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Yosemite Valley Travel Guide

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This travel guide for Yosemite Valley will help you plan your vacation to one of California’s most popular national parks – things to do, where to stay, and how to get there and around the park.

Yosemite National Park is one of seven California’s National Parks and probably the most famous. It inspired the likes of John Muir and Ansel Adams and has become a mecca for rock climbers.

The national park sees upwards of 4 million visitors each year and Yosemite Valley is the busiest area to visit. You will most likely spend a day exploring the trails and sights at the valley during your vacation so I wanted to share with you 4 Easy Trails to Hike in Yosemite Valley.

These are flat hikes, short in distance and paved, making it accessible for wheelchairs and strollers.

How to Get to Yosemite Valley

There are five entrances to Yosemite National Park. Four are on the west side of the park and one on the East (Tioga Pass), which only opens in the summer.

Yosemite Valley is located in the West part of the park and the closest entrance is the Arch Rock Entrance. Depending on what time of the year you are visiting and also where you are traveling from determines how to get to Yosemite Valley.

Where to Stay in Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Falls

There are several options in Yosemite National Park for lodging from luxurious lodges to cabins and campgrounds.

The Majestic Yosemite Lodge and the Yosemite Valley Lodge are all located in Yosemite Valley and will provide you all the comforts of a hotel.

The Half Dome Village offers more rustic accommodations such as cabins and canvas camping tents with beds and heating.

There are also several campgrounds (tent and RV) in Yosemite Valley for those who prefer to self-cater.

How to Get Around Yosemite Valley

There are free shuttles that do the Yosemite Valley loop every 15-30 minutes that take you to all accommodations, restaurants and most attractions in the valley.

Park around the lodges and pick up the shuttle to the desired locations.

It’s much easier and you will avoid staying in traffic trying to find a parking spot. We parked at Church Bowl Picnic Area, which does not have a shuttle stop and walked over to shuttle stop number 4. It was much easier than waiting for parking at the major shuttle stops.

You need to know is that the shuttle operates in an ascending order (stop 4, 5, 6, etc…) therefore if you get the shuttle on a larger stop (11 for example), it will most likely be full and standing room only. We ended up walking back to the car from shuttle stop 11 (Cook’s Meadow Loop), because it was easier than trying to pack into the overcrowded shuttle.

It’s best to plan your itinerary from the closest shuttle stop to you – for example if you get the shuttle at 4, exit at 6 to do Yosemite Falls. Then cross the bike path in front of shuttle stop 6 to do Cook’s Meadow loop.

The map below is what you need to get around by shuttle in Yosemite Valley.

Map of Yosemite Valley Shuttle System

For El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, Cathedral Beach, you will need to drive, bike or walk as the shuttle doesn’t go that far.

4 Easy Trails to Hike in Yosemite Valley

These 4 trails are perfect for beginners and families with small children. You can just take the free shuttle right to the trailhead and walk to the main attraction. Incredible scenery and you might not even break a sweat.

Bridalveil Falls Trail

Bridalveil falls in Yosemite National Park

The Bridalveil Falls Trail is an easy trail with distance of only 0.5 mi / 0.8 km (round trip), with minimal elevation gain (less than 100 ft), which can be done in under 30 minutes and takes you straight to the bottom of the falls.

This hike is not accessible by shuttle, so you will have to drive or bike there.

Take Highway 41 from Yosemite Valley towards Wawona. The Bridalveil Falls parking lot is soon after you turn onto Highway 41.

Lower Yosemite Falls Trail

Lower Yosemite Falls in Yosemite valley California

Lower Yosemite Falls is one of the most visited places in Yosemite Valley so expect it to be busy. However, we were there in July around mid-day and it wasn’t too bad.

It’s a flat trail, paved that can be accessed from shuttle stop 6. The entire trails is 1 mile long (1.6 km) and can be done in 30 minutes.

The Lower Yosemite Falls trail is accessible by wheelchair and stroller.

There is also an Upper Yosemite Falls Trail which is accessed at the same point, but it’s much longer and climbs up quite a bit in elevation, so it’s not considered a beginner trail.

Cook’s Meadow Loop

Half Dome from Cooks Meadow Loop Trail in Yosemite Valley

From Lower Yosemite Falls Trail, you can cross the street in front of the shuttle stop 6 and reach Cook’s Meadow Loop. It’s one mile long (entire loop) and flat.

You can walk the entire loop or take the shuttle to another destination at shuttle stop 11.

From Cook’s Meadow Loop, you can see half-dome and the Yosemite Falls.

Mirror Lake

From Cook’s Meadow Loop, you can take the shuttle down to stop 17 to the Mirror Lake Trailhead.

This is an easy to moderate hike, 2-5 miles long – longer if you loop around the lake. It has minimal elevation and it will take 1-3 hrs roundtrip.

What else to see in Yosemite Valley

El Capitan

El Capitan in yosemite national Park

Cathedral Beach

This area by the Bridalveil creek is perfect to picnic with the family and also sunbathe.

If you are traveling with kids it’s a great place to rest and let them play as the water is really shallow here.

You will have beautiful views of El Capitan as a bonus.

Have you been to Yosemite Valley? What is your favorite place or activity when visiting Yosemite National Park?

If you like National Parks, here are some other posts you might also be interested in.

If you need a list for what to pack on a hike, check out these 10 essentials.

For more things to do in California, check out these travel guides:

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Collage of attractions at Yosemite Valley
Collage of attractions in Yosemite Valley

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