The far-famed valley came suddenly into view throughout almost its whole extent: the noble walls, sculptured into endless variety of domes and gables, spires and battlements and plain mural precipices, all a-tremble with the thunder tones of the falling water. The level bottom seemed to be dressed like a garden, sunny meadows here and there and groves of pine and oak, the river of Mercy sweeping in majesty through the midst of them and flashing back the sunbeams. --John Muir
Yosemite Valley, home to many of the famous cliffs and waterfalls that make Yosemite National Park famous is accessible by car and bus all year.
To get there:
- Car: You can drive into and around Yosemite Valley all year. Highways 41, 140, and 120 (from the west) provide access all year, although tire chains may be required from October or November through March or April.
- Bus: Amtrak and Greyhound provide public transportation to Yosemite Valley .
Visitor Centers & Museums
- Valley Visitor Center (all year): Ranger-staffed information desk, bookstore, Spirit of Yosemite film, and exhibit hall detailing the park's geology, plant and animal life, and history.
- Valley Wilderness Center (May to October): Offers wilderness permits , bear canisters, maps, and guidebooks. Information on pre-trip planning, minimum-impact camping, and the Yosemite Wilderness .
- Yosemite Museum (all year): The Indian Cultural Exhibit and Village interprets the cultural history of Yosemite's native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present. Demonstrations of traditional skills are presented. The Gallery offers art exhibits periodically throught the year.
- Nature Center at Happy Isles (May to September): Designed for nature-exploring families, this center offers natural history exhibits, and interactive displays. Nearby are short trails through the area's forest, river, and fen environments. Evidence of the huge 1996 rockfall from the Glacier Point cliff is visible above.
- LeConte Memorial Lodge (late May to early September): Yosemite's first public visitor center, operated by the Sierra Club, features a children's corner, library, and a variety of environmental education and evening programs.
- Art & Photography (all year)
- Biking (spring to fall)
- Birdwatching (all year)
- Fishing (spring to fall)
- Hiking & Walking (all year)
- Horseback Riding & Stock Use (spring to fall)
- Ice Skating (winter)
- Ranger & Interpretive Programs (all year)
- Stargazing (all year)
- Tours (all year)
- Water Activities (summer)
Waterfalls : Yosemite Valley is home to most of the park's famous waterfalls. The best time to see them is during spring runoff; they have little or no water in late summer and fall.
Tunnel View provides one of the most famous views of Yosemite Valley. From here you can see El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall rising from Yosemite Valley, with Half Dome in the background. This viewpoint is at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel along the Wawona Road (Highway 41).
In Yosemite Valley, El Capitan Meadow provides a view straight up El Capitan and a great view of Cathedral Rocks, as well. Located along one-way Northside Drive, it is best to stop here on your way out of Yosemite Valley.
You can look up Yosemite Valley from alongside the Merced River at Valley View . Located along one-way Northside Drive, it is best to stop here on your way out of Yosemite Valley. This popular vista is located just after a view of Bridalveil Fall but immediately before Pohono Bridge, about the time you begin to see directional signs for highways leaving the park.
In Yosemite Valley, the area around Sentinel Meadow and the Yosemite Chapel is a favorite place to stop to look at Yosemite Falls. Sentinel Bridge is famous for its views of both Half Dome reflected in the Merced River. You can also see Yosemite Falls nearby. Yosemite Lodge and Lower Yosemite Fall provide a closer view of Yosemite Falls. A short walk takes you right to the bottom.
Did You Know?
Unrestricted camping is no longer allowed in Yosemite Valley because of damage it causes. The placement of campgrounds and campsites has changed over the past 75 years in response to a growing understanding of river dynamics, geologic hazards, and the park's natural and cultural resources.
For tens of thousands of years, humans have changed, and have been changed by, this place we now call Yosemite. The Ahwahneechee lived here for generations, followed by the arrival of Europeans in the mid-1800s. The rugged terrain challenged many early travelers, with just a few—only 650 from the mid-1850s to mid-1860s—making the journey to Yosemite Valley by horseback or stagecoach. By 1907, construction of the Yosemite Valley Railroad from Merced to El Portal eased the journey, thereby, increasing visitation. Today, 3.5 million people enter the park’s gates to explore. We learn from the stories of those who walked Yosemite’s trails before us, allowing appreciation of their lasting footprints that led to conscious preservation.
People: Seven present-day tribes descend from the people who first called this area home. As Europeans arrived in the mid-1800s, violent disruption ensued that displaced the native populations. Early white settlers arrived and hosted writers, artists, and photographers who spread the fame of "the Incomparable Valley" throughout the world.
Places: Within Yosemite's history, various cultures abounded that left a mark. Historic mining sites remain from miners who came to the Sierra to seek their fortune in gold. Early lodging establishments, like the Wawona Hotel, offered a more primitive setting for the Valley's first tourists and today's visitors, and more elegant lodging, like The Ahwahnee, was added to satisfy those looking for comfort.
Stories: History books detail the Mariposa Battalion entering Yosemite Valley in 1851 to remove the Ahwahneechee. As Euro-American settlement occurred, people arrived on foot, on horseback and by rail to rustic hotels. Parts of the landscape were exploited, spurring conservationists to appeal for protections. President Abraham Lincoln signed an 1864 bill granting Yosemite Valley and the Mariposa Grove to the State of California. John Muir helped spark the creation of Yosemite National Park in 1890.
Collections: Yosemite's resources fill a flourishing museum collection of more than 4 million items. The museum maintains a research library with some 10,000 books relevant to Yosemite, as well as photographs and articles. And, recently, an oral history project has collected interviews of people's park stories, events, and experiences that captures eye-witness evidence of the past.
Preservation: Archeological and architectural recognition honor Yosemite's past. Archeologists systematically study the things left behind to uncover clues about historic cultures, economic systems, settlement patterns, demography, and social organizations. Architects make note of the National Park Service Rustic Style of many Yosemite structures representing the belief that buildings should blend in with natural surroundings.
Research and Studies: Ongoing scientific research abounds at Yosemite from vista management to soundscape preservation to human carrying capacity issues. Yosemite has been building its Division of Resource Management and Science, serving as a public meeting place for scientific symposiums with papers presented at monthly forums. View the schedule for the Yosemite Forum . In addition, the division processes hundreds of research permits every year for its staff and outside interests.
In Recognition of Yosemite's Heritage: Yosemite's strong environmental stewardship has taken shape through key historic events. The park plans to honor its heritage through a series of anniversaries.
- June 30, 2014: 150th anniversary of the Yosemite Grant
- Sept. 3, 2014: 50th anniversary of the Wilderness Act
- Sept. 28, 2014: 30th anniversary of the California Wilderness Act
- Oct. 1, 2015: 125th anniversary of Yosemite National Park
- Aug. 25, 2016: 100th anniversary of the NPS
- See the NPS' ever expanding library of works of high relevance. In the NPS Voyager Library Catalog , an increasing number of digitized texts in the public domain can be accessed via links inserted to records. For other NPS library resources, use the "Quick Links to More Info" bar to search " NPS Focus " (a digital library & research station of many collections that offers one-stop seaching) and to search " Online History Books " organized by park name in a PDF format.
- Want more NPS history? View the NPS' history home page , with newly added documents spotlighted on the page. Also, find a history of the National Park Service and an alphabetical list of individual park histories .
- Read the National Parks Second Century Commission 's 2009 comprehensive report , including a cultural resource chapter [612 kb PDF] that pictures a different past in a different future.
- NPS prides itself on its cultural resources as documented in CRM: The Journal of Heritage Stewardship .
- See a list of Yosemite's fact sheets , including the history of the High Sierra Camps and of the former American Indian Village in Yosemite Valley.
- Print out a website cheat sheet on how to navigate Yosemite's cultural-based webpages. [88 kb PDF]
- Learn about the park's ecology section from animals and plants to environmental issues.
Did You Know?
Rockfall events have helped shape many of the outstanding features along Yosemite Valley's walls, including Royal Arches, North Dome, and Half Dome. Giant talus slopes that slant away from the Valley walls accumulate debris with each rockfall event.