Start out in Yosemite Valley, then explore the other sides of the park
Hike to Mirror Lake. Beat the crowds and watch the sun rise on an early morning hike to this lovely lake near the east end of Yosemite Valley. See Yosemite hiking.
Breakfast at the Ahwahnee. Built in 1927, this magnificently rustic hotel is among the most beautiful in the U.S. It’s worth seeing any time. But breakfast in the Ahwahnee dining room, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and 34-foot-high beamed ceiling, is something special. Reservations recommended, especially for Sunday brunch.
Hike to Yosemite Falls. Catch one of the valley shuttle buses to the trailhead for Lower Yosemite Falls, at its best in spring and early summer. See Yosemite hiking.
Learn the park. With its new state-of-the-art exhibit hall, Yosemite Valley Visitor Center gives a good overview of the park’s geology and natural history; it’s also the starting point for many guided hikes and other park activities. Next door, the Yosemite Museum focuses on the cultures of Yosemite’s Native Americans, the Miwok and Paiute peoples. The Ansel Adams Gallery showcases the luminous work of Adams, who spent much of his career photographing the park; it also offers frequent one-day photo workshops.
Raft the Merced. Wild in spring, in summer the Merced River is enjoyably tame as it flows through the valley. Easiest way is to rent raft (and required personal flotation devices) at Curry Village Recreation Center; rental includes shuttle trip from take-out point back to your start. (209) 372- 4386.
Tunnel View Overlook. This classic view of Yosemite Valley is best seen toward late afternoon, when the sun makes the valley and the Sierra glow even more strikingly than usual. You’ll find the overlook on the Wawona Road, just below the tunnel.
Gaze out from Glacier Point. From the valley take Wawona Road south then turn east on Glacier Point Road. Follow it to its end for one of the best views anywhere: Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the Sierra Nevada. If you feel like hiking, you have good options: nearby, the trail to Taft Point gives amazing views, too.
Walk among giants. Head to the south end of the park and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, Giant Sequoias as much as 300 feet tall and two centuries old.
See pioneers. Back at Wawona, the Pioneer Yosemite History Center is a collection of mostly 19th century buildings relocated to this quiet corner of the park; in summer rangers offer living history programs here.
Relaxed dining. Where the Ahwahnee is grand, the park’s other notable historic hotel, the Wawona, is simply charming. A summer dinner on its broad porch or a Saturday bbq on its lawn are two of the nicest things you can do in the park.
Drive Tioga Road. Generally open from May into October, the Tioga Road takes you into Yosemite’s back country. You’ll see one of the park’s great overlooks at Olmstead Point.
Get wet. Yosemite’s biggest lake, Tenaya, has water that chills you even in summer, but its beach is warm and sunny.
Explore Tuolumne Meadows. This high elevation meadow is one of the most beautiful parts of a beautiful park. There’s good hiking here (see Yosemite hiking) and horseback riding, all of it with fewer crowds than at Yosemite Valley.
Toast your trip. Back in the valley, you can’t leave Yosemite without another visit to the Ahwahnee--this time to the bar, an enjoyably cozy place to end your visit.