An Insider’s Guide to 7 of Yosemite’s Most Popular Attractions

Getting to know 7 of the most iconic sightseeing stops in Yosemite

Yosemite’s captivating natural beauty draws millions of visitors each year. But what exactly makes Yosemite so alluring to so many people? In a National Park that’s larger than the state of Rhode Island and teeming with wildlife and stunning summits, any one of countless attractions answers that question. Among them, here are seven of the most popular landmarks that make Yosemite one of the best places to visit.

Yosemite Falls

First on the list is the majestic Yosemite Falls. At a height of 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the tallest free-falling waterfall in all of North America. This makes it one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the region. The waterfall has three distinct sections—the Lower Yosemite Fall, Middle Cascades, and the Upper Yosemite Fall.

The Lower Yosemite Fall is the lower 320-foot section of the entire waterfall. A viewing deck is located just near the base which provides one of the best views. The Middle Cascades, on the other hand, is a group of four smaller “steps” directly above the lower section. It is rarely visited because of its inaccessibility. Finally, the Upper Yosemite is the largest section with a height of 1,430 feet.

*Join us for a Yosemite Falls day hike experience!

El Capitan

El Capitan, or simply El Cap, is another breath-taking sight in Yosemite. This granite monolith stands at over 7,500 feet above sea level, and 3,000 feet above the valley floor! Its sheer size and imposing nature make it one of the most recognizable features in the region. Its name means “The Captain” and was given by the early Spanish settlers in the area.

Today, the mountain has grown popular among avid rock climbers. For a long time, the rock face was said to be unclimbable. That changed in 1958 when Warren Harding and his crew were able to successfully establish a route and finally summited the face after 45 nonconsecutive days of climbing. Since then many attempts have been made to conquer the climb.

*Join us for a multi-day backpacking adventure around El Capitan!

tuolumne meadows in yosemite

Tuolumne Meadows

If there is one word to describe Tuolumne Meadows, it would be “picturesque.” This gorgeous meadow sits at a height of 8,000 feet above sea level. The high-altitude, sub-alpine meadow is known for its pristine natural beauty and stunning views of the surrounding peaks. Across its expanse are several granite domes that are popular among rock-climbers.

The meadow is also a popular backpacking and hiking destination. Because of this, there are plenty of trails open to the public, each of which has its own unique character. These trails include the Pacific Crest and the John Muir trails, both long-distance routes that go through Lyell Canyon. If you are looking for breathtaking views of untouched nature, Tuolumne Meadows should be on your list.

*Join us for the Tuolumne Meadows to Half Dome adventure!

half dome sunset

Half Dome

This granite giant is possibly Yosemite’s most iconic rock formation. Standing at a massive 4,840 feet, the granite peak towers over the whole valley floor. It is known for its distinct look of a smooth rock face with a large, “flat” section on its face as if it were cut in half, hence the name, Half Dome.

Like El Capitan, this is also a favorite hiking and rock climbing spot with ascents dating as far back as 1875. Hikers conquer this beast through an 8.5 mile-long path which includes a tricky 2 mile section toward the top. Rock climbers get to choose from nearly 50 predetermined routes, some of which have existed since the 1950s. But the grueling hike and climb up is well worth it as you are rewarded with a stunning view of the surrounding valley below.

*Join us for a journey to the top of Half Dome!

Granite rock formations

Speaking of granite monoliths, Yosemite has an abundance of these towering structures. These structures were born out of millions of years of geologic forces resulting in the gorgeous Yosemite Valley we see today. Some of the most notable rock formations include the Cathedral Rocks, Sentinel Rock, and The Three Brothers.

Cathedral Rocks, found opposite El Capitan is a collection of spires, and buttresses jutting over the horizon. A popular rock climbing and hiking destination with a stunning view at the top, located just across from the Yosemite Falls. Another stunning formation—Liberty Cap (pictured)—rests at the top of Nevada Fall, while further west in the valley, the Three Brothers formation can be found beside El Capitan. These triplet peaks jut out of the sky making for a unique view from the fields below. During sunset, these towers shine with a fiery glow of reds and oranges making these even more breathtaking to behold.

*Join us for a tour of Yosemite’s most iconic granite formations!

ahwahnee hotel

Ahwahnee Hotel

As the only man-made landmark on this list, the Ahwahnee Hotel is one special place. Built in 1927, this historic building has been a silent witness to the beauty of Yosemite. It has a stunning view of some of the park’s most notable landmarks, including Yosemite Falls and the Half Dome, among others.

The building itself is a marvelous piece of work with a rich history. The Winter Club room houses historical pieces from the hotel’s long past including memorabilia and photographs. Other notable rooms worth seeing are the Great Lounge and the immense dining hall. These rooms feature rustic and Native-American inspired theme giving them a homey atmosphere. If you love history with a touch of alpine beauty, the Ahwahnee Hotel is a must-visit.

*Visit the Ahwahnee and learn about Yosemite’s rich cultural history!

Glacier Point

Glacier Point

To wrap up your tour of Yosemite’s most iconic destinations, head on over to Glacier Point. This peak has one of the best views of Yosemite. You get to see almost all the notable landmarks in the area including, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and the Yosemite Valley below. During the months of May to November, the top can be reached via the access road.

Because of its gorgeous views, Glacier Point is a popular stop for many of our guided hikes and backpacking tours. Companies like Lasting Adventures offer comprehensive backpacking trips like the guided Half Dome to Glacier Point hike. They also offer trips that include May Lake to Snow Creek, and a Tuolumne Meadows excursion. The knowledgeable guides will help you discover Yosemite like never before! Join us for a day hike or multi-day adventure today, or sign your child up for life-changing experience in one of our youth backpacking summer camps!

*Take a grand tour of Glacier Point around the rim of Yosemite Valley!

Text by Daniel Hall/Trip 101

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