Yosemite National Park is a great travel destination both for the backpacker and the entire family. Weather you love to backpack for days or you just enjoy day hikes with your family, Yosemite National Park has something for everyone. I have visited Yosemite many times and each time I have done something completely different and fun. However, if you’re visiting for the first time there are some things you must see.
Directions to Yosemite National Park
It is very easy to find directions to Yosemite…they’re everywhere on the internet including on the park’s official website. It takes about 5 to 6 hours from Southern California…well depending where you’re coming from. Holidays are very, very, very busy and if you can avoid holidays it’s well worth going another time. The main attractions of Yosemite National Park are the many amazing waterfalls. So, the best times to visit are when there is plenty of water in the waterfalls. Water is plentiful in the early spring, and early summer. However, if you visit in the middle of summer or early fall you might be surprised to find many of the waterfalls dry as a rock 🙂
Map of Yosemite National Park and surrounding area.
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Main tourist attractions at Yosemite National Park
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- Visit the Sequoia Grove right at the entrance to the park. The trees are just as large as the ones in Sequoia National Park. It is worth your time.
- Bridalveil Falls and Lower Yosemite Falls – These are very easy to see…you just drive to them. Bridalveil fall is so full of water in the spring that you can’t really walk too close unless you’re willing to get soaking wet.
- Hike the Mist Trail. This trail is strenuous but it is very exciting. Depending how far you’re willing to hike you will get to see Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall and if you’re willing you can hike on top of Half Dome (starting late April).
- Hike to the top of Yosemite Falls. This is a very strenuous hike and it can take around 3 hours. You will be very rewarded once you reach the top…the views are simply amazing.
Great day hikes in Yosemite National Park
Yosemite is a hiker’s paradise ! I’m not kidding ! There are so many hikes in the Yosemite area that it would take you at least 10 weekend trips to do most of them. I have visited Yosemite only four times but I have done many great day hikes and I want to list them for you. Here they are:
- The Mist Trail – this is by far the most popular trail in Yosemite. You get to see two of the most spectacular waterfalls (Vernal and Nevada) and if you’re strong enough you can hike to the top of Half Dome. If you’re going in early Spring (April, May) make sure you take some rain gear on the trail. At least some large trash bag that can cover you head to toe is necessary. This is why they call it the Mist Trail…because there is a constant mist from the waterfalls. Believe it or not, you will get soaked especially until you reach the top of Vernal Fall. Hiking to the Vernal Fall bridge lookout would take about 1 hour and then another hour to get to the top of Vernal Fall. It takes about 6 hours of strenuous hiking to get to the top of Half Dome…but it’s well worth it.
You can take small kids to the Vernal Fall bridge overlook, but not further. If your kids are older they will definitely enjoy to hike further, but they’ll be very tired once they get to the top of Vernal Fall. Make sure you bring plenty of food and water with you.
- Upper Yosemite Falls – This hike is even more strenuous than The Mist Trail, even though it’s not as long. The hiker zig-zags parallel with the waterfall itself all the way to the top. It takes a good 3 hours to reach the top but again like most hikes in Yosemite, you will definitely say WOW once you see the views from the top. Once on top, there is a ledge that was built so that people can walk right next to the point where the water starts dropping down. If you’re there in the spring, the sound of the water going down is deafening.
This is a very hard hike for children period. I would say that children would have to be 10 to 12 years old at least to be able to do it. Make sure you bring plenty of food and water with you.
- John Muir Trail – This is a great trail to use for coming back to the Yosemite Valley after you have hiked the Mist Trail to get to the top of Nevada Fall. It offers great views of the Valley and it’s usually a lot nicer to return on a different route than the one you used to go up. After Nevada Fall, the Panorama Trail and The Mist Trail join and continue uphill all the way to Half Dome.
- Mirror Lake – This is the easiest hike in Yosemite. I wouldn’t even call it a hike…it’s a nice stroll mostly on a paved road. This is great for small children as well, but might be a bit boring for older children. The lake is not that exciting but on a sunny day you can see the mountains being reflected in the face of the lake. It is a mirror indeed ! This hike would take about 1 hour the most.
Vernal fall is full of water in the middle of the spring. Hiking the Mist Trail in the spring will get you wet for sure.
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Hiking the upper Yosemite Falls trail in Yosemite National Park, California.
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For a list of day hikes check out the park’s website at: Yosemite Day Hikes