Backpackers Guide to Yosemite – California

Backpackers Guide to San Francisco: Things to do in San Francisco, places to stay, day trips and other travel tips

Yosemite National Park in California is perhaps one of the busiest National Parks in the world, with over 3.7 million people visiting every year. The National Park stretches across  747,956 acres of California but most people head to Yosemite Valley to photograph or hike the famous half dome.  Yosemite was designated as a World Heritage Site in 1984 being internationally recognised for its spectacular granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, and biological diversity.

Guide to Yosemite National Park

Things to do in Yosemite National Park

The most popular activity in Yosemite National Park is hiking and enjoying the nature.

Short Hikes in Yosemite National Park

Lower Yosemite Falls

Guide to Yosemite National Park

Standing at 2,424 feet, this is the highest waterfall in North America and the sixth largest in the world! This 1-mile walk takes you through interesting rock formations that lead to the bottom of upper and lower Yosemite Falls. There are so many great photo opportunities along this walk. The best time to view it is in late spring when the melting snow creates the strongest flow.

Mirror Lake

Yosemite National Park

When water levels are high you can see the reflection of the half dome on the lake. Magnificent. Mirror Lake is a short hike from Yosemite Valley.

Bridal Veil Falls

Guide to Yosemite National Park

This waterfall is one of the most iconic waterfalls in the park and is just a short hike away (0.5 miles). The name originates from the Ahwahneechee Native American tribe who believed that inhaling the mist would improve your chances of getting married.

Looking for more easy hikes in Yosemite?

Long Hikes

Upper Yosemite Falls

If viewing Yosemite falls from the base isn’t enough, you have the option to hike to the top. The hike to the top is a strenuous 7-hour hike, but worth it when you get to stand on the edge of Americas tallest waterfall.

Half Dome

Yosemite National Park

The half dome is one of the most popular hikes in America. You need a permit to do this hike and must pre-book. If you are lucky enough to get a spot on this hike, I’m jealous.

Lembert Dome

Yosemite National Park

Lembert Dome is a 2.8-mile roundtrip hike takes you to the top of this granite rock giving you a great view of Yosemite’s Tuolumne Meadows.

Summer activities in Yosemite

Swimming, bike riding, rock climbing, horse riding, relaxing and photography are other popular activities in Yosemite National Park in Summer.

Winter activities in Yosemite

In the winter, visitors can enjoy snowshoeing, ice skating, hiking and sightseeing.  Winter is the least busy season in Yosemite. The crowds go home, the wildlife comes out, and hotel rates go down.

Scenic Drives in Yosemite National Park

These are some of the best scenic drives within Yosemite National Park.

Glacier Point

Yosemite National Park

An hour from Yosemite Valley is Glacier Point, a famous viewpoint for the Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. If you can make it, sunrise and sunset are the best times to go.

Hetch Hetchy

Guide to Yosemite National Park

Located off Evergreen Road approximately 45minutes is Hetch Hetchy, a reservoir nestled amongst mountains with waterfalls flowing in. This area is much less busy than Yosemite Valley and equally as beautiful.

Viewpoints in Yosemite

Tunnel View

Yosemite National Park

From Tunnel View, you get a view of Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, and El-Capitan. At certain times, this spot can get crowded with tour buses and cars, so get ready to fight the crowds. The view is worth it of course.

Taft Point and Sentinel Dome

Yosemite National Park

Sentinel Dome and Taft Point offer views similar to Glacier Point. The trailhead for both is located off Glacier Point Road (open seasonally May-November).

For Taft Point: At the trailhead, turn left to head toward Taft Point. The walk is easy at first, through forest and wildflower-filled meadows (in July).

For Sentinel Dome: At the trailhead, turn right to head toward Sentinel Dome. Once near the dome, the trail meets an old road. Follow the road to the northeast side of the dome, where the incline is less imposing. Scramble up the side of the dome and, at the top, enjoy a breathtaking 360-degree panorama.

Olmsted Point

You will find this viewpoint an hour outside of Yosemite Valley. This viewpoint offers a unique (less known) view of Half Dome and Yosemite Valley. You can even see people climbing the cables of Half Dome.

Map of Yosemite National Park


Summer: June – August

Winter: December – February

I recommend travelling to Yosemite in spring or fall. The weather will be great and you will miss the crowds. I visited Yosemite in spring on a weekday and It was packed.  Definitely avoid visiting in peak season.

Recommended trip length

I recommend staying in Yosemite for 2-5 days. In 2 days you could see the main attractions, but 5 days will allow you to get the most from your trip to Yosemite National Park. If you had the time and love nature, you could even stay for longer.

Getting around Yosemite

A car is essential as the main attractions are spread out. Having a car will allow you to see so much more. Search for rental cars here. 

Places to stay in Yosemite

I recommend camping in Yosemite National Park. 

If you want to camp inside Yosemite National Park, reserve a camping spot months in advance.

Outside of Yosemite in Stanislaus National Park, you will find many campsites that are just as good if not better than the campsites in Yosemite.

We stayed at Lumsden the first night. This is a free campsite however the drive is dangerous with a one-way gravel road on the side of a 600ft cliff. This deters a lot of people so if you have a good car, aren’t afraid of heights and want to avoid the crowd, camp here.

Diamond O is another campsite we stayed at and is located along Evergreen Road on the way to Hetch Hetchy. The campsite was great, it had everything we needed and wasn’t crowded like the campsites in Yosemite. Hetch Hetchy reservoir is easily accessible from Diamond O.

I highly recommend Diamond O campsite and the scenic drive to Hetch Hetchy.

If you plan on getting a hotel you can search for great deals here.

Travel Insurance for Yosemite

I recommend getting travel insurance before your trip to Yosemite National Park. I recommend World Nomads.  If you are still unsure if you should buy travel insurance or not, read this. 

Safety tips for visiting Yosemite

  • Bears call Yosemite Valley home. If you are camping, don’t leave food scraps around, and when out hiking, carry bear spray.
  • Notify someone of your plans.
  • Hike in pairs.
  • Shop my hiking essentials. 
  • Drive carefully as wildlife uses the roads too.

The following acts are illegal in Yosemite National Park:

  • Feeding or approaching wildlife
  • Hunting animals
  • Collecting reptiles and butterflies
  • Collecting plants (including pine cones)
  • Picking up archeological or historic items such as arrowheads
  • Driving vehicles into sensitive meadows and off roadways
  • Camping outside of designated campgrounds

Other tips for visiting Yosemite National Park

  • Visit in the offseason to avoid the crowds. Yosemite is one of the busiest national parks in the world, and the middle of summer is when it is busiest.
  • The weather can change quickly, so always be prepared.
  • Know your hiking ability and choose trails that suit your level of fitness.

See more from the US here. 

Pin – Guide to Yosemite National Park

Disclosure: This guide to Yosemite contains affiliate links.

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