Ooh and aah
Next stop: Yosemite Valley. First have a quick lunch at the Badger Pass Day Lodge. Then drive down into the valley via State 41 north. After passing through the tunnel blasted into Sentinel Dome, pull over at Inspiration Point and revel in the view of El Capitan--one of the largest exposed granite blocks in existence, towering 7,569 feet above sea level ― and 8,842-foot Half Dome, which looks as if it's been chopped neatly in half with an ax.
Just 1/4 mile down the road from Inspiration Point comes the pullout for Bridalveil Fall. A short, easy trail lets you hike up toward the ribbonlike waterfall, which rushes in full force this time of year. (Have a towel at the ready back in the car: You'll likely get sprayed.)
Get the lay of the land
You've done enough walking ― now it's time to relax. A valley tour is a great way to do just that. Two-hour bus tours provide in-depth orientations to the valley, hitting the most scenic points and stopping frequently for photos. Tours depart every day at 10 and 2 from Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, Yosemite Village, and the Ahwahnee ($17.50). Make reservations by calling 372-1240 or the general reservations number or by visiting the website (see travel planner, page 22).
Sierra dining. Aside from the Ahwahnee Dining Room, the Mountain Room at the Yosemite Lodge is the valley's classiest eatery, with a rustic ambience and reasonably priced hearty fare ― seafood, steaks, and vegetarian dishes.
Skate beneath the stars
The skating rink at Camp Curry is open during the day and every evening from 7 to 9:30. Commanding a patch of prime real estate at the foot of Glacier Point, it's one of the most beautiful rinks you'll find anywhere. Skating costs $5; rental is $2.
Breakfast of champions
The Yosemite Lodge Cafeteria lays out a moderately priced breakfast spread.
Join a free interpretive walk focusing on winter ecology or black-and-white nature photography, among a host of subjects; check the activities page of the free "Yosemite Guide" to find out what's scheduled.
Follow the bike path on foot or by bike
The 8.7-mile Yosemite Valley bike path loops around the eastern end of the Valley to Mirror Lake, with various cutoff options. If snow cover is light, inquire about bike rentals at the Yosemite Lodge ($5.25 per hour, $20 per day); otherwise, explore the path on foot. Either way, be sure to stop at the footbridge that crosses over the Merced River near the Sentinel Bridge picnic area. Above you loom El Capitan, Sentinel Rock, and Cathedral Rock; below you the river meanders off into infinity.
You've saved the best for last: Now it's time to see the Ahwahnee. Built in 1927 in a pristine meadow with panoramic views of Glacier Point, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls, this national historic landmark does justice to its setting. Free history tours are conducted on Wednesday and Friday evenings at 6:30, but you're welcome to explore on your own anytime. Among the highlights: the immense dining room; the Great Lounge, with its walk-in fireplace and Native American-inspired decor; and the Winter Club Room, which showcases park memorabilia such as ski equipment used at Badger Pass in the 1920s. At the end of the day, treat yourself to a cocktail (or, if you're a hotel guest, go for afternoon tea) served in front of the blazing fireplace in the Great Lounge, but beware: You may never want to leave.