I’m very fortunate to live in arguably one of the most beautiful regions of the world, the eastern Sierra Nevada mountains of California. The landscapes here are huge and dramatic and stunning. And if that wasn’t enough, one of the world’s most famous national parks, Yosemite, is a mere 45 minutes down the road from my house.
Yosemite is a playground of towering waterfalls, granite monoliths, idyllic meadows, and vast wildernesses. It’s a place everyone should see at least once in their lives. And in fact, more and more people are doing just that. Last year Yosemite had 5mil visitors, nearly 1 million more people than the year before.
And while it’s incredible that so many people are enjoying this spectacular park, the extreme number of visitors is creating other issues like overcrowding, severe traffic, and an increased impact on the park’s facilities. And no matter who you are, it’s tough to appreciate the grandeur of El Capitan or Yosemite Falls when you’re stuck for three hours in stop and go traffic.
So along with the good people over at Mono County Tourism I wanted to give you 5 tips to have a better, more personal visit to Yosemite National Park, so that you can home with better memories, and better photos.
First, plan your visit for off peak hours, days, and seasons. If you show up in the park at noon on a summer Saturday you’re probably going to hate life a little bit. But arrive at 7am on a Tuesday and you’ll be able to visit the spots you want when you want.
Furthermore, the park is open year round but receives the vast majority of its visitation between May and September. In fact, Yosemite receives almost twice as many visitors in August alone as it does in December, January, and February combined. Not only is the park stunningly beautiful in those winter months, but if you visit then it will feel like you have the entire place to yourself.
If peak summer season is your only option you can still save yourself a ton of headaches by taking public transportation. Yosemite has a public bus system called YARTS that serves every single one of the surrounding communities. So you can leave your car somewhere like Fresno, Mammoth, or Sonora, and have someone else drive you into the park.
Not only is this great because you don’t have to search for parking but your national Park entrance fee is also included in your bus ticket price and kids ride for free. And once you’re inside there are free shuttle buses to take you around Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows. It’s an easy, cheap, and convenient way to get around that keeps you out of traffic and helps reduce gridlock.
Yosemite is virtually the same size as Rhode Island, and yet the extreme majority of all visitors only visit this tiny little slice of the park. No wonder it gets so congested! But Yosemite has a number of other breathtaking areas, like Hetch Hetchy Valley, Tioga Road, Tuolumne Meadows, Glacier Point Road, Wawona, and more, that are all easily accessible*, and nowhere near as crowded and chaotic as Yosemite Valley. Be willing to explore further afield and I guarantee you will get away from the crowds.
*some of these areas are subject to seasonal closures.
Did you know that most visitors to Yosemite National Park never get more than 1/4 mile away from their cars? And yet, Yosemite has over 800 miles of hiking trails within its boundaries. So trade in your car tires for hiking shoes and instead of being surrounded by thousands of other people you will find yourself alone in nature, which is the key to having a personal experience in the park. Even if you are not super fit there are hundreds of places in Yosemite where only a few minutes’ walk will lead you to your own private slice of heaven.
Yosemite is a stunning place, but it’s also just one area within a truly spectacular part of California. Just outside Yosemite you can find thousands of places that are as interesting and beautiful as the park, but which don’t see even a fraction of the crowds.
For example, just here in Mono County we have the Walker River, the Twin Lakes area, Bodie, Mono Lake, Lundy Canyon, the Mono Craters, the June Lake Loop, Devil’s Postpile National Monument, the Ansel Adams Wilderness, the Mammoth Lakes Basin, McGee Creek, Convict Lake, the John Muir Wilderness, and on and on and on.
Whatever you’re looking for, be it history, relaxation, or gobsmacking scenery, you can find it along the Eastern Sierra.
So like I mentioned, Yosemite and the surrounding area are incredible, worth as many visits to them as you can make. And by following these tips you can have as personal, meaningful, and beautiful a trip as possible.
As always thanks for reading. Be sure to follow Mono County Tourism on Facebook and Instagram for tons of information about visiting this amazing part of the world. And until next time have fun and happy shooting.