Yosemite National Park’s 5 Must-See Attractions and Top Tips for Getting the Most Out of a Visit

A view of El Capitan in Yosemite is one of the things to do in Mariposa CA.
El Capitan in Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

As one of the country’s most beautiful parks, Yosemite National Park in California should be on everyone’s must-see list. And like most National Parks, dealing with crowds is a fact of life. It can make it difficult to get everything in during one visit. Follow these Yosemite top tips and hit these must-see attractions first for a less stressful visit.

Where to Find Yosemite

I always wanted to visit Yosemite National Park, but I was way too afraid of the crowds to even think of going. I always pictured those huge lines and an overwhelming number of people. Yes, the mystique of it all had me excited, but the volume of visitors gave me hives. We are not a family that does well with crowds.

Yet, the mystique won out and I started my research to find the best time to visit, what not to miss, and hidden gems. No camping for our family, and we enjoy good food. Yet I was concerned about where to stay near Yosemite and if there’d even be good food, but I discovered I didn’t need to worry at all.

5 Yosemite Must-See Attractions

Tunnel View Viewpoint

It is literally right when you come out of the tunnel. This is the most iconic picture taken by all park visitors. It can get busy, but is well worth the stop. Looking left, you will see El Captain, to the right Bridalveil Fall, and the beautiful Half Dome is off in the distance. This is one spot where you truly see it all.

Yosemite National Park wildflowers best months
Wildflowers come to life in spring and summer at Yosemite National Park. Photo credit: Visit Yosemite | Madera County

Mirror Lake

Right below Half Dome is a spot that’s never very crowded. The round-trip walk is two miles and well worth it! Bring a snack and enjoy the trail. It is paved so all can enjoy. If you are visiting in late summer or fall, some portions of the trail may have turned to beautiful meadows, but no matter what the season, it is a must-see.

Glacier Point

This is a not to be missed spot, period. It’s a very short walk from the parking area to the edge of the cliff. You will seriously feel like you are in the clouds and there is really no other spot like it.

Yosemite hiking trails include views of meadows, granite domes, waterfalls and the Merced River from the Yosemite Valley floor.
Meadows, granite domes, waterfalls and the Merced River can be seen from the Yosemite Valley Floor. Photo credit: Mimi Slawoff

Tuolumme Meadows

Considered America’s Naturalist, John Muir is one of my all-time favorite explorers and writers. Muir once said, “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.”

Visiting Tuolumme Meadows is one of those spots; it gives and gives. There is a clear calm river, surrounded by wildlife. This alpine meadow is at a high point and is surrounded by majestic rock formations.

I totally understand why this spot was one of John Muir’s favorites. There are two trails not to miss:

  • Soda Springs Trail, short at about 1.5 miles, gives a wonderful view of the meadows.
  • Lembert Dome Trail is a bit longer at 2.8 miles and will take you to the top of the dome.

Valley View Viewpoint

When you arrive at the Valley View Viewpoint, you feel like you are at the start of it all. You have it all right there; the river and its wonderful babbling sound and the beautiful pines and amazing granite peaks that are the classic parts of Yosemite. Save it for the way out, given the entrance is located on a one-way road. Keep your eye open for it, because it’s easy to miss.

View of a room at the Main Lodge at Tenaya Lodge (reviews).
Room at the Main Tenaya Lodge. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Where To Stay in Yosemite

Our favorite place to stay when visiting Yosemite is the AAA Four Diamond property, Tenaya Lodge. Located just outside the entrance to Fish Camp, this luxury mountain lodge includes a 10,000-square-foot spa! I enjoyed a massage there and need to go back for more. The relaxation room is one of my favorites of the many spas I’ve visited.

The property has all the activities you could possibly want and then some, including a separate area for adults-only lodging. The Cottages, located close to hiking trails and beautiful pines, are perfect for more privacy or a family trip. You’ll feel as though you are in the middle of Yosemite, yet still have all the amenities of the Lodge.

Yosemite Top Tips

  • Book your lodging choice as soon as possible. Yosemite, like most other National Parks, fills up fast especially when the kids are out of school.
  • Be an early riser and get to the park before everyone else.
  • Visit at least once at sunset and after dark for some spectacular stargazing. There are also park ranger Skies Over Yosemite programs and naturalist-led night hikes.
  • Whether staying inside or outside of the park, look into tours or private tour guides. This will allow you to enjoy the drive and stop where you like to explore. Some spots can become congested and parking can be an issue. Furthermore, having a guide or driver will allow you to be dropped off to explore without wasting time. Opt for the park’s free shuttle.
  • If not using a guide or tour, make a plan for your visit and map it out. There are one-way roads and you do not want to miss a thing you have on your list. Think about visiting outside of Yosemite Valley, because it will be much less crowded.
  • Wear layers and sunscreen and bring plenty of water.
2023 Chevy Equinox parked at Tenaya Lodge, near Yosemite.
The 2023 Chevy Equinox helped me travel more responsibly on my solo hiking trip to Yosemite and Mariposa. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Responsible Road-Tripping

When SheBuysTravel Founder Kim Orlando visited Yosemite for a solo hiking trip, Chevy loaned her a 2023 Chevy Equinox to drive.

Road-tripping is an incredible opportunity to embrace responsible travel and leave a positive impact on the environment and the communities along the way. While responsible road-tripping can include sustainable travel elements like reducing your carbon footprint by driving an electric vehicle, even if an electric vehicle is not in your garage there are many other ways to travel responsibly. Responsible travel is about conscious choices that minimize the negative impacts of travel. Choosing local hotels and services, and engaging locals in conversation contribute to a positive travel experience.

If you’re not driving electric, choosing a vehicle that offers safety features to assist in courteous driving is a solid alternative. For example, Chevy loaned me a 2023 Chevy Equinox for my first solo hiking trip to Mariposa and Yosemite, CA. It was not electric, so instead I looked for other ways to contribute to responsible travel.

The Equinox is loaded with safety features like lane keep assist, following distance alert and adaptive cruise, warning me if I needed to give other drivers more room on the highway. I especially appreciated the assist while traveling alone. Intelligent stop/start shuts off the engine when power isn’t needed (like at a stoplight), which saves fuel and power. The engine starts back up once driving resumes.

Beyond safety features, I looked at ways that GM, Chevy’s parent company, engages local communities and found that their Ultium cell battery plant in Tennessee is committed to replanting local vegetation around the site perimeter and they sponsor youth sports across the US.

Also, GM’s Sustainable Workplaces teams and interior designers repurpose local oak, cherry, hackberry and beech trees displaced by construction. They enlist a local Tennessee small business Good Wood to design unique furniture pieces and wall treatments from the reclaimed wood to be used in common spaces in the new Ultium plant.

General Motors Commitment: Our Plan to Protect the Environment | General Motors (gm.com)

Firepit outside the Explorer Cabins at Tenaya Lodge (reviews).
Tenaya Explorer Cabin firepit. Photo credit: Kim Orlando

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *