Set aside as a National Park in 1890 and designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite National Park is known for its stunning granite cliffs, Giant Sequoia groves, abundant waterfalls, crystal-clear streams and biological diversity. The park is surrounded by three National Forests (Inyo, Sierra and Stanislaus) and is home to hundreds of wildlife species and thousands of plants — including 85 different mammals, over 150 bird species, 37 types of native trees and over 1,000 unique wildflower species. An opportunity to visit this National Park gem is not to be missed, and this Yosemite vacation guide will help you make the most of your visit.
Open 365 days a year, Yosemite’s 750,000 acres offer incredible natural beauty in the form of thousands of lakes and ponds, 1,600 miles of streams/creeks and 800 miles of hiking trails. The spectacular Tuolumne and Merced Rivers, both of which bear the nation’s “Wild & Scenic” designation, originate within Yosemite and flow west into the California Central Valley.
There are 350 miles of park roads to traverse on your Yosemite National Park vacation and five entrances at which to begin:
The South Entrance – on Highway 41, through Fresno and then Oakhurst
Arch Rock Entrance – on Highway 140, through Merced and then El Portal
Big Oak Flat Entrance – on Highway 120, 88 miles east of Manteca
Hetch Hetchy Entrance – on Hetch Hetchy Road, north of the Big Oak Flat Entrance
Tioga Pass Entrance – from the east, on Highway 120, near Lee Vining
The first three entrances listed above are the most popular, and The South Entrance is considered “the easiest drive” by which to reach the Yosemite Valley, as it is not as curvy and windy as the others. It also affords an easy stop on the drive in to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia trees and takes you past the historic Wawona Hotel.
The Tioga Pass Entrance may be closed from mid-November to late-May, depending on the weather. No matter where you plan to begin your Yosemite vacation, however, you should always be sure to check the current road conditions immediately prior to traveling in the area. Roads can be closed due to forest fires, particularly in the late summer, and Highway 140 was closed for much of the 2006 summer season due to a rockslide. Also, be advised that chains may be required anytime from October through April.
[NOTE WELL: The most up-to-date Yosemite National Park road condition information can be obtained by calling (209) 372-0200 (press 1 then 1), and it is highly recommended that park visitors do so before entering or leaving the park.]
Reservations are only needed if you plan to spend the night in the park. Upon payment of an entrance fee (presently, in 2012, $20/car or $10/person for those arriving on-foot; complete details are available at the National Park System site), visitors are given an informative Yosemite Guide and are permitted to drive in and throughout the park. The free Yosemite vacation guide includes useful maps and details, and you will want to keep it with you in a backpack or purse as you tour the park. You should also carry drinking water and clothing layers depending on the weather forecast. Also, don’t forget the sunscreen and plenty of film/memory cards and batteries for your camera!
You may also want to plan to visit the park during one of the Yosemite Free Days when the entrance fee is waived.
For your Yosemite vacation planning purposes, it may be useful to “get your bearings” by taking a look at these Yosemite Valley Map and Yosemite Park Map links. The printable maps are in pdf file format, and the links will open in a new browser window for your convenience. Likewise, for your planning purposes, a pdf file of the current Yosemite Guide can be accessed here which will give you an idea of tours and the like that may be available when you visit Yosemite.
You will want to make use of the free year-round shuttle system in Yosemite Valley and/or the summer-season Wawona/Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Meadows shuttles as much as possible. Park tours are also an excellent way to leave the driving to someone else and really enjoy the sights.
A year-round visitor center is located in Yosemite Valley (at shuttle stops #5 and #9), and other visitor centers are open seasonally at Wawona, Big Oak Flat and Tuolumne Meadows. The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center offers natural history displays, a helpful staff to answer questions and a state-of-the-art, wide-screen, 23-minute film, Spirit of Yosemite, presented in the center’s theater. Closed-captioning and audio-descriptions are also available for the film, and showtimes are provided in the Yosemite vacation guide you are given upon entrance to the park.
Note: Information in this article was accurate
when it was published, but hours, prices, etc.
change constantly. Please confirm details
with local contacts before traveling.