Yosemite is internationally recognized for its granite rocks, its redwood trees and its spectacular scenery. In fact, though, the National Park offers even more than that, most notably the variety of different habitats make Yosemite special. The park covers altitudes from 600 to 4000 meters above sea level and can be divided into five different vegetation zones all the way up to the alpine zone, where many rare plant species can be found. There are three locations where redwood trees can be seen. Especially notable is Mariposa Grove in the southernmost section of the park with some 200 specimens including a tree named Grizzly Giant that’s almost 64 meters tall and about 2000 years old. In the summer, a lot of wildflowers can be seen from the hiking trails, later in the year fall foliage becomes one of the tourist attractions.
Another of these attractions are the black bears living in the park, which were previously often watched when they searched trash cans and containers for edible trash left behind by visitors. Due to the increasing number of incidences with bears and visitors and due to the fact that the animals displayed an increasingly unnatural behavior, the rules concerning bears have now become much stricter. However, chances are still good to view one of the several hundred black bears living here. Apart from them, there are lynx, groundhogs and mountain lions in Yosemite, but also Bighorn sheep, rattlesnakes, and the Yosemite toad which can only be found here, in addition to countless species of bird and many species of fish in more than 3200 lakes in the National Park.
Water plays an important role for the park’s landscapes. There are rivers and smaller creeks which, if taken together, have a total length of more than 2600 kilometers and which have dug several canyons into the rocks. They also form the basis of further sights, for example by forming waterfalls in many places. These draw a lot of visitors, especially in spring, when the snow melts. With a fall of 739 meters, the Yosemite Falls take the biggest plunge for the highest waterfalls of North America. The most easily accessible and hence most-visited of the park’s waterfalls is Bridalveil Fall, falling over 188 metres, which can be seen from State Route 41.
On this road, in the southern part of the U-shaped Yosemite Valley, which was created more than a million years ago by a glacier, there is the popular viewpoint Tunnel View, from where one gets a great view of the waterfall, but also of the two most famous mountains of the park. The famous El Capitan is visible from here, as is Half Dome. El Capitan is a granite rock with a height of 910 meters, whose peak can be reached via a hiking trail beginning in the valley. The better-known trail, though, leads over the steep walls of the monolith - the rock is very popular with climbers. BASE jumping, which has been done here previously, has by now been prohibited. Half Dome received its name, because when looked at from a northern direction, it looks as if it would have lost half of its volume, which is not the case. The granite rock stands 2693 meters tall and can be climbed via a hiking trail as well. The last section of this trail is a very steep incline, where cables have been installed on which visitors can pull themselves up. Due to the high demand among park visitors for this adventure, those who want to climb Half Dome on the weekends need an advance reservation for which applications must be addressed to National Park Service. A maximum of 400 daily visitors are allowed.
Only a small percentage of visitors ventures into the higher parts of the National Park. Yosemite’s backdrops reach a height of up to 4000 meters - that’s the peak of the park’s tallest mountain, Mount Lyell. The ascent to the peak begins in the subalpine plateau called Tuolomne Meadows at an altitude of 2630 meters above sea level. In this environment, further good opportunities for hiking and climbing can be found, for example up onto Lembert Dome, which has a height of 2880 meters or onto the 3981 meters tall Mount Dana, the National Park’s second-highest peak.
Thanks to the park’s popularity with visitors, it sometimes comes across its capacity limits. While parts of Yosemite can be reached by car (entrance fee is $20 per car, valid for seven days), it is sometimes, on days with a lot of visitor traffic, advisable to make use of the shuttle buses. Those travel everywhere in the park, connect to all popular points and enable access to the most popular attractions even when the respective parking lots are full. In winter, some roads may be closed to traffic. National Park Service maintains several information and visitor cernters, where information on the current situation can be obtained. Those centers also have information on accommodation options in the park, ranging from primitive campgrounds with or without the necessity to make reservations to lodges. Furthermore, programs and events offered by Park Rangers, including guided hikes, can be booked in these visitor centers.
When all options are talen into account, the possibilities to explore the park are very comprehensive: Next to a network of hiking trails with various lengths and degrees of difficulty there are several designated bike trails, in addition, horseback riding trips are possible. With few exceptions, swimming in the creeks and lakes of the National Park is permitted. In winter in the higher-altitude sections, nordic skiing is available and the Badger Pass Ski Area even offers downhill skiing.
Further information on Yosemite National Park can be found on the National Park Service website.