National parks are becoming America’s great travel resource. 327 million people visited a national park in 2019, including millions of international tourists. Yosemite National Park is one of the crown jewels of the national park system. Yet it can be a little overwhelming, especially for people less familiar with it.
How should you prepare for a trip to the park, and when should you visit it? How can you get to Yosemite? What can you do while you are there?
Answer these questions and you can have an incredible week of camping and hiking. Here is your quick guide.
Preparing for Your Trip
Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of land. You should expect to stay for at least a weekend, if not longer.
Temperatures tend to be mild in the winter and hot in the summer. If you go to the granite mountains or Tuolumne Meadows, you can expect far colder temperatures.
Yosemite receives several inches of rain every month from October through May. Temperatures are low enough in elevated areas that the mountains are covered in snow in the wintertime. This makes it hard to climb or hike unless you have significant experience.
If you plan on going during the rainy months, you should bring significant rain gear with you. Pack a heavy-duty umbrella, raincoat, and boots. You should also have long-sleeved shirts and full pants.
During the summer months, you can wear T-shirts and shorts. Bring sunscreen, insect repellent, and plenty of water in reusable bottles.
Yosemite has foot trails, but you can become lost. Buy maps of the entire park and bring a compass and headlamp with you wherever you go. Do not rely on your phone to give you directions.
Getting to Yosemite National Park
Yosemite lies in eastern California, close to the California-Nevada border. Many people think they can fly into Los Angeles or San Diego and then drive to Yosemite. But the cities are far away from the park.
The closest major city to the park is Fresno. Most major American airliners and some international carriers serve Fresno Yosemite International Airport (FAT). If you can’t fly in through Fresno, you may be able to go through Sacramento International Airport.
The drive between FAT and Yosemite is 90 minutes long. You should rent a truck or an RV to cover the distance. An RV gives you plenty of space to sleep if you are not going to use a tent.
Roads may become icy as you approach the park, especially in the winter months. You must chain your tires in order to give your vehicle more traction.
What to Do
Yosemite is one of the best family vacation destinations. If you are staying for one weekend, focus on one task in particular. But if you are staying for a week or longer, try out a few different ones.
The John Muir Trail runs through Yosemite into adjoining national parks. You can focus on the portion inside Yosemite. Some of the trail is uphill, making it a challenge for less-experienced hikers.
The Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail runs up from Mexico into Canada. As with the John Muir Trail, some of it goes up mountains. But you can find flat areas that let you take in forests and rivers.
People who are looking for a casual day hike can walk the Bridalveil Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall trails. As their name suggests, hikers can get close to waterfalls. If you want to engage in some mild rock climbing, you can.
The John Muir and Pacific Crest trails are very popular, so the National Park Service requires hikers to get permits for them. You may need to apply several weeks in advance, so be wary. If you can’t get a permit, you can go on strenuous hikes on the Snow Creek Trail.
Climbing Granite Mountains
El Capitan and Half Dome are two of Yosemite’s most famous granite mountains. But you can find others throughout the park.
You can climb up El Capitan, but you should have plenty of experience. The rock faces are steep and they become slick during cold or rainy weather. Though free solo climbs are famous on the mountain, you should go with some climbing equipment.
The Half Dome Trail lets you walk up Half Dome without climbing equipment. The National Park Service lays out cables during the summertime so you can navigate up the steep terrain.
But it is a very difficult hike, even with support. Many climbers have stepped outside of the cables and slipped. The majority of the trail is uphill, meaning it is easy to twist an ankle or break a toe.
Wildlife has habitats throughout the park. You can encounter bears while walking along a number of trails, including the Half Dome Trail. You can also find deer, insects, and birds.
Go through the forests in low-lying areas to see more animals. Look at the ground to find rodents like ground squirrels.
You may take photographs of wild animals whenever you see them. But do not feed them, including vegetables or fruits. You cannot hang up food, as this attracts bears and can lead to an attack.
How to Plan Your Perfect Visit
Yosemite National Park is phenomenal, as long as you make a plan. Prepare for a long vacation in the summertime and pack appropriate clothing. Fly into the airport at Fresno and rent an RV for maximum comfort.
Hiking trails snake through the park. Most of the trails are for experienced campers, but you can find easy ones.
Climbing El Capitan and Half Done is for skilled climbers and hikers. But children and less-experienced people can enjoy wildlife viewing.
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