham Lincoln, and captured forever by photographer Ansel Adams, Yosemite has attracted millions of visitors from around the world for over a century. There is no shortage of wonders to see across the 700,000-acre park; however, most of the iconic natural features are concentrated in the Yosemite Valley.
One facet of Yosemite that has come into popular focus recently is El Capitan, the 7,000-foot sheer mountain face scaled by Alex Honnold in the Academy Award winning documentary “Free Solo.”
Bring a pair of binoculars to look for intrepid climbers from several sanctioned viewing spots along the valley floor, or arrive early to watch the morning sun light up El Cap’s aptly named Dawn Wall.
Another famous climb is the magnificent Half Dome, which, despite its name, was never part of a full dome. Climbers must obtain permits before summiting the granite monolith via a cable system, a 14-hour journey roundtrip.
Yosemite is home to an abundance of spectacular waterfalls: Bridalveil Falls is one of the first sights visitors see upon entering the park; mighty Nevada Falls plummets down to misty Vernal Falls before depositing into the Merced River; and powerful Yosemite Falls is the tallest in North America.
Most points of interest in the valley are accessible via a free shuttle loop; and a two-hour ranger-led tram tour allows visitors to experience the valley’s highlights. The National Park Service and the nonprofit Yosemite Conservancy offer a number of nature walks and talks, climbing and art classes, and planning services to maximize your visit. Learn about local Native America history at the Yosemite Museum, and enjoy new and old photography of the park at the Ansel Adams Gallery.
Not to be missed is the historic Majestic Yosemite Hotel, formerly the Ahwahnee Hotel, one of the grand National Park Service properties. Check out the massive dining room, timeless stained-glass windows, and an array of antique photographs as you ponder what vacations were like for visitors more than 100 years ago.
Enjoy the valley floor loop via a 13-mile walking trail, or rent bikes to explore the meadows. To get a better perspective on the vastness of the park, head up to Glacier Point or climb Sentinel Dome for a panoramic view of the lush green valley.
It is important to remember that Yosemite is not an amusement park, but a living habitat for thousands of species of plants and animals, some of which can’t be found anywhere else in the world. Travelers are asked to “leave no trace,” in order to insure the pristine and unparalleled array of wildlife, flora and fauna.
You may even see a California black bear along the trails — but keep your distance. Hide food out of sight to protect the bears, who have been desensitized and have become a danger to humans and themselves. Visitors should have sufficient water, layered clothing, energy food, and a map. Cell service is not guaranteed and hikers need to stay on the trail, to keep themselves safe and to protect the woodland habitat.
Visitors of any age or physical ability have opportunities in Yosemite to engage in some of the greatest wonders in the natural world. Yosemite has captivated travelers since ancient tribes discovered the valley and it has cemented its place as a true American treasure. Yosemite is a magnificent reminder of the continued need to protect and prolong the sanctity of our natural surroundings.