We spent five wonderful days exploring the incredible Yosemite National Park. We could have spent months there and still found new and beautiful spots! We hiked, camped, and wandered around Yosemite trying to soak in the beauty of the majestic waterfalls and glacier-carved granite landscape. I’ll briefly outline some of the highlights of what we did and saw on our Yosemite adventures.
Before I do, here are a couple quick pointers about traveling to Yosemite.
- It is an incredibly busy and popular park. Especially in the summer and near holidays. If you can, try to visit the park off season, but be aware that some of the roads may be closed in the winter months.
- Booking campsite reservations for Yosemite is really challenging. There is one day and time when every campsite in the park goes on sale for the entire year. We were ready to book at the exact time, and we tried to book 5 consecutive nights of camping. After we requested the reservation, it took a while for the web page to load and when it finally loaded, it said there were no sites available for five nights in a row. We kept trying to reserve sites for about an hour, and ended up with a hodgepodge of random nights at different campsites in the valley. Luckily for us, we had friends who worked in the park whom we could stay with on the nights we couldn’t get a site. I don’t know what we would have done otherwise!
- Wake up early if you want to get parking spots or find peace and quiet on any of the trails. By the afternoon in the summer, the park was swamped with people and all parking lots were completely full.
Yosemite Falls Hike
Our first hike in the park was the hardest one for me. We hiked up to the top of Yosemite Falls. This was a 7.2 mile round trip hike with 2,700 feet of elevation gain. I was a bit out of shape for this hike and had to stop a few times to catch my breath. However, the scenery was breathtaking so I didn’t mind stopping occasionally to look around! There are amazing vistas that look out into the valley with iconic Half Dome in clear view. There are also several epic views of Yosemite Falls. Once you reach the summit, you are literally at the top of the falls. There is a misty lookout point where you can stare straight down as the waterfall plummets over the edge. It was honestly a little bit scary but so beautiful. There was even a rainbow!
If you have the chance to go on a hike with a local Yosemite resident or park employee, I highly recommend it. There are several secret hikes that only the locals know about. Our friends took us one one such hike and it was a highlight of our visit. We escaped the crowds and throngs of tourists as we hopped off the main, paved path and began scrambling up an old trail into the wilderness. The hike was steep and challenging but the views at the top were out of this world! We could see most of the waterfalls in the park along with mind-blowing beauty in every direction. There was a small viewing platform and large, flat rocks to sit on. We hung out up there for hours enjoying snacks and taking photos. We saw only one other small group of hikers in the hours we spend up there.
The Mist Trail
The Mist Trail is a beautiful hike up to Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. The path is steep but paved, and people of all ages were hiking alongside us. The trail was more crowded than what I typically prefer, but the amazing views made the hike well worth it. The Mist Trail has a very accurate name. Once you get near the falls, you will be soaked with mist and spray from the waterfalls. It felt amazing on a hot day, but made taking photos a bit of a challenge. I recommend bringing a dry bag and wearing clothes and shoes that you don’t mind getting wet. I loved this hike. It was fun and pretty easy. The sight of huge, powerful waterfalls and rainbows was breathtaking.
Glacier Point had some of my favorite views in the park. You can hike up or drive up. We chose to drive because we wanted to stay into the night. We drove up in the late afternoon and claimed a coveted parking spot. The parking lot can fill up on popular summer days and you may be required to take a shuttle up. We wandered around, checking out all of the awesome views. We made ourselves dinner and then set up our cameras for sunset. Photos from Glacier Point might make you think it is a quiet, secluded spot. However, we watched the sunset with hundreds of other people. Despite the crowds, watching Half Dome in a golden glow as the sunlight slowly faded over the valley was one of those unforgettable moments of my life. Eventually the sky turned pink and gave a magical feel to the whole scene. There was a park ranger giving an informational talk during sunset. At first I thought it would be annoying, but I really enjoyed learning about the history of the park.
After the sun went down, the stars came out. Millions and millions of stars. The skies in Yosemite are so dark that the Milky Way was clearly visible with just my eyes. It was absolutely stunning. Aside from a few rowdy tourists, stargazing at Glacier Points was one of the more peaceful moments of my life. We parked our car in the lot and spent the night stargazing, taking night photos, and napping. My favorite part of the evening was that on this particular night, there was an event where people brought their telescopes and let us look through them! I able to experience some amazing views of the cosmos. I was even able to see Saturn, with its rings clearly visible! It was a night I will never forget.
Lower Yosemite Fall Hike
This was a flat, paved 1-mile loop hike. Due to the easiness of this trail, it was swamped with people. However, there were some beautiful views of the waterfall. I loved the scene shown below with the falls framed by towering trees!
Aside from all of the beautiful hikes, there are plenty of incredible scenery that can be viewed from the valley floor. Pretty much anywhere you park or walk in Yosemite will provide unbelievable views if you look around you.
There are so many other parts of the park I would have loved to explore if we had more time. Have you ever been to Yosemite? If yes, what were your favorite parts? If no, have you ever thought about going? Let me know in the comments! And as always you can find more photos or send me a DM on Instagram (@carrieoutdoors)!