Yosemite National Park
Follow in our Footsteps
This was our last stop on our road trip as Ambassadors for the Nation’s Vacation. We started our adventure in Alaska and slowly worked our way south to Yosemite, stopping at Denali National Park, Glacier Bay National Park, Olympic National Park, Crater Lake National Park, Lake Tahoe and finally … Yosemite! In this post we talk about the best things to see, do and eat in Yosemite National Park.
General Info for Yosemite National Park
There are several visitor centers in Yosemite.
The Valley Visitor Center is open all year. It has a bookstore in it, ranger’s on hand to answer your questions and even an exhibit hall where you can learn about the history and geology in the park.
The Valley Wilderness Center is open seasonally from May to October. As the name suggests, you can obtain a wilderness permit there as well as bear canisters for properly and safely storing your food.
The Wawona Visitor Center is located at the southwest corner of the park on the grounds of Big Trees Lodge. It’s only open seasonally from May to October. Thomas Hill’s artwork is also located here so you can not only get info but see an art exhibit of his paintings.
The Tuolumne Meadows Visitor Center is also open seasonally (late May to late September).
Food storage is super important in Yosemite in order to keep both people and wildlife safe. If you are staying at any of the lodges, be sure to empty your vehicle of all of it’s food and take it into your room. If you are camping, be sure to use the bear food storage lockers, keep a clean campsite and never leave your food unattended. To learn more about bear safety, click here.
In addition to storing your food properly, do not feed the animals.
Drones are not allowed in the park.
Stay on the trail. Do not hop over fences, cut switchbacks or go where signs instruct you not to (especially in fragile meadow areas). Not only does cutting the trail lead to erosion but it can also lead to injury.
Make sure to ride your bike only on the designated paths. They are not allowed on the meadow. Kids under 18 must wear a helmet. Check the map to see which trails bikes are allowed on.
Use tire chains in the winter and or when the signs are posted.
Yosemite National Park Phone Number
209-372-0200 or TTY 209-372-4726
Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
Take the Valley Floor Tour!
No matter what time of year you visit, you can take the Yosemite Valley Floor Tour! The tour is about 2 hours long and takes you in and around the valley as well as up to Tunnel View. During the warmer months you’ll ride in an open-air tram which means you can snap as many photos as you like and experience the outdoors in comfort. During the winter, you’ll ride in a heated coach that has big windows so that you still get to see all of the sights without freezing. Our tour guide had tons of information to share with us and our driver was slow and smooth. We recommend bringing a layer in the fall and a camera any time of year!
Inspired by the likes of Alex Honnold and the other climbers you can see from the valley floor? Head on over to the Yosemite Mountaineering School and sign up for a lesson. They’re the only authorized climbing guides in the park and have been leading people of all abilities since 1969.
We were so pumped to participate in this star gazing program because we’d heard a lot of positive things about it but due to the clouds it was cancelled. We’re hoping that on a return visit we can experience it. Who doesn’t love looking up at the stars and learning?! (Reservations are required and can be made at any Tour / Activity Desk).
Go for a hike!
One of the most popular things to do in Yosemite is go for a hike. The most difficult part might be choosing one! A few of our favorite day hikes include the Mariposa Grove Trail to the Grizzly Giant, the 4 mile Trail (which is actually about 5 miles in length) from Glacier Point down to the valley and the trails to Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls. There are hikes for all abilities within the park.
Park the car and hop on a bike. Didn’t bring one? No worries, there are two places within the valley where you can rent them: Yosemite Valley Lodge (Shuttle Bus Stop #8) and Half Dome Village (Shuttle Bus Stop #13). We found riding bikes to be our favorite way to explore the park because anytime we saw something that caught our eye we could just pull over and explore. There are 12 miles of bike paths along the valley and most of those miles are flat.
Have kids? You’re in luck, you can rent bikes with an attached trailer. Helmets and a map of the bike trails are complimentary with all rentals and you can rent by the hour or the day.
See a sunrise or sunset
The light in Yosemite is downright magical. Bring a camera and get in place early as this is one of the most popular things to do in the park.
Sunrise: We love Tunnel View and make a point to spend at least one morning there every time we visit. It’s enough to take your breath away and one of the most iconic places in the world to see a sunrise.
Sunset: There’s a three-way tie for our favorite sunset spots in Yosemite.
- Glacier Point (open late May – October/November, weather permitting).
- From the valley floor facing Half Dome.
- From the valley floor facing El Capitan.
You can’t go wrong with any of these options. They’re all beautiful and all worth doing at least once. When the sun turns the granite a deep shade of pink, pinch yourself to make sure that it’s real. It’s one of the most incredible things we’ve ever seen and it gets us every time.
Best Places to Stay in Yosemite National Park
We had a room on the second floor of the Willow Building (part of Yosemite Valley Lodge) and we loved it! The bed was super comfortable, there was a small fridge in the room, a table and two chairs, a large open closet for us to store our gear and best of all, a balcony with a view of Yosemite Falls. The Yosemite Valley Lodge is also conveniently located within a short walking distance to Base Camp Eatery and the Mountain Room, two of our favorite places to get a meal. It’s also close to where you can rent bikes, the pool (open seasonally) and the pickup for the free shuttle and the Valley Floor Tour. We highly recommend staying in this area if you want to have easy access to some of the park’s best attractions.
When to Visit Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is an incredible place to visit no matter what time of year you choose to go. It is open year-round and we can easily make a case for any season.
Yosemite is busiest in the summer (people are on vacation, kids are off of school and all of the roads are typically open.) Summer is a wonderful time to visit, but be sure to reserve your lodging ahead of time and be mentally prepared for crowds.
On our most recent trip to Yosemite, we visited in the fall and while it was still busy, it was a little less so than when we’ve visited in summer. The leaves were just starting to change colors in the valley and parts of the mountain were turning gold. It’s a photographers dream to be in Yosemite this time of year. Plus, the weather is mild and you can stay out all day without sweating to death or freezing cold.
Calling all snow shoer’s and skiers! Though some of the park’s roads are closed in the winter, the park is still very much open. Come see some of your favorite places when they are blanketed in white and then curl up in the lodge in front of the fire with a book and a drink.
Spring is one of our favorite times of year but especially in Yosemite because this is when the waterfalls typically come roaring back to life. April and May are great months for seeing the falls but beware that some roads may still be closed due to snow.
Top Tips For Visiting Yosemite National Park
Carry the proper maps and navigational tools with you and don’t rely on your cell phone to get you around the park as service is limited.
Make sure you travel with enough food and water since many of the trails do not have places for you to refill mid-hike!
Pack your camera and remember to use it! There are so many amazing places to take photos.
Stay hydrated! Remember to drink early and often, especially if you’re participating in an activity. There are several spots within the park to fill a reusable water bottle but don’t expect to be able to find it on trails. You’re in the wild!
Be prepared for spotty cell phone service. (See below for more info.) Carry detailed maps and navigational tools with you if you plan on doing any hiking.
Obey the signs and fences and stay away from the edge of cliffs. This park is huge and going off-trail or beyond areas where signs are posted warning you of danger could lead to severe injury or death.
Make a reservation for dinner if you are going to eat in The Mountain Room or The Majestic Yosemite Hotel. (See below for more information on our favorite places to eat.)
Fill up with gasoline before entering the park!
Cell Phone Service and Wifi in Yosemite
Believe it or not, you can actually get a signal in several areas in the park. Verizon is our carrier.
We were able to get a good signal at Tunnel View and some parts of the Valley (especially the eastern corner of the valley).
We were sometimes able to get a signal at Mariposa Grove near the bathroom. It would alternate between LTE / 3G/ 1x and was inconsistent.
We had very little signal in Tuolumne, Wawona and El Portal.
If you are staying at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village or Big Trees Lodge, you will have wifi/internet access via a code. We stayed at the Yosemite Valley Lodge and it would allow two unique devices to be signed on at once.
There’s also free wifi at Degnan’s Kitchen in the valley which is a cool space with high top long tables, a fire place and clean bathrooms.
Best Places to Eat in Yosemite National Park
This was our go-to spot for breakfast. Caroline enjoyed the pancakes with crispy bacon and gouda melted on roasted potatoes and I ate the Meadows Omelet with tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach, and a blend of cheeses. We also tried the cheese – scrambled eggs, biscuit, Nutella croissant, cinnamon roll and fresh fruit cups, as well as the yogurt parfait, and it was all excellent. Plus, right next door is a Starbucks coffee shop.
If you’re looking for an intimate spot to have dinner, head to the Mountain Room. We ate there one evening and took our time with drinks and appetizers: a wedge salad with crispy smoky bacon, roasted cherry tomatoes, crumbled blue cheese and a creamy dressing as well as lobster beignets. They were both super tasty! For our entrees we ordered the salmon filet (seared and finished in the oven with wild rice, roasted Asian eggplant and mushrooms with a blackberry sauce) as well as a filet mignon with garlic mashed potatoes, roasted carrots and roasted tomato coulis. Both were delicious. And though we hardly had room, we also ordered the three layer carrot cake with cream cheese icing and vanilla ice cream with airy lady fingers and fresh strawberries and blueberries.
If you start craving pizza and beers while you’re out on the trail, you’re in luck. You can have both. Head on down to the Half Dome Pizza Deck and order up a Lagunitas IPA and Sierra Nevada Pale Ale on tap and then find a picnic table and take in the views as you wait for your pizza to get baked. We ordered a small cheese pizza (great for one person) and a medium mushroom pizza (we had a few slices of leftovers for the next day). The crispy crust and zesty tomato sauce left us wanting for nothing.
We had a midday lunch at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel and it was excellent. The food coming out of the kitchen is delicious and a great match for the gorgeous interior with 34 foot tall ceilings and large picture windows. We started with the crab florentine with artichoke hearts, spinach, and cream cheese warmed in the oven with toasted crostini on the side and rounded out the lunch with a Southwestern Grilled chicken salad with avocado, black beans, roasted corn, tomatoes, black olives and a tangy cilantro lime dressing and a Cobb salad with baby Oregon shrimp, black olives, smoky bacon, blue cheese, egg, tomatoes, avocado and a sweet Louie dressing.
Also, we weren’t planning on it, but we ended up going back a second time for another lunch and feasted on the Majestic burger with a buttered toasted bun, cheddar, lettuce, tomatoe, purple onion and golden fries and a grilled chicken sandwich with sweet and tangy mango chutney, lettuce, tomato and a side of fruit salad. We also dined on a Majestic Caesar salad with bacon, sourdough herbed croutons, and a classic dressing and though we left super stuffed, we thoroughly enjoyed the experience and would do it again in a heartbeat!
If you’re wondering if there’s any good food in Yosemite, the answer is 100% YES.
Yosemite National Park Recap
Is there any wonder why this is one of the most beloved national parks in the world? There are so many incredible things to see, do and eat in Yosemite that it’s easy to see why people continue to revisit over and over again.
Have you been here? What is your favorite thing to do in the park? We’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below!
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