At 1,169 square miles, Yosemite is a big park — so big that it can be daunting for first-time visitors. Here’s where to go in the park to find popular features and recreation opportunities:
Yosemite Valley or Hetch Hetchy Valley (but don’t wait until August, when the mighty waterfalls dwindle to a trickle — visit in April, May, or June).
Wawona’s Mariposa Grove is the largest and most popular sequoia grove. Along Highway 120, you’ll find Merced Grove (near Big Oak Flat) and Tuolumne Grove (near Crane Flat).
The most popular, and crowded, trails are located in Yosemite Valley. A vast selection of day-hiking trails, many offering a better chance at solitude, are found on Glacier Point Road and in the Tioga Pass Road/Tuolumne Meadows area. For the fewest crowds, head for the Eastern Sierra region just outside of Yosemite National Park.
The majority of backpackers set out from Tuolumne Meadows or Yosemite Valley. Much less traveled backpacking trails are found in the Hetch Hetchy region and in the south part of the park, near Wawona.
The centerpiece for rock climbing in Yosemite is Yosemite Valley, where granite walls tower thousands of feet high. Tioga Pass Road is also popular for climbers, especially in the areas near Tenaya Lake and Tuolumne Meadows.
Stables offering guided horse and/or mule rides are located in Yosemite Valley, Wawona, Tuolumne Meadows, and at several locations in the Eastern Sierra.
Tioga Pass Road offers access to the greatest number of Yosemite lakes, both by car and on foot. The Eastern Sierra, just east of Tioga Pass, is also marked by an abundance of lakes.
Best bets for fishing are in Wawona, along Tioga Pass Road, and in the Eastern Sierra. Many consider the Eastern Sierra to be the trout capital of California.
If you are bringing a bike, be sure to ride the bike path in Yosemite Valley. Riding on national park hiking trails is forbidden, but mountain biking opportunities are plentiful in the Eastern Sierra.
Scenic Drive-To Overlooks
No visitor should miss taking in the spectacular views from three drive-to overlooks in Yosemite National Park: Glacier Point at the east end of Glacier Point Road, Inspiration Point at Wawona Tunnel, and Olmsted Point on Tioga Pass Road.
Excerpted from the Fifth Edition of Moon Yosemite.