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How to plan the perfect Yosemite vacation

Yosemite National Park is the crown jewel of the Sierra Nevadas and one of most celebrated attractions in America’s National Park System. From towering granite cliffs to roaring waterfalls, giant sequoias to sweeping, glacier-carved valleys, Yosemite has it all. There are views to enjoy, trails and lakes to explore, and history to discover. There are also reservations to make, logistics to consider, and guidelines to follow in order to make the most of your trip.

The Gig Team is here to help! Because we want you to make the most of your Yosemite adventure, we’ve created this guide to offer a few of our favorite destinations, as well as important information you’ll want to keep in mind as you plan your visit.

Yosemite valley covered in snow, Half dome in the distance a river in the foreground- Jeremy Bishop | Unsplash

When to Go, What to See

The celebrated naturalist John Muir described Yosemite as “the grandest of all the special temples of nature I was permitted to enter.” Muir lived more than a century ago when it was easier to enter. Crowds at Yosemite are considerably larger these days, which means the first thing you may want to consider is the timing of your trip. If you’re planning to visit in the summer, you’ll want to plan ahead. If you’re wanting to climb Half Dome or camp in one of the park’s most popular campsites, you’ll want to plan well ahead.  

Pro tip #1: Or should we say snow tip? Yosemite reigns any time of year. In winter, it can also feel like your own personal kingdom. The vistas are no less majestic, the trails are just considerably less crowded. Consider this: From December to February, only 9 percent of the Yosemite’s 5 million plus annual visitors show up. Lodging options are plentiful and the park feels like it’s all yours.

half dome viewed from a road - Trent Erwin | Unsplash

Take a hike

Waterfall or rim views? That’s the question intrepid hikers ask themselves when they visit Yosemite National Park. Our advice is to do both! For a staggering rim view, park at the trailhead at Sentinel Dome and trek 2.2 miles to Taft Point. You’ll find yourself gazing right over the rim and into Yosemite Valley. You’ll also enjoy an unobstructed view of 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls.

Waterfall lovers have their pick of 318-foot Vernal Fall and 594-foot Nevada Fall. Accessible via the popular Mist Trail, it’s less than a mile from Happy Isles to the viewing point at a footbridge for Vernal. The trip to Nevada Fall takes longer, but the 5.4-mile trek offers thinner crowds and plenty of gorgeous scenery. There are also easy walks to be had from the valley floor to the base of Bridalveil Fall.

Pro tip #2: Interested in climbing Half Dome? Join the club. Rising nearly 5,000 feet above the Yosemite Valley, Half Dome is a Yosemite icon and the high point (literally) of many hikers’ Yosemite vacation. If you’re planning to hike Half Dome, you must have a permit. For day hikers, permits are available by lottery in March, with a limited number available two days in advance.

Paddle in paradise

The San Francisco Chronicle’s esteemed outdoors writer Tom Stienstra calls it one of the “prettiest flat-water paddles anywhere.” He’s talking about Tioga Lake. Perched at 8,638 feet and surrounded by high-country granite, this overlooked glacial lake offers both incredible scenery and unmatched serenity. Tenaya Lake is another great paddling option. (Note: You’ll need your own canoe or kayak.)

Troy Williams | Unsplash

Snap a photo

Shutterbugs flock to Stoneman Bridge in Yosemite Valley for what many park insiders consider to be the place to photograph Half Dome. The renovated parking area on Highway 41 provides an equally iconic view of the valley, with El Capitan, Cathedral Rock, and Half Dome all in plain view. Veteran park-goers say that you haven’t truly seen Yosemite Park until you’ve viewed it (and photographed it) from the lookout at 7,214-foot Glacier Point. You can hike it or drive it, just don’t miss it.

Get vertical

Yosemite is one of the world’s greatest rock-climbing destinations, with the park’s famous granite monoliths attracting the planet’s finest climbers. Not an accomplished climber yourself? No problem. Even if you don’t know the difference between bolt-clipping and belaying, you can still experience the thrill. Not to mention the jaw-dropping views. Southern Yosemite Mountain Guides (SYMG) has been offering guided climbing tours since 1991 and can cater to your needs.

The Basics:

Ready to start planning your Yosemite adventure? You’ll impress friends and family alike by keeping in mind these Yosemite Basics.

Remember, if you take a Gig anywhere, cell reception might be spotty – be sure to bring your Gig Card so you don’t get stuck. Our app-enabled features only work if the app has cell service, the Gig Card works all the time!

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