Yosemite National Park was established October 1, 1890, and is one of our favorite parks because of its breathtaking views of mountains, waterfalls, rivers, valleys, and amazing granite cliffs.
Yosemite is no ordinary park because in the heart of the park lies Yosemite Valley and Half-Dome Village. This small city offers several restaurants, a post office, a good size grocery store, showers, swimming pool, laundry, museum, Ansel Adams gallery and more! This village reminds us of the village at Whistler except for the fashion clothes stores.
The park is open year around but the most popular and best time to go is early summer to see the thousands of waterfalls throughout the park. Due to climate change, the waterfalls are drying up earlier and quicker each year. We visited Yosemite in October and there were only a few waterfalls left that you can see and even so, they were much smaller than what you would see in the spring or early summer.
Regarding accessibility, the park is very kid and wheel-chair friendly for visiting famous viewpoints like Glacier Point. You literally do not have to hike more than a few blocks from the parking lot to experience unbelievable views, and this makes Yosemite one of our favorite parks for families of all ages.
Must see ViewPoints for sunsets or sunrises:
Yosemite Tunnel View is outstanding views right from the parking lot. No hiking needed and is perfect for kids. There is a trail right across the parking lot that we hiked up to to see a better view without people. Harvey really liked this hike for sunset.
Merced River with El Capitan is also another spot that does no require hiking. Pull over and bam, it’s right there! We had lunch at the El Capitan picnic area and it was great place to have lunch and watch climbers from below. Don’t forget to bring your binoculars!
Glacier Point Overlook - This is about an hour drive from Yosemite Valley and it’s worth the drive because the view is outstanding for sunset. Harvey fell in love with sunsets after seeing this sunset.
Yosemite Tunnel View at Sunset
El Capitan at night
Glacier Point Overlook
Vernal Fall Footbridge - We hiked to the Vernal Fall Footbridge via the Mist Trail that was located a couple blocks behind our campground at Upper Pines. The hike is 1.6 miles round trip with 400-ft of elevation and we had allocated 2 hours to complete the hike with Harvey. However, because of the dryer fall season, Vernal Fall was miniscule with the naked eye at the Footbridge, so we followed the crow and climbed the rocks to the top of Vernal Fall. This additional hike resulted in a total of 2.5 miles round-trip hike with 1000-ft of elevation climb. With a few extra adventurous off trail explorations and a long lunch break at top to enjoy the scenic view, our hike to the top of Vernal Fall with a 4 years old took a total of 5 hours. Surprisingly Harvey completed 90% of the difficult rock climbing part of the hike and had me carry him through the less fun and flat trails.
Bridal-veil Fall - As the result of the dryer season, the 0.5-mile round-trip Bridal-veil Fall trail became a rocking climbing and exploration experience for Harvey. In the wetter season, the mists from Bridal-veil Fall is truly amazing but in the late fall, you could only see the mists after climbing through a few rocks at the end of the trailhead. Nevertheless, this was quick fun hike for our family and Harvey enjoyed climbing rocks and playing with the streams of water from the fall.
Sentinel Dome in the morning
Sentinel Dome - Energized from the spectacular sunset colors reflected from the Half-Dome from the prior night at Glacier Point, we made it a mission the following morning to hike and see Yosemite at sunrise from Sentinel Dome. The Sentinel Dome trail is considered an easy 2.2-mile round trip hike with 400-ft of elevation climb. Estimated to complete the hike is 1-2 hours, and with a 4-year old it became a 2-3 hours excursion. The drive to the trailhead from Yosemite Valley is about 45 minutes so please plan accordingly. Although we missed the sunrise at top, the morning lighting still gave us a stunning 360 degrees view of the entire park and we hope that our photos captured the picturesque mountains and granite cliffs that Yosemite offers.
We were lucky to stay at Upper Pines campground in the Yosemite Valley because October is considered peak season for climbers due to the dryer and cooler weather. We learned that October is also called “Rocktober” at Yosemite. If you’re planning to travel to during the fall season like we did, please plan 3-5 months ahead and book your lodging through the recreation.gov website. If you experience challenges finding consecutive lodging at the any of the campgrounds in the Valley, we recommend that you be consistent and check the recreation.gov website for cancellations. Lastly, we recommend that you stay in the Yosemite Valley because of its close proximity to all the facilities, hikes and waterfalls.
Closest Cities to the Park:
The closest airport is the Fresno-Yosemite International Airport (FAT), which is about 65 miles south of the park, which equates to a 1½-hour drive.
Other major cities are Sacramento Airport (155 miles to entrance, 2.5hrs drive) and San Francisco (170 miles to entrance, about 3.5hrs drive).
Recommended Length Stay: at least 5-7 days
There are endless hikes to beautiful views, waterfalls, and activities in the village. Also, the park is quite large and will require a lot of driving to get around.
Would we be back? Definitely! You can count us coming back to this park again and again!
For more photos, they can be found here.