The Best Things to do in Yosemite National Park

The Top 15 Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

It’s no secret that a trip to Yosemite National Park is near the top of almost every traveler’s bucket list! Home to the tallest waterfall in North America, the towering granite slabs of Half Dome and El Capitan, and the giant sequoia trees of Mariposa Grove, this park boasts beauty around every corner. 

Sure, it’s crowded – especially if you’re visiting in the summer – but it’s well worth braving the crowds to glimpse some of the most beautiful natural wonders in the United States. 

Yosemite is obviously a super popular place for outdoor enthusiasts. You can easily spend days, or even weeks, hiking to the top of Half Dome, kayaking in the crystal clear waters of Tenaya Lake, or taking in the valley views from Tunnel View. From hiking to stargazing to climbing, the options are endless!

When you need a break from the action, you can have a scenic picnic while gazing up at El Capitan or go road tripping on the impossibly scenic Tioga Road. Plus, you’ll find plenty of galleries, museums, bars, and eateries surrounding the park, where you can take a breather and rest up for yet another action-packed day in Yosemite. 

With so many incredible things to see and do, you might not know where to begin. So we’ve compiled our list of the absolute best things to do in Yosemite National Park for you. Stick to these fun and unique Yosemite bucket list recommendations, and there’s no doubt you’ll have an amazing time exploring this naturally beautiful national park!

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The 15 Best Things to Do in Yosemite National Park

1. Hike to the Top of Half Dome

Unique Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Half Dome

Hiking to the top of Half Dome is easily one of the coolest things to do in Yosemite. Yes, it’s challenging and should only be attempted by experienced hikers. But if you’re up for tackling this epic hike, you’ll be rewarded with memories that will last a lifetime! 

The most popular way to reach the top of Yosemite’s most iconic landmark is via the 17-mile out-and-back trail, which takes you from the valley floor up to an elevation of 4,800 feet! Along the way, you’ll pass towering sequoias, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and so much more. 

The hike takes roughly 9 to 12 hours to complete. At the top, you’ll have to pull yourself up Half Dome’s steep granite walls using steel cables – so be prepared for the challenge!

It’s important to note that you do need a permit to hike Half Dome. Permits are issued via a preseason lottery on this website. The park only issues 225 hiking permits a day, so snagging one can be a challenge. 

If hiking’s not your thing or you can’t get a permit, you can always take in stunning views of Half Dome from Tunnel View, Mirror Lake, or Glacier Point!

2. Take in the Yosemite Valley Views from Tunnel View

Yosemite National Park Bucket List: Yosemite Valley Views from Tunnel View

If you’re looking for the best view in the park, a drive to Tunnel View needs to be at the top of your Yosemite bucket list. The viewpoint area is located on State Route 41, just east of the Wawona Tunnel portal. There is parking available, so you can get out, stretch your legs, and take as many photos of the incredible valley as you’d like!

Overlooking the lush Yosemite Valley, you’ll have the chance to glimpse Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, and Half Dome. If you’re into photography, you’ll definitely want to bring your camera and tripod along to capture incredible shots. This is actually the exact spot where landscape photographer Ansel Adams captured his iconic photograph, Thunderstorm, Yosemite Valley.

The best time to visit Tunnel View is in the early spring when the water flow at Bridalveil Fall is at its height. Alternately, seeing the valley and domes dusted in snow in the winter months is also incredible!

3. Go Stargazing at Glacier Point

What to do in Yosemite National Park: Stargazing at Glacier Point

You won’t find an actual glacier at Glacier Point, but that doesn’t mean this popular spot should be skipped over! Glacier Point was actually the site of a glacier millions of years ago. Today, the 7,000-foot-high point overlooks an incredible glacier-carved valley and offers some of the most jaw-dropping views in all of Yosemite. 

If this is your first time in Yosemite, you should definitely head here during the day to take in the valley views and glimpse the iconic Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. But if you have a chance to visit at night, you won’t be disappointed! 

Visit on a clear, dark night, and you’ll be amazed by the sheer number of stars you can see. This is also a prime spot to do some night photography and capture incredible shots of the star-speckled Milky Way. Be sure to bundle up, though, because it does get cold at Glacier Point at night.

4. Take a Hike to Yosemite Falls

Fun Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Hike to Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is such a spectacle you’ll spot it from all sorts of viewpoints around Yosemite National Park. It’s almost impossible to go to Yosemite and not glimpse this 2,425-foot cascade. The magnificent falls are actually made up of three waterfalls that combine to form one of the tallest waterfalls in the world and the tallest in North America!  

For some of the coolest views of the falls, it’s well worth hiking to Yosemite Falls. If you’re up for the challenge, you can hike all the way to the top of the falls via the 7.2-mile round-trip Yosemite Falls Trail. The trail is challenging and takes around 6 to 8 hours to complete, but you’ll be rewarded with stunning vistas along the way. 

If you don’t have the energy to make it all the way to the top, you can take a moderate 2- or 3-hour hike along the trail to Columbia Rock, where you can enjoy beautiful views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and Sentinel Rock.

5. Check out the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove

Yosemite National Park Bucket List: Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove

Spending some time meandering around Mariposa Grove is easily one of the top things to do in Yosemite. The area is home to 500 towering sequoia trees that will leave you in awe. 

The largest (and most famous) of the trees are given names like Fallen Monarch, Faithful Couple, and Clothespin Tree. If you want to check out Mariposa Grove’s most famous inhabitants, head over to the ultra-popular Big Trees Trail. 

The most famous attraction in Mariposa Grove is the Grizzly Giant. It stands proud as one of the 10 oldest trees in the United States and is one of the largest in the grove. Plus, this incredible sequoia is estimated to be 2,995 years old (give or take 250 years)!

If you have time, be sure to check out the California Tunnel Tree, which you can walk through. If you want to see all of Mariposa Grove’s star attractions, take the 7-mile loop trail, which leads from the shuttle area to Wawona Point.

Book a Yosemite trip with a tour group!

6. See Endless Groves of Wildflowers in Tuolumne Meadows

Yosemite National Park Things to do: Tuolumne Meadows

If you’re just looking to get away from it all, Tuolumne Meadows is the perfect place. Extending for two miles along the Tuolumne River, Tuolumne Meadows is the largest subalpine meadow in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, and it’s brimming with natural beauty! 

Explore the area, and you’ll find pristine alpine lakes, scenic hiking trails, and epic views of the area’s granite domes and towering peaks. Whether you want to camp, hike, or raft, this is the place to go if you want to be surrounded by nature. Plus, this part of Yosemite sees far fewer visitors than some of the more touristy parts, so you are sure to get some peace and quiet.

Tuolumne Meadows is only open from late spring or early summer until the fall and is closed in the winter months. If you want to glimpse the meadow’s famous wildflowers, it’s best to visit as early in the season as possible. Trust us, it’s worth timing your trip to see the flower-filled landscape!

7. Stroll to the Base of Bridalveil Fall

Cool Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Bridalveil Fall

Marveling at Bridalveil Fall is hands down one of the top things to do in Yosemite. While the gushing 620-foot cascade is simply stunning from a distance, you should definitely take the time to stroll to the base of the fall. 

You can walk to the base of Bridalveil Fall year-round. But the cascade is most impressive in the spring and early summer when the water flow is at its strongest. But no matter when you visit, it’s a sight to behold! 

You can start the easy journey at the Bridalveil Fall Parking Area. Here you’ll find the .5-mile (round-trip) paved trail, which will lead you to the base of the thundering waterfall. The entire journey will only take about 20 minutes and is perfect for visitors of all ages.

Do note that no matter when you visit, you will get wet from all the powerful mist – so be prepared! Plus, conditions can get pretty icy and slippery in the winter months. 

8. Hit the Slopes at the Badger Pass Ski Area

Yosemite National Park Things to do: Badger Pass Ski Area

If you’re visiting during the winter and are looking for an adrenaline-pumping activity, pay a visit to the Badger Pass Ski Area. Badger Pass just happens to be the oldest ski area in California!

The park is small, with 88 acres of groomed ski area, 10 ski runs, and five chairlifts, but there’s plenty of snow-filled fun to have! Plus, there’s a terrain park where you can hone your skills. 

Families with little ones can go tubing in the tubing area or sign their kids up for ski lessons at the Yosemite Winter Sports School. There are also plenty of cross-country skiing and snowshoeing opportunities in the Crane Flat area. 

Don’t worry if you didn’t bring your own gear. You can rent everything from snowshoes to snowboards at the Badger Pass Ski Area Nordic Center.  Or, if you just feel like chilling, you can hang out and watch skiers and snowboarders glide down the powdery slopes from the sundeck at the historic lodge.

9. Snap a (Safe) Selfie at Taft Point

Unique Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Selfie at Taft Point

There’s no shortage of amazing viewpoints in Yosemite National Park. If you’re looking for amazing views without the hordes of crowds, Taft Point easily offers one of the best views in the park. If you do plan on hiking to (and taking photos from) Taft Point, it’s important to always exercise the utmost caution and common sense in order to stay safe. 

Located just west of Glacier Point, you can follow the Taft Point trailhead for about one mile. Along the way, you’ll pass giant fissures that are carved into the mile-high granite rock. Some of these drop all the way to the valley floor, so be careful not to come too close to the edge. 

Once you reach the viewpoint, you’ll be treated to sweeping views of Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan. From the viewpoint, it is a sheer 3,500-foot drop to the valley floor. While there is a rather flimsy old metal railing, it goes without saying that you should enjoy the views at a safe distance from the edge!

10. Go Kayaking on Picture-Perfect Tenaya Lake

Must do things in Yosemite National Park: Tenaya Lake

Located at an elevation of 8,150 feet, Tenaya Lake is one of the best things to see in Yosemite. Created by the Tenaya Glacier, the beautiful body of water is surrounded by conifer tree-studded granite formations and towering peaks, creating a truly stunning setting. 

There’s a reason it’s known as the “Jewel of the High Country.” Plus, Tenaya Lake is conveniently located off of Tioga Pass Road, so it’s a must-see attraction if you plan to drive along Yosemite’s most scenic road.

One of the coolest things about Tenaya Lake is that its pristine waters are prime for watersports. Depending on when the snow melts, the lake is usually accessible from June to October.

While kayaking the crystal clear blue waters is the most popular activity, you can also go swimming, fishing, and paddleboarding on the lake. If watersports aren’t your thing, there are plenty of scenic hiking trails and picnic spots in the area. Or you can always just sunbathe on the beach!

11. Go Chasing Waterfalls on Mist Trail

What to do in Yosemite National Park: Chasing Waterfalls on Mist Trail

If hiking to incredible waterfalls is your thing, Mist Trail needs to be at the top of your Yosemite bucket list. While this is one of the more popular hikes in the park, it’s well worth braving the crowds to get up close and personal with some of Yosemite’s most beautiful waterfalls!

We highly recommend completing the entire hike, but you don’t have to if you don’t want to. For a shorter hike, you can follow Mist Trail for 1.2 miles (one-way) to the top of the 317-foot Vernal Fall. 

If you’ve got the energy, the 594-foot Nevada Fall is another 1.5 miles down the trail. After that, continue along the John Muir Trail, and you’ll be rewarded with amazing views of Nevada Fall and Liberty Dome. The John Muir Trail will lead you back to the start of Mist Trail. 

If you do complete this whole hike, it’s a 5.5-mile round-trip hike and should take you 3 to 6 hours. Be sure to bring plenty of water and snacks because this hike is strenuous!

12. Take a Scenic Drive on Tioga Road

Cool Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Drive on Tioga Road

Once you need a break from all the hiking, take an unforgettable drive along Tioga Pass. Known as one of the most scenic roads in the US national parks system, Tioga Pass is one of the top things to do in Yosemite!

Tioga Pass will take you from the base of Yosemite Valley at 4,000 feet of elevation up to 9,945 feet above sea level. It actually happens to be the highest highway pass in the Sierra Nevada! Set along State Route 120, this road is also the eastern entry point for Yosemite National Park. 

The road runs for 67.3 miles, from Lee Vining to Big Oak Flat. Along the way, you can spot towering sequoias at Mariposa Grove and Tuolumne Grove, photograph fields of wildflowers at Lukens Lake and Tuolumne Meadows, take in stunning views of Yosemite Valley from Olmsted Point, take a dip in the pristine waters of Tenaya Lake, and so much more!

 If you do plan to drive Tioga Pass, do note that the road is closed during the winter due to snowfall.

13. Marvel at El Capitan

Must do things in Yosemite National Park: El Capitan

Visiting El Capitan is a must if this is your first trip to Yosemite! This iconic granite monolith towers at 3,000 feet and is easily one of the top Yosemite attractions. 

First and foremost, El Capitan is most famous as a rock climbing spot. It was also the subject of the documentary Free Solo, which documented Alex Honnold as he became the first person to ever climb El Capitan rope-free! 

El Capitan is so massive you can spot it from popular viewpoints like Glacier Point, Taft Point, and Sentinel Dome. But if you want to get up close and personal with the natural wonder, head straight to El Capitan Meadow. 

Not only will you get unobstructed views of El Capitan, but you can even touch its surface if you want! This spot is best visited during sunset when its surface is bathed in beautiful hues of pink and orange. It’s also a prime spot for a picnic if you’re in need of a relaxing break.

14. Check Out Original Photos at Ansel Adams Gallery

Unique Things to do in Yosemite National Park: Ansel Adams Gallery

It’s no secret that some of Ansel Adams’ most iconic photographs were captured in Yosemite National Park, including dramatic shots of Half Dome, Bridalveil Falls, and the Yosemite Valley. But what many don’t know is that Adams had a close relationship with Yosemite. 

He was given his first camera during a trip to Yosemite when he was just 12 years old. Later, he spent years working as a caretaker of the former Sierra Club’s LeConte Memorial Lodge (now the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center), where his love of photography and passion for environmental conservation grew. 

If you’re a fan of Adams’ iconic black and white photographs, be sure to stop off at the Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Village. Peruse the intimate shop, and you’ll find original photos by Adams, as well as reproductions, handcrafts, and much more. Depending on when you visit, there will likely be a special temporary exhibit at the museum.  

15. Dine With a View at The Mountain Room Restaurant & Lounge

After an adventure-filled day hiking, biking, and sightseeing in Yosemite National Park, treat yourself to an epic dining experience at The Mountain Room

Located in the iconic Yosemite Valley Lodge, the restaurant offers unobstructed views of the 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls! But be sure to make reservations for the waterfall-view tables well in advance because they are highly coveted. In addition to views, the restaurant serves up incredible steaks, sustainably caught seafood dishes, and a range of excellent vegetarian options.

For something more casual or for an after-dinner drink, head over to the lounge next door. This is a great place to sip a Moscow Muir or Glacier Martini while roasting marshmallows around the Swedish-style fireplace. 

In the summer months, you’ll definitely want to enjoy your post-hike drinks on the seasonal patio and take in the nature views. It’s the perfect way to end a perfect day in Yosemite!

There you have it! The 15 best things to do in Yosemite National. What’s your favorite thing to do in Yosemite?

Planning a trip to Yosemite National Park? Check out our favorite books and travel guides!


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