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Waterfalls, trails and more| 5 things to do at Yosemite National Park

Whether visiting the many picturesque waterfalls or walking along scenic trails, Yosemite National Park has something to offer for everyone.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — A short drive east will land travelers at one of nature's gems in Northern California: Yosemite National Park.

The 1,200 square miles of vegetation-filled land, rock formations, rivers and lakes was first recognized by the Department of the Interior as a National Park in 1890, making it the nation’s third national park.

Over 130 years later, millions of visitors from close by and far away flock to the park each year to take in its stunning views.

All entrances to Yosemite are open 24 hours per day, with the exception of Hetch Hetchy. The entrance fee for non-commercial cars, trucks, RVs or vans with fewer than 15 passenger seats is $35. The park only accepts credit cards for payment.

Reservations are required to drive into Yosemite during the park’s peak hours 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. from May 20 through September 30.

Click here to make a reservation.

Traveling to Yosemite

- From Sacramento: 2 hours and 43 minutes, 145 miles

- From Stockton: 1 hour and 59 minutes, 97.3 miles

- From Modesto: 1 hour and 54 minutes, 84 miles

 Save Money on Gas:  Use our interactive map to find the lowest price near you.

5 Things to do in Yosemite

1. Chase Waterfalls

At Yosemite, the saying, “don’t go chasing waterfalls” goes out the window as the park is filled with picturesque and scenic waterfalls. Waterfalls in the Yosemite Valley form the National Park’s landscape by taking runoff from snow melt, dropping them thousands of feet into rivers and streams.

- Yosemite Falls

One of Yosemite’s most popular waterfalls, Yosemite Falls, sends water dropping a stunning 2,425 feet down making it one of the world’s tallest. While the peak flow is in May, snow melt feeds into the Yosemite Creek from November through July pushing as much as 2,400 gallons of water per second down the waterfall.

While the iconic waterfall can be seen from multiple places around the Yosemite Valley, especially around Yosemite Village and Yosemite Valley Lodge, a one-mile trail takes guests to the base of the waterfall.

To get to the loop trail, visitors can park in designated areas off of Northside Drive, near the Lower Yosemite Falls shuttle stop, across from the Yosemite Valley Lodge.

- Vernal Falls

A less dramatic water drop than the iconic Yosemite Falls, Vernal Falls is another notable Yosemite waterfall that attracts visitors year-round. The 317-foot drop sends water continuing down along the Merced River.

Vernal Falls, unlike some of Yosemite’s larger waterfalls, is not visible on the valley floor. Instead, visitors have to take a slight hike to see the waterfall up close or to stand on a footbridge near the waterfall.

Both the one-hour hike to the waterfall’s footbridge and the three-hour hike to the top of the waterfall starts at Happy Isles Shuttle Stop 16 with the nearest parking lot being the Curry Village parking lot on Southside Drive.

-Ribbon Fall

Viewable from the road as visitors drive into the Yosemite Valley, Ribbon Falls along the Ribbon Creek is a 1,612-foot drop on the west side of El Capitan. However, the waterfall is only visible from the road.

Parking is available on turnouts along Northside Drive just after the turn for Bridalveil Fall.

Watch More on Yosemite's waterfalls: Top five 'must see' waterfalls in Yosemite National Park | Bartell's Backroads

2. Take a hike

Filled with pine and sequoia trees, there is no shortage of great views at Yosemite National Park which makes hiking a popular form of transportation and a unique way to experience the park.

-Cook’s Meadow Loop

For those who prefer easy hikes, the Cook’s Meadow Loop boasts scenic nature views and a view of the Yosemite Falls, all in just one mile. The trail takes roughly 30 minutes to complete and starts at the Yosemite Valley Visitor’s Center at shuttle stop 5.

The nearest parking lot to the trail is at the Yosemite Village and Yosemite Falls parking areas.

-Mirror Lake Loop

A slight escalation in intensity from the Cook’s Meadow Loop, the Mirror Lake Loop is a two-mile trail that offers views of the Tenaya Creek and crosses two bridges.

The trail starts at the Mirror Lake Trailhead, near shuttle stop 17, and takes around 2 to 3 hours to complete. The closest parking lot to the start of the loop is at Curry Village.

-Snow Creek Trail

For those who prefer a challenge, the Snow Creek Trail offers great views but is described by the National Park Service as “grueling.” The 9.4-mile round-trip hike includes an elevation gain of nearly 2,700 feet and takes six to seven hours to complete.

The trail starts at the Mirror Lake Trailhead near shuttle stop 17. The closest parking lot to the Snow Creek Trail is at Curry Village.

3. Eat near nature

Nearly a dozen food options in Yosemite, all managed by Travel Yosemite, allow visitors the opportunity to eat among nature. Below are the top three dining options located inside the National Park, according to TripAdvisor.

- The Ahwahnee Dining Room

Hours: Everyday- 7 a.m. to 10 a.m., 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.

Type of food: American

Nearby: Ahwahnee Pool, Ahwahnee Meadow

- Mountain Room Restaurant

Hours: Wednesday through Sunday- 5 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Type of food: American, Bar

Nearby: Yosemite Valley Lodge Post Office, Yosemite Falls Parking

-  Curry Village Dining Pizza Deck

Hours: Everyday- 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.

Type of food: American, Pizza

Nearby: Curry Village Gift & Grocery and Mountain Shop, Stoneman Bridge

4. Swim in fresh water

With many rivers and creeks around Yosemite receiving water directly from snowmelt, lakes and streams at Yosemite National Park are quick and easy ways to cool off on a warm day.

While some outdoor pools are offered during the summer at Curry Village and the Yosemite Valley Lodge, swimming is generally permitted in all bodies of water at the park.

The Merced River which is accessible by sandy beaches, is a popular place for swimming, according to the National park Service. Areas where swimming is prohibited include: within one mile upstream along any tributary, Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, Dana Fork of the Tuolumne River, Emerald Pool and Silver Apron (above Vernal Fall), Lake Eleanor Reservoir (when posted) and Wawona Domestic Water Intake (including 100 yards upstream).

5. Rafting 

The cool waters of the Merced River not only allow for a suitable place to cool down and swim but also offer exciting terrain for rafters.

Rafting tickets are available at the Curry Village Tour and Activities Kiosk usually daily from July to the end of August, depending on the water’s temperature and the snowpack’s condition.

The tickets cost $30.50 per person and each raft holds two to four people. Two paddlers are required per raft including at least one adult. Children under 50 pounds are not allowed in raft rentals for safety reasons.

The raft rentals offered by Yosemite National Park depart from Curry Village and continue on the Merced River for 3 miles. Visitors are also allowed to bring their own rafts or rent life jackets for $5 each. Life jackets are required for those under 13 years of age.

Lodging

While Yosemite National Park makes a great day trip from the valley, lodging and camping opportunities are also offered by the park for longer stays.

Some of the hotel venues include The Ahwahnee, the Yosemite Valley Lodge, the Wawona Hotel, Curry Village, the White Wolf Lodge and the Tuolumne Meadows Lodge.

Camping is also a popular option for travelers who stay at any one of Yosemite’s 13 campgrounds. Fees to use the campgrounds range from $10 to $36 per day. Click here to view up-to-date campground information from the National Parks Service.

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