The Yosemite Valley is the main attraction in the park for the majority of visitors.
From June to September, the Valley gets more than half a million visitors per month (the record has been a bit over 20,000 in one day).
The purpose of these statistics is not to give you a heart attack. On the contrary, I am trying to showcase how popular this place is.
And, let me tell, this is not an overhyped and overrated place. After visiting for the first time a couple of months ago, I can say this is one of the most beautiful places I have visited in my life.
The valley is about 8 miles (13 km) long and up to a mile deep, surrounded by high granite summits and densely forested with pines.
In this post, I invite you to take a tour of the famous Yosemite Valley with me.
El Portal Entrance
The Park’s most popular entrance is through the small town of El Portal.
The area surrounding the road is very scenic. Basically, you find yourself driving through a canyon carved by the Merced River. There are several spots where you see people swimming or fishing in the river. If you observe with care, you are going to notice thin waterfalls streaming down the tall walls.
In the town of El Portal, there is a chance to fill up your car’s gas tank (expensive!) and buy coffee and other goodies. Make sure you enter the Park prepared!
Also, since this is the most popular entrance, try to pass through early, during peak season, in order to avoid waiting in line for more than 40 minutes under the blazing sun.
Once you pass the arch entrance, get prepared to take your first look at all the granite formations.
El Capitan (“The Captain” or “The Chief”) is one of the most iconic granite formations of the park (he has even been featured in 25 cents coin).
He extends about 3,000 feet (900 m) from base to summit along its tallest face and is one of the world’s favorite challenges for rock climbers and BASE jumpers (which is not legal).
Believe it or not, the top of El Capitán can be reached by hiking out of the valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls.
El Capitan is the largest granite monolith in the world.
There is a nice area of meadows around El Capitan.
The Cathedral Rocks form the eastern side of the canyon through which Bridalveil Creek flows. Some people think these rocks, just opposite of El Capitan, are even more impressive than El Capitan. I’ll let you decide on that!
The Valley Chapel is the oldest standing structure in the Park. The wooden chapel was designed by San Francisco architect Charles Geddes in the Carpenter Gothic style. It was built by Geddes’ son-in-law, Samuel Thompson of San Francisco, at a cost of three or four thousand dollars.
The chapel was originally built in the “Lower Village” as called then, its site at the present day trailhead of the Four Mile Trail. The chapel was moved to its present location in 1901, as the old Lower Village dwindled.
The Chapel is surrounded by a Sentinel Meadow and close to it, there is a view point for the Upper Yosemite Fall.
Located between the Merced River and Curry Village, Stoneman Meadow plays an instrumental role in the valley’s ecological health by providing plant and wildlife habitat and regulating water flow.
We parked in the meadow area for our hike to Vernal Fall (we found that spot since the trailhead parking lot was full).
It is possibly Yosemite’s most familiar rock formation. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 ft (1,444 m) above the valley floor.
The best views of Half Dome are seen from Glacier Point.
The Ahwahnee is the grand hotel of the valley. It was opened in 1927 and it is made of stone, concrete, wood, glass and steel.
The public is welcome to walk around the hotel grounds / lobby and have a meal in the restaurant or café.
The Royal Arches refers to a cliff containing natural occurring granite exfoliation arches. There is a waterfall adjacent to them.
This is the highest waterfall in the park (and some sources affirm they are the highest in North America too), dropping a total of 2,425 feet (739 m) from the top of the upper fall to the base of the lower fall.
The falls consist of three sections:
- Upper Yosemite Fall: The 1,430-foot (440 m) plunge alone is among the twenty highest waterfalls in the world. Trails from the valley floor and down from other park areas outside the valley lead to both the top and base of Upper Yosemite Fall.
- Middle Cascades: Between the two obvious main plunges there are a series of five smaller plunges collectively referred to as the Middle Cascades. Because of the narrow, constricted shape of the gorge in which these drops occur and the lack of public access, they are rarely noted. Most viewpoints in the valley miss them entirely.
- Lower Yosemite Fall: The final 320-foot (98 m) drop adjacent to an accessible viewing area, provides the most-used viewing point for the waterfalls. Yosemite Creek emerges from the base of the Lower Fall and flows into the Merced River nearby.
No visit to the Park is complete without taking a look at the valley from a tunnel perspective. This view has been seen and documented by visitors since it opened in 1933.
The Yosemite Valley extends from West to East (left to right). From the Tunnel View, you are looking the opening of the Valley (a glacier was there many years ago) and taking a look East.
From the viewpoint, you can El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Fall.
In my picture below, you are not going to see Bridalveil Fall (it was dry or almost dry). I took a picture of the spot where the fall usually flows (look at the black area).
- The Valley gets extremely congested during the peak season. Visit during low or shoulder season to avoid crowds.
- If you visit the park during the busiest months, I recommend entering the park early, parking your car and using the Park’s shuttle (which offers an excellent service).
Would you like to visit the Yosemite Valley?
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