Yosemite National Park
is located in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. Yosemite is internationally recognized for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity. The 750,000-acre, 1,200 square-mile park contains thousands of lakes and ponds, 1600 miles of streams, 800 miles of hiking trails, and 350 miles of roads. It is currently the third most visited national park in the United States, with an annual visitation of nearly 4 million.
This picture shows Half Dome viewed from Glacier Point, well worth a visit for its breathtaking panoramic views.
Yosemite is famous for its many waterfalls in a small area. The best time to view the waterfalls is during April, May and June, which is the snowmelt season, when they are at their highest volume. Located in the Yosemite Valley, the Yosemite Falls is the highest in North America at 2,425 feet. Also in the Yosemite Valley is the much lower volume Ribbon Falls, which has the highest vertical drop at 1,612 feet. The Bridal Veil Fall can be seen from the Tunnel View viewpoint at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel. Wapama Falls in Hetch Hetchy Valley and is also worth a visit.
Yosemite is best known for the massive granite cliffs and domes found within the park. The landscape began forming about ten million years ago when the Sierra Nevada was uplifted and then tilted to form its relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in the formation of deep, narrow canyons. About one million years ago, snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. Ice thickness in Yosemite Valley may have reached 4,000 feet during the early glacial episode.
Although no glaciers are in existentance in the park, the marks of their passing are everywhere. Glacial action combined with granite bedrock has resulted in unique landscapes, such as polished dome structures and hanging valleys, tarns, moraines and U-shaped valleys.
The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the Yosemite Valley that attracts so many visitors today. Half Dome and El Capitan also reflect the geological history of the area.
May is an excellent month for visiting Yosemite and see the waterfalls at their peak. There are several day hikes originating from Yosemite Valley that should be open and clear of snow, including Bridal Veil Fall, Lower Yosemite Fall, the Valley Floor Loop, the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls and the Mirror Lake Trail. Other high country hikes originating from the Glacier Point Road and going down into Yosemite Valley may be open during your visit if the Glacier Point Road has been cleared of snow (about 50-50 chance).
Stop at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center in the park for the latest information about additional hiking trails that have opened. Several free day hike handouts are available at the visitor centers and we also provide day hiking books at the house. Horse and mule rides are also available in the Yosemite Valley in May. The bicycle paths are also open and bicycles can be rented at Yosemite Lodge or Curry Village in the park. Average highs in May are in the 70s and lows are in the 40s in the Yosemite Valley but freak snow storms are a possibility in May. Be sure to bring rain gear especially when hiking the Mist Trail along Vernal and Nevada Falls.
No trip to Yosemite Park, and more specifically to Wawona, is complete without spending a day exploring the giant sequoias of Mariposa Grove. This protected grove of trees is home to over 300 giant sequoias, some almost 2,000 years old! This walking tour will start at the base and take you all over the grove showing you the most popular trees in the area while giving you a lesson on the history of the area, made famous by Galen Clark, as well as sharing some facts about the life cycle of sequoia trees. You might like to have dinner at the historic Wawona Hotel (see photo gallery Yosemite Park) with its unique atmosphere and reasonable prices.
Many Yosemite visitors spend all their time in the Valley and never venture to Tuolumne Meadows. However, it's a trip that's worth taking along the scenic Tioga Road to the Tuolumne Meadows, surrounded by granite peaks and domes. Tuolumne Meadows is closer to Tioga Pass than to the Yosemite Valley. It's Yosemite's epicenter for back country hiking, with the John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails passing nearby. Even if you don't want to hike, it's an easy day trip drive to Tuolumne Meadows from the Yosemite Valley.
- Olmstead Point: A few miles west, it's one of the best Yosemite vistas anywhere.
- Tenaya Lake: A lovely alpine lake right beside the road a few miles before you reach Tuolumne Meadows.
- Soda Springs: If you're short on time or energy, try the half-mile trail to Soda Springs, named for their naturally-carbonated waters.
- Hiking: Some of the hikes at Tuolumne Meadows are short and fairly easy. Here's a list.
You can learn more about the many hiking opportunities in Yosemite by visiting the park's website. To visit the Yosemite Park website's hiking pages click here.