Dare I say our second trip to Yosemite was more beautiful than the first. I don’t think it matters what time of year (well during May-October) you go to Yosemite, it’s going to be incredible.
Our first trip to Yosemite was in October for 4 days. And we spent as much time as possible exploring the park in those four days. While most of the waterfalls are dry by the late fall, we were able to see the redwoods and drive up to Tuolumne, which we weren’t able to do this May. Regardless of the season, the views and the hikes are incredible.
Between our trip last October and this May, here’s our top 5 things to see and do in Yosemite:
1. Hike to Nevada Falls
We thought Nevada Falls was impressive in October but it was roaring in May. Nevada Falls is the waterfall above Vernal Falls. You start at Happy Isles, hike to the base of Vernal Falls, which is impressive in its own right, and then climb the misty stone stairs to the top of Vernal. From here you can head back down or hike 2 more miles to the top of Nevada Falls. I recommend you keep going. It’s a steep hike, but well worth it.
Once you’re to the top of Nevada Falls, you have great views of the waterfall and the surrounding landscape. There’s also plenty of space to eat lunch (that you packed, of course). Both times we’ve been, we hiked down the John Muir trail. It’s a much more gradual trail down, and you get a great view of the falls from the other side. Depending on how long you hang out at the top of Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls, the hike will take about 4-6 hours.
2. Watch the sunset at Glacier Point
I love this. It’s no secret the best place to watch the sunset is from Glacier Point. I would try to get there 30 minutes to an hour before sunset. The parking lot can get a little crazy. As the sun starts to go down, Half Dome starts to turn all sorts of colors. The view of the Valley and mountains surrounding is one of my favorite views.
After the first time to we watch the sunset from Glacier Point, we wished we had brought a blanket and hot chocolate, but of course, we forgot again the second time. I’m not sure about the middle of summer, but both times we went, it got cold. Be prepared. Once the sun goes down, the stars are in full force up there, but it’s not as much fun when you’re cold – at least not for me!
3. Hike Yosemite Falls Trail to Columbia Point
Like Nevada Falls, this hike is complete with a waterfall and a view. We started at Lower Falls and headed to the trail head for Upper Yosemite Falls. We hiked to Columbia Point which isn’t marked by a sign. However, there is a metal railing on the side of the trail, so you will know when you’ve made it. You get a unique view of the Yosemite from this point. You aren’t nearly as high up as you are at Sentinel Dome or the top of Nevada Falls, but it gets you a different perspective and view of the Valley.
We stopped short of hiking the rest of the way to the top of Upper Yosemite Falls since we got a later start that day. If you’ve hiked the whole thing, let us know how it is. It’s on my list for next time!
4. Hike to Sentinel Dome
The view from Sentinel Dome is by far my favorite view in Yosemite. It’s the perfect panoramic view of Yosemite’s main attractions. You see El Capitan, Yosemite Falls and Half Dome – just to name a few.
The hike is about 1.1 miles from the trailhead to the top of Sentinel Dome. It’s not too difficult of a hike, but it’s more adventurous than a paved trail. Once you get to the top, it’s truly breathtaking. I wish I would have known how good the view is from up there, so we could have been prepared to stay longer.
The trailhead is about 14 miles up Glacier Point Rd., so you could always do Sentinel Dome and the sunset from Glacier Point on the same day. While you’re there, you should do the hike to Taft’s Point as well. You can get your standing on a rock off the side of a mountain picture.
5. Relax by the Merced River at the base of El Capitan
This is definitely the least adventurous thing you simply must do in Yosemite National Park. Both times we went to Yosemite, we tried to fly fish in the Merced within the park. October worked out a little better for fishing than May, but we, fortunately, found ourselves hanging out by the river with El Capitan in the foreground. I’m pretty sure I could sit there staring at it all day.
Pack a lunch and a blanket or a hammock and find a spot by the river. We parked the car along the road and walked towards the river just enough to escape the cars and foot traffic. Maybe save this “must do” for the day after you hike Nevada Falls or Yosemite Falls. It’s a good recovery day and chance to marvel at how grand the park really is.
Did I mention we camped fo’ free 1 mile outside of the park? Get the coordinates to the campsite here.
So there you have it. Whether you have 4 days or 9 days in Yosemite, there is so much to see and do. I think I could go back 5 more times and still find new things to do – it really is one of the best places on earth. If you’ve been to Yosemite, what’s your favorite hike or view? I’m already antsy to plan our next trip.