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Tips for Visiting Yosemite, Yosemite Hikes, Restaurants in Yosemite

10 Tips for Visiting Yosemite National Park

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My earliest memories of family travel are camping trips. My parents never told my brother and me in advance. One summer day, we’re off with camping gear and food in the car for a few nights at one of California’s national parks. I didn’t realize it then, but looking at Google maps today, these national parks were only four or five hours away. I clearly remember the tall trees, cool water, and crisp fresh air. It was so fun to sleep in a tent and go exploring on the trails.

My wife and I have taken our two kids to Yosemite National Park more than any other park over the years and continue to return. 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.

Here are 10 tips for visiting Yosemite National Park. Almost all of the links below are to the official National Park Service websites.

1. America the Beautiful Pass

The cost of entering Yosemite is $30 per vehicle, and the pass is good for seven days. If you plan to visit three national parks in a calendar year, it’s worth buying the America the Beautiful pass for $80. You can buy it in person at a Federal recreation site, by calling 1-888-ASK-USGS, Ext. 3, or online. I bought my mom a lifetime senior pass for only $20. What a great reason and opportunity for our kids to take a vacation with their grandparents.

Read more >> How to Save on National Park Visits

2. Free National Park Days

Every year, there are about 10 Free Entrance Days in the National Parks. You are probably wondering: Will it be crowded? Should I save $30 and visit a Yosemite on a free day or pay to go when there are fewer people? If you want to avoid the crowds, it’s better not to visit on a free day. We’ve gone to Muir Woods National Park closer to home on the free national park days with other options in nearby San Francisco in case Muir Woods gets too crowded.

3. When to Visit

Yosemite is most popular during the summer months, but that’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 which roads are open and when. 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 ahead as early as possible. Staying near Yosemite during summer months requires early booking.

4. Where to Stay Near Yosemite

There are plenty of options for places to stay near Yosemite. Hilton Stockton, hotels in Modesto and even Hilton Sacramento Arden West are all good options to stay before, during, or after visiting Yosemite. As mentioned below, Fresno is another good option near public transportation to the park.

5. Taking the Bus to Yosemite

The drive into Yosemite is as spectacular as any national park. The summer months, however, are very popular so traffic and parking can be an issue. The National Park Service offers great transportation options not only in the park but to Yosemite. You can a take a shuttle bus to Yosemite for a fee and easily get around the valley with the free shuttle service. Check out the National Park Service transportation options.

Fresno is the easiest city with public transportation to Yosemite to find multiple Hilton hotel options. 

6. Food and Bears

Bears have amazing noses. The National Park Service has warnings everywhere about storing food inside locked containers outside of your tent or cabin or car. Yes, car! Do not leave food in the car. Bears will find that bag of chips and rip open your door. This also means to be careful about having food inside your tent if you are camping. There are storage lockers at every camp site.  

7. Yosemite Hikes

We love Yosemite for the hiking. There is a hike for every age group and ability. 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 difficult 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. Check out this great website of hikes, distances, and degree of difficulty.

Visiting Yosemite, Yosemite hikes - Mist Trail

For one of the best Yosemite hikes, take a three-mile walk on the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls.

8. Restaurants in Yosemite

There are plenty of restaurant options in Yosemite. Our family has had dinner twice at the Majestic Yosemite dining room. Set in a large, open, and rustic space, this restaurant serves up contemporary dishes. Dinner was excellent both times we visited, and it has a great children’s menu. I consider it one of our special occasion places.

For mid-range options, try the Yosemite restaurants at Half Dome Village. There is something for everyone at the Pizza Deck, Meadow Grill, or the Half Dome Village Pavilion. There is also a grocery store to stock up on food. See all of your options in the valley here.

Visiting Yosemite Restaurants - Majestic Yosemite

There are plenty of restaurants in Yosemite to choose from.

9. Cellular Networks

If you have a hard time putting your cell phone down, Yosemite is a great place to do it. The reception in the valley is really spotty. Take a break. Unplug and connect with family members. If you must, the Majestic Yosemite has wi-fi in the common areas.

10. 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 special places that remind us of our responsibilities 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. 

Read more >> Green Travel Tips

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Eugene lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. He and his wife have taken their two children to over 10 countries for work and vacation. Eugene is…

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