Carved by glaciers and spectacularly framed by granite walls and thundering waterfalls, Yosemite Valley is the heart of the Park. The valley floor is an enchanted confluence of some of the world’s tallest waterfalls, forests, meadows, and the Merced River, flowing along the valley’s east to west contour.
Yosemite’s A-list monuments – Half Dome, El Capitan, Cathedral Rocks, Mirror Lake, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, Bridalveil Fall, et al – tightly clustered within these 2¼ square miles is staggering. A hub for Park services as well, it follows that the level of visitation here is the highest in the park. Timing your arrival is everything. Early-mornings, cool fall days and nights and pristine winter conditions, and midweek visits will help to optimize your experience.
See & Do
Approaching Yosemite Valley on Wawona Road/Highway 41, Tunnel View provides a signature Yosemite Valley vista. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall framing Yosemite Valley, and Half Dome rising with monumental drama in the background.
For a great orientation to this celebrated valley, walk part or all of the 13-mile Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. Parking is not available at the trailhead; the trail begins at the Lower Yosemite Fall Trailhead (near shuttle stop #6). Primary parking is available at the Yosemite Village and Yosemite Falls parking areas. Trail access is also available from various roadside parking areas throughout Yosemite Valley.
Yosemite Lodge is a larger primary hotel/motel style lodging facility, the major transportation hub and tour desk for all Yosemite Valley tours and busses to Glacier point or Badger Pass, as well as being the arrival and departure point for parking, YARTS, outside tour busses and free NPS valley shuttles. The busy area of the park houses one of the dining facilities in the valley called the Base Camp Eatery and a Starbucks. It also houses one of our favorite upscale dinner only restaurants in the park called the Mountain Room Restaurant and it’s separate Mountain Room Lounge. There is also a bike rental stand.
Many consider The Ahwahnee as the pinnacle of national park lodges. Known for its signature architecture, The Ahwahnee was designed for picture-frame views of Yosemite Falls, Half Dome and Glacier Point. The hotel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark. Open to guests and visitors alike are the Ahwahnee’s dining room and bar, a decadent sweet shop and gift shop with a focus on local artisans.
The Merced River drops over Nevada Falls and Vernal Falls, meeting up with Illilouette Creek before flowing into Yosemite Valley. The Merced River adds an aquatic counterpoint to Yosemite Valley’s sheer rock walls. Curry Village Raft Rentals provides the gear to float the Merced during the summer months when it becomes what must be the world’s most scenic lazy river.
Yosemite Village is the valley’s grub hub as well, with several casual restaurants. Curry Village is another valley locale with dining options as well as parking, restrooms and overnight accommodations. This is also a great area to get to know the history of Yosemite National Park and the people that helped craft it. The Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and Museum is great point to learn about the thousands of years of history that crafted the iconic valley. Just behind it is the Indian Village of the Ahwahnee where visitors can walk through a replica village of the Valley’s original inhabitants. A stop at the Ansel Adams Gallery is great not only to see the works of the photographer that helped popularize the National Park, but also pick up a souvenir or work of art. Yosemite Valley parking is available at Yosemite Village, Curry Village, and near Yosemite Falls.