Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places in America. It’s also one of the world’s best-known national parks.
Sure, Yellowstone may have technically been the first National Park in America. But some claim Yosemite was actually number one (it was a state park before Yellowstone was a protected area).
Yosemite is big.
Fortunately, you can see the top sights in 2-3 full days. If you’re not hiking, you can even see Yosemite’s best sights in a day trip.
Looking for the best sights to see in Yosemite National Park, California? Keep reading.
1) Take in Tunnel View
Tunnel View is the view you think of when you picture Yosemite. It’s the postcard-like shot up the valley. You can see Half Dome on the right and El Capitan on the left. If you’re visiting at the right time of year, there will even be a cascading waterfall in front of you. It’s truly spectacular.
If you’re arriving in Yosemite from the south (Wawona Road), then you’ll exit the tunnel to see Yosemite Valley for the first time. That’s why it’s called Tunnel View.
Park, take a lot of selfies, and get ready for a full day of exploring Yosemite National Park.
2) Hike to the Top or Bottom of Yosemite Falls
Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in Yosemite National Park. Between Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, the water drops 2,425 feet.
If you’re visiting in the summer and it hasn’t rained, then Yosemite Falls will be dry. During the spring, however, Yosemite Falls is spectacular.
You can see Yosemite Falls from anywhere in the park. Or, you can hike from the bottom to the top. It’s a tough and steep hike, but it’s worth it. If you’re going to do one hike, I recommend Upper Yosemite Falls or Glacier Point.
If you don’t feel like doing the half-day hike, however, then you can walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls and get plenty of great photos.
3) Drive or Hike to Glacier Point
Tunnel View might get all of the attention, but Glacier View is the best “mainstream” viewpoint in Yosemite National Park.
You can drive or hike to Glacier Point. If you’re driving, it’s an easy 40-minute drive from the valley to the top. If you’re hiking, it’s a much harder 5 hour round trip hike.
We first visited Yosemite in December. The road to Glacier Point was closed for the winter. We hiked to Glacier Point and had the place to ourselves.
For other visits to Yosemite, however, we didn’t feel bad driving to the top. However, you get there, it’s a must see sight in Yosemite. Don’t leave without driving to Glacier Point.
4) Hike to Vernal Falls
Vernal Falls is the most accessible hike in Yosemite National Park. It’s a bit of a climb for beginner hikers, but you can take it slow and make it to the top.
Beginners should stop at Vernal Falls Bridge, which has great views of Vernal Falls without posing a major health risk.
However, I recommend hiking the Mist Trail to the top of Vernal Falls. It’s steep, a bit treacherous when wet, and not suitable for non-hikers. But I did it in flip-flops and survived, so it’s not too tough.
5) Bring Binoculars to Spy on Climbers at El Capitan
El Capitan is a big granite wall near the entrance of Yosemite National Park. It’s kind of a big deal in the climbing scene.
This is the wall Alex Honnold climbed without ropes. You don’t realize how insane that feat is until you see the wall in person. Some dude walked up to the wall and climbed to the top in a single day without ropes. What the f***.
For us normies, the closest we’ll get to climbing El Capitan is standing at the base with binoculars. Take a close look up the wall. See if you can spot any climbers. They’re on there – and they’re surprisingly tough to spot even with binoculars.
If you wait until night falls, then it’s easy to see the climbers. Their lights dot El Capitan, making it easy to spot them.
6) Check Out Bridalveil Fall
I feel like I’ve been to at least 10 “Bridal Veil Falls” around the world, including New Zealand, British Columbia, and other parts of the United States.
To be honest though, Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite is within the top 10. The park spent most of 2020 renovating the parking lot for Bridalveil Fall (it had, like, 20 spaces before). Moving forward, it should be easier and more spectacular to visit Bridalveil Fall.
Bridalveil Fall has a 620 foot drop. When the water is flowing, the falls are spectacular. However, there’s always some amount of water flowing over the falls all year long.
Other Things to Do in Yosemite National Park
The list above are must see things to do in Yosemite National Park for normal people. However, Yosemite is huge and there are plenty of things to do.
Here are some of the other things I recommend seeing and doing in Yosemite National Park:
Hike to Half Dome: Half Dome is a bucket list hike for many people. Yes, you can hike up the back of Half Dome, using cables to pull yourselves to the top of the smooth granite dome. You need a permit to get to the top. If Half Dome is important to you, then Yosemite is the (only) place to do it. Obviously.
Drive Tioga Pass: Although it’s closed most of the year, Tioga Pass is a spectacular road that takes you from one side of the Sierra Nevada Mountains to the other. It kind of reminds me of the Salmo-Creston in the Kootenays.
Visit Mariposa Grove: Mariposa Grove is a grove of giant sequoia trees. If you haven’t seen sequoias before, then it’s worth a look. It’s at the beginning of the Tioga Pass road.
Hike Clouds Rest: Can’t get a permit to Half Dome? Not interested in risking your life around thousands of strangers on the cables? Clouds Rest provides a similar view (some would even say a better view). You feel like you’re above the clouds.
Hike to Taft Point: TaftPoint is located off the road to Glacier Point. You get a cliffside view over Yosemite Valley. If you want to take cliffside photos of yourself at Yosemite, or if you feel like taking a selfie and falling to your death, then Taft Point is the place to be.
Yosemite National Park is a little underrated.
I thought Yosemite would be like Disneyland: a sanitized wilderness adventure suitable for soft Californians driving their $100,000 SUVs.
3 visits later, I realize Yosemite is one of those attractions that definitely lives up to the hype.
There’s plenty to see in Yosemite for all crowds – and there’s plenty of ruggedness remaining and plenty of must see things to do in Yosemite National Park.