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Things to See and Do in Yosemite 2023 for First Time Visits

Updated: July 24, 2023
 By Britt

This post is about things to do and sights to see Yosemite National Park in California. We include top activities, suggested itineraries, and information on park entrance fees.


Yosemite National Park is just under 1,200 square miles or just over 300,000 hectares. This is roughly the same size as the entire state of Rhode Island!

There are many amazing sights to see in this gigantic and spectacular national park. Given its size, most visitors spend their time in Yosemite Valley which is 5.9 square miles.

This post lists the best sights to see, especially in Yosemite Valley. Download a PDF of the official Yosemite Valley Map here.

You can download the official full map of Yosemite Park to plan your visit. For other park maps, see Yosemite’s website.

We highly recommend that you download the park's app that tells you what to see and do throughout the park during all seasons.

You can use it without a cell signal or WiFi if you download it in advance. The app is available on iOS and Android.

TIP: To get around Yosemite, there is a free shuttle bus service. See below for details.

Glacier Point

This location provides some of the best views in Yosemite Valley. From here you can see the Half-Dome, Yosemite Falls and the high country.

In addition to the perfect photo opportunities, you can also birdwatch, hike and stargaze here.

Yosemite Falls

Like several locations on this list, the falls are located in Yosemite Valley.  

Yosemite Falls

You can expect the water to flow from November to July, and it will be at peak levels in the month of May. 

During the winter, an ice cone actually forms at the base of the upper falls.

The Half-Dome

At 8,844 ft in height, this granite dome is one of the most well-known rock formations in the park. 

The landmark’s name is based on its appearance, as it looks like an entire dome that has been cut in half. 

Yosemite view

Although it was once thought impossible to scale the Half-Dome, there is now a hike that you can take to and from the site.

Mariposa Grove

Located in the southern part of Yosemite, this is a historic grove of over 500 of these grand trees.

Mariposa Grove

The grove is so old that it was Abraham Lincoln who signed legislation protecting this area for public use and recreation. 

There is a free shuttle you can take from the Mariposa Grove Welcome Plaza to the grove itself.

Crane Flat 

Crane Flat is one of the best areas to camp. This meadow area is one of the prettiest in the park. 

Crane Flat

Crane Flat is somewhat close to the Tuolumne and Merced Sequoia groves, which are other wonderful spots to visit. 

Inspiration Point

Get a fantastic look at Yosemite Valley and enjoy one of the best photo ops in the entire park from Inspiration Point. 

Inspiration Point

Just keep in mind that the hike is all uphill, so it might be a little difficult for some visitors.

Bridal Veil Falls

This waterfall flows all year long, but like most falls the water flow is at its peak in May. 

Bridal Veil Falls

Chances are that this will be the first waterfall you see as you enter the park, as it’s easily visible from Highway 120. 

There is a short hiking trail that will lead you to the base of Bridal Veil Falls.


There are endless locations in the park where you can enjoy the below activities.


Of course, hiking is the first thing that comes to mind when visiting a huge park. With over 750 miles of trails to walk, Yosemite has no shortage of hikes of all levels of ease/difficulty.

The places where you will find some of the best hiking opportunities are Yosemite Valley, Glacier Point Road, Wawona and Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, Hetch Hetchy, Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows.

See the Yosemite website to find out about the many hiking trails.

Enjoy a Free Walk or Talk

Once in the park, you can take a guided tour led by park rangers. There are also informational talks. 

If you are traveling with children there are family-friendly activities as well. 

All scheduled programs are listed on their calendar

Take a Driving Tour

If you are coming by car, you can use a traditional map -- but do not count on using your phone to guide you as you will not have cell service in all locations.

Consider this narrated driving tour app that costs just $5.99 that takes you to the must-see viewpoints in Yosemite. 

The app works with your phone’s GPS signal, not cell towers, so no cell service of WiFi is required!


Yosemite Valley has more than 12 miles of paved bike paths. Cyclists are also welcome to ride on the regular roads, provided they follow traffic laws. 

Bicycles are available for rental at the park, but you can also bring your own bike with you if you decide to drive there yourself.

Check the Yosemite website for more details.

Water Activities

You can swim, go boating and kayaking and fish in the park. For all the information on where you engage in these water activities, see Yosemite's website.

Boating, kayaking, and rafting are allowed in the park. In the summer you can rent a raft. It is best, however, to bring your own boat/kayak/raft with you. 

Swimming is permitted in almost every body of water in Yosemite National Park.  

Fishing sites are located throughout the park and you can usually get fishing supplies on site. You will need to get a fishing license if over the age of 16.


More than 100 different species of birds enter the Yosemite area every year. 

Yosemite Birdwatching

The park offers a free checklist of birds and a guide to common birds you’re likely to see which can help you on your search. 

We recommend bringing binoculars for this activity, but you don’t necessarily need them.

Vernal and Nevada Falls Hike

Begin your exploration of Yosemite with the spectacular journey to Vernal and Nevada Falls.

The stunning cascades of these waterfalls provide a memorable spectacle.

As you hike the well-trodden trail, you'll be rewarded with arresting views of the falls and the surrounding Sierra Nevadas, all while soaking in the spray of the Vernal Falls' mist, which often yields beautiful rainbows.

Look for Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

Take the opportunity to witness Yosemite's native fauna by seeking out the Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep.

Sierra Nevada Bighorn Sheep

These fascinating animals, once endangered but now thriving in the park, exhibit impressive agility as they navigate the rugged rocky cliffs.

Don't forget to bring your binoculars for this wildlife adventure, it's a sight you'll want to see up close.

Lower Yosemite Falls Visit

Make sure to visit the easily accessible Lower Yosemite Falls.

This magnificent waterfall is a year-round attraction with a particularly spectacular display during the spring melt.

The ice cone that forms at the base in winter months is a unique sight, showcasing the park's beauty across seasons.

Ansel Adams Gallery Exploration

The Ansel Adams Gallery is a must-see for all visitors.

Admire the timeless landscapes captured in Adams' striking black and white photography.

Each image not only portrays Yosemite's grandeur but also fosters an appreciation for the park's breathtaking vistas and the preservation of America's natural treasures.

Sentinel Dome Adventure

Sentinel Dome, one of Yosemite's iconic granite peaks, offers a challenging yet rewarding hike.

When you reach the top, you'll be treated to a spectacular 360-degree view.

Witness Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the High Sierra stretching out beneath you - a sight that truly encapsulates Yosemite's vast wilderness.

Chilling at Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake, nestled high in Yosemite's mountains, offers a peaceful escape.

Ideal for a lakeside picnic or a refreshing swim, the lake's crystal-clear waters perfectly reflect the surrounding Sierra Nevadas.

The stunning scenery and calming atmosphere make it a treasured spot for relaxation.

Iconic Tunnel View

No trip to Yosemite is complete without stopping at Tunnel View.

This point offers an iconic, framed vista of the park, highlighting El Capitan, Bridalveil Fall, and Half Dome.

It's a view that encapsulates the magic of Yosemite and is guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on every visitor.

Peaceful Merced River

The Merced River is another of Yosemite's tranquil gems.

Whether you opt to float along its gentle currents, fish for trout, or simply sit by the bank taking in the beautiful scenery, it's a fantastic place to connect with nature.

The river's beauty, accentuated by its clear waters and surrounding flora, showcases the park's natural charm.


If you plan to stay in Yosemite Valley overnight, one of the best nighttime activities is simply looking at the stars. 

Since you’re surrounded by nature, the lights of the city won’t obstruct your view. 

If you have a telescope, you may want to consider bringing it for this activity. Read more here.

Be sure to read the park's website on things to do in Yosemite.


There is a fee to enter the park that varies based upon your method of transportation and whether or not you have a pass. 


  • Car / Pickup Truck/ RV / Van (up to 15 seats)
    • $35 per vehicle | No per-person fee
  • Van with 15 seats or more
    • $20 per person over the age of 16
  • Motorcycle
    • $30 per vehicle | No per-person fee
  • Foot/Bicycle/Horse/Bus $20 per person over the age of 16

If you decide to take a tour from San Francisco, you probably won’t have to pay anything to enter the park. 

Tour companies usually pay for those fees on their own and simply add it to the cost of your ticket.

Even so, the cost per person is usually much lower for visitors coming via tour bus ($10 - $15 or less).

Free Days

If you want to avoid fees entirely, there are actually free entrance days at Yosemite Park. Plan your trip for one of these days to get into the park for free:

  • Martin Luther King Jr. Day (3rd Monday of January)
  • First day of National Park Week (April 22 in 2023)
  • National Park Service's (August 25)
  • National Public Lands Day (4th Saturday of September)
  • Veterans Day (November 11)

Keep in mind that if you plan to visit for more than one day, you will be required to pay for entrance on the next day.

Read more here.

Yosemite Passes

In addition to the standard ticket options available, you can also purchase a pass.

This is a great opportunity for anyone who plans to visit more than once during the course of a year. It’s also worth considering if you are a member of the military or are permanently disabled.

  • Yosemite Pass | $70
    • Grants entry to Yosemite for 12 months
  • National Parks Pass | $80
    • Grants access to all national parks for 12 months
  • Senior Pass (62+) | $80
    • Grants access to Yosemite for life
  • Military Pass | Free
    • Annual pass covering Yosemite entrance fees for all active military personnel and their dependents
  • Access Pass | Free
    • Lifetime entry to Yosemite for US Citizens with permanent disabilities


Yosemite National Park is 167 miles away from San Francisco. You can get to the park by driving there yourself, taking a bus tour, or by using public transportation.

Here is a summary. You can read our post on how to get to Yosemite National Park from San Francisco for detailed information.

By Car

If you have access to a car, you can drive to Yosemite from San Francisco in about four hours.

There are several routes to choose from, including a scenic route or a route that takes slightly less time to reach the park.

By Bus Tour 

Bus tours are great for those who don't have cars. But even if you have your own transportation, a bus tour lets you sit back and enjoy the views.

Bus tours also have live guides who provide commentary during the ride.

There are several different tour companies that offer tours of Yosemite departing from San Francisco.

Read our post on Yosemite bus tours to see what your options are.

By Public Transportation

Though you cannot get all the way to Yosemite by public transport, you can get pretty close!

You can take either an Amtrak train or a Greyhound bus to the town of Merced. From there, you transfer to the local transportation service for the last leg of your trip to Yosemite.

Yosemite Valley Shuttle System

Once you are inside Yosemite, you can use this free and convenient shuttle to travel around the park.

This bus won’t take you through the entire park, but it’s a great option if you plan to stay in the valley. 

Shuttle bus stops are located near most hotels and some stores. Check the shuttle bus route map.

Shuttle service runs from 7 am - 10 pm every day of the year.


For those who don't have a car or prefer to let someone else do the driving, opt for taking a Yosemite bus tour.

If you can get to the park yourself, there are guided tours you can take starting from Yosemite. For example, you can take a guided Yosemite Day Hike from Glacier Point

If you are visiting in the winter season, let a guide take you to the locations that are open instead of figuring out on your own where you can and cannot go. Check out this Yosemite Valley Winter Hiking Tour.

For other options like two-day trips, see this list of Yosemite National Park Trips from San Francisco

How many days do you need in Yosemite?

For a comprehensive exploration of Yosemite's diverse landscapes, including the Mist Trail, John Muir Trail, and the majestic Sequoia Trees, and to enjoy the various lodging options, a trip of at least three to four days is recommended.

Is it worth visiting Yosemite for just one day?

Even a one-day visit to Yosemite offers a glimpse of its beauty. You could take a round trip to top attractions like the Four Mile Trail, experience rock climbers in action, or admire the grandeur from Tunnel View. Despite the time constraints, it's absolutely worth visiting.

What is the best month to visit Yosemite?

The best month to visit Yosemite depends on what you wish to experience. For avid hikers seeking elevation gain, May and June are perfect for visiting waterfalls and trails. For winter enthusiasts, December is ideal for skiing and enjoying a different, snowy perspective of the park.


About The Author


Britt is a San Francisco Bay Area native, and has spent 25 years in this magical city. He has traveled to over 30 countries, and has never found a place he loves as much as this one! If you come to San Francisco, you might join one of Britt's tours of the city. A graduate of the University of Maryland and University of Southern California, he has been leading tours for Free Tours by Foot since 2015.
Updated: July 24th, 2023
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