Yosemite National Park takes up 761,268 acres in east central California, but most visitors spend their time in seven square miles. Massive Sequoia groves, stunning waterfalls, pristine streams and dynamic granite cliffs make up this wilderness area, which makes up nearly 95 percent of Yosemite.
Explore this stunning park starting in the Yosemite Valley, known for its waterfalls, meadows, cliffs and unusual rock formations. Here you can find the Valley Visitor Center with an exhibit hall featuring the park's history, animal life, geology and more. Check out the Spirit of Yosemite film, visit the ranger-staffed information desk or select memorabilia from the bookstore. Stop at the Valley Wilderness Center for wilderness permits for overnight stays in the park, maps and guidebooks and bear canisters, necessarily if you're carrying food into the park. Yosemite Museum offers the Indian Cultural Exhibit and Village, an interpretation of the cultural history of Yosemite's native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present. At the Nature Center at Happy Isles, view natural history exhibits and interactive displays. From here you can hike short trails through the area's forest and river environments. LeConte Memorial Lodge is Yosemite's first public visitor center, operated by the Sierra Club. Here you can find a children's corner, library and a variety of environmental education and evening programs.
At Glacier Point, discover an overlook with commanding views of Yosemite Valley, Half Dome and the High Sierra just 30 miles from Yosemite Valley. Badger Pass offers downhill and cross-country skiing from mid-December through March.
The giant Sequoias that make the park famous grow in three groves in the park. The most easily accessible area, Mariposa Grove, sits 36 miles south of Yosemite Valley near the park's south entrance. Here you can find about 500 of these mature giants, some more than 3,000 years old. You can also see these Sierra redwoods in two smaller groves at the Tuolumne and Merced Groves near Crane Flat. Cars can access Mariposa Grove from April to October, depending on the weather, while no roads go to the Tuolumne or Merced Groves. Instead, you hike two to three miles with about 500 feet of elevation gain before you can see the giant Sequoias.
If you choose to visit the Tuolumne and Merced Groves of giant Sequoia, start at Crane Flat, a forest and meadow 16 miles from Yosemite Valley. The Tioga Road (Highway 120 through the park) offers a 39-mile scenic drive between Crane Flat and Tuolumne Meadows through forests and past meadows, lakes and granite domes. Plan some time for the many turnouts, where you can marvel at the beautiful vistas. At Tuolumne Meadows, find a large, open sub-alpine meadow surrounding the winding Tuolumne River and peppered by graceful peaks and domes.
Stop at Wawona and you discover the historic Wawona Hotel, dating from the late 19th century. Cross over the covered bridge to find the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, a collection of historic buildings.
For a bit of privacy, head to Hetch Hetchy Valley, the twin to Yosemite Valley, for more spectacular scenery and many less-used wilderness trails. Here you can find the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, the source of drinking water for much of the San Francisco Bay Area.
9039 Village Dr. Yosemite National Park, CA 95389.http://www.yosemitepark.com/