Roughly 175 miles from San Francisco, San Jose or Sacramento and about 300 miles from Los Angeles, Yosemite National Park affords a California vacation experience you’ll never forget. If you’re traveling here from out of state, the closest airport to the park can be found in Fresno, which is about 55 miles from the park’s southernmost entrance (near Oakhurst).
While you’ll find unparalleled opportunities for outdoor activities like camping, hiking and fishing here, you won’t be disappointed even if your tastes tend more along the lines of “civilized” activities like photography, learning about the valley’s cultural history and enjoying gourmet meals at the magnificent Ahwahnee Hotel.
If at all possible, plan your trip during April or May. In addition to missing the summer visitor onslaught, these months typically offer incredible wildflower and waterfall displays. Fall is also a good time to visit, especially if you enjoy trout fishing (September through December is peak season). Most of the park’s trees are of the evergreen variety, however, so you shouldn’t necessarily expect a terrifically colorful autumnal show.
In the winter months, you may enjoy skiing at Badger Pass, California’s oldest downhill skiing area. Be sure to keep apprised of driving conditions, however, as chains may be required. Highway 140 through Mariposa offers the lowest-elevation route into Yosemite Valley, and it is the least likely to be affected by snow and ice.
If you visit in June, July or August, be sure to pack some extra patience, as it is typically extremely crowded during the summer months, especially on weekends. Actually, plenty of patience and keeping apprised of conditions are good ideas for any Yosemite visit, no matter the season.
A free shuttle bus system operates year-round in the valley, and visitors are encouraged to use this system since parking at several park destinations during the peak season is often nearly impossible to find. The shuttle system is free (included in the park entrance fee of $10/person or $20/car at the time of this writing; see the National Parks System site for more details). It is also pleasantly open air and easy to hop on and off.
Even if you’re just visiting the park for a day, some other things you may want to add to your “to pack” list:
- An extra memory card for your digital camera or extra film
- Plenty of battery power for your camera
- Sunscreen (frequently apply SPF 30 or higher throughout the day)
- Plenty of water for everyone in your party
- change of clothes (shorts/slacks, t-shirt/sweater, socks) for variable conditions
A “don’t miss” feature of Yosemite National Park is its Giant Sequoia groves. There are three separate groves: the Mariposa, Tuolumne and Merced. The Mariposa Grove is the most popular and is the largest, too, containing about 500 mature trees. (Giant Sequoias are also known as Sierra Redwoods, but should not to be confused with the Coastal Redwood found in a separate range along the state’s coast.) There is limited parking at the Mariposa Grove, and you should plan your visit for either early morning or mid-to-late afternoon. During summer months and spring and fall weekends, the Grove parking lot is usually full by 10:00am, and parking often doesn’t open up again until after 3:00pm. A free shuttle bus runs from the Wawona Store to the Grove during the peak summer season.