Yosemite National Park Vacation Travel Guide | Expedia

Just 165 miles from San Francisco, lies one of America’s greatest treasures. Yosemite National Park sits on the western
slopes of California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains, it also occupies a special place in the nation’s soul. Yosemite’s story began as the last ice age ended, when the glaciers of the region’s high country
scoured and sculptured the valley below. Managed by the National Park Service and covering
almost 1200 square miles, Yosemite takes in five vegetation zones, from oak and chaparral woodlands, to sparse
alpine high country. Of the four million visitors who come each year, most spend their time in Yosemite Valley,
which is open year round. At only 8 miles long and 1 mile wide, this valley packs in more jaw-dropping scenery
than just about any other place on Earth. As you enter the Yosemite Valley ring road
from the west, it’s worth taking a short detour to Tunnel
View and stand before a sweeping panorama that’s reduced generations of visitors to
silence, and many to tears. To the right, there’s the ethereal mist
of Bridalveil Fall, to the left, the sheer granite face of
El Capitan, while in the background, the rising majesty of Half Dome beckons you
deeper into the valley. From Tunnel View it’s just a short drive, and then an easy walk to the base of Bridalveil Fall. The fall reaches it’s peak in May, yet possess a magic all year round. If you’re looking for love, breathe deeply; the park’s original custodians, the Ahwahneechee, believe that inhaling the fall’s mists increases
your chances of marriage. The park’s ring road follows the banks of
the Merced River, a national wild and scenic waterway, which shifts in character as it thunders and
tumbles from the valley walls, before gently winding across the valley floor. Here, the river is lined with pine forests, rich meadows, and beaches. These are the places to pause, and let the
park’s spirit wash over you. These are the places which inspired President
Teddy Roosevelt to write, “It was like lying in a great solemn cathedral, far vaster and more beautiful than any built
by the hand of man.” The Yosemite Valley ring road is dotted with trailheads that lead off into 800 miles of hiking trails. First cut almost 150 years ago, The Four Mile Trail climbs the valley’s
southern wall to two of the park’s great outlooks. At Glacier Point, gaze down into the entire valley, and away into the distant high country. A little further along, whatever breath you have left will be taken
away by the views at Washburn Point. If you’re pressed for time, you can also access these outlooks by car
or tour bus via Glacier Point Road, which is open between May and November. Further along the ring road is the trailhead
for another of Yosemite’s signature hikes, The Mist Trail. This five-hour hike is for moderate to experience hikers, but repays every step with even more stunning vistas, and the spectacle of Vernal and Nevada Falls. The Mist Trail links up with the John Muir
Trail, named after the grandfather of America’s
National Park System. In his 1912 book, The Yosemite, the naturalist
wrote, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to
body and soul alike”. It was writings like this, which helped seed Yosemite into the
consciousness of a nation, and led to its designation as one of America’s
first national parks. After crossing the river at the valley’s eastern end, the ring road turns west, towards Yosemite Village. At the Museum, explore the culture of the
valley’s First Peoples.. Then, at the Visitor Center, learn about the miners, ranchers, artists
and entrepreneurs who followed. And don’t miss the Ansel Adams Gallery, dedicated to the photographer who’s timeless
black and white images have inspired millions to see Yosemite for
themselves. From March to October the park gets busy, so consider leaving your car at the village and exploring the valley on the free
shuttle service. Or, enjoy the valley views from two wheels! Follow the twelve-miles of bike paths, which loops along the river and crosses dreamy
meadows filled with wildflowers, taking in the valley’s star attractions
along the way. For thousands of years, the Ahwahneechee had villages throughout this
fertile valley floor, but it was here at the base of Yosemite Falls, where their great chief resided. The falls flow in three sections, which you can see in their entirety from vantage
points all over the park. But nothing compares to taking the one-hour
hike to feel the full force of the lower falls, or spending the day climbing all the way to
the upper falls. When it comes to climbing, El Capitan, a 3000-foot high granite monolith has become a rite of passage for climbers
from all over the world. The first ascent, in 1958, took 47 days. From the comfort of El Capitan Meadow, sit back and watch modern climbers, who have reduced that same climb to a couple
of days, or sometimes, to a just few hours. As the ring road winds back towards the park entrance, stop at Valley View, for one long look back. But there’s no need to feel heavy-hearted, because there’s so much more of Yosemite
to discover, just up the road. To the north of Yosemite Valley, climbs one of the USA’s most scenic highways. Tioga Road is impassable between
October and May, but as the snow clears, the road reemerges, rising into the rugged Sierra Nevada high country. Pull over, and fill your lungs with cool alpine air at
Olmsted Point. Refresh yourself by the pure waters of
Tenaya Lake, named in honor of Yosemite’s last great
chieftain. Then follow the road further to Tuolumne Meadow, the traditional summer hunting grounds of
the Ahwahneechee. Today, this sub-alpine meadow is the perfect
place to stock up on serenity, or to pick up one of the many trails that
lead to further alpine adventures. One of the shortest, but most rewarding trails leads to Lembert Dome, named after one of the parks earliest settlers. From its high country to its waterfalls, from its towering sequoia groves to its
valley meadows, Yosemite is an American story unlike any other. It is a place where a nation returns again
and again, through the best and worst of times, to breathe, to be inspired, and just be. For this is a place, John Muir once wrote, that is far easier to feel than to explain. This is a place, to wash the spirit clean.


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