If you’ve never been to Yosemite and wonder if the trip is worth it, we’ve created the perfect guide with all the details for you to consider as you make your travel plans to this grand national park.
We’ll lay out all of the pros and cons and even comparisons between other national parks in the U.S. to help you figure out if Yosemite is right for you.
Is Yosemite Worth It?
Yosemite is definitely worth visiting for its beauty of nature and unique features that can’t be found anywhere else. If you are the adventurous type or just appreciate the wonder of the great outdoors, Yosemite National Park is one of the best trips you can take.
Yosemite National Park, located in central California, has been a popular destination for millions of travelers since it’s incorporation in 1890. People from all over the country, and the world, come to see the beauty of Yosemite’s giant sequoia trees, vast landscapes and brilliant waterfalls year after year.
That’s the short answer, but if you are looking to plan the trip of a lifetime, you’ll need a more in-depth description of what to expect. We’ve broken down the details into compartments in order for you to get an in depth yet compact look at what it’s like to visit Yosemite National Park.
Pros & Cons of Visiting Yosemite
Like anything else, visiting Yosemite will have it’s pros and cons. We believe the pros definitely outweigh the cons in this instance, but read through to determine the best and worst of this national park.
Obviously, one of the biggest pros to visiting Yosemite is the fact that you’ll see landscapes and natural features you won’t find anywhere else – specifically, the giant sequoia trees. But aside from the vistas, there are a few other things that will make your trip worth while.
On-site Lodging: It’s easy to book a trip to Yosemite National Park without ever having to leave the park. Guests can choose between several different accommodations on property from hotel rooms to campgrounds. You can easily maneuver through all that Yosemite has to offer without the hassle of traveling back and forth to accommodations outside the park.
Safety & Accessibility: Yosemite prides itself on keeping its visitors extremely safe during their experience. There are many precautions taken to prevent disease, illness and harm to travelers, including lots of signage and information throughout the park.
Disabled guests can easily traverse the terrain on many of Yosemite’s walking trails, become a part of Yosemite’s Audio Program or request a visual aid for the park. Facilities and lodging are also being renovated to give every guest the best experience possible.
Transportation: Free shuttles and transportation are available inside the national park for guests moving from one area to another. You can also rent kayaks, river rafts, bikes and climbing gear for your journey through Yosemite.
Yosemite App: Before you go on your trip, download the app to explore different areas of the park and make a list of the places you want to visit. There’s loads of information to help you on your trip before you arrive and while you’re exploring the land.
Open All Year: That’s right – the park never closes, even on Christmas and Independence Day, giving you all the time in the world to explore Yosemite whenever you desire.
Traffic: When the park is busy, especially in the Summer months, traffic can get backed up on the major roadways leading into the park and even along the popular hiking trails. It’s suggested that you plan to travel by car before 9am and after 5pm to avoid the backup.
Cell Service: Service can be quite spotty and you can even lose service in parts of the park. With limited access to your phone, be prepared with proper safety measures to ensure you can find your way through the trails and climbs around Yosemite.
Wildlife: Bears are prevalent in the area and there are warning signs for protecting your family from the danger of an attack. Though, it’s more common that they’ll try to steal food from your campsite. Being a natural preserve, all manner of wildlife should be considered, like mosquitos, ticks and rodents.
Seasons in Yosemite
Yosemite gets the full advantage of the changing seasons. From the cold winter snows to the warm summer rain, the park is going to look different from season to season. It’s important to know what to expect each month or season to determine the best time for your traveling party to visit.
Spring: Spring in Yosemite means that waterfalls are rushing, rivers are gushing and the warmer weather brings wildflowers to bloom. This season is considered the best for hiking and touring the waterfalls, as the snow is completely melted in most areas by the time May rolls around.
Summer: Summer in Yosemite is quite crowded, but it’s also the best weather you’ll experience all year. All outdoor activities are encouraged and fun this season, especially river rafting. However, California fires may be more rampant at this point and thunderstorms occur more often.
Fall: Yosemite in Fall brings beautiful autumn colors across the entire scenic scape of the national park. Trees and meadows will abound with reds, golds and oranges and the weather will be mild to cool. Crowds will be lower at this point and the waterfalls will have halted by October.
Winter: Winter in Yosemite is beautiful, with snow covered mountains and icicle christened trees. Many of the trails and roads begin to close due to snowfall, but skiing and snowshoeing are great options for experiencing Yosemite in the cold. Winter will be one of the only times you may not be able to tour the waterfalls, forests or meadows.
The most popular time of year to visit Yosemite will be the months of April through October, with the Summer months being the busiest. It’s suggested that you plan your trip in the months of May or September to get some of the best weather and to avoid the worst of the crowds.
Attractions in Yosemite
Yosemite National Park is loaded with scenic attractions and natural wonders that draw large crowds on a regular basis. These marvels make excellent photo memories, but they’re even more miraculous to view in person. Two of the biggest draws to the area are the ancient sequoia trees and the many waterfalls.
Mariposa Grove is the home of the famous giant sequoias – over 500 of them. Though you can find sequoia trees in several locations across the park, Mariposa Grove is the site for most of them grouped together. The sequoias are so impressive, they were the original inspiration for preserving natural features and establishing the national park system.
Mariposa Grove has a handful of walking and driving trails open to visitors throughout the year, best experienced in the warmer months. However, the trails are open to skiers in the Winter months, giving you a vastly different view of these beautiful giants.
Crane Flat Area is another great place to explore the ancient sequoias, with the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias and Tuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias. In the wintertime, there’s also a flat patch of land perfect for sledding and snowball fights.
Yosemite Falls is the tallest and most popular waterfall in the park, spanning nearly 2,500 feet in length. The falls are so large (actually made up of three consecutive falls), that you can see this impressive water feature at several points throughout the park.
In addition to this, Yosemite has many other waterfalls, including Sentinel Falls (2,000 feet) and Ribbon Fall (1,612 feet) that visitors can enjoy at the peak months of May and June. There are also other water features like Mirror Lake, which reflects the Half Dome beautifully, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir and several flowing rivers.
The solid granite peaks in Yosemite are a natural marvel that has stunned generations of visitors. Sitting 5,000 feet above Yosemite Valley is the iconic Half Dome, which can be seen from several viewpoints throughout the park. There are a few trails leading up to the Half Dome, which can be hiked or climbed.
Even better rock climbing can be experienced at El Capitan. It sits 3,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley floor, but can also be viewed from several vantage points around the park. Glacier Point is another beautiful vantage point that visitors love for taking photos, either on top of the rock or underneath it.
Yosemite Valley is the main attraction in the national park, bringing all the peaks and forest areas together. It takes up the majority of the open land space in the park, with many great trails and areas to discover inside the meadows and wetlands of Yosemite.
Inside the Valley, you’ll find such photo spots as Tunnel View where you can see all the major landmarks in Yosemite, El Capitan Meadow with views of Cathedral Rocks, and Sentinel Bridge with views of Half Dome.
You can also drive Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows, which offers a more secluded reprieve from the busier Valley areas. The Meadows is home to gorgeous Siesta Lake and Tenaya Lake, both alpine water bodies perfect for swimming and kayaking. Lembert Dome in this area is a nice hike to the top and Soda Spring (carbonated cold spring) is a unique feature.
Lastly, the hidden corner of Hetch Hetchy is one of the most ideal places to hike all year long. It claims one of the longest hiking seasons and has numerous trails, including the 2.5 mile Poopenaut Trail. It also holds the tallest peak in the area – Smith Peak standing at 7,751 feet high.
Historical Buildings & Centers
Yosemite Valley Museum Center has all the information you need to fill several days worth of activities in the national park. Just next door sits Yosemite Museum, which has displays of Native American heritage and culture unique to the land. There are even demonstrations of native basket-weaving and artwork.
The Ansel Adams Gallery is an interesting collection of artwork and photography from around the area, as well as outside the national park. Nearby, The Ahwahnee hotel and historic landmark offers a relaxing, rustic environment with tall stained-glass windows.
In Tuolumne, Parsons Memorial Lodge is the stomping grounds of John Muir and Robert Underwood Johnson who brought Yosemite National Park to life. And the Pioneer Visitor Center is a fun place for families to see horse-drawn carriages and discover the oldest standing buildings from Yosemite’s beginning.
Things to Do in Yosemite
Most national parks are well known for being havens for outdoor enthusiasts and athletic adventurers and Yosemite does not disappoint in this regard. There is plenty of outdoor fun to be had in the park throughout every season.
Camping: While camping isn’t available in all parts of the year, the Spring through Fall seasons will offer a great experience amid the towering trees, trickling streams and thundering falls on property.
Guests’ most favorite campsites include Tuolumne Meadows, Bridalveil Creek Campground, and Wawona Campground at different areas of the park. All require reservations and offer amenities such as tap water, restrooms and dump sites for your convenience. Some areas are also designated for RVs and horses during your stay and there are plenty of picnic tables around the park for your meals.
Hiking: This is one of the most popular pastimes and the main reason why most people come to visit Yosemite. There are a plethora of trails all over the park, ranging from easy to difficult. The most popular trails (and busiest) tend to be Mist Trail leading to Vernal Falls, Upper Yosemite Falls Trail, and the Half Dome Trail.
Biking: There are over 12 miles of designated bike paths in the park, mostly limited to Yosemite Valley. Visitors can bring their own or rent bikes and gear from the trail lodge and all persons are asked to stick to the trails – no off-roading.
Fishing & Watersports: As long as you come equipped with a California fishing license, everyone is welcome to fish the lakes and rivers in Yosemite. You’ll mostly catch brown trout and rainbow trout here, with a limit of 5 brown trout per day and requirements to release rainbows.
Fishing on the banks is most popular, but Summertime has great weather for boating and kayaking on the water. Guests can rent rafts in June and July to fight the currents of Merced River. This is also a nice time to swim in the lakes, reservoirs and natural pools of Yosemite.
Rock climbing: Thrill-seeking travelers might take interest in Yosemite’s many rock climbing opportunities. It’s highly encouraged to go in the warmer months to avoid snow melt and to follow safety and conservation guidelines when visiting. Climbers can choose from a range of different paths, including canyons, crags and multi-day guided climbs.
Winter Sports: In the Winter, snow is abundant on the highs and lows of Yosemite, allowing for skiers and snowboarders to have their fun on Badger Pass – the oldest downhill ski slope in California. Cross-country skiers and snowshoers can also set off on Crane Flat Area and Glacier Point Road.
Equipment rentals, lift tickets and lessons are available at Yosemite Hospitality, where you will also find the snow tubing and sledding hills. Ice skating is also available at the Curry Village in Yosemite Valley.
Tours: Whether you set off on your own hike, car ride or select a guided tour, there are many different ways to take in the scenery of beautiful Yosemite. One of the best ways to get a full lay of the land is to take a tour. Horseback excursions are one fun way to get out on the open road without being stuck in a car.
The most all-inclusive and best tours you can take is the full-day Grand Tour. It takes you through Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove where you’ll find the giant sequoias.
Yosemite Versus Other National Parks
Yosemite vs Grand Canyon
Yosemite in California is extremely well known for rocky landscapes and the ancient sequoias you can’t find anywhere else, but the Grand Canyon in Arizona is significantly more popular for it’s red rock structures and that amazing divide. The Grand Canyon sees nearly 6 million visitors per year, while Yosemite will average about 4 million. Yosemite can be busy, but it won’t feel as busy as the Grand Canyon.
There are huge differences in the experiences you’ll have in both parks, but for the most part, you can expect each trip to be filled with hiking and other such outdoor activities. Yosemite is best for tree lined hikes, beautiful waterfalls and stunning sequoias, while the Grand Canyon is best for awe-inspiring red and orange landscapes, stargazing and hardcore hiking.
Yosemite vs Zion National Park
Yosemite in California has more forest areas and natural greenery than Zion National Park in Utah, which is better compared with the Grand Canyon, though not quite on the same level. Both Yosemite and Zion see about the same amount of visitors from year to year, so they will both share similar crowd levels.
Water features and rock formations are abundant in both parks, along with camping, hiking and rock climbing. Zion truly shines in its orange hued mountains and canyons, making great photos, but is probably more suitable for those who prefer deserts and arid climates. Yosemite is best for those interested in much more varied scenery, easier hiking, seasonal weather and winter activities.
Yosemite vs Yellowstone
Yosemite in California is a natural wonder with ancient giant sequoia trees and towering waterfalls, while Yellowstone in Wyoming has breathtaking landscapes and bubbling geysers and hot springs. Both see roughly 4 million visitors a year, but Yellowstone will actually appear less busy on average than Yosemite will.
Yellowstone is America’s oldest established national park and is best known for such landmarks as Old Faithful, Yellowstone Lake and Mammoth Hot Springs. The activities in both parks vary drastically. Visitors who enjoy more populous vacation destinations, long hikes and giant forests will like Yosemite. While travelers who prefer quieter and cheaper vacations, mixed with a fair amount of wildlife and cultural experiences will love Yellowstone.
Yosemite National park is truly a sight to behold for anyone who appreciates the grandeur of nature and advocates for preserving these habitats and landmarks. It’s definitely worth considering when planning a trip to see the national parks in North America, mainly to experience the towering rocks at Tunnel View and the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove.
We recommend visiting Yosemite in May when the weather is beginning to warm up. The summer crowds haven’t quite started to roll in yet and the snow has melted, allowing the waterfalls to thunder down the mountains in full force. You’ll also get to take the first crack at river rafting and can take advantage of the full-day Grand Tour that isn’t available for most of the year.