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A Guide to Yosemite - The King of American National Parks

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Yosemite National Park encompasses massive granite mountains, hundreds of waterfalls, 1,600 miles of rushing streams, meadows, and 3 groves of giant sequoia trees. It is easy to feel humble in Yosemite Valley when standing at the base of 4,800-foot-high Half Dome, or at the summit. First-time visitors may find these views familiar, from classic paintings by Thomas Ayres, and the legendary photographs of Ansel Adams.

Yosemite Valley

 

Yosemite Valley is the park’s most-visited area. Most arrive by way of the El Portal Road, which runs alongside the Merced River. This affords visitors their first glimpse of the towering granite monolith El Capitan, perhaps Yosemite’s most-photographed feature. From the floor of the Valley, you can gaze up at the granite face of Half Dome or Sentinel Dome, and start the popular hike to Vernal Falls. The Visitor Center and most accommodation is in the Valley; it ranges from tents and cabins, to luxurious hotels with first-rate dining and plush spas.

 

  • Yosemite Valley Stable, 9001 Village Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; Tel: +1 209 372 8348; Website: Yosemite Valley Stable
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  • Mountain Room Restaurant, Yosemite Lodge, Yosemite National Park, CA 95379; Tel: +1 209 372 1281; Website: Mountain Room Restaurant

The High Country

 

Tuolumne Meadows, Dana Meadows, the Clark Range, the Cathedral Range, and the Kuna Crest are key features of the High Country, northeast of Yosemite Valley. Lyell Glacier, one of the last remaining glaciers in the Sierra Nevada, is also here. Tuolumne Meadows, flanking the Tuolumne River, offers glorious views of mountains and granite domes, and has facilities for camping, backpacking, and rock climbing. Backpackers headed for Mt. Lyell and other backcountry destinations often start here. (Note that road access is closed in the winter.)

 

  • Glacier Point Tour, 9001 Village Drive, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; Tel: +1 209 372 4386; Website: Glacier Point Tour
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  • Tuolumne Meadows Store, Tioga Road Highway 120, Mariposa, CA 95389; Tel: +1 209 372 8428; Website: Tuolumne Meadows Store

 

The Redwood Groves

 

Yosemite has 3 groves of giant sequoia trees: the Mariposa Grove (by far the largest - unfortunately closed until 2017 for a restoration project), the Tuolumne Grove, and the Merced Grove. You'll need to hike more than 2 miles to reach the Tuolumne and Merced Groves, but the trails are serene and the groves provide a cathedral-like experience. These trees are not as tall as California’s coastal redwoods, but they are ancient and massive. Visitors sometimes comment on fire damage in the groves, but the ability of sequoias to withstand fire is central to their unique natural history.

 

  • Crane Flat Campground, CRANE FLAT PO BOX 577 Yosemite National Park, CA 95389; Tel: +1 209 379 2123; Website: Crane Flat Campground

 

Hetch Hetchy

 

Hetch Hetchy - the northwestern area of the park - centers on a valley carved by the Tuolumne River. Hetch Hetchy Dome and Kolana Rock are its most prominent features, and 2 of the tallest waterfalls in North America can be seen here in the spring. Hetch Hetchy is frequented by backpackers, but is Yosemite’s quietest and least-visited area. There are few facilities - hiking is the main activity - and in winter, you can explore on snowshoes or skis.

 

  • Camp Mather, 35250 Mather Road, Groveland, CA 95321-9717; Tel: +1 209 379 2284; Website: Camp Mather