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Yosemite National Park: 10 tips for visiting the park

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 28/08/2016 Susan B. Barnes
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In 1864, President Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant that protected the Yosemite Valley in California’s Sierra Nevada from development; 26 years later, Yosemite National Park was established in 1890, another 26 years before the National Park Service was established in 1916. 

Since then, millions of people have visited the 1,200-square-mile park (in 2015, more than 4.1 million people visited), with its cascading waterfalls, deep valleys, soaring rock walls, sweeping meadows, giant sequoias, vast wilderness areas, hiking and horseback riding trails, rivers and streams for fishing, and so much more.

With so much to see and do, we checked in with Luke Holderfield, outdoor recreation manager with Evergreen Lodge, for tips (in no particular order) to make the most of your visit. Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year.

Yosemite-High-Country-Tour-Evergreen-Lodge-.jpg © Evergreen Lodge

1. Go early: The park never closes (except the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station, which is open only during daylight hours), and parking and traffic are usually only an issue mid-day during the summer months. So go early and (seemingly) have the park to yourself before others get out of bed.

2. Go late: According to Holderfield, half the park is after dark and when the sun sets and the moon rises, you’ll see just what he means. Miles from the nearest big city, Yosemite enjoys a very dark night sky, making stargazing nothing short of spectacular. Through August, park ranger-led programs include “Starry Night Skies Over Yosemite,” a one-hour program to help you discover the stories of the night sky; naturalist-led night hikes are also offered (advanced reservations are required for both).

3. Go into the backcountry: Nearly all of the park’s visitors (95%, in fact) go to Yosemite Valley exclusively, which is less than 1% of the parkland area. Leave the crowds behind by getting away from roads and finding solitude in other parts of the park.

4. Go with public transportation: Skip the traffic and leave the driving to the professionals when you take public transportation, like the park’s free shuttle or the YARTS. “You’ll get to look at the sites out the window while they do the driving, and you’ll also get to skip most of the Yosemite Valley traffic because the drivers utilize the bus lanes,” says Holderfield.

5. Go for the views: One look at Yosemite National Park and there’s little wonder as to why photographer Ansel Adams found such inspiration here. There are loads of viewpoints found throughout the park, so take your time and take a look around – you may just find inspiration here, too.

6. Go with a guide: Yosemite has a history of high-profile champions, from John Muir to Ansel Adams to Teddy Roosevelt, but many modern contemporaries have made it their life's work studying and learning about the park’s flora, fauna, and natural and human history. It’s easy to see the sites of Yosemite, but to truly uncover the area’s many secrets, go with an expert. Park rangers offer ranger-led and interpretive programs covering a variety of topics (e.g. nature, history, photography, outdoor adventure, theater), and the naturalist guides at Evergreen Lodge offer myriad activities, too.

7. Go for a hike: One of the best ways to experience Yosemite is to get out of the car and onto your feet. Hikes in the park range from easy to strenuous, and trails are found nearly everywhere you’d want to go. Whether you want to see waterfalls, meadows, Giant Sequoias, or even scale Half Dome, there are trails for that. 

8. Go climb a rock: Yosemite National Park is considered one of the world’s best rock climbing spots. What’s best is the fact that you don’t need to be an expert to scale the rock walls. Classes are available for beginners and those more advanced, and fun is had by all (the author went on her first rock climbing adventure in Yosemite, in fact).

9. Go in the winter: Wintertime is another terrific time to visit the park. Not only are there less crowds, but fantastic cold-weather sports such as backcountry skiing or sports in developed areas such as the Yosemite Ski and Snowboard Area (formerly known as Badger Pass). “Snowshoeing to Giant Sequoias is an unforgettable experience,” says Holderfield, “and in the wintertime, you feel like you have the park to yourself.”

10. Go outside the park: According to Holderfield, other areas of the High Sierra don’t get nearly the visitation that Yosemite National Park does, including Inyo National Forest and Stanislaus National Forest. Just minutes from the park’s boundaries, you can easily access Mono Lake (a habitat for millions of migratory and nesting birds), one of the world’s best examples of columnar basalt at Devils Postpile National Monument, unique mining and gold rush history, and even Sierra foothill wine country, along with the gateway communities of Groveland, Wawona, Lee Vining, all of which have more to offer visitors.

For more on Yosemite National Park and to help with trip planning, download the free Chimani app to your smart phone to easily navigate your way around the park, with our without cell phone service. 

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