Yosemite National Park is home to an abundance of beautiful places and hiking spots. If you find yourself in the midst of this expansive natural wonder, then follow our guide to making the most of your nature experience – from waterfalls and meadows, to rock formations and pristine lakes.
El Capitan is a rock-climber’s favorite, and must-see for any Yosemite visitor. Standing at a whopping 3,000ft (914m) from the base to the summit, this granite rock formation is the almighty of rock formations. Sitting to the left of Half Dome in the Yosemite Valley, El Capitan is a breathtaking representation of Yosemite’s natural beauty. It’s best seen from Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall and El Capitan Meadow.
Vernal Fall is 317ft (97m) high and one of the most popular hiking routes in all of Yosemite. Visitors can either take the John Muir Trail or the Mist Trails to reach the view at the footbridge. Opt for the Mist Trails for a close-up view of the two falls, Merced River and Yosemite Valley. Note: during the spring and early summer, the Mist Trails can be slippery from the mist, so caution is advised; for those headed here in the winter, keep in mind only a particular route is open.
Glacier Point, a viewpoint located on the southern part of Yosemite Valley, provides some of the most memorable views in the area. At an elevation of 7,214 feet (2,199m), visitors gain the best view of Half Dome and the High Sierra. Glacier Point is accessible by car in the warmer months, making it easy for the unexperienced hiker to take part in the beauty of Yosemite without having to break a sweat; cross-county skiers can head here during the winter.
Mirror Lake not only offers stunning views of Tenaya Canyon, Mount Watkins and the Washington Column, but also gives hikers a different perspective of Half Dome, looking directly up at it from its base. Plus, the lake offers beautiful mirrored views of the surrounding cliffs. The trail is open year-round, but the best time to visit is during spring and early summer when the lake is filled by the flowing Tenaya Creek.
Mariposa Grove is always on the top of any must-see list in Yosemite. This park is filled with giant sequoia trees, and is the largest grove of its kind with several hundred mature sequoias. Due to a current restoration project, the grove is closed until summer 2017, however, hikers can visit other groves in the area in the meantime, or plan for a visit next year.
Tuolumne Meadows is one of the most picturesque areas in Yosemite, with two miles of blooming fields, the winding Tuolumne River and backdrop of rising peaks, this is the spot for a peaceful escape. Here, visitors can catch unique views of Cathedral Peak, Pothole Dome, and Lembert Dome alongside the Tuolumne River Bridge and Tuolumne pools. Be sure to head here in the spring when the grasses are green and full.
Yosemite’s iconic Tunnel View has been the most photographed, drawn, and painted scene in Yosemite since its opening in 1933. Tunnel View gives visitors an unrivalled view of the Yosemite Valley, with El Capitan on the left, Half Dome in the center, and Bridalveil Fall on the right. It’s the first view drivers get upon entering Yosemite Valley, making for a striking first impression.
Cathedral Peak, a granite pinnacle rising high from the Cathedral Range, is an offshoot of the Sierras, located in the Tuolumne Meadows. This peak, formed by glaciers, is stunning to look at from all angles. And, as a famous climbing spot – John Muir was the first to ascend in 1869 – it makes for the perfect destination for the active climber.
Yosemite Falls is one of the tallest in the world, made up of three waterfalls: Upper Yosemite Fall at 1,430ft (436m), Middle Cascades at 675ft (206m), and Lower Yosemite Fall at 320 feet (98m). Yosemite Falls can be seen from different areas in Yosemite Valley, but for the best view, visitors can hike a one-mile trail that loops around the base of the lower falls, or experienced hikers can opt for an all-day hike to the top of the falls.
Three Brothers is El Capitan’s rival rock formation, located just east of El Capitan. The three peaks, Eagle Peak, Middle and Lower Brothers, make for a famous site in Yosemite – John Muir considered the view from the top of Eagle Peak to be the most beautiful view of Yosemite Valley – and can be seen from various areas in Yosemite. Visitors can get a great view from the Cathedral Beach Picnic Area, but for the best perspective, hiking to the top of Eagle Peak, the Valley Floor Loop, or the Lower Yosemite Fall Trail is encouraged.