From that very first moment, there are places we remember all our lives. While we hope they’ll never change, most places do – and not always for the better. But there are a handful of rare déjà vu destinations where wilderness is protected, and change is measured in geologic time. Yosemite National Park is just such a place.
With its massive granite walls, thundering waterfalls and forested slopes, Yosemite National Park continues to echo the magic of your first impressions. If it’s been years since you’ve toured Yosemite, a heralded return is overdue. Bring yourselves, and while you’re at it, gather your sons, daughters, and grands, to share your best Park memories and create unforgettable new ones in this timeless realm.
Yosemite is a 1,200-square-mile wilderness studded with natural features that will surge into your memory stream. It all starts with the grand reveal, the epic panorama of Yosemite Valley as you emerge from Wawona Tunnel (fun fact, at 4,233 feet, this is the longest highway tunnel in California). From the parking lot vista at Tunnel View, El Capitan, Half Dome, Clouds’ Rest, and Bridalveil Fall pose across the widescreen horizon. Pictures taken here are indelibly etched into your fondest family memories (and tend to be printed and framed). The generations in the foreground may change over time, but the background stays forever breathtaking.
Adding to the vista’s magic is its seasonal variation; the sky, peaks, and palette change from winter to spring, summer to fall; from winter’s icy snow globe to spring’s water world, from wild flowered summer meadows to golden autumnal hues, and around again.
After Tunnel View, take a slow ride through the Valley, pulling over at any of the scenic turnouts to marvel at the glacially-carved show above. Even better, stretch your legs on the short hikes (a mile or less round-trip) to Bridalveil Fall and Lower Yosemite Fall. Both feature paved sections of trail with mostly flat ground and bathrooms.
For some elevated retail recreation, check out the Ansel Adams Gallery, a treasure box of the famed photographer’s iconic Yosemite works (as well as one of the best gift shops in the Park). Before leaving the Valley, take a break at Yosemite’s historic lodge, The Ahwahnee, and indulge in a finely prepared meal or drink at the bar. If you’ve toured Yosemite and stopped in at the Ahwahnee last time you were here, permission to wax nostalgic. It’s still every bit as grand as you remember.
One of Yosemite National Park’s four-season regions, Southern Yosemite is a hub for historic and natural attractions including the inviting enclave of Wawona. Here, you can hike, play golf, and cavort along the banks of the Merced River’s south fork as it winds through Wawona’s forested valley to create perfect swimming holes and riparian hiking terrain.
Yosemite history finds a focal point in Wawona. The Yosemite History Center is an open-air constellation of legacy buildings from early Park days, including a covered bridge (one of the few in California) and the recently rededicated Chinese Laundry Building that celebrates the important contributions of early Chinese immigrants to Yosemite’s infrastructure and culture. Maybe the most visible nod to the arc of Yosemite history is the stately Wawona Hotel, est. 1879 and today a National Historic Landmark that has been visited by generations of Yosemite travelers, including Rough-Rider President Teddy Roosevelt.
Wander and wonder in the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, with more than 500 mature giant sequoia trees reaching to the sky, some more than 3,000 years old and among the oldest living things on Earth. They were here the last time you visited and will be here when your grandkids’ grandkids visit too. The priceless comfort of continuity!
Take it Higher
Keep the operatic scenery rolling by heading to Yosemite Valley’s rims for shape-shifting perspectives. The scenic viewpoint of Glacier Point delivers another angle on Half Dome and El Capitan, and adds Liberty Cap, Yosemite Falls, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall just for good measure. The short, paved, wheelchair-accessible trail takes you to the edge of the world with Yosemite Valley some 3,200 feet straight down. Unforgettable!
Tioga Road ascends along the Valley’s North Rim with inspiring High-Country vistas and activities. There’s Olmsted Point, named in honor of ardent (and multigen!) Yosemite preservationists Frederick Law Olmsted and his son, with its unique perspective on Half Dome; and Tenaya Lake, the perfect place to while away an afternoon swimming, kayaking, and picnicking. Continue on to Tuolumne Meadows for one of the Sierra’s largest subalpine meadows and amenities including a Visitor Center, lodge and café. (Note: Tioga Road is open seasonally during the summer months. Check current conditions here.)
Visiting in winter? For many, it’s Yosemite’s most charming time, even with high-country locales in seasonal hibernation. Open all winter: Badger Pass Ski Area, established in 1935 as California’s original ski area – talk about nostalgia! Still one of the most budget and friendly ski areas in the Sierra, Badger offers gravity-fueled options for every generation: downhill skiing, cross-country, snowboarding, and tubing. Memories, made here from mid-December to March.
If your Yosemite encore is overdue, there’s no better time than now. Ready to roll? At your service: the Yosemite Vacation Planner, the official visitors guide to “where granite meets gold.” And, when you’re ready to book your stay, the best resource for finding the perfect place in Yosemite Mariposa County is right here. From four-diamond hotels to vacation cabin rentals, B&Bs to campgrounds, there are many wonderful options for your Yosemite return.