What to See in Yosemite National Park: 6 Essential Hikes and Viewpoints
By Allison Fitts & Lillian Robinson
There are some places that just take your breath away. Leave you speechless. Make you want to cry and smile at the same time. Yosemite National Park is certainly one of those places. It’s hard to put into words, but we certainly will try our best.
Yosemite has been on the shortlist of places we’ve been yearning to go for several years now, but it’s quite the trek from Denver, Colorado. So we were stoked to start our trip out of Escape’s San Francisco location after learning about their Weekend Special. We flew into San Francisco and were quickly on our way to Yosemite from the San Francisco Escape Campervan rental location (about a 3-hour drive).
This was our 14th National Park, and just upon driving into the valley of Yosemite in our camper van rental, we knew this would be our new favorite. Below are some tips on what to see in Yosemite National Park that includes some hikes and viewpoints to make your top priorities while in the park.
What to see in Yosemite Starting with the Hikes
Upper Yosemite Falls
What’ you’ll see: a great view of the Yosemite waterfall and Half Dome.
This was by far the most spectacular (and grueling!) hike we did. Was it worth the 7 hour round trip trek- 7.6 miles and 3,000+ feet of elevation gain? Absolutely. Even if you don’t go all the way to the top of the falls, the view of the Yosemite waterfall and Half Dome along the trail is worth it. If you can take the day to tackle this hike, the view of the valley from the top is worth all of the steep switchbacks. A must do!
Lower Yosemite Falls Trail
What you’ll see: a beautiful and natural landscape.
A mild and flat trail takes you to the base for the Lower Yosemite Falls. A quick one, but worth the view!
Vernal & Nevada Falls
What you’ll see: the base of the falls, and rainbows.
A Yosemite classic, these two waterfall trails make for fantastic hiking, rainbow sighting, and a fun time overall. While certainly strenuous, there are plenty of shaded areas rest and relax. You can also play it by ear- we went to the base of Nevada falls and decided to turn around in favor of seeing some other sights. Make sure to wear a rain jacket or bring a poncho, because you will get hit with a bit of spray from the falls.
What to see in Yosemite National Park: the Viewpoints
What you’ll see: El Capitan, Half Dome, Bridalveil Fall.
This viewpoint is textbook Yosemite National Park. From left to right, you get a panorama that includes El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall. It is a perfect spot to pull off (in a full-fledged parking lot, no less) on your way up to Glacier Point…
What you’ll see: the best view of Half Dome in the park.
We are counting on you, dear Escape Campervans blog reader, to make it to Glacier Point since we sadly weren’t able to on our trip. We were nearly there but had to turn around due to a road closure caused by a surprising, but not totally out of the ordinary, May snowstorm. When you make the drive up to Glacier Point, you will be rewarded with the best view of Half Dome in the park.
Half Dome & El Capitan from the Valley Floor
While in the most popular part of the park, Yosemite Valley, it is impossible to look around and not have an amazing view. The park’s two icons, Half Dome and El Capitan are very visible and close to this area. A favorite activity of ours during our trip was parking our campervan in the El Capitan Meadow and cooking breakfast while we watched all of the braver-than-us climbers progress up the face of the granite giant.
Bonus: Ranger Talks at the Vallery Visitor Center!
One of the nights we stayed in Yosemite, we went to a Ranger talk about the park’s search and rescue team led by Yosemite Search & Rescue (YOSAR) veteran John Dill. It was very informative and fascinating, and a good reminder to be smart and safe while exploring. While we would highly recommend attending this weekly talk, there are plenty of other ranger talks that you can attend no matter what your interests are.
So there you have it! Be sure to rent a camper van for your trip to Yosemite to make camping and moving to see these views simple and fun.