A Practical Guide to Yosemite: Page 1 2 3 4

So What's in Yosemite Valley?

Yosemite Valley photoWhen people think of Yosemite National Park, they typically think of Yosemite Valley, the magical cathedral-like valley of lush meadows and forests surrounded by towering granite cliffs and majestic waterfalls. While Yosemite Valley is only 9 square miles (less than 1% of the total area of Yosemite National Park), it is the bustling epicenter of the park that is home to some of the most iconic landmarks in the world, including Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall (along the Mist Trail), Mirror Lake, and the world-famous Half Dome looking down from above.

Yosemite Valley also has many popular amenities and services, which often makes it feel like a city in the middle of the wilderness. Some key facilities of note include:

Finding Your Way Around Yosemite Valley:

Before you drive into Yosemite Valley, it is extremely beneficial to study the NPS Yosemite Valley map to get a feel for how everything is laid out. The three major roads into the park join up just west of Yosemite Valley and feed into the one-way Southside Drive that heads east into the heart of the valley, while the one-way Northside Drive heads west out of the park. Several north-south connecting roads, extraneous loops, and closed sections of road can serve to confuse first-time visitors. (Click on the image below to view the complete map from the NPS website.)

Yosemite Valley NPS Map
Sample of the NPS Yosemite Valley Map. Download the full map (PDF).

Yosemite Valley Shuttle System:Yosemite Valley Shuttle Bus

NPS runs a shuttle bus system that provides free transportation to visitors in Yosemite Valley. View a map of the shuttle routes and stops. There are two distinct routes:

  1. Yosemite Valley shuttle: provides service to eastern Yosemite Valley with stops at the VIsitor Center, all major lodges and campgrounds, stores, and trailheads. This shuttle runs all year from 7am to 10pm.
  2. El Capitan shuttle: the longer remote shuttle that takes visitors from the Visitor Center to El Capitan, Cathedral Beach, and Four Mile trailhead on the west side of Yosemite Valley. This shuttle runs from mid-June through early October from 9am to 7pm.

Tips to Survive Yosemite Valley:

Yosemite Valley Gridlock!Just in case you haven't heard, Yosemite National Park, and especially Yosemite Valley, gets busy! With over 5 million people visiting Yosemite in 2016 and each year seeing more visitation than the year before, a visit to Yosemite Valley can feel like a visit to a crowded city, complete with traffic delays, backups, lack of parking, and even temporary gridlock. The summer months of July and August as well as most weekends and holidays are especially bad. Here are a few tips to make your visit more enjoyable:

  1. Know where you want to go. Study the Yosemite Valley map before you drive into the park so you don't get thrown by some of the confusing intersections.
  2. If you are visiting for the day, get there early! By mid to late morning, most of the various parking lots and makeshift roadside parking spots get filled up. Nothing is worse than making a long drive into Yosemite Valley, getting caught in gridlock, not finding any parking, and then driving away frustrated.
  3. Consider not visiting during weekends and holidays. Seriously. Unless you are emotionally prepared to deal with crowds and long lines.
  4. Walking Yosemite Valley instead of drivingBring your own food and water. If your goal is to sightsee and explore, fighting the crowds at the grocery store or cafe wastes valuable time that could be spent on one of Yosemite's trails. (But remember to bring your food with you or store in one of the bear-proof food lockers found at most parking lots and trailheads. Do not leave food in your car!)
  5. Consider walking the valley instead of taking the free shuttles. During busy tourist days, riding the shuttle buses can be a dehumanizing experience with long waits and cramped conditions. If you are in fit shape to walk a few miles or so between attractions in Yosemite Valley, it can be a much more pleasant experience. Most paths in Yosemite Valley actually aren't crowded and offer some great natural scenery.
  6. Consider bringing your bike if you can! If you have the means to bring one, a bicycle is the best means of transportation as there are several bike paths that loop around the entirety of Yosemite Valley. It's a convenient way of getting out to El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls without having to battle traffic.

Page 4: More Park Info

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