I have visited some alluring places throughout my travels; I’ve frolicked through tropical forests in Hawaii, hiked high altitude Andes in Ecuador, swam in the Mediterranean Sea in Italy, traversed gorgeous gorges in Greece, scrambled around calanques in Southern France, marveled at cherry blossoms in Japan, and hiked around glaciers in the North Cascades just to name a few highlights, but nothing would have ever prepared me for the vast beauty I was about to witness in Yosemite National Park. There’s almost a sacred feeling when you enter the valley; as though you’re floating into a time capsule prior to tall sky scrapers, prior to phones and technology, prior even to human existence. You can actually feel a palpable sense of reverence as you drive through the valley floor. Visitors fall silent with their jaws slightly agape, widened eyes of wonder, not quite believing that they are actually witnessing such beauty; that such beauty should be reserved for fairy tales or museum prints.
I’ve never seen this behavior in chipmunks or mountain squirrels where they flatten themselves on a rock. Does anybody know why they do this? I can’t imagine it’s to keep warm, because it was nearly 100 degrees F! Let me know in the comments below!
Yosemite is a huge national park; so how long should you plan to visit? Just like any other national park, if you’re keen on hiking or climbing, you’ll want to spend several days. However, if you’re on a quick passthrough, you can certainly see the main beautiful scenic photographic spots in one day.
Top 6 Sights in Yosemite National Park
- Tunnel View (drive up, scenic lookout)
- Glacier Point (.6 miles RT walk, scenic lookout)
- Vernal & Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail (9.4 miles RT, 2,191′ elevation gain, moderate)
- Sentinel Dome Trail (2 miles RT, 456′ elevation gain, elevation at the top is 8,200′)
- Lower Yosemite Falls & El Capitan Views (1.2 miles RT, 60′ elevation gain, easy)
- Swinging Bridge & Merced River
This is THE lookout spot that Yosemite is famous for and the image you’ll see on all the posters, as well as in many of Ansel Adams’ famous pieces. You can simply drive up to the car park to see this one.
The ROI (return on investment) for this hike is 100% because you simply park and walk .3 miles to the view point. This is the best vantage point of Half Dome because you’re up so high (7,200′ / 2,400 meters). It’s really neat to see the Vernal Falls from so high up and then the next day hike the falls.
Vernal & Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail
This was one of the most fun and rewarding hikes we’ve done recently. You’re starting at just over 4,000′ elevation already and you’ll climb another 2,000′ in just over 9 miles, so it’s challenging in the sense of getting winded easily. Be sure to pack more water than you think you need for this hike, especially if you’re visiting during summer, as temperatures can soar into the high 90’s and there’s no shade cover.
The falls were barely trickling when we visited in August, but it was still a stunning sight. Remember the photos you saw above from Glacier Point? This is them, up close!
You’ll pass an oasis swimming spot with incredible dome views. The dip was refreshing in the high mid-day heat.
Once refreshed and cooled off, you’ll continue on upward and get to see views from the top of the falls looking down!
Sentinel Dome Trail
This short trail provides a different perspective of the valley below and is much more densely populated with trees.
Lower Yosemite Falls & El Capitan
El Capitan is a climber’s destination. The record to climb this giant granite monolith is 1 hour, 58 minutes.
In less than one mile, Sasha and I passed a little bridge over the Merced River and saw a park ranger. We inquired where we could find the swinging bridge, and she said, “you’re looking at it!” Apparently the swinging bridge was replaced several years back and made into a stationary bridge instead, so don’t get your hopes up expecting an Indiana Jones swinging bridge! The views from the valley floor gazing up are just mind blowing. I love how nature has a tendency to make us feel small in such a humbling way.
Where To Eat in Yosemite
Just 30 minutes before the park entrance is a great little local spot called Around The Horn Brewing Company. They have excellent house-brewed beers and finger food such as sandwiches and gyros. This was an excellent stop after a long day of hiking in 90-degree weather.
Whether you visit in any season, I hope that you will discover the same sense of overwhelming peace and beauty that we did in this magnificent place on our beautiful Planet Earth.
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