Nestled among the western Sierra Nevada Mountains and sitting on 748,436 acres, Yosemite National Park is truly California's crown jewel. With over 4.5 million visitors annually, it is one of the most famous national parks in the United States, and a place where everyone will find something for themselves, whichever type of nature lover they are.
Yosemite Valley is calling you if you have a craving to see it all in one place. Occupying just about one percent of the area, Yosemite Valley attracts most of the park's visitors with its turquoise lakes, hanging valleys, and gurgling waterfalls. Tunnel View and Glacier Point are stunning overlooks that highlight the park's iconic views and attractions, including Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in the US, Half Dome, and Clouds Rest — geological formations that need little introduction. The valley is also home to El Capitan - standing at 3,000 feet above the valley floor, it is the largest granite monolith in the world and a premier destination for climbers. Crowded as Yosemite Valley may be, it will be hard not to be impressed by its scenic charms galore.
Those seeking more solitude, though, might prefer other equally dazzling and much less visited areas in the park, including Hetch Hetchy Valley, full of towering peaks, gorgeous wildflowers, and hidden canyons, and Tuolumne Meadows, one of the most extensive high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada range.
Avid backpackers will be tempted by over 750 miles of trails meandering through the Yosemite Wilderness. The renowned Pacific Crest Trail and John Muir Trail also ramble through the park.
Yosemite National Park also suits the needs of those who love the comfort of their cars and boasts outstanding scenic drive opportunities with Tioga Road and Glacier Point Road; allowing you to enjoy numerous natural wonders and giant sequoias in the Tuolumne and Merced Groves.
Vistas will hog your attention, whatever part of the park you're in, so make sure you take your time and soak in the views the way they deserve it.
Yosemite National Park's geology is one of the major reasons the area was awarded its National Park status. Mostly, glaciation is responsible for the majority of the park’s geological wonders - was it not for this process, peaks, domes, waterfalls, and U-shaped canyons would never have been formed.
The geology of Yosemite National Park cannot be described without having a look at the Sierra Nevada mountains. The beginning of the Sierra Nevada geological history is associated with the Triassic period and the formation of the area’s earliest granite. During the ‘Nevadan Orogeny’ metamorphic rocks were formed. In the Cretaceous period, magma emerged from the subduction process when an oceanic plate started to dive under the North American plate, and as a result, the Sierra Nevada batholith arose. Then came the glacier-related erosion during the Ice Age, when the characteristic U-shaped canyons were carved throughout the mountains. The Sierra Nevada continues to rise, and the process is accompanied by large earthquakes, such as the Lone Pine earthquake that took place in 1872.
Yosemite's granite has always been massive, durable, and mostly non-layered, otherwise the valleys' cliffs and numerous high peaks wouldn't have been able to rise. Despite this single layer, the Yosemite granite is not monolithic (one solid rock) and is composed of numerous smaller bodies of granitic rock, fostering a huge variety of granite in the mountains. Metamorphic rocks also dot the area, mostly in the western foothills, but they are scarce and occupy less than 5% of the park.
The park is home to two glaciers: the Lyell Glacier and Maclure Glacier. They are of paramount importance as the glaciers provide a cold water supply to the Lyell Fork of the Tuolumne River and the surrounding ecosystems. The Lyell Glacier sits just below Mount Lyell, the highest point of the park (topping out at 13,114 feet). For more information on Yosemite NP's geology, please visit the NPS' Geology page.
Wilderness permits are required for backpacking and overnight stays (unless in frontcountry campgrounds or lodging facilities) and for day hikes to Half Dome.
Reservations are highly recommended as most trails are extremely popular and the number of issued permits is limited by quotas. 60 percent of permits are reservable and the remainder are available on a first-come, first-served basis. Reservations are not needed nor available from November through April.
Wilderness Permit Reservations for Overnight Stays
Note: If your trip starts outside Yosemite and proceeds into Yosemite, you’ll only need a permit from the starting trailhead’s managing agency and it will cover your group once you enter the park.
Follow these steps to obtain a Yosemite permit reservation:
The information you need to know while filling out the application
The results of the lottery will be sent to you within one-two business days. If your reservation is confirmed, you will receive an email with a secure link to pay for your permit ($5 per person + $5 per transaction). Complete the payment within 48 hours after receiving the email to ensure your reservation. After you get a receipt, no further action is required.
Modification and Cancellation
If you have a confirmed reservation but need to change your start date/trailhead/group size or add a Half-Dome Permit, you can request a change, provided there is space available, by filling out the 'Contact Wilderness Reservations' form. Start date or trailhead modification is free, and is also available by calling (209)372-0826. To cancel your reservation, use the same form as above. If you decide to cancel your reservation request before it was accepted, no fees will be charged.
You can also check out the ’Wilderness Permits’ page for frequently asked questions.
For other types of permits, like commercial use, weddings, and research, please visit the ‘Permits & Reservations’ page.
COVID-19 Note: The following information is current but is subject to change depending on the COVID-19 situation.
You’ll need a walk-up permit during the non-quota period (November through April) or if you decided not to reserve a permit in advance.
Permits are available at any wilderness permit station from 11 am the day before your trip begins. Choose the station which is the closest to your entry trailhead for a better chance to receive a permit, as priority is given to those locations. For popular trailheads, there is no chance to receive a permit other than at the closest permit station.
John Muir Trail (JMT) Permits
If you are planning to hike the JMT in the southbound direction (exiting Yosemite over Donohue Pass), you should apply for a permit through the JMT Rolling Lottery Application. Due to the high demand and strict Donohue Pass exit quota, there is a rolling lottery in place.
Reservations via this form open 24 weeks before each start date and can be made from December through March. If you’re not exiting the park on the JMT or were unable to obtain a permit via the rolling lottery, apply for a permit using the general wilderness application.
The crucial difference between JMT permit applications and ordinary ones is that you can apply for a wider range of dates.
As part of the permit application you need to specify:
The following options for entry trailheads are available:
The Happy Isles trailhead is the most popular choice - it is the official Northern Terminus of the JMT. Note: 40% of the Lyell Canyon trailhead permits are saved for first-come, first-served walk-ins.
The rolling lottery application can be filled out here. You will receive daily updates on whether or not you were granted a permit.
Permits to climb Half-Dome Peak are required every day when the cables are up. Generally, they are up between the Friday before Memorial Day through early October, but those dates may be changed depending on current conditions.
The maximum number of hikers allowed on the Half Dome Trail is 300 (including 75 backpackers with wilderness permits).
Covid-19 Note: 2021 has a limit of 200 people.
If you are flexible on which days to hike Half Dome, check out the graphs showing the popularity of each day.
Reservations can be made via Recreation.gov. There are two types of lottery that take place when reserving a permit.
For more details on Half Dome Permits for Day Hikers, visit the Half-Dome Permit page.
Pacific Crest Trail
PCT hikers with a long-distance permit do not need another permit to enter or camp within the Yosemite Wilderness while along the PCT. If planning on hiking and camping off the PCT a separate permit is needed. Separate permits are also needed to climb Half Dome or visit Yosemite Valley.
For PCT section hikers without the long-distance permit, you’ll need to apply for a general Yosemite wilderness permit.
Yosemite charges to enter the park - all entrance stations, aside from Hetch Hetchy, are open 24 hours a day.
Yosemite doesn’t offer single day entrance passes, rather they have a pass that is valid for up to a week.
$35 per vehicle: if you enter via a car, pickup truck, RV, or van with 15 or fewer passenger seats;
$30 per motorcycle;
$20 per person (aged 16 or older): if you enter on foot, via a bicycle, non-commercial bus, van with more than 15 passengers.
Yosemite Annual Pass
An annual pass costs $70.
It is recommended that you pay for passes in advance via Recreation.gov. You can also pay for them upon your arrival, but only credit cards are accepted.
For more information on fees and Free Entrance Days, please visit the Fees & Passes page.
America the Beautiful, Senior Passes, and Access Passes also are accepted.
General Permits and JMT Permits: $5 - confirmed reservations + $5 per person
Half Dome Permits: when you submit an application, a fee of $10 is charged. When you are granted a reservation, an additional fee of $10/person is charged.
Yosemite offers outstanding dispersed backcountry camping and operates multiple frontcountry campgrounds.
Except for the five High Sierra Camps and the Little Yosemite Valley where you must camp at designated sites, you generally may camp anywhere in the park provided you follow the park regulations:
The Wilderness Trails Map indicates minimum camping distances from trails and points of interest (beyond the arrows dispersed camping is allowed).
You may stay in the park for up to 30 nights in a calendar year and up to 14 nights from May to September 15.
Max group size: 15; though that number drops to 8 people for any cross-country hiking when more than ¼ mile from any trail.
Visit the wilderness regulations’ page for more information.
There are 13 campgrounds in Yosemite National Park, seven of which can be reserved. Reservations are highly recommended from April through September. They can be difficult to get, so be sure to follow the guidelines.
Reservations are accepted at the following campgrounds:
Reservations become available in one month blocks (on the 15th of each month, at 7 am PST) and up to five months in advance. For example, on January 15 reservations open for May 15 through June 14.
Note: reservations for May through September fill up in the first minutes and seconds they become available.
Pro-tip: Start filling out the application on Recreation.gov before 7 am and set your clock accurately to submit it right at 7. Visit the How to Make a Campground Reservation page for a helpful walkthrough on how to do this.
If you have any questions, visit the Camping Reservations or FAQ page.
Check-in and check-out time is 12 pm.
If you don’t have a reservation, try to get a spot at a first-come, first-served campground, though be aware they fill up early from spring through fall and winter holidays (usually by noon).
Before heading out to a campground, always check campground opening and closing dates or call (209)372-0266. For information on each campground and useful tips for visiting them, visit the Camping Without a Reservation page.
Don’t forget about Leave No Trace principles, and please follow the area’s rules and regulations.
Parking lots fill up especially quickly from spring through fall, especially around holidays and on weekends. Arrive early in the morning to find a parking spot. For detailed information on each entrance, please visit the Traffic in Yosemite National Park page.
There is also excellent public transportation around Yosemite and is a great way to avoid the headache of searching for parking.
Campfires are only allowed in existing fire rings. Use dead and downed wood only.
Campfires are prohibited:
Always check current fire restrictions before you go!
Pets are forbidden everywhere except in developed areas, campgrounds, and fully paved roads, bicycle paths, and sidewalks.
Stock is allowed. Stock limit: 25 head of stock.
For regulations on horseback riding, please visit the Horseback Riding & Stock Use page.
Hunting is prohibited in Yosemite National Park.
Recreation opportunities abound year-round.
The best season to hike in Yosemite NP is from July to October, although it may be possible to start earlier at lower elevations and in years when the snowpack is lower. Summers in the Sierra Nevada are usually mild, dry, and sunny with an average high of 65-75°F. Temperatures at night can drop significantly and reach 40-45°F, and occasionally to near freezing in some sections.
Thunderstorms are pretty typical along the trail so be sure to have your rain gear ready and plan your days to climb passes in the morning. Depending on the previous winter’s snowfall, some trails at higher elevations can be covered with the snow into early July and creek crossings can be challenging earlier in the season.
Early autumn can see high temperatures dropping into the 50’s, with 20’s at night. Be prepared for snow at higher elevations starting from mid-September.
For winter recreation opportunities, go to the Visiting in Winter page.
For current weather and weather forecasts visit the Yosemite Weather Forecast Map.
There are rivers, lakes, and streams galore in Yosemite National Park, so finding water is generally not an issue. However, dehydration can cause a lot of problems, so make sure you take plenty of water: at least four quarts of water (at least one gallon) per day for an adult or even more while doing a strenuous activity. Don’t drink untreated water! Always boil it for 3-5 minutes, filter with an approved device, and/or use water treatment tablets.
With ecosystems ranging from chaparral to subalpine and alpine zones, it should not come as a surprise that Yosemite National Park supports many different flora and fauna - including over 400 vertebrate species and 1,450 native plants.
Various elevations feature various vegetation - for example, while the low elevation areas feature manzanita, chamise, and blue oak, the subalpine zone is characterized by mountain hemlock, western white pine, and lodgepole pine. To see a more in-depth overview, please visit the Plants page on the Yosemite NP’s website.
As for the wildlife, its diversity is attributed to the numerous intact wilderness areas of the park. Because the area goes mostly undisturbed, 40 species, including the Harlequin duck, Mount Lyell shrew, and Sierra Nevada mountain beaver, that are endangered or protected call the park home. Additionally, 90 species of mammals roam Yosemite: the Pacific Fisher, Sierra Nevada Red Fox, and Sierra Nevada bighorn sheep, to name just a few. Keep your eyes peeled for park inhabitants and you’re sure to notice a few of the countless critters! For more information on wildlife, please visit the Animals page on the Yosemite NP website.
There are a number of natural and traffic hazards that might occur. For such hazards management, please visit the Safety page.
You’ll also find great Hiking Safety and Climbing Safety pages compiled by NPS!
Be prepared. Carry the ten essentials even on a short sightseeing hike.
Always filter or purify found water.
Remember about the potential for altitude sickness. Give your body time to make some physiological adjustments. To minimize the symptoms, drink plenty of water, don't skip meals, avoid alcohol, and rest enough.
You might need to give first aid, read a compass, or erect a temporary shelter in certain conditions. If you’re planning to undertake a strenuous hike, make sure you’re prepared physically before going on a trip.
Use proper gear for low temperatures (ie. layers!) and potentially bring an ice axe if you want to go hiking in winter. Be extremely careful and consider taking these items: an ice axe, avalanche transceiver, probe, ski poles, portable shovel, and an avalanche cord. Take an avalanche safety course, study the terrain you're headed into, and know how to use your gear before heading into the snowy backcountry.
Please be aware that Navigation Systems and GPS may not be accurate in the mountains if they require a cell signal.
Yosemite Valley Wilderness Center
Yosemite National Park Rd
Yosemite Valley, CA 95389
Tuolumne Meadows Wilderness Center
Tuolumne Meadows Lodge Rd
For more addresses and information about Yosemite National Park offices, please visit the Wilderness Permit Stations page.
You’ll find directions to Yosemite NP on the Directions & Transportation page.
Yosemite National Park is open day and night, year-round, with the exception of the Hetch Hetchy Entrance Station that is closed during night hours. You’ll find current working hours of the Hetch Hetchy Entrance on the bottom of the ‘Permit Stations’ page.
Some roads are closed seasonally due to snow. There are no specific dates for closures, but generally between November and late May-June they cannot be accessed.
Tioga and Glacier Point Roads are generally the roads of the greatest interest to most visitors. On the Tioga and Glacier Point Roads Plowing Update page, you’ll find up-to-date information and answers to frequently asked questions. Historic Seasonal Opening and Closing Dates may also be helpful if you are planning a drive along the roads.
If you are interested in alternate routes, the National Park Service prepared a list of driving directions for various locations.
Planned road work may affect accessibility, more information is available on the Road Work in Yosemite page.
For information on the current road status, please visit the Current Conditions page.
The National Park Service has the Current Conditions page for Yosemite National Park where you’ll find information on temporary road/campground/trail closures and a list of other sources you may find useful.
Whether the Half-Dome cables are up or down is also available on the Trails and Wilderness Conditions page.
The Wilderness Conditions Update page provides more information on general conditions in the park and whether wilderness centers are open. Visit the Campground Opening and Closing Dates page for the current campground status.
You’ll find opening dates for mountain passes around Yosemite and in the Sierra Nevada on the California Department of Transportation website.
We'd love to know what you think!