If this is your first time visiting Yosemite National Park here are the things you should know.
Yosemite is a big place. It’s best to approach it in bite-size chunks. I think many of us get caught up in the how-much-vacation-can-I-fit-in-24 hours problem. Remember you’re here to witness the majesty of the landscape… not to collect 300 photos or mark that next landmark off your checklist.
Yosemite can be tackled in quadrants.
West Side: Hetch Hetchy, Tuolumne Grove
North Side: Olmstead Point, Mt. Hoffman & May Lake, Tenaya Lake
East Side: Lembert Dome, Gaylor Lakes
South Side: Mariposa Grove, Tunnel View, Taft Point & Sentinel Dome, Glacier Point, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome.
Check out the Area Maps for clarity and Pick a Place to start.
Where to Stay
There are places to stay both inside and outside Yosemite. The ideal inside Yosemite is camping.
With only one day to spare we took to the south side and stayed in Oakhurst. We chose the Best Western Plus for a variety of reasons- Check out our TripAdvisor Review here.
There are however plenty of hotels surrounding Yosemite… the Best Western was simply the closest we could find.
How to Get There: Car or Yarts?
If you’re from a mountainous area and are used to driving up very high on roads without guard rails, then by all means drive. Having your own car in tow will allow you to stop when you want for photos and park as close or as far as you’d like to see attractions. Keep in mind that if you do drive into Yosemite, especially on the winding Rt 41, you will need to pull over if 5 or more cars are closely following you. For obvious reasons its practically fatal to try and pass cars on these roads and its California law that you pull into a turnout if other drivers are affected by your careful driving.
In retrospect we should have just taken the YARTS ( Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System)
It’s pretty much a bus that brings you from your hotel to the park and back. LIke a school field trip.
This is what they boast and I can now vouch this option would have been a godsend.
- Save money on gas and gate fees: YES… gate fee is 30 bucks, Gas going up and down the mountain while riding your brakes gets eaten up, and if you Run Out of Gas in Yosemite… expect another 55 dollars in Emergency Gas costs from AAA.
- Save more with family friendly fares: If you really weight the pros and cons… paying 20 bucks round trip from Oakhurst to Yosemite Valley… per person is a no brainer. Bigger family- additional people get you a discounted ride.
- Tour Style Buses: Also fun and reminiscent of high school field trips. they even have storage for your gear if you’re hiking or camping.
- Watch the scenery, not the road: Yes… i can guarantee that while driving I saw little but the yellow line painted down the center of the road- promising to make sure the car didn’t go over a cliff.
- Choose from dozens of motels on the Yarts route: They’re pretty much everywhere
- Avoid traffic and parking in the park: Traffic is ok though lots of stop and go once you get near any scenery…. it’s the parking that becomes difficult to find.
- Park and Ride: If your hotel isn’t near a Yart stop you can safely drive there on a non-cliff filled route and ride the Yart from there. Lots of options.
- Seasonal Route Changes and Road closures aren’t a problem: The roads do close at weird times through the year for repairs and stuff and we narrowly missed ( by one day) a blasting of the road. I don’t necessarily know what that is, but our hotel concierge said- “ya know… explosions”. Never a good sign. Again, Yarts knows what they’re doing and where they’re allowed to go when. Probably better than us vacationers.
Emergency Gas/ AAA: Gas stations are located OUTSIDE of the park so make sure to fill up before getting into the park. $11.00 dollars a gallon with a 5 gallon minimum. Emergency only. And yes its Eleven Dollars a Gallon.
Parking Cost: Nov- Mar is the off season and is 25 bucks, otherwise you’ll pay 30 the rest of the year. Motorcycles are 20.
Where to Eat
There were two places… a deli- which we heard was pretty good, but couldn’t necessarily find right away and a small food place with outdoor seating near the Village store. The food is convenient so plan on paying a bit. Of course you can always pack a picnic as well as there is plenty of lawn and picnic areas around the village.
What to Do
Waterfall Hikes, Shopping, Lake Hikes, Photo Ops. Really, its just about being in nature. Just go be in it. You can find a comprehensive list of hikes on the Yosemite National Park site. Frankly… if you’re going to the valley the pathways are pretty noticeable, short and filled with people… so you don’t necessarily need a map just follow other people and stroll along. I had done a large amount of strategic planning for our easy hike adventures and upon getting there, sorta realized that everything is marked and everyone is going to the same places you are!
And that’s pretty much it! Got questions, post em in the comments.