Over the years, my wife and I have taken our two kids to Yosemite National Park more than any other park over the years. As much as I love city life and seeing new cities around the world, I am continually drawn to the natural beauty of our National Parks. Yosemite is no exception to this, and its awe-inducing beauty is one of the many reasons we continue to return.
Here are seven tips for planning a great trip to Yosemite National Park.
- America the Beautiful Pass
The cost of entering Yosemite is $35, which is good for seven days. If you plan to visit four National Parks in a calendar year, it’s worth buying this pass for $80. You can buy it in person at any National Park or online at Federal recreation site, or by calling 1-888-ASK-USGS, Ext. 3, or online. I bought my mom a lifetime senior pass for the same price of $80.
- Free Admission Days
Every year, there are about ten Free Entrance Days in the National Parks. If you want to avoid the crowd, it’s better to pick a different day. We’ve gone to Muir Woods National Park closer to home these days with other options in nearby San Francisco in case it gets too crowded.
- When to Visit
Yosemite is most accessible during the summer months, but it’s also when it’s most visited. For the rest of the year, the main concern is snow. The valley is open year-round, but Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road are closed from mid-November to May or early June. Check out Road Conditions to find out what roads are open and when they will open. We have gone in March, April, and May. It’s still a bit chilly, but the crowds are considerably smaller. Most likely, you will visit during the summer. Plan as early ahead as possible. Staying in the valley during the summer months requires early booking.
There are several options in the valley with the National Park Service. There are 13 campgrounds within the park. For mid-range stays, consider the canvas tent cabins at Half Dome Village. These have easy access to dining options and shuttle service around the valley. You can stay outside of Yosemite in the city of Merced at Hampton Inn and Suites Merced or in Fresno and take YARTS to any of the many stops inside Yosemite National Park
- Transportation In and Out of the Valley
The drive into Yosemite is as spectacular as any national park. The summer months, however, are the most popular. Traffic and parking can be an issue. The National Park Service offers excellent transportation options not only in the park but to Yosemite. You can take a for-fee shuttle bus called YARTS into Yosemite, and easily get around the valley with the free shuttle service.
We love Yosemite for hiking. There is a hike for every age group. Whether you are staying in the valley or driving in, you can take the free shuttle to the different starting points. We love the three-mile round trip hike on The Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. It is a moderately challenging hike and requires two to three hours, depending on your pace. Bring some rain gear because you will get wet hiking up the falls. Take the free shuttle to the trailhead near Happy Isles. For those who want more than Vernal Falls, you can continue further up to Nevada Falls. This hike is seven miles both ways. For the adventurous, Half Dome is a full day, 14-mile hike on The Mist Trail which now requires a permit.
- Dining Options
Whether you are camping or staying in a lodge, there are plenty of options. Campers who want to take a break from cooking can drive ten minutes and eat at a restaurant. There is also a grocery store to stock up on food. Our family has had dinner twice on Easter Sunday at The Ahwahnee Dining Room. Set in a large, open, and rustic space, this restaurant serves up contemporary dishes. We’ve enjoyed our special occasion dinner there multiple times, and it also has a great children’s menu. For a mid-range option, try the dining options at Half Dome Village. There is something for everyone at the Pizza Deck, Meadow Grill, or the Half Dome Village Pavilion.
Yosemite Conservancy: While traveling to major cities around the world, I’ve come to appreciate our city’s green spaces and our country’s national parks. They are unique places that remind us of our responsibility to take care of our environment and world. While it’s not likely we can completely eliminate carbon emissions, we can reduce our footprint. National Parks remind us that the air can be cleaner. Animals can thrive in natural habitats, and people can share space without destroying the environment. Consider donating to the Yosemite Conservancy and other efforts to educate and preserve our National Parks here.