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Yosemite National Park is a massive national park, with 95% designated as a wilderness area, covering over 761,266 acres in several counties in east central California. Over 3.5 million people visit this park every year to see its stunning beauty. Its main attractions are its amazing granite cliffs, waterfalls, pristine streams, Giant Sequoia groves and stunning biological diversity.
Resting across the Sierra Nevada Mountains the elevation ranges from 600 to 4,000 metres (2,000 feet to 13,114 feet ), which covers 5 distinct major vegetation zones. If looking for the drive by experience, car camping fun or the intense back country hiking and rock climbing Yosemite National Park has something for any outdoorsy junkie. Remember to watch out for black bears.
The park consists of 5 areas: the Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Road/Area, Tioga Road and Tuolumne Meadows, Wawona and Hetch Hetchy (the least visited).
For more information about the Yosemite National Park, visit the official Yosemite NP website.
Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours and 365 days a year. Although the best climbing is during the summer and there are many other activities which are best undertaken in the main season which runs from May to October. Note that some roads like the Tioga Road (over the 10,000 feet high Tioga Pass) and the Glacier Point Road are generally closed from November to May. After heavy snowfall in winter, sometimes the Tioga Pass opens even somewhere in late June.
The Bridalveil Falls, together with the Yosemite Falls, are the most important waterfalls in the park. The Bridalveil falls are almost 200 metres high and are one of the most characteristic sights in the park. The Yosemite Falls are one of the highest waterfalls in the world with a total drop of over 700 metres and a single drop of over 400 metres! The Bridalveil Falls might be lower (188 metres) but are just as beautiful. Other waterfalls include the Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls. Most of the waterfalls are most impressive in spring and early summer, when most of the snow is melting. By late August, some of the falls are sometimes not more than trickle.
With over 800 miles (1300 kilometres) of trails open to hikers there is plenty to walk, crawl or jump to. The park is open from late spring to early fall for multi-day back country backpacking trips, which requires a permit. Remember black bears are a big issue if planing to overnight camp. There are several books on different trail options and park rangers can be a great resource.
If you plan to hike 'the Beast' (Half Dome) you have quite an adventure ahead of you! You truly won't regret it as it will most likely be one of the most rewarding accomplishments you will ever acheive.
Choosing the time of year to hike Half Dome is an important decision to make. The last 700 yards (550 metres) of the trail consist of a steep incline by way of a series of cables. Since the cables go up in May, it is recommended going as soon as they are up so you don't find yourself hiking on an extremely hot summer day! If you have a choice, make your hike day during the week as the crowds can be thick on the weekend and it's not uncommon to have to wait at the bottom of the cables for up to an hour! This means less time at the summit.
The Half Dome trail is about 17 miles round-trip with an elevation gain of 4,800 feet (8,824 feet at the summit), and will take you approixmately 12 hours. If you have the opportunity, it is recommended to go training (and training hard) 2-4 months before you hit the trail. Find some local trails to hike (at least 8 miles or 13 kilometres long) a minimum of once per week. Trails in the mountains above 3000 feet (1000 metres) elevation are ideal as Yosemite is at a higher elevation and you want to be somewhat accustomed to the thinner air. You might even want to do some light weights for the biceps and forearms (tennis ball squeezes for these are good) to prepare for the cables.
Starting early is very wise as you are able to beat any crowd that might be on the trail that day, as well as the 'heat of the day'. Somewhere around or 4 or 5am is perfect. If you are going to get up this early, it is recommend to stay at Curry Village as it is only a half a mile hike to the Happy Isles trailhead. Otherwise, you have to wait until 7am to catch the shuttle!
Things to consider packing in your day bag are water, a lunch, plenty of healthy snacks, water, sunscreen, zip off hiking pants, a second pair of socks, water, a hat, a light jacket, your camera, moleskin (for blisters), a plastic bag for your trash (What you pack in, pack out. You might also encounter some on the trail), a flashlight, and some water.
Take 5-10 minute rests along the way (as needed, or every 20-30 minutes), preferrably with your boots off and feet elevated. When you come across the streams dip your feet it as it feels amazing on your hot, tired feet! Once at the top: take in the view and enjoy! Fire away on the camera from mutliple angles as you don't want to forget what you saw up there. It's recommended to take a few photos with you on the diving board. It always makes for a good shot.
Once you've returned to the bottom, you have to stop by a gift shop and pick up the 'I Made it to the Top of Half Dome' t-shirt! You've got bragging rights now, so you might as well soak it all in.
Cycling is an option on all park roads and cycling trails from spring to fall. Helmets are required for all people under 18. Off trail riding is illegal in the park.
Rock climbing is one of the main activities in Yosemite. Climbing is common during the snow-free months on almost anything that can support a person no matter how short or tall.
Badger Pass Ski Area is a sky resort located in the park. It is open every winter and has some very nice skiing at it.
Even from the closest airports one still has to drive several hours to Yosemite. Therefore it might be better to fly into San Francisco or Sacramento and then drive to the park. Both airports, especially San Francisco have many connections, some of them international.
There are four main entrances to Yosemite and driving is by far the easiest way to get to Yosemite. Although there are several state and federal highways that will get you to the park there is no direct interstate highway to the park. If coming from the north or west it is best to approach on either Highway 140 or Highway 120, taking the Arch Rock Entrance or Big Oak Flat Entrance (Highway 20 West). If coming from the south take Highway 41 (South Entrance) or Highway 120. Parts of Highway 120 close down from late october to early June/late May and the Tioga Pass entrance (coming from the east) is usually closed that time. For more information look at Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System.
Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) provides buses to and from the nearby city of Merced. It is possible to take Amtrak Trains or Greyhound buses to Merced, then jump on a YARTS bus to Yosemite.
There are several restaurants located near the lodges in the park ranging in style and price. Once outside of that area remember to bring your food with you. Black bears are extremely active in this area so do not leave food out unattended unless in a bear safe container. For cheaper groceries it is best to buy it outside of the park to save money.
The only places to drink are at hotel bars and they are expensive. It is best to bring your own booze with you.
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For more options it's best to check one of the nearest villages and towns, like Fish Camp, Oakhurst, Mariposa, Midpines, Briceburg, El Portal and Groveland. Mariposa is the nicest town with decent accommodation options and plenty of choice regarding food and drinks.
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