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NPS Passport: Yosemite National Park

NPS Passport: Yosemite National Park

The United States has 63 national parks, which are congressionally designated protected areas operated by the National Park Service. National parks are renowned for their natural beauty, unique geological features, diverse ecosystems, and recreational opportunities. Equity Estates residences enjoy close proximity to over a dozen national parks.


“Yosemite Valley, to me, is always a sunrise, a glitter of green and golden wonder in a vast edifice of stone and space.” ~ Ansel Adams

One of America’s most popular national parks (and one of the first protected pieces of land set aside for recreation), Yosemite boasts some of the most spectacular views, hiking trails, and landscapes in the country, attracting over four million visitors each year.

At 1,200-square-miles, the park is roughly the size of Rhode Island, with a whopping 95% of its vast 740,000+ acres classified as wilderness. Because of its size, Yosemite is divided into smaller regions, each with its own natural attractions, wildlife, and diverse landscapes.

The Yosemite Valley region is the park’s most visited area, as well as its most photographed, and it’s easy to see why. Made up of towering cliffs and craggy rock formations—including the famed El Capitan and Half Dome—as well as breathtaking waterfalls, a stretch of the Merced River, and dense stands of evergreens that seem to blanket the valley floor, it’s a picture-perfect spot filled with dozens of options for outdoor adventure.

The seven-mile-long valley is also home to Yosemite Village, an in-park community featuring a village store and exhibit hall, the Yosemite Museum, the Ansel Adams Gallery, shuttle stops, and a new ranger-staffed welcome center where you can sign up for guided hikes, pick up trail maps, explore the cultural history of the area, and learn more about the park. Guests who want to stay overnight or simply enjoy a relaxing lunch before heading out to see the sights may opt for reservations at The Ahwahnee, a grand historic hotel in the valley, near Royal Arch Creek.

Other areas worth exploring include Hetch Hetchy in the peaceful northwest corner of the park, where you’ll find two of North America’s tallest waterfalls, vast wilderness filled with quiet lakes and streams, and dramatic views; the stunning Mariposa Grove, with over 500 mature giant sequoias, a welcome plaza, and hiking trails; and Tuolumne Meadows, a large sub-alpine meadow with lakes and rivers, picnic areas, and hiking trails, all surrounded by forestland, domes, and majestic peaks.

Yosemite National Park is a four-to-five-hour drive from the Equity Estates home in Lake Tahoe, depending on which route you take. Maybe not short enough for a there-and-back day trip, but definitely worth the drive if you decide to do an overnight stay in the park. In fact, the drive to Yosemite is part of the adventure, a classic California road trip that takes you through scenic small towns, across slow-moving rivers, and alongside state parks and protected forest until you reach your destination.

For the easiest access to Yosemite Valley, consider the Big Oak Flat or Arch Rock entrances. Or to visit quieter areas of the park, head to the Hetch Hetchy entrance on Yosemite’s northwest side or Tioga Pass in the northeast. The Tioga entrance takes you to the Tuolumne  Meadows Visitor Center, but is only open from late May to November.

What the park is best known for:

Nicknamed the ‘Land of Giants,’ Yosemite is best known for its impressive landscape—green valleys, massive cliffs and rock formations, giant sequoias, and Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America. It’s also one of the world’s top rock-climbing destinations, attracting both beginner and more experienced climbers from around the world who want to attempt the iconic Half Dome or El Capitan.

Over the years, several movies have filmed in Yosemite, using the park’s diverse terrain as a scenic backdrop, including Star Trek V: The Final Frontier (where Captain Kirk attempts to free solo climb El Capitan); Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom; The Great Outdoors; and The Road Within.

Top three things to do in the park:

Go Hiking

There are over 700 miles of hiking trails in Yosemite, ranging from relatively easy out-and-back walks through evergreen forests or open meadows to more strenuous hikes with elevation increases and incredible views. Guests of all levels can opt for shorter excursions or challenge themselves with longer hikes on more difficult terrain, knowing they’ll be exploring some of the most beautiful parkland in the country regardless of the path they choose.

The five-mile Mirror Lake Loop, looking up at blue sky and the gray rockface of Half Dome is excellent for beginners or anyone who wants a hike that combines views of water, trees, and surrounding cliffs. Another easy hike with stunning views is the Lower Yosemite Falls trail that starts in Yosemite Village. This 1.5-mile roundtrip trail takes about an hour to complete, but takes you through pretty, shaded woodland to an up-close look at the lower (320-foot high) portion of the park’s most spectacular waterfall.

For more of a challenge, consider the 2.2-mile, short-yet-steep Columbia Rock Trail, which offers sweeping views of the valley and Half Dome from the overlook at the top. Or set out on the partially paved Vernal Falls Trail near Happy Isles for views of the valley, the Merced River, and two large waterfalls. Part of the trail includes a steep granite staircase of over 600 steps, which can be difficult to navigate, but once you’ve reached the top, you’re rewarded with breathtaking views strait down the 317-foot Vernal Falls and into the valley below.

When hiking, be sure to come prepared and follow the park’s safety rules. Bottled water, sunscreen, bug spray, sturdy shoes, a light jacket, and a headlamp are key, while binoculars and a camera are good to have on hand for wildlife (or rock climber) spotting and capturing memories of your Yosemite adventure.

Rock Climbing

As one of the most popular rock-climbing destinations in the world, Yosemite attracts thousands of thrill-seekers, beginning climbers, and professional climbers each year, who come to hone their skills and challenge themselves on the park’s towering granite walls.

Three of the most popular climbing experiences are Half Dome, where guests can climb using traditional equipment or hike part of the way up then take advantage of the permanently attached cables that ascend the last 400 feet up to the summit; the beautiful Cathedral Rocks and Spires; and the jaw-dropping El Capitan, considered a “mecca of modern rock climbing.”

Day climbs at Yosemite do not require a permit, but overnight, big wall climbs do. Permits are available at no charge by self-registration in front of the Valley Welcome Center and at a kiosk near El Capitan Bridge.

Of course, the park has rules in place for all climbs, so be sure to read up on them ahead of time and plan accordingly. It’s also a good idea to keep up with any climbing closures and safety tips—all available on the park’s website.

Rock climbing guides and small-group lessons are available through the Yosemite Mountaineering School for those who are new to the sport or who prefer having a certified, experienced guide lead you up the park’s highest peaks.

Boating and Fishing

Within Yosemite, sections of the Merced and Tuolomne Rivers, as well as several lakes, are open to non-motorized, recreational boats. Guests can kayak, canoe, or raft stretches of the park’s waterways, putting in near the Little Yosemite Valley Campground, Clark’s Bridge, Stoneman Bridge, and other locations throughout the valley, Wawona, and beyond.

If you don’t have your own equipment, rafts can be reserved from May through September at Curry Village in Yosemite Valley by purchasing tickets from the kiosk there. The rental price also includes shuttle pick-up at the end of your three-hour float down the Merced, making it an easy way to get out on the water and enjoy the park from a different perspective.

About the Equity Estates home:

Our spacious, five-bedroom Lake Tahoe home is a stunning California mountain retreat, with gorgeous indoor/outdoor living space, a gourmet kitchen, and high-end touches throughout. Tucked away in the exclusive Northstar resort community, between one of the country’s coolest mountain towns and one of the world’s most beautiful alpine lakes—and a scenic four-hour drive to Yosemite National Park—it’s the perfect vacation destination for friends and family getaways or anyone dreaming of spending time in California’s great outdoors.

Our modern two-story Palisades Tahoe home is a sleek mountain retreat located at the entrance of beautiful Olympic Valley, just minutes from Lake Tahoe, the Truckee River, and the famed Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort. Conveniently located near hiking and biking trails, local parks, and the shops and restaurants of Palisades Tahoe Village, this stunning residence is the perfect home-base for your California mountain vacation.