Yosemite National Park Viewpoints: See and Do Famous Things

A picturesque National Park and a must-see for any high-country nature lover. This well known landscape is home to some of the tallest waterfalls, sheerest granite cliffs, and endless panoramic views. The High Sierra and Yosemite National Park Viewpoints are famous around the world.

In this post, I will share my top 5 favorite Yosemite National Park Viewpoints and 11 tips for making sure you see these famous sights! Continue reading for information that most of the visitor guides won’t tell you…

Famous Yosemite National Park Viewpoints

Some of the best views in all of North America live in Yosemite National Park. Let’s take a look at 10 places you absolutely can not miss on your visit!

  • Bridalveil Fall
  • El Capitan Meadow
  • Glacier Point
  • Lower Yosemite Falls
  • Mirror Lake
  • Nevada Falls
  • Taft Point
  • Tenaya Lake
  • Tunnel View
  • Tuolumne Meadows
OlmsteadPointSunset

Tips & Tricks for Seeing Yosemite National Park Viewpoints

One of the most popular National Parks in North America can get busy! Aside from traveling to Yosemite in the winter season, here are 11 tips for experiencing all of the famous Yosemite National Park Viewpoints with little hassle.

Get Gas Beforehand

Fill up your gas tank, and even some gas cans if you have room, BEFORE you enter the park. There are a few gas stations in the park, however, gas will cost you nearly a dollar more a gallon than just a few miles out from the park entrance.

Also, it’s important to note that many of Yosemite National Park viewpoints will be multiple miles away from one another, deep into the park. For example, when we drove from our campsite at Tuolumne Meadows down to the Valley Visitor Center it took us an hour and thirty minutes, minimum, but often more with camper and RV traffic! So chances are you will need to get gas in the park at least once.

Utilize Public Transport and Shuttles

Public Transportation inside the park is a good way to save on gas, parking struggles, and occasionally, traffic. In the valley the shuttle is free and if you take a look right HERE, you can see which lines stop where at what time of year! In much of the valley there is a bus only lane which is helpful for traffic purposes, however, be warned that in the summer months you may wait for 2 or 3 buses to load and/or drive by already full before boarding a bus to your destination.

There is also a Tuolumne Shuttle that runs between Tuolumne Meadows and Olmsted Point every half hour between 7 am and 7 pm. This shuttle is not free, it can cost anywhere from $1 to $18. For someone with a “gas-guzzling” vehicle such as a diesel truck or a camper/RV, you could certainly benefit from taking the shuttle around Tioga Road in place of driving it!

There will be times when public transportation is the only way to get to a point; for example, when we tried to go to Glacier Point they were only allowing buses. We wanted to hike Taft Point and Sentinel Dome before driving over to Glacier Point, however, so after speaking to the right people we were allowed to drive ourselves to the trailhead.

IMG_5259.JPG
Such a Busy Summer Day Required Public Transportation ONLY to Glacier Point

Be Prepared for Campfire Cookin’

The campgrounds have fire pits, bear ‘lockers’, and picnic tables at each site. Any of the fire pits that experienced also had a grate for grilling on it.

I wish I could have been more prepared for cooking over the fire (tin foil, BBQ tongs, etc.); I love myself a good s’more and I didn’t get to eat one on my entire trip because I didn’t know that I would have been able to.

Also, know that the bear lockers are large and provide more than ample space to conceal all of your scented goods. Bringing some kind of item to organize your belongings in the locker might make your stay even more enjoyable and efficient

Avoid Traffic

Traffic patterns in Yosemite can be a pain in the butt. The valley area especially, on a beautiful late summer day, is bumper to bumper. With people trying to pull into parking lots that are full and zipping in and out of potential spots on the side of the road while taking in the jaw-dropping view, I’m shocked there aren’t more accidents .  

So needless to say, it’s a shit show, but you can pretty much avoid it if you travel to the valley at or before 8AM. Find a parking spot central to where you want to explore and leave your car right there for the day. We left Tuolumne Meadows before 6 AM on the morning we wanted to hike Vernal and Nevada Falls and it was STILL jam packed when we got to the valley.

Don’t Have A Plan for Every Day

Have a plan for some days but leave a few days open to explore places you stumble upon or hear about from people you meet. The plan is a necessity for big driving days such as heading from Tuolumne Meadows to Glacier Point or Yosemite Valley but after talking to people on our travels I am so glad we left days open to suggestions or to simply just explore what we found off the side of the road.

CatLAKES.jpg
This Beauty Was an Unplanned Hike that Someone Suggested to us!

Book Your Campsite Ahead of Time

Want to secure a campsite or a wilderness permit? Know where you’ll be staying and for how long with no hassle? Make sure you do so 6 months in advance to the day.

Have everything ready to be submitted and send it over at midnight to greatly improve your chances of having exactly what you want during your stay. We tried for a wilderness permit about 4 and a half months in advance and we were turned down; we also wound up having to rely on first come first serve camping which turned out just fine, but not without a few bumps in the road (see the next talking point)

First Come First Serve Camping

First come first serve campsites can be tricky. We learned this first hand. Do not expect to arrive at noon on a summers day and still be able to snag a space; if you do you just might be one in a million.

After just missing a spot on Thursday, I arrived at the Ranger Station at 4:45AM to be met with a line 5 groups deep already! Isn’t that nuts? Bring a camp chair or a crash pad because I was the only unprepared individual sleeping on the blacktop, in my camp blanket with my head on my backpack for a pillow; everyone else was comfortable and warm.

Bring breakfast, light reading, snacks, trail maps for planning, etc. because you will sit there for a long time. At 9 AM the ranger(s) will show up and give away available sites to the first groups. Anyone who didn’t make the first cut will place their name on a list to return at 2:00 PM for any sites that become available throughout the day and don’t fret, this is a majority of people.

Make sure you show up by 1:45; once your parties name is called you have about 30 seconds to respond before the ranger moves down the list. Also remember that not all campsites are open all year-round, or even a majority of the year! There were 3 different campsites that we had expected to be open that were still closed due to snow the second week in August!

WaitingForASite
Tuolumne Meadows Ranger Station, approx 7:00 AM, Reading my Book & Waiting for a Site

Bring Layers

Night time in Yosemite (Tuolumne Meadows especially) is COLD in the summer. Considering you can spend your daytime sweating through a tank top and shorts in early August, in night time we bundled up with all we had.

Being from the North East, we are generally very prepared for cold weather, especially chilly summer nights but didn’t think to pack for nights in the high 30Fs. For example, I would wear my warmest camp socks, sweatpants, a t-shirt, flannel, vest, and raincoat with my headband over my ears for warmth at night, and if I wasn’t near the fire, I was cold. 

I’ve since learned from my first National Parks trip and always bring my packable down coat!

Take a Swim

After a hot day of dirt and hiking, find a stream, river or lake to cool off and defunk in. We spent each of our four nights ‘bathing’ in Tenaya Lake, a short 20-minute drive from the Tuolumne Campgrounds.

We would often set up our hammock, or bring our Jetboil for dinner and enjoy a beautiful sunset while freshening up before a much-needed nights rest. If you park in the pull off on the road on the North East side of the lake and walk along the beach back through the woods you can easily find a more secluded section of the beach to set up at for a swim and dinner with a view.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
Not a Bad View for a Post-Hike Bathing Session

Talk to Park Employees!

Utilize the parks employees! At each welcome center, there are knowledgeable individuals just oozing information. Tell them what you’re looking for and they can provide you with a number of ideas for your best day yet.

At many of the popular trailheads during the busy season, PSAR (Preventative Search and Rescue) volunteers can be found as well; although they’re there to prevent illness and injury they are also full of pertinent information so ask away.

Give Hitchiking A Go!

Don’t be afraid to hitchhike if your happiness and well-being depend on it. We saw plenty of bilaterally abducted thumbs, signs, you name it! We helped out two guys after a long day of climbing who needed to return to their car and they were great conversationalists; just be cautious!

IMG_5380.JPG
Lembert Dome, Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park

If you have additional questions about this stunning natural wonderland, please don’t hesitate to ask in the comments below! 

Save these suggestions for later, click the photo below to PIN ME! 

Published by Kaitlyn Fortier

Hello everybody! My name is Kaitlyn Fortier. I'm a Middle School Teacher and 3-season Athletics coach in Central New York. I utilize this platform to share actionable tips, 'best-of' lists, and budget-friendly travel guides for explorers of all travel interests.

30 thoughts on “Yosemite National Park Viewpoints: See and Do Famous Things

  1. I knew Yosemite was crowded, but dang! I would love to visit but have always been so hesitant due to the overcrowding and horrible traffic. Thank you for these tips, I will certainly take them into consideration when I finally make my visit.

      1. Thanks for the advice! I’m really not a crowd person and usually go out into nature partially to get away from people haha I have been debating visiting in the “off” season, though I know the park has pretty steady traffic year round.

      2. I also hate the idea of ‘nature’ being crowded… and was fairly unhappy at first but there’s so much to do that isn’t crowded. It’s just the iconic items that you kind of have to see it at least drive past that are unbelievable.

      3. It is hard to fault people for wanting to see the same beautiful places haha But yeah, it’s a good idea to at least see those points of interest but mostly explore and stay in the less crowded places. And I definitely agree about leaving time open for recommendations and spur of the moment options, I’m such a planner and I’m trying to be more spontaneous on my trips.

  2. These are all amazing tips. I new it got packed but not to the point of very ling lines. I guess its always worth it. The parl looks majestically beautiful. Can’t wait to visit one day. Now I know for sure to plan way in advanced.

  3. Very helpful post! I haven’t been to Yosemite yet, but I always appreciate resources with practical advice like this 🙂 I’ve heard the traffic is a nightmare in some of the parks now, so your tips on gas and transportation are very helpful!

    1. A nightmare might actually be an understatement. Well worth it since it truly is such a majestic park and can really be done on a budget though!! If you take one thing out of my post, it’s drive anywhere busy as early as you can muster and enjoy it as early in the day as you can. Then you can retired to your less crowded space up on Tioga Road and enjoy Yosemite’s Wild Places!

  4. I always appreciate resources with practical tips like this.I will definitely take them into consideration when I make my visit.

  5. Funny, the first time I heard about Yosemite was when my Mac updated.. But since then, I have learned so much about the place. It’s really one of the places that I need to visit if I ever go to the US (I love nature). Thanks for sharing!

  6. Really crowded, it is definitely on my places to visit. thank you for the tips will use whenever i decide to go.

  7. I lived in Sonora CA for many years, not far from Yosemite. I have so many fond memories of the park having spent so much time there. It’s a place to get lost. One of my favorite places. In fact I’ts now my son’s annual destination for his family vacation with his wife and two boys. Yosemite, it seems is a family tradition LOL.

  8. Some friends and I have been wanting to do this trip for some time now. Lots of great tips to consider when we eventually get to planning this.

  9. Very helpful and practical tips there Kati, I have only seen and read/heard about Yosemite National park in books, but I do hope I get to see it in reality soon enough and your tips would be really handy then.

  10. A visit to Yosemite Park is on every body’s to do list. Yet one is not too sure what to look for when one gets there. It is good to know there are knowledgeable employees available who can dispense valuable advice and provide search and rescue services if needed. Access to food is also important when making a trip of this nature so it is good to be assured of campgrounds with necessary fire pits, bear‘lockers’, and picnic tables at each site as well as lockers to organize your belongings.

  11. It’s so pretty there! This is the kind of trip that I would love except the crowd.

  12. Wow! These are all such useful tips. I have never been to Yosemite but your post interests me to plan a Yosemite trip. Looks like an adventurous trip. Thanks for sharing.

  13. Yosemite is a nature lovers paradise, heaven on earth. There so much to do, El Capitan, Half Dome, the High Sierra and Yosemite Falls my personal favorite and more. Thanks for the pointers on how to best enjoy Yosemite, first-timers will surely appreciate having this knowledge.

  14. This sounds amazing! The crowds are discouraging but my goodness….the photos are experiences sound fantastic.

Share your thoughts

%d bloggers like this: