Camping and Hiking in Yosemite National Park in California

Yosemite is a magical piece of nature that I’m lucky enough to share a state with. I grew up camping near Yosemite, and I remember the first time entering the park being awestruck by how majestic and just massive all the rocks are here. It’s definitely worth an adventure to see your Mac screensaver in real life and to feel extra small.

What to See (and How to See It)

There is a lot of nature to be seen while in Yosemite, so plan ahead and think about what hikes you want to do when, taking into account some hikes will leave you sore and tired after! I use the REI app to plan out my hikes and track which trails I’m going to take. Below are some of my highlights from my adventures in Yosemite.

Half Dome

Half Dome is possibly the most iconic rock formation I know of, and you can see it from almost everywhere in Yosemite Valley as soon as you enter through the tunnel. The best view of Half Dome is from Glacier Point, however the best experience with Half Dome is to brave the 16+ mile hike to the top! It’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had (and also one of the most challenging days mentally and physically of my life) but worth every minute. This hike earned it’s own blog post here.

Half Dome Views

El Capitan

El Capitan heard me say Half Dome is the most iconic rock formation in the world and is now upset! This equally famous, massive wall of granite is best viewed at the Tunnel View stop as you enter the valley through the tunnel. You’ll also be able to see it from honestly anywhere you go within Yosemite Valley as well!

Glacier Point

The best view in Yosemite National Park in my humble opinion. Here you can see the entire valley, and get a clear view of Half Dome, the 15 miles you hiked to get there, and catch glimpses of the waterfalls. It’s super accessible via car – just drive all the way to the top and walk about 10 minutes out to the view point! You can also hike up to Glacier Point.

Mist Trail to Vernal Falls

My best recommendation to people visiting Yosemite is to do the stair master in advance, and Mist Trail is the number one reason why! This is the more difficult route up to Vernal falls, however the benefit of getting up close and personal with Vernal Falls the whole way is worth it. You’ll hike up 100s of granite steps but be rewarded with beautiful views the whole time. During spring and early summer, you’ll also get a lovely mist from the waterfall. As the season progresses and the water flow lessens, so does the refreshing mist.

Nevada Falls

Another one not for the faint of heart! Getting to the top of Nevada falls is equivalent to finishing a little more than half of the the hike to the top of Half Dome, and doing most of the challenging portion. After Mist Trail, you can keep heading up 100s of more granite steps to reach the top of Nevada Falls. This trail is TOUGH, but a killer workout for some of the best views in the park. You then come down through John Muir Trail, a much more gentle path with a gradient instead of stairs. You can reverse the path or take John Muir as an out and back, but I prefer going up the steps instead of down.

Yosemite Falls

Lower Yosemite falls is a gentle stroll through a lovely meadow and some nice trees. This can be completed in about 20 minutes, and i believe is also completely wheelchair accessible. It’s an easy hike to see the falls quickly. If you’re up for it, it’s much more strenuous to make it the 8 miles up and back to Upper Yosemite Falls and Yosemite Point. I haven’t made it up this one yet, but it’s on my list!

Mariposa Grove

Mariposa Grove is outside of the Yosemite Valley, and is a totally different experience. Here, you’ll be wandering through the grove of Giant Sequoias, some of the largest trees in the world. Parking is convenient right near the trail head, and the farther you go through the main loop, the more secluded the trail will get! It’s a bit of a make your own adventure here.

Wawona

Wawona has the cutest Big Tree Inn if you’re ready to have tea on a porch instead of hike, or the Wawona Meadow Loop is also a really nice, couple mile, flat walk to let your muscles recover after an uphill trek. We saw a bunch of cool birds here!

Where to Stay

My family loves camping, so I’m going to focus on campsites in Yosemite! The sites are well sized and there are lots of amenities, so this is a great place if you are new to camping. You can make reservations up to five months in advance on the Yosemite National Park website, and they go fast so be sure to set a reminder to book your space!

The ideal place to camp in my opinion is any of the Valley Floor campgrounds. This puts you right in the center between landmarks like Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and El Capitan, and means you get the best sunrise and sunset views here as well. Also, when you camp here, you likely won’t need your car again except to get to Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove as there are shuttles to take you throughout the Valley floor. These campsites do tend to be more crowded and space fills up quickly, so be sure to snatch a spot fast!

Another option for camping that is typically less crowded is the Wawona campground. This campground places you in a stunning meadow between Mariposa Grove and the Valley floor. While you will have to drive everywhere from this campsite, you also get a bit more quiet, and parking is relatively abundant throughout the park. As long as you don’t have a really early morning planned to make it up Half Dome, the 20 minute drive was not really an issue. You are also close to the Big Tree Inn, a cute historic building, as well as a large general store for any provisions or afternoon ice cream!

No matter where you choose to stay within the park, you’ll have amazing views, access to an abundance of wildlife, and some calming time with nature.

What to Pack for a Camping Trip

I’ve grown up camping at least once a year, and I love it because my family is very prepared! We have a ton of gear, and we always car camp, meaning we are able to pitch our tent very close to the car (no backpacking into campsites). Below is a list of some of my camping essentials, nice to haves, and luxury items we’ve accumulated over the years. Another really important tip for camping is to very meticulously plan out your meals, so you pack the correct amount of food and have it stored properly to last your entire trip (and prevent bears from eating it – also USE YOUR BEAR BOX!)

  • Good Tent
  • Air mattress
  • Warm Sleeping Bag
  • Extra Pillows
  • Electric Pump
  • Portable Space Heater
  • Portable Grill
  • Portable Stove Top
  • “Kitchen Essentials Box” – include plates, cutlery, spices, a pot, a pan, cups, cleaning supplies
  • Extra Lysol Wipes
  • Paper towels
  • Bug Spray/ Bug candles
  • Lanterns and flashlights
  • Ice chests
  • Boxes with LOTS of snacks
  • Camelback
  • Emergency Water
  • GPS
  • Face and body wipes
  • Dry Shampoo
  • Extra clothes!

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