Yosemite is known for its huge granite cliffs and immense waterfalls. It has been immortalized in Ansel Adams black and white photographs mainly taken between the 1920s and 1960s, portraying the amazing landscapes in the Yosemite area.
The Yosemite park has several million visitors each year, but most of them will go to the Yosemite Valley, an area of around 10 square miles. The rest of the area is wilderness apart from a few roads in.
For the international visitor, the closest large air hubs are San Francisco, Las Vegas and Los Angeles. San Francisco is the nearest, and a trip to the city can easily include a drive out to Yosemite over two or three days.
Entry to the park from the west is by the 120 or 140 roads, the 140 passing through Mariposa into the Sierra Nevada mountains. The 120 is the more northerly route.
One option from San Francisco is to drive down the Pacific Coast as far as Santa Cruz to see the ocean first, then head across to the mountains, entering the park on the Mariposa road.
There are three groves of giant sequoia trees in the park, one at Mariposa, one at Merced and one at Tuolumne. If you are coming via Mariposa it would make sense to view the Mariposa grove. The trees are some of the largest in the world, are very long lived, and have the most beautiful red bark. Walking through the woods to the groves is a lasting memory of visiting this area especially if you come at a quieter time of year.
Many visitors to Yosemite will only come into the valley for a day, and this is a shame as it is such a huge surrounding area. Better to plan a way to visit for a few days, and maybe do some hiking to get more benefit from the trip.
Depending on the time of year, different parts of the park will be accessible, as in winter snow will close the higher roads. In summer, expect traffic congestion due to the huge number of visitors. If I was to revisit the park, I would try for spring or autumn and hope that the weather is good enough to see plenty of the park. Generally there is snow from November to April.
The main sights of the valley are El Capitan, Half Dome and Sentinel Dome. These are huge granite cliffs that are incredible to see, and loved by the climbing community for their long climbing routes.
You will see many waterfalls, the largest of these being Yosemite Falls. Depending on rains and season the falls will have different volumes of water coming over. In full spate they can be colossal. Many of them are very high and will look amazing even with less water coming over them.
There are higher meadows to walk through that are very beautiful, or if you can only reach the valley floor, there are walks through the woods that are also beautiful, surrounded by the immense valley walls and cliffs.
You may encounter some of the wildlife including black bear, cougar, fox, raccoon, skink, cougar, otter or skunk, but this is more likely if you get away from the main tourist areas. There are also many species of bird and some bats. Most of the park has been made bear proof to reduce encounters between the bears and the tourists, mainly keeping food in places the bears won’t be attracted to, such as not leaving food in cars.
As well as hiking and climbing, popular pastimes in the park include horse riding, mountain biking, art and photography, river rafting, tours and nature walks.
The landscape of Yosemite make it unique among American parks, and it has to be high on any wish list of US regions to visit.
Image : Regan Buker (cc), flickr