Visitors to Yosemite National Park can enjoy a whole host of activities every month of the year. Trying to decide what to do in the park during your stay, however, can feel like an insurmountable task.
To help you out, here’s our list of the best things to do in Yosemite National Park so you can start planning your next adventure.
Things to do in summer
Thru-hike the John Muir Trail
If you’re really looking for an adventure, thru-hiking the John Muir Trail during the summer is a sure bet. The 211 miles (339km) long John Muir Trail travels through Yosemite, and Sequoia and Kings National Parks and visits some of the most stunning parts of the High Sierra along the way.
Permits are a must for anyone hiking the trail and you’ll need a Yosemite wilderness permit if you plan to start your trip from the park. You should apply for your permit as soon as possible, which is exactly 168 days in advance.
Alternatively, if you want to start from the south and hike into Yosemite, you can apply for a permit from Inyo National Forest through a lottery system between February 1 and March 15.
Read More : John Muir Trail Hiking Gear Checklist
Hike in Tuolumne Meadows
Tuolumne Meadows is known for its stunning alpine vistas. But, its high elevation means that it’s often only accessible during the summer months. Take advantage of the snow-free conditions during the Yosemite summer to enjoy hiking in the meadows region on popular trails like Cathedral Lakes, where you can also enjoy a quick swim in an alpine lake.
Go fly fishing
When the rivers are flowing in Yosemite during the early summer, fly fishing in the park is at its finest. Everyone over the age of 16 that’s fishing in the park needs a license, so grab one at the Mountain Shop at Curry Village or the Wawona Store in Wawona.
Once you have your license you can fish to your heart’s content in the park’s streams and rivers. Keep in mind that rainbow trout is catch and release only and other species have daily quotas and size restrictions.
Summit Half Dome
The Half Dome Cables Route is only up from May to October, so summertime visitors can make the most of their trip by climbing one of the park’s most iconic features. You’ll need a permit to climb the Cables Route and a good head for heights.
Also, don’t forget to pack a quality set of hiking boots and plenty of water bottles for this hike.
Things to do in fall
Bike through Yosemite
Yosemite has 12 miles (19km) of designated bike paths, as well as plenty of scenic roads for cyclists to enjoy. The cooler temperatures of the fall, snow-free roads, and smaller crowds mean better biking through the park.
During the fall, you’ll generally also experience less congestion on the road for a quality cycling experience.
Visit the Redwoods in Mariposa Grove
The Mariposa Grove is home to over 500 giant sequoias. Although you can visit the grove year-round, the fall provides added solitude and a smattering of fall colors in some of the nearby deciduous trees.
Plus, the cooler temperatures make it a great time to take a longer hike through the grove by following the Mariposa Grove Trail to Wawona Point.
Go rock climbing
Fall is the best time to climb in Yosemite Valley as the cooler temperatures make for better friction on the rock. During the fall, it’s also easier to reserve a campsite in Yosemite Valley.
Oh, and smaller crowds means it’s easier to get to and from your climb each day.
Enjoy solitude on the trails
The best part about fall in Yosemite is that you can enjoy great weather but without all the crowds. Make the most of your fall trip to the park by hiking some of the most iconic trails, like the Panorama Trail or the Yosemite Falls Trail, and enjoy some solitude along the way.
Things to do in winter
Ski Badger Pass
Badger Pass is located within the northern section of Yosemite National Park. It is the park’s only downhill ski area and it also happens to be the oldest alpine ski area in the state.
It’s generally open from mid-December to March, so it’s a must-visit place for winter trips to Yosemite.
Snowshoe or cross country ski in crane flats
There are miles of great snowshoeing and cross country ski trails in Crane Flats during the winter months. Take advantage of the solitude of a Yosemite winter by heading out onto these stunning trails.
You can also enjoy skiing between snow-covered giant sequoias, which is truly an unforgettable experience.
Just don’t forget your heated gloves and other warm-weather gear!
Although many of the park’s guided stargazing programs happen during the summer, the cold, clear nights of winter actually offer better star viewing opportunities. The lack of haze from forest fires in the winter also makes for better stargazing.
Since there are substantially fewer visitors in the park means you can often get great starry night views from Yosemite Valley. Keen astrophotographers can often get nice photos of the stars over Half Dome during the winter months.
Ice skate at curry village
From mid-November to mid-March each year, Curry Village in Yosemite Valley operates an outdoor ice skating rink. So, rent a pair of skates, lace-up, and enjoy a fun glide across the ice with Half Dome and El Cap in the background.
When you’re done, you can enjoy a hot chocolate by the rink as you take in the view of the surrounding valley.
Things to do in spring
Raft the Merced River
The Merced River, which flows through the heart of Yosemite Valley, is at its peak water flow during the spring months. This makes it an excellent time of year to raft down the river’s various rapids.
There are plenty of rafting companies in the area that are happy to take you on a day or overnight boating trip on the Merced, particularly during the spring.
Hike to waterfalls
Spring in Yosemite is all about the waterfalls, which are generally flowing at their peak by the end of May. Many of the park’s largest waterfalls make for great day hikes, including Yosemite Falls, the Mist Trail to Vernal and Nevada Falls, and Bridalveil Falls.
Just remember that these waterfalls rage during the spring so you might get wet on the trail!
Read More : What Should I Bring for A Day Hike?
Photograph the wildflowers
The spring wildflowers in Yosemite are truly a wonder to behold. The park is a wildflower lover’s paradise since, especially at the lower elevations during the spring months. Along the Merced River canyon, you can see tufted poppies, popcorn flowers, western azalea, dogwood, larkspur, and many more stunning wildflowers in the early spring.
At higher elevations, particularly along Glacier Point Road, monkeyflowers, mountain pride, and marsh marigold are particularly abundant. Plus, the red paintbrush found in these regions is even known to attract hummingbirds.
A hike to Sentinel Dome is a good way to check out some of these high elevation flowers.
Hike Hetch Hetchy Valley
While many of the high alpine trails in Yosemite stay snow-covered until early summer, the Hetch Hetchy Valley is a great option for spring trips.
A backpacking adventure to Rancheria Falls and then elsewhere in the Hetch Hetchy Valley is a nice way to take advantage of this snow-free and often crowd-free time of year.
Things to do with kids
Watch for wildlife in Tuolumne Meadows
Out of all the places in Yosemite National Park, Tuolumne Meadows offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities. Many of the park’s native species, including mule deer, depending on the meadows for food.
An early morning trip to the meadows with a pair of binoculars in hands is a great way to get kids excited about the wildlife in the park.
Eat ice cream in Half Dome Village
Who doesn’t love ice cream? Treat your kids to a tasty snack at the end of a long day of hiking by checking out the ice cream bar in Half Dome Village.
You can enjoy your frozen treats with your kids as you marvel at the view of Half Dome in front of you.
Explore the nature center at Happy Isles
The Happy Isles Nature Center near the Upper Pines Campground is a great way to spend an afternoon with kids.
A short walk from the campground leads you to the Nature Center, where you can check out the indoor exhibits, go on a stroll down some of the interpretive paths, and learn more about Yosemite’s native ecosystems.
Visit the Ansel Adams Gallery
The Ansel Adams Gallery in Yosemite Valley is a must-visit, especially if your kids love photography.
At the gallery, you can view some of Adams’ famous photographs and go on a children’s photo walk so your kids can improve their skills while photographing some of the park’s most iconic sights.
Become a Junior Ranger
Yosemite runs a junior ranger program for budding young naturalists who want to learn more about the world around them. You can pick up a junior ranger booklet from one of the park’s visitors centers to get started.
Then, your child can complete the booklet, collect a bag of trash in the park, and attend a guided program to become an official junior ranger.
The park also offers a program specifically designed for 3 to 6 year olds, as well as junior ranger programs in Spanish.
Gaby is a professional mountain guide with a master’s degree in outdoor education. She works primarily in the polar regions as an expedition guide, though she can be found hiking, climbing, skiing, sailing, or paddling in some of the world’s most amazing places when not at work.