I recently got to visit Yosemite National Park and I had so much fun exploring, just like I was a kid in a candy store. Yosemite has been on my bucket list for ages, yet I’ve never managed to fit it into my California travels. A few weeks back, I had the opportunity to road trip the region and so many people recommended Yosemite. Let me tell you— it was so worth it. When it comes to nature, I’m a waterfall kind of gal and Yosemite was a waterfall wonderland. My inner child felt at peace. Of course, I had to share the experience with you so that you, too, can make this destination a reality for yourself!
There are many airports in the areas surrounding Yosemite. Do some research to find the cheapest flight! Take note that Yosemite National Park is extremely large, so when mapping from the airport to the park, do not map to the entrance, map to Yosemite Valley, as this is where the majority of the sites are.
The closest airport is Merced, two hours away. Fresno is a close second at two hours and 15 minutes. The Sacramento and Oakland airports are just under four hours, and the San Fransisco Airport sits right at four. Although San Francisco is a bit further than other options, it is often the cheapest, because of its size
Alternatively, It was significantly cheaper for me to fly into Los Angeles from Houston than both Merced and San Francisco. I flew directly into Los Angeles and drove approximately 4.5 hours into Yosemite Park just after landing. It sounds brutal but the drive wasn’t bad at all. And trust me when I say it was absolutely worth it.
Flight costs will vary depending on your departure airport. Search flights HERE and find my guide to finding cheap flights HERE.
Take it from me – Campsites MUST be booked months in advance. This last-minute or as I like to call myself *spontaneous* traveler had no idea. This was a last-minute trip so I got lucky with what must have been a cancellation the night before we arrived.
If you want to stay in the park, you should start booking campsites as soon as you know you’re going! You can book ahead of time on www.recreation.gov. You can find nearby campgrounds using apps like Kampgrounds of America, Reserve America, or Allstays. There are nearby hotels & Airbnb’s just outside the park if you prefer to stay in traditional accommodation.
Also, as of June 2021, visitors will now need a reservation to enter the park so make sure you book your spot ahead of time.
If you want to see endless waterfalls, you’d need to visit in the Springtime. Summertime is obviously a prime time to visit, but you’ll have an increase in crowds and temperature. Waterfalls dry up by the end of summer, but fall will bring cooler weather and fewer crowds. Wintertime would obviously bring harsher weather, with many trail/road closures. I’m so happy that we visited during the springtime. I heard that Yosemite can feel a bit like Disneyland with the summertime crowds, so I’m glad we were able to avoid that.
When I planned my trip, I didn’t have any set goals. I simply went with the flow. I just wanted to be there, and it did not disappoint. I encourage you to do the same; do not worry about having every detail figured out but let yourself be present and enjoy every moment in one of the most beautiful places. Use this itinerary as a guide to get you started, but leave yourself time to do your own thing!
Yosemite Falls (2,425 ft) is one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. It doesn’t get much higher than that! The falls are made up of 3 separate tiers, upper-tier with an average height reaching close to 1,430 feet tall while lower levels plunge down some 675+/-feet below ground level. sometimes you might feel like you’re standing underneath it while other times on top of the world. You can even take an all-day hike to the top of the falls.
You can see the Lower Yosemite Falls with a short, easy hike that starts at the Lower Yosemite Falls trailhead. If you’re in need of a cool down, hit the Bridalveil Trail where you’ll be able to get up close & personal with Lower Yosemite Falls. It was such a rush to be standing on massive rocks and feel the cool mist of the falls.
Glacier Point is a must-see. With breathtaking views of Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the high country it’s easy to see why visitors come from all over just get their fill of this incredible spot! From late May through October or November you’ll be able to take advantage of these picturesque spots, so plan accordingly.
One of the most famous views in Yosemite Valley, Tunnel View can be found just outside Wawona tunnel on State Highway 41. There’s no hiking required and it’s a popular spot with tourists during summer so try arriving early if you want to avoid long lines! This is a great place to grab a photo as you explore other points in Yosemite Valley.
If you are looking for something more challenging, take a hike to Taft Point. It’s a shorter distance that will give your legs some good exercise while also providing an unforgettable view of Yosemite Valley! It is sure to test your fear of heights, being a dramatic lookout point where there isn’t any guardrail around. Climbers can get vertigo-inducing glimpses into the depths below them. It is an experience for the true adventure seeker!
This was one of my favorite spots and it’s perfect for sunset or sunrise. You’ll witness dramatic views of Yosemite Valley and you’ll get a bit of a workout on the way up.
Take a hike to see Vernon and Nevada falls on Yosemite’s signature trail. The Mist Trail has fabulous views scattered along it beginning with the bridge overlooks that provide stunning scenery for miles in every direction before finally ending at two unforgettable waterfalls totaling over 900 feet (270 meters) high! The hike can take up to five hours if you take advantage of the entire trail. If anything, try to get to the top of Nevada Falls. Trust me on this!
This one is definitely more challenging than the other trails listed. At certain points, the trail is completely vertical. The steps seem never-ending, but the views are EVERYTHING. If you visit during the springtime, you will see(and feel) some of the most jaw-dropping waterfalls. I felt like I was in Iceland for a minute there. Take your time and spend the day seeing everything there is to see on this trail. Even consider bringing a notebook and pen, and journal as you relax in the middle of the most beautiful spot in North America.
NOTE: You could be able to make these stops in 3 days or less, but I recommend giving yourself time to truly wander and disconnect. And you will be disconnecting(whether you like it or not) because there is hardly any service in the park.
Visiting Yosemite is an experience like no other and is different than a lot of places I travel to. That is because you won’t be looking for the perfect hotel or restaurant; instead, you will be surrounded by beautiful nature and scenery. When looking for accommodations, get a camper van and make it an adventure.
If there’s any way to see California, it’s with a camper van – Cabana Vans to be exact. I spent a week road tripping up through Yosemite and along the Pacific Coast Highway, and I cannot put into words the experience it was. Let’s just say, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. I’ve stayed in a campervan before, and this was definitely an elevated experience. Allow me to break down all that Cabana Vans has to offer:
– A toilet, shower with hot water, and outdoor shower
– Wifi in areas where cell service is available
– A kitchenette available as an add-on
– Fridge, sink, trash can, and coffee maker
– A/C and heater
– Concierge service
– A Smart TV
– Insurance included
– Storage space and power outlets
– Touchless pick up
– A gear garage
– A safe
If you are interested in seeing it for yourself, go check out my Yosemite profile highlights on my Instagram (@hey_ciara). The van is a converted Ford Transit, with a length of about 20 feet (similar to a suburban). It’s the biggest vehicle I’ve ever driven, and I had no issues at all. Cabana Vans is based out of both Los Angeles and Seattle. It’s the campervan of my dreams, and you will want one too once you experience it for yourself.
Cooking in a camper van isn’t as hard or boring as you might think, it just takes a bit of planning! As you cook in your camper van, keep these tips handy:
– Plan to cook things that can be easily stored and prepared. We basically lived off fruit, sandwiches, and granola bars during the daytime.
– Breakfast burritos and wraps are a great way to get a nutritious and easy meal in.
– If you get the kitchenette add-on, experiment by throwing different fillings into the skillet, like rice, veggies, and spices. Get creative with it! I made breakfast, pasta, and burgers using the mini kitchen.
“What is there to even do in Yosemite?”, asked my dad upon my return. I showed him endless photos of cascading waterfalls and massive granite slabs that towered above Yosemite Valley. “Other than hiking and observing your surroundings? Just be.” That’s the thing about nature. It’s a space where your soul can BE. Sure, you could go hiking, rafting, climbing, all the things…but you are also free to just be. I implore you to go and see for yourself.
Have you visited Yosemite? Share your experience below and let me know if there are more sites that you would have included!
Hey, I'm Ciara. I’m a global citizen and lover of travel. Want to know more?
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