Established in 1890, Yosemite National Park ranks among the first in the National Park System. Surrounded entirely by national forest in the heart of the Sierra Nevada, fabulous granite faces, domes, and peaks stand above expansive meadows that sprout a lustrous green in summer and are buried in soft, white snow during winter. Beautiful, glacier-filled lakes spill their water down turbulent, sparkling streams and over spectacular waterfalls, while nearby groves of giant sequoias tower to eye-stretching heights.
Park elevations range from about 2,000 feet to more than 13,000 feet, and the area supports an outstanding variety of plant and animal life. Fifty-four miles of the Tuolumne Wild and Scenic River flow through the park, one of the most exquisite mountain rivers. Seventy-eight miles of the Merced Wild and Scenic River also run in the park, dropping over some of the most fabulous waterfalls in America, and 22 miles of the Merced's Wild and Scenic South Fork flow through extravagant canyons with precipitous rapids. Although there is no navigable whitewater within the Wilderness itself, just outside, these rivers rush and become exceptional whitewater runs. Yosemite's landmarks have become synonymous with outdoor splendor: El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, Tuolumne Meadows. The rock-climbing routes on bold and extraordinarily high faces rank among the most challenging in the entire world.
94 percent of Yosemite has been designated Wilderness, most of the land falling in the higher country outside Yosemite Valley. More than 700 miles of trails give access to the Wilderness. Many of the trailheads are in Yosemite Valley.
Leave No Trace
How to follow the seven standard Leave No Trace principles differs in different parts of the country (desert vs. Rocky Mountains). Click on any of the principles listed below to learn more about how they apply in the Yosemite Wilderness.
Yosemite is nestled in the central Sierra on the eastern edge of California and is accessible from multiple directions. Be aware, some roads are closed in winter and may stay closed into June.
Please note that GPS units do not always provide accurate directions to or within Yosemite. Yosemite covers 1,200 square miles and does not have a single address. We do not recommend using GPS units for directions in and around Yosemite.
Gas is available at Wawona and Crane Flat, 24 hours per day with a credit card. Gas is available in summer at Tuolumne Meadows. Gas is not available in Yosemite Valley.
From the west and north
San Francisco/Bay area
Distance: 195 mi / 314 km
Take I-580 east to I-205 east to Highway 120 east (Manteca) or Highway 140 east (Merced) into Yosemite National Park.
Distance: 176 mi / 283 km
Time: 4 hours
Take Highway 99 south to Highway 120 east (Manteca) or Highway 140 east (Merced) into Yosemite National Park.
Reno & Lake Tahoe
Approximately June through October, conditions permitting
Distance: 218 mi / 351 km (Reno)
Time: 5 hours
Take US 395 south to Lee Vining; take Highway 120 west into Yosemite National Park (open late May/June through October, depending on conditions).
Distance: 315 mi / 507 km (Reno)
Time: 8 hours
Take I-80 or I-50 west to Sacramento; take Highway 99 south to Highway 120 east (Manteca) or Highway 140 east (Merced) into Yosemite National Park.
From the south
Los Angeles area
Distance: 313 mi / 504 km
Time: 6 hours
Take I-5 north (or I-405 north to I-5) to Highway 99 north to Highway 41 north (Fresno) into Yosemite National Park.
San Diego area
Distance: 441 mi / 710 km
Time: 8 hours
Take I-5 north to Highway 99 to Highway 41 north (Fresno) into Yosemite National Park.
June through October, conditions permitting
Distance: 400 mi / 642 km
Time: 8 hours
Take US-95 North to Tonopah, then US-95/US-6 west to Highway 120. Go west on Highway 120 into Yosemite National Park (open late May/early June through October, depending on conditions).
November through May
Distance: 495 mi / 797 km
Time: 8-10 hours
Take I-15 south to Barstow; Highway 58 west to Bakersfield; take Highway 99 north to Fresno. In Fresno, take Highway 41 north into Yosemite National Park.
Death Valley National Park
June through October
Distance: 270 mi / 435 km
Time: 5 hours Take Highway 190 west to US 395. Take US 395 north to Lee Vining; take Highway 120 east into Yosemite National Park (open late May/early June through October, depending on conditions).
November through May
Distance: 450 mi / 720 km
Time: 9 hours
Take Highway 190 west to US 395; take US 395 south to its junction with Highway 14. Take Highway 14 south to Mojave. In Mojave, take Highway 58 to Bakersfield. From Bakersfield, head north on Highway 99 to Fresno. In Fresno, take Highway 41 north into Yosemite National Park.
Digital and paper maps are critical tools for wilderness visitors. Online maps can help you plan and prepare for your visit ahead of time. You can also carry digital maps with you on your GPS unit or other handheld GPS device. Having a paper map with you in the backcountry, as well as solid orienteering skills, however, ensures that you can still route-find in the event that your electronic device fails.
Motorized equipment and equipment used for mechanical transport is generally prohibited in all wilderness areas.
This includes the use of motor vehicles, motorboats, motorized equipment, bicycles, hang gliders, wagons, carts, portage wheels, and the landing of aircraft including helicopters.
Backpacking is possible year-round in Yosemite, but is very limited during the winter and early spring due to snow. Peak hiking season runs June through August and some permits can be difficult to obtain. The 211 mile-long John Muir Trail begins in Yosemite Valley and winds through the Park for a few days before heading south into the Ansel Adams Wilderness. The Half Dome cable route is traditionally accessed via the Mist Trail starting in Yosemite Valley from late May through early October. A permit is required to hike to the top of Half Dome when the cables are up. Modern big wall climbing came into its own in Yosemite with such routes as The Nose and Salathe on El Capitan as well as other classic routes on Half Dome, Washington's Column and Sentinel Rock. Free climbing opportunities also abound throughout Yosemite Wilderness including classic routes on Fairview Dome and Cathedral Peak. Ski touring and snowshoeing are popular in the winter particularly along the Glacier Point Road, where several marked ski trails exist. Hetch Hetchy provides the best opportunities for winter hiking. More information on seasons and trail descriptions can be found on the Yosemite website. Yosemite's wilderness lakes and streams entice anglers to search out the big trout. Please Check, Clean, and Dry your equipment when moving from one water body to the next to prevent the spread of invasive species.
Climate and Special Equipment Needs
Trekking in Yosemite requires no special equipment beyond the standard backpacking gear. Elevation ranges from 2900 feet to over 13,000 feet with some of the high passes not be passable until July in a typical year without crampons or ice axe. Traveling in winter requires being prepared for snow camping and over snow travel. Open creek crossings are common throughout the winter.