Yosemite National Park has been a national treasure for over 125 years. It is the natural creation of glaciers grinding over and through granite creating spectacular mountains and valleys in the Sierra Nevada. Scattered throughout the rock are waterfalls, and beautiful meadows amidst the forests. These ancient giant sequoias stand in striking contrast to the vibrantly blue lakes and gray-white rock. The most well-known feature of Yosemite is Half Dome, a massive granite rock face that is sheet on one site and sloped enough for hiking on the other.
Ansel Adams produced the most famous photography of Yosemite beginning in 1927 with the now iconic image of Half Dome. He called the valley "a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space." A gallery of his works can be found in Yosemite Village.
Visitors can explore hundreds of miles of trails on foot, horseback, cross country skis or snowshoes. Backpackers can extend their stay in the remote corners of the park. The Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias near the southern entrance is a very popular sightseeing attraction. During 2015 and 2016 the grove will undergo restoration work, limiting access but ensuring the survival of the trees.
Over 95% of Yosemite National Park is designated as Wilderness, meaning no permanent structures or other services are allowed. If you like roughing it, heading into this undiscovered section of the park opens up hundreds of square miles of pristine terrain linked by a comprehensive network of trails. Trails continue into the surrounding backcountry areas, including the Emigrant, Hoover, and Ansel Adams Wilderness Areas and the Sierra, Inyo, Toiyabe, and Stanislaus National Forests.
A free backcountry permit is required for overnight stays in Yosemite. Permits are limited and in high demand. Reservations can be made, but the park also reserves 40% of availability to give out on a first-come, first-served basis each day.
For those less inclined to trek the wilderness there is the Tioga Road, a 39 mile scenic drive crossing over the mountains seen from Yellowstone Valley as it connects the Big Oak Flat Entrance to the west with the Tioga Pass Entrance to the east. The higher elevation means that Tioga Pass is closed in winter and spring until the snow melts, but when the spectacular 39-mile drive is open, it offers jaw-dropping vistas and unparalleled scenery.
There are four entrances to Yosemite: West via Highway 140, South via Highway 41, North via Highway 132, and East via Highway 395 to 120. Highway 120 is the East-West road through the park right in the middle. All roads lead to Yosemite Village and Half Dome, towards the western side of the park, making the East gate the longest route and the only one which closes during the fall and winter seasons due to snow.
All areas of the park are usually accessible by car by late May or early June. The park is open 365 days per year, 24 hours per day, although some roads may be closed during the winter season (typically October to May). A park entrance fee is $20 per vehicle and is good for 7 days. The best time to visit is spring or fall, when the crowds are thinner.