Yose's Guide to Yosemite
Yosemite is one of America's most iconic National Parks. It is the place where I fell in love with outdoors. Growing up in the midwest, I never knew landscapes like this existed and honestly thought Yosemite and Yellowstone were the same place (spoiler alert: they aren't), so when I made it to Yosemite my breath was taken away by the beauty of the valley. There were waterfalls around every corner and even the small ones amazed me. I have been back a handful of times since that first trip and every time I fall more in love with the place.
Know Before You Go
Depending on your intentions spend some time planing how long you want to stay and if you want to stay in the park. If you want to stay in the park, on a limited budget, check out Curry Village which is a not quite camping but not exactly a hotel either. Its a good place for people looking to get into the Great Outdoors, but a little nervous at the same time. Plus the Valley is the central location for anyone looking for a good Intro to Yosemite vacation.
Head up to Glacier Point, and make Tunnel View your first viewpoint. It is the perfect introduction to Yosemite. Chances are you have seen this view in photographs but to see that view of El Capitan and Bridalveil Falls. From there continue on this road up to Glacier Point where the view will take your breath away. It is one of the best views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Not to mention excellent views of Vernal and Nevada Falls.
If you are looking for a short hike there is a trail that leaves Glacier Point and takes you to Sentinel Dome its roughly 3 Miles round trip but the trail will get you away from the crowds at Glacier Point and provide you with some of the best views of the Valley.
Explore the Valley. There are two hikes that I would recommend. Both are popular and both are better Late May/Early June. The hike to top of Yosemite Falls is amazing. The hike is strenuous but the views are 100% worth it. The trail is 7.2 miles round trip and 2,700 feet of elevation gain so be ready make sure you pack plenty of water and snacks for the hike, and if you make it to the top you will see a view you will never forget.
Another option for a day hike is Vernal Falls on the iconic Mist Trail. This is a very popular trail so make sure you head out early. The trail is 3.5 miles round trip and at the top of Vernal Falls are plenty of spots to each lunch at the top of the waterfall. If you are felling ambitious you can continue your hike to Nevada Falls.
Both hikes are beautiful and give a great introduction to the Valley
Pro Tip: Yosemite is a busy place. Very busy. In fact, it can be so busy that it can ruin a trip. If you can, avoid weekends and holidays. You won't be the only one who thought it was a good idea to go when you got a couple of days off. Sometimes though, weekdays just aren't an option. In that case, go early. You would be surprised at how many people want to sleep in. Getting to the park, especially the valley, before 8:00 AM will help you get a parking spot and hit the trail before the all the crowds wake up.
By Day 3 you will be ready to get out of the valley. Head out to Tioga Pass to start enjoying another part of the park. Head to Tuolumne Meadows and take off north on the Pacific Crest Trail and hike along the Tuolumne River. About 5.5 miles you will reach Tuolumne Falls which is a fantastic spot to have lunch. If you are craving an alpine lake the Gaylor Lakes Trail is a 3.5 mile out and back trail where you can stop and rest at a beautiful lake before your turn around back to the trailhead.
You could spend WEEKS in Yosemite. Its a climber's paradise and this is just an introduction to the park. Yosemite is a place that changed my life when I went the first time in 2011. It was the first National Park that I laid eyes on (the Arch has only been a National Park since 2018) and I had no idea how special the wilderness was until I saw the Valley. These are just some jumping off options!