We’ve created our list of the 15 best things to do in Yosemite National Park because if you love the parks you have to go here and we felt we needed to weigh in on where to go.
Old Faithful, meet your old pal, Half Dome. From towering, ancient trees to roaring waterfalls, we’ve got the ultimate guide to this stunning locale. Plus, read on to find out about a little known secret you won’t hear round the ranger posts any time soon.
Mountains. Waterfalls. Snowy peaks. Fertile valleys. Yosemite National Park comprises over 1200 square miles of America’s most beautiful land. With so much to see and do, it’s no wonder that Yosemite is one of the most popular National Parks, amassing over half a million visitors during its peak months.
For that very reason, you’ll need to book reservations and apply for permits to do various things in the park, such as staying overnight or hiking the Half Dome. Since your time as a guest will be limited to avoid overwhelming the ecosystem, you’ll want to make the most out of your trip.
We’ve got all the best things to do in Yosemite National Park from veteran hikers, NPS enthusiasts, and folks as wild at heart as you.
Table of Contents: Things To Do Yosemite National Park
Table of Contents: Things To Do Yosemite National Park
- Things to Know Before Visiting Yosemite National Park
- Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
- Map of the Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
- Summary of Best Things to Do at Yosemite
Things to Know Before Visiting Yosemite National Park
$35 per vehicle OR if you plan to visit more National Parks within the next 12 months I suggest you go ahead and purchase the America the Beautiful Pass (which can be found at the entrance gates to most national parks). This pass gets you into all National Parks, Forests, Monuments, and more including 2,000 sites for free after a one time $79 fee.
Be aware that timed reservations can be required at times so always check the park website for the most up to date information on requirements for entering the park. Information on reservations can be found here.
The Best Guide Book: There’s a lot of literature out there on Yosemite National Park, but this nifty guidebook is the best one available.
The Best Yosemite Map: We can say it until we’re blue in the face, National Geographic puts out the best national park maps hands down. Buy this one and you won’t regret it. Of course this is Yosemite so there are many maps, if you’re planning a big long trip go with this map pack and be totally prepared.
Use it. Lots of it. Especially this one which we prefer because it doesn’t have any of those harsh chemicals our friend the earth doesn’t like.
Best Time to Visit
The best time to visit the Yosemite is in the fall or spring shoulder seasons. Summer in Yosemite is beautiful, but frankly it’s terribly crowded and wildfires are a constant threat.
Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
15. Visit the Visitor Center
Location: Yosemite Valley
Why You’ll Love It: A wealth of opportunities to learn about the rich history and flora and fauna of Yosemite.
If you want to dive deeper into the world famous Yosemite National Park, there’s no need to set off on a mountain trail (though that’s highly recommended too!), no just head over to the visitor center to be immersed in the history and ecology of this magnificent park.
Yosemite has a deeply fascinating history that begins with early Native American habitation, goes through pioneer days of the West, and winds up where we are today with a booming global outdoor destination. Along the way there’s plenty of heroes, villains, ups, downs, and one-of-a-kind stories to go along with this one-of-a-kind place.
14. The Bachelor and Three Graces
Location: Mariposa Grove Trail
Why You’ll Love It: See otherworldly Sequioas along a path carved out by Yosemite’s earliest visitors. Enjoy a challenging hike that culminates at Wawona Point
The lower trails are actually pretty easy and breathtaking in their own right (plus, they’re wheelchair accessible). But if you’d like to see some beloved old characters like The Bachelor and Three Graces, the Clothespin, or the Faithful Couple, you’ll need to put on your best hiking boots and tackle a more advanced trail.
While this trail is certainly romantic, it’s not for the faint of heart. To access it, head to the arrival area of Mariposa Grove. Enjoy a leisurely stroll along the “big loop” before you head deeper into the forest.
Keep an eye out for famous landmarks and trees- they’ll also serve as an indicator for your progress along the trail. The deeper you head, the steeper it’ll be. But by your midway point in this 4-6 hour hike, you’ll be ushered in to Wawona Point by the honorable Bachelor, making this one of the most memorable things to do in Yosemite.
13. Yosemite Falls
Location: Yosemite Valley
Why You’ll Love It: Check this world record waterfall off your bucket list. Establish a good base for the rest of your adventures in the park.
When looking at the top things to do in Yosemite, you’re sure to find its iconic falls. If Yosemite had a marquis, it’d certainly be the featured player. This triple stacked fall standing at 2,425 feet is certainly breathtaking, but keep in mind there are hundreds of other incredible falls to see, including one that… glows?!
Regardless of your schedule, or how many times you’ve visited, you’ll be wowed by this spectacularly tall waterfall.
One of the best ways to appreciate the falls is to head to Yosemite Village. Here, you can find lodging, a bite to eat at the year round steakhouse, and take a shuttle to other areas of the park.
You’ll remain in close proximity to the falls and be able to take advantage of guided tours and hikes, making this area a great base camp for your adventures. Did we mention how stunning the Valley Lodge is?
Its towering glass windows and rustic cabin feel makes it the perfect place to enjoy the comforts of heating and AC without losing that rustic national park feel.
12. Wahhoga Indian Culture Site
Location: West of Camp 4
Why You’ll Love It: Witness history in the making as Yosemite’s indigenous peoples find new ways to reconnect with their ancestral land. Experience the deep held human connection to the Valley that has existed long before the first white settlers arrived.
As a head’s up, this site is currently being constructed, so plan your trip accordingly if you want to see it. It’s no secret that Yosemite was home to an indigenous population (who were driven out alongside millions of other Native Americans in our country’s founding and settling).
The last indigenous village in the Yosemite Valley was bulldozed in 1969… but that wouldn’t be the end for the village known as Wahhoga. Using traditional building methods and tools, Tribal members recently came together to begin the construction of a roundhouse, which will serve as a base for ceremonies, public outreach, and the spiritual center of the park.
One of the most interesting aspects of this new feature is its construction using traditional methods. You can access this area and check out some of the information posts by hearing just a little west of Camp 4, one of the most popular campgrounds in the park.
You might not have considered this sight on your list of things to do in Yosemite, but how cool would it be see a part of Yosemite in the making? By learning about the seven tribes that call Yosemite home, we can fully realize the meaning and importance of this land.
11. El Capitan
Location: Yosemite Valley
Why You’ll Love It: Engage your senses with this towering giant that serves as the quiet backdrop to a valley teeming with wildlife. Challenge yourself to one of the most strenuous hikes for experienced rock climbers.
El Capitan: you can’t miss it. Not only because it’s such a revered destination in the park, but because it’s so massive, you literally can’t miss it! You’ll find that amongst the diverse and numerous hikes you can take in the park, El Capitan serves as either a waypoint or stop along the way.
This mountain is easily visible and accessible from the Valley. At nearly 3,000 feet tall, it’s hard not to be. In fact, Mariposa County says in their guide of the majestic summit that it’s 2.5x the size of the Empire State Building, and has even moved some first time visitors to tears.
If you put anything on a list of things to do in Yosemite National Park, make viewing this splendid sight one of them.
10. Half Dome
Location: Northeast of Merced River
Why You’ll Love It: Climb one of Yosemite’s highest peaks, once termed “perfectly inaccessible” by one of the park’s founders. See one of Yosemite’s most recognizable and cherished views.
To be able to hike Half Dome is a gift-and you may want to remind yourself of this on the way up. To hike this mountain, you’ll need to enter a lottery to gain the required permit. Only 200 some hikers are allowed up the summit each day, and of those 200, several are required to be rescued by park staff.
This hike is by no means easy, although you will have the assistance of cables towards the top. The incredible view, however, at 4,000 feet above the valley certainly pays off. Aside from Glacier Point or Tunnel View, you’ll get one of the best comprehensive views of the park from this area, making it one of many worthy things to do in Yosemite.
9. Hetch Hetchy
Location: Hetch Hetchy Valley and Reservoir
Why You’ll Love It: Enjoy easy parking and trail access. Less crowds.
John Muir’s once-prized valley now serves as a reservoir and a cautionary tale about man’s relationship with the earth. Today most of us think that national parks are totally off limits to any kind of destructive development or resource extraction, but in 1913 President Woodrow Wilson signed off on something unimaginable today.
Dam Hetch Hetchy! As well dam for water-tanks the people’s cathedrals and churches, for no holier temple has ever been consecrated by the heart of man.-John Muir (1912)
Yes in 1913 President Wilson and Congress allowed the Hetch Hetchy Valley in Yosemite National Park to be dammed in order to create a reservoir for the growing city of San Fransisco’s drinking water. The famed conservationist John Muir fought tooth and nail to save the valley in what would be the last great environmental battle of his life.
Alas, Theodore Roosevelt was out of office and the Wilson administration felt the Roosevelt era of environmental protection had overstepped and were eager to unwind some of these protections to support a rapidly growing country and resource extraction industry.
Though the famed Hetch Hetchy Valley, which John Muir thought more beautiful than Yosemite Valley, is now a mere reservoir for drinking water, there are still sights to behold in this area and plenty of great hiking opportunities. This is also a great place to escape the crowds of the busy valley.
8. Tuolumne Meadows
Location: Along Tioga Road and the Tuolumne River
Why You’ll Love It: Drive right up to the base of Yosemite’s tallest mountains. Camp among quiet plains with an incredible view of the night sky.
These gentle meadows are classified as sub-alpine, as they frame the bases of Yosemite’s peaks. Tuolumne is a peaceful and quiet nature reserve whose mild conditions make it favorable for light camping and even cross country skiing in the winter.
These meadows are easily accessible via the Tioga Road, but be warned that there’s limited gas and parking available along the way. While you’re there, consider adding the Parsons Memorial Lodge to your list of things to do in Yosemite. (Pro tip: don’t forget to check out Soda Springs. A small, mysterious crag pumps out cold, sparkling water from the Earth. It’s naturally carbonated, but we don’t advise taking a swig!)
7. Mirror Lake
Location: Yosemite Valley
Why You’ll Love It: Witness a stunning view of two of Yosemite’s famous peaks. Enjoy a sight rarely seen by Yosemite visitors.
If you’d rather not take the chance hiking up Half Dome, consider this attraction instead. Of all the things to do in Yosemite, Mirror Lake is one of the favorites among photographers and artists. While its name implies a sense of majesty, this like is actually more of a small pond, and it dries up in some parts of the year.
During its peak in the Spring, however, as the melted ice caps cascade down the mountains, something magical happens: the still waters provide a mirror reflection of both Half Dome and Mount Watkins. If you didn’t luck out with the lottery to hike Half Dome, why not go for another worthy snap here?
6. Crane Flat
Location: Intersection of Big Oak Flat and Tioga Road
Why You’ll Love It: Convenient access to fuel and supplies on the way out of the valley. Fun activities and bunny slopes for kids.
Crane Flat is a sort of “last gas here for miles” place in Yosemite. There’s a small gas station and shop you can stop at before venturing further into Tuolumne Meadows or into Merced Grove.
In the winter time, Crane Flat transforms into a place for families to enjoy some scenic camping and fun in the snow. It’s a great place to go if you’d like to venture deeper into the park without leaving some of the creature comforts of the Village behind.
5. Wapama Falls Hike
Location: Hetch Hetchy Valley
Why You’ll Love It: Go over the river and through the woods to a spectacular falls. Make a loop around the Hetch Hetchy Resevoir in this moderate hike.
Wapama Fall is one of many unique sights in Hetch Hetchy Valley. The hike to these falls is a dynamic one, going through a tunnel, around the reservoir, and eventually gaining some 1,000 feet in elevation until returning to where you started.
It’s a relatively easy hike for those inexperienced, but it will require traversing up and down quite a bit. Overall, it’s a great way to experience Hetch Hetchy Valley in a day. If you’re unsure of what things to do in Yosemite, put this at the top of your list to gauge how ready you are for other activities.
4. Glacier Point
Location: South of Yosemite Valley
Why You’ll Love It: Gain a comprehensive view of waterfalls, peaks, and more through a rewarding hike. Experience the summit that is consistently one of the most popular things to do in Yosemite.
UPDATE: Glacier Point Road is closed for the 2022 season for repairs. The area can currently only be reached via a strenuous hike not suited for most visitors.
If you manage to find your way to Glacier Point, you’ll be rewarded with a commanding view of the Yosemite in all its glory. It’s here in the high country where you can truly appreciate why John Muir considered this place the grandest temple on earth.
3. Horsetail Falls
Location: El Capitan, East Side
Why You’ll Love It: When the conditions are just right, you’ll experience something unlike any other landscape in the world. Easy access via El Capitan’s visitor area.
Horsetail Fall is a dramatic seasonal waterfalls that sprays down the towering face of El Capitan. Seeing the falls from nearly any angle is enough to produce audible gasps and wows from onlookers. However if you happen to get to the park in mid to late February when the conditions are just right you’ll have the opportunity to witness something amazing.
Visitors travel from around the globe every year for a chance to witness this seasonal phenomenon known as Firefall. When the waning light hits the falls just right and paints it fiery red that looks like lava pouring out of El Capitan.
As an added bonus seeing the waterfall is easy. If you don’t feel like hiking around El Capitan, you can see the falls right from the road and visitor center.
2. Tunnel View
Location: Wawona Road
Why You’ll Love It: Gaze upon the iconic panorama of Yosemite National Park that’s been featured in countless paintings and artworks. Take in the entire breadth and majesty of Yosemite’s valley and three mountains.
Tunnel View takes a well earned spot towards the top of the list of best things to do in Yosemite. Its name might imply a limited view, but any park enthusiast knows that’s not the case. After heading along Wawona Road and coming through the tunnel, you’ll reach this famous viewpoint known as Tunnel View.
The panoramic view showcases the glittering Yosemite Valley, framed by El Capitan on the left, Bridal Veil Falls on the right, and the glacier carved Half Dome right in between. The view is nothing short of legendary, and has been described as perhaps the best view in all of the national parks.
1. Camp in the Valley
Location: Yosemite Valley, Village
Why You’ll Love It: Fully obtain the entire Yosemite and national park experience by spending the night in the valley. Close access to food, lodging, the falls, and more.
There are an infinite number of ways to enjoy this valley, and you’re sure to never run out of things to do in Yosemite. One of the best ways to really connect to this priceless slice of America’s natural heritage is by pitching a tent and sitting around a fire.
The most popular campground, Camp 4, is located right off the village, and provides easy access to the falls. You’ll enjoy several modern amenities while you’re here, including the nearby steakhouse, amphitheater, museum, and shopping. But if you’re more keen on having an experience that’s as unplugged as possible, you’ll enjoy the pristine views all the same.
Camping in Yosemite Valley is the catalyst behind thousands of family memories, and you’ll surely see why when you decide to make memories of your own here. There is truly nothing comparable to sleeping in the valley under the blanket of stars, and for that reason, camping is our number one pick for things to do in Yosemite.
For Purple Mountain Majesty
Yosemite is the poster child of America’s national parks. The views are nothing short of remarkable, and the park itself is home to a number of unique and unusual sights rarely found anywhere else in the world. You can spend lots of time planning out an itinerary, but make room for the unexpected.
One secret park rangers won’t tell you? Some attractions are more than meets the eye- if you’re willing to venture off trail. Take Chilualna Falls for example. It’s said that if you meander your way around the falls, you’ll catch a glimpse of three glittering pools deep within the mountain.
Accessing these pools can be dangerous for the inexperienced, and for that reason, rangers warn against climbing to view pools in larger falls, like the namesake ones. But the sight is surely breathtaking, and a bountiful reward for a long hike.
Map of the Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
Summary of Best Things to Do at Yosemite
- Camping in Yosemite Valley
- Tunnel View
- Horsetail Fall
- Glacier Point
- Wapama Falls Hike
- Crane Flat
- Mirror Lake
- Tuolumne Meadows
- Hetch Hetchy
- Half Dome
- El Capitan
- Wahhoga Indian Culture Site
- Yosemite Falls
- Bachelor & Three Graces
- Visit the Visitor Center
Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park (or any national park)
Permit Systems and Reservations
Check to see if the national park you’re visiting has a permit or reservation system in place before visiting. As parks become increasingly crowded more has to be done to safeguard them which means controlling the hundreds of millions of people who visit these places each year.
Popular national parks with reservation systems of some kind include Yosemite, Yellowstone, Zion, Rocky Mountain, Glacier, Arches, Acadia, Denali, and more.
Want Less Crowds? Try a National Forest!
Try visiting a national forest while you’re on your trip to avoid the crowds. There are 155 national forests in America, many of which are equally as beautiful as the national parks they neighbor and only see a fraction of the visitors.
For example, try the Flathead National Forest next to Glacier National Park, the Bridger-Teton next to Grand Teton, and the Dixie which borders nearly all of the Utah National Parks.
Practice Safety, Seriously
National parks are amazing but wild places so it is essential to practice basic safety while visiting them. Every year people die while vacationing in national parks. This is easily avoided by:
- Sticking to trails
- Checking the weather before going out on a hike
- Maintaining a safe distance between wildlife which means at least 25 yards from most wildlife and 100 yards from predators
- Avoid ledges with steep drop offs
Okay so what are your favorite things to do in Yosemite? What activities would you rank at the top of the list? Let us know in the comments below.
If You Liked the Best Things To Do in Yosemite…
Dive into our Yosemite National Park Facts article to learn some amazing trivia about the park.
Check out our article on the 25 Best West Coast National Parks. Yes, there’s a lot of parks out west!
You might also try our article on California’s National Parks.
And don’t miss our Things To Do Redwood National Park article if you’re headed up the coast!