Park insiders agree–these are destinations you don't want to miss
Stark granite, pristine meadows, and giant sequoia trees lure visitors to Yosemite National Park each year. See quintessential Yosemite at these 10 iconic destinations.
See where Ansel Adams snapped some of the valley's famous views while strolling or biking the Cook's Meadow boardwalk, just west of Yosemite Village. You'll get fantastic views of Cathedral Rocks and Three Brothers and if lucky, spot a mule deer or black bear that depend on the meadow habitat.
A favorite with climbers, El Capitan is one of Yosemite Valley's many awe-inspiring granite sentinels. The granite face, formed by glaciers eons ago, rises more than 3,000 feet. To watch climbers in action (bring binoculars), stop at pullouts along the Valley Loop Dr. at the southwest end of the valley.
Visiting Yosemite without seeing Half Dome is like heading to Paris and not taking a picture of the Eiffel Tower. It's one of the park's most iconic landmarks. Take in the view on a 2-mile round-trip hike to Mirror Lake. For diehards: Hike 14- to 16-miles to the top of the 5,000-foot granite formation traversing the last 400 feet on metal cables. The reward is expansive views of Yosemite Valley from 8,800 feet above sea level. (Half Dome hiking guide; nps.gov/yose.)
Give yourself a "Yosemite facial" by standing in the spray along the footbridge at the base of 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls for a few minutes. The two-tier falls is one of the tallest in the world. (Learn more about Yosemite waterfalls.)
Walk among giants in Wawona at the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. At the grove, you have two choices for exploring: a narrated, open-air tram tour ($8.50 per person; 209/372-1240) or a meandering, self-guided hike. Unless you're completely pooped, the hiking option is a more intimate experience. The massive, 209-foot-tall Grizzly Giant is an easy 0.8-mile hike from the parking area, and the Fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree is a moderate 1.5-mile hike past the Giant.
The short climb to the top of Pothole Dome provides an ideal vantage point for taking in Tuolumne Meadows. From the pullout on the north side of State 120 at the western edge of the meadows, look for a winding granite path that leads first into a grove of pines and then up the gently curving rock face. The 0.5-mile trip to the top takes less than 20 minutes and is easy all the way.
Tioga Road & Olmstead Point
Take the 39-mile scenic drive (Highway 120) between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows and stop at turnouts along the way that offer beautiful vistas. Take Tioga Road to the popular Olmsted Point, where Half Dome feels so close you can almost reach out and touch it. The 9,945-foot Tioga Pass usually opens by Memorial Day (as does the road to Glacier Point) and stays open until mid-November but call the park switchboard to check (209/372-0209).
Hop in the care for a one-hour drive to Glacier Point from Yosemite Valley. Gaze out over one of the earth's greatest panoramas: Half Dome, Basket Dome, and Liberty Cap. For die-hards: Take the hikers' bus up to Glacier Point, then hike Four Mile Trail back to Yosemite Valley.
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 (check with the concierge desk), 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. In Yosemite Valley; yosemitepark.com or (801) 559-4884. (See more Yosemite accommodations.)
On the south side of the park, you can explore pioneer history and luxuriate by the fire at the historic Wawona Hotel. For an easy hike before lunch, try the 3 1/2-mile Meadow Loop, starting near the Wawona Hotel. The cheerful white-clapboard Wawona Hotel is four miles from the Mariposa Grove and is decorated in period style. Or spend a relaxing afternoon at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a depiction of early pioneer life in Wawona. In addition to relocated buildings dating from the 1850s and '60s, there's a charming covered bridge (the oldest in California) spanning the South Fork of the Merced River. Wawona Hotel; yosemitepark.com or (801) 559-4884. (See more Yosemite accommodations.)
For a complete listing of places to go, visit the Yosemite National Park Service website.