One of the oldest National Parks in the country, the name Yosemite inspires people with visions of stunning Yosemite Falls flanked by the massive granite faces of El Capitan and Half Dome. Although the park has 196 miles of roads and 848 miles of trails, vast sections of it remain wild. The park is filled with extremes, from the 2,425 drop of Yosemite falls, to the 11,000 feet of elevation change within its boundaries.
Yosemite National Park covers 761,266 acres and sits in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. For many people, a visit to Yosemite is limited to auto touring on California Highway 120 or visiting the Yosemite Valley in the western region of the park. Although there are better ways to experience the park, if you must do it by car Yosemite is one of the most auto touring friendly parks in the nation.
Accessible its entire length from April to November, Highway 120 is a spectacular way to see Yosemite if you don't have the time for a proper visit. After passing the entrance station at Big Oak Flat, visitors don't have to drive far to reach the first attraction, Crane Flat and the adjacent Tuolumne Grove, home to the Giant Sequoia.
The Giant Sequoia is an evergreen tree and has the distinction of being the largest in total bulk, one of the tallest, and one of the oldest living residents on earth. The Sequoia's in Yosemite tickle 300 feet and a few are estimated at being over 3,000 years old. The trees are rare, growing in about 75 groups, or groves in a thin strip 260 miles long, and only 15 miles wide. Although Tuolumne will leave you in awe if you take the moderately difficult two-mile nature trail, they are not the largest residents in the park.
As you continue east on Highway 120 you wind your way upward through forest, rivers, and meadows passing a number of campsites, open only during the summer. You may want to consider stopping at Tenaya Lake for a picnic at one of two areas, one on the western shore the other on the eastern. If you are with a group of people that don't like to hike, consider being dropped off at Olmsted Point and hiking east to the western picnic area where you can be picked up.
At the eastern end of the park you will arrive at Tuolumne Meadow. Here visitors can walk along a vast number of hiking trails, including the world famous John Muir and Pacific Crest Trails that intersect in this region of the park. The alpine meadows at Tuolumne are a wonder to see when they are covered in a blanket of wildflowers during the early summer months. Peaks and domes, including the relatively easy climb to the top of Lembert Dome to the north, surround the region. In the winter, the road is typically closed eastward to Tioga Pass, but people still come from all over the world to cross country ski and snowshoe. Yosemite also offers excellent facilities at Tuolumne Meadows during the summer months including a restaurant, horse camp, gas station, and an improved campground.
When 9,945 feet Tioga Pass is open, it is an incredible drive even as you continue out of the park and down the eastern face of the Sierras. To the south, 13,057 feet Mount Dana rises up as the second highest point in Yosemite, dwarfed only by 13,114 feet tall Mount Lyell further to the south. Just east of the Tioga Pass entrance, three separate National Forest Service campgrounds sit on the shores of Ellery, Saddlebag and Tioga Lake. A fourth is available on the dirt road that leads to Saddlebag.
Find out more about Yosemite National Park NOW!