Yosemite – “El Capitan” of California National Parks

Before I visited Zion National Park, I had explored all the other national parks in Utah and I wondered what could be better, or different, or more impressive about Zion. It took my breath away and became my favorite park in Utah. Yosemite National Park had exactly the same effect on me in California. You haven’t seen a thing until you see Yosemite! #elcapitan #simplybreathtaking

PC: National Parks Conservation Association

We went to Yosemite on a gloomy day in winter when all park services were closed due to the recent government shutdown. We had only a day and the weather was not cooperating. Fog was enveloping all the peaks, Glacier Point was closed due to snow, and then it started raining. So what do you do when you are in a National Park without a ranger to give you information and without an opportunity to take photos or hike much? (Besides getting lost, which we sure did :-)) You drive around like crazy to see as much as you can, you do thorough research, and then you borrow photos from Google. For the first time in a long while, picture credit goes to numerous photographers on Google Images. I tried to select the best shots so you can understand the majesty of Mother Nature in the Eastern Sierras!

Yosemite is world renown for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, glaciers, and biological diversity.  Michael Shepherd wrote this about it and I couldn’t have said it better: “Not just a great valley, but a shrine to human foresight, the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra.”

PC: The Pew Charitable Trusts

First protected in 1864 by the Yosemite Grant (the single instance at its time of park land being set aside for preservation and public use by the U.S. Federal Government), it was a precedent for the 1872 creation of Yellowstone as the first national park. In 2016 Yosemite National Park set a visitation record of over 5 million visitors for the first time in history. It is the 3rd most visited US National Park, followed by Rocky Mountain, Zion, and Yellowstone.  (check the links to read more about my visits there this year) Considering how large the park is and how much there is to see, allow yourself minimum 3 full days to truly enjoy and explore Yosemite without feeling rushed.

About 10 million years ago the Sierra Nevada Mountains were uplifted and then tilted to form their relatively gentle western slopes and the more dramatic eastern slopes. The uplift increased the steepness of stream and river beds, resulting in formation of deep, narrow canyons. About 1 million years ago snow and ice accumulated, forming glaciers at the higher alpine meadows that moved down the river valleys. The downslope movement of the ice masses cut and sculpted the U-shaped valley that attracts so many visitors to its scenic vistas today. Almost all of the landforms in the Yosemite area are cut from the granitic rock of the Sierra Nevada Batholith (a batholith is a large mass of intrusive igneous rock that formed deep below the surface, hence very resilient to erosion).

PC: Outdoor Project

Yosemite Valley represents only 1% of the park area, but this is where most visitors arrive and stay. The Tunnel View is the first view of the Valley for many visitors and is extensively photographed. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background.

PC: KP Tripathi via 500px

Glacier Point, some say, is the most spectacular viewpoint ANYWHERE. Most people agree that its breathtaking views of the high country and Yosemite Valley, including Half Dome and three waterfalls, are the most spectacular in the park. In the summer you can drive or hike to it, in winter you are left with xc skiing for over 10 miles 🙂 #bemyguest

PC: Yosemite National Park
PC: Sierra Star

El Capitan, a prominent granite cliff that looms over Yosemite Valley, is one of the most popular rock climbing destinations in the world because of its diverse range of climbing routes in addition to its year-round accessibility.

PC: Wikipedia
PC: National Geographic and Daily Mail – Free climb by Kevin Jorgeson and Tommy Caldwell

Half Dome and Centennial Dome rise 3,000-5,000 feet above the valley floor. Half Dome is seen from everywhere but closest view (unless you are climbing it 🙂 is from Mirror Lake. I found the hike too easy but be my guest if flat scenic loops are your thing!

PC: Travel Age West

Three Brothers is a rock formation located just east of El Capitan and consists of Eagle Peak (the uppermost “brother”), and Middle and Lower Brothers. Members of the Mariposa Battalion named the Three Brothers after the capture of the three sons of Chief Tenaya near the base of the Three Brothers.

PC: All Trips Yosemite

Cathedral Peak is one of the most stunning peaks in Yosemite. It is blessed with some great moderate climbing. The approach takes about an hour and is long enough from the road and hiking trails to give you a little peace. The summit is a small block big enough for a couple people to squeeze on. Down climbing off the summit block can be scary, but John Muir did it in 1869, so you can too. 🙂 It’s a great big lightning rod – get off ASAP if thunder comes your way.

PC: Fresh Air Junkie and Ryan Jenks

Yosemite is famous for its high concentration of waterfalls. Numerous sheer drops, glacial steps and hanging valleys in the park provide many places for waterfalls to exist, especially during the snowmelt season. I personally recommend visiting the park in May/June if you can to experience the park in its full splendor and water capacity, and to see the wildflowers in the lower alpine meadows.

PC: Yosemite.com

Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America at 2,425 feet (739 m). It is actually made up of three separate falls: Upper Yosemite Fall (1,430 feet), the middle cascades (675 feet), and Lower Yosemite Fall (320 feet). Highly recommend attempting to hike up to Upper Yosemite Falls even if you just reach the scenic overlook!


Horsetail Fall is famous for a natural wonder that happens once an year in mid- to late-February – it appears to be on fire when it reflects the orange glow of sunset. Horsetail is best seen from just east of El Capitan. (maybe I’ll go back this winter in late Feb 🙂

PC: Transair Travel and Dennis Frates

Bridalveil Fall is often the first waterfall visitors see when entering Yosemite Valley. In spring, it thunders; during the rest of the year, look for its characteristic light, swaying flow. You can walk to the base via a short but steep (up to 24% slope) trail in just a few minutes.

PC: MiniTime


Vernal Falls is a strenuous climb along nature’s giant staircase which rewards you with close-up views of two waterfalls and numerous geologic features. Powerful and turbulent, Vernal and Nevada Falls will soak you in spring and impress you year-round.

PC: Yosemite.com

Where to Stay

Yosemite Bug Resort is not your typical cabins/hostel place. It is like a retreat in the woods with great massage/aromatherapy specials and yoga on weekends. I’d recommend getting yourself a glamping tent and fully indulging in the health spa, hot tub, sauna, and rain shower and then topping your evening off with a delicious meal from the cafe. It offers homemade breakfast, lunch, and dinner, they’ll pack you a trail lunch box and even have homemade chocolate cream pie…need I say more…yum 🙂

If you are staying at the Bug, a cute town close by to check out is Mariposa. During the early 19th century gold rush its rivers were panned and its veins worked deep underground. Nowadays, it lives up to its colorful past, full of cute little shops with local artisans and plentiful bars and restaurants!


A few more resources about the park I found useful and thought you could enjoy too:

Best places to view all the rock formations – https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/formations.htm

If Kings Canyon or Sequoia National Parks are not on your current California National Park itinerary and you’d like to see some giant trees and experience the majesty of a sequoia grove, you can do that in Yosemite as well –  https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/sequoias.htm


Knowing my love for horses, you’d understand that I have to find the quadruples at every location. In Yosemite you can see Wawona Meadow and View Point on a guided mule ride (ok, I had to settle for mules, not horses here 😦 )


If you enjoy reading and facts and stats, you may like this wonderful and informative comparison of Yosemite vs Yellowstone National Parks (two of my favorite parks)

Should you visit Yosemite in winter, you may want to stop by the Glacier Point Nordic Center for some xc skiing and snowshoeing!

PC: Travel Yosemite



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