16 Enchanting Sights To Visit in Yosemite National Park

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Yosemite stands tall as the crown jewel of the national park system. Visitors to this stunning work of natural art are greeted with jaw-dropping views of iconic landmarks like Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, and gigantic sequoias. No matter where you turn within the park, you’ll find yourself craning your neck upward to try to take it all in.

While most visitors to the park only make a loop through the valley (which, to be fair, does include most of the major attractions within the park), there is still so much to see within the park’s sprawling lands that creep up and over the granite peaks of the Sierra Range.

We’ll take you on a journey through the park and its iconic views and landscapes, which are a must-see for every visitor to Yosemite.

Yosemite Valley

Yosemite National Park, renowned for its breathtaking scenery, characterized by towering granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, lush valleys, and ancient sequoia trees, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Falls
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We have visited countless national parks over the years and would be hard-pressed to name a more iconic and beautiful view than the one you get looking down Yosemite Valley after entering the park. The valley’s near vertical granite walls, waterfalls on both sides, and the end of the valley framed by the iconic Half Dome just don’t get any better than this. Even though traffic can be very slow at times around the valley floor, this doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing as it gives you more time to take in the sights of the numerous waterfalls you’ll pass, the climbers making their way up El Capitan, and the wildlife slowly meandering through the meadows.

Glacier Point

Panorama of Yosemite National Park from the Glacier Point Overlook in the evening.  The iconic Half Dome is warmed by the light of the late day sun
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Glacier Point stands high above the valley and gives a unique and awe-inspiring perspective on all the landmark sights you’ve seen from below. From here, you’ll be at eye level with Half Dome and be able to gaze deep into the park’s wild backcountry. Make sure to take the time to hike around to the various viewpoints, as there are numerous trails crisscrossing the area that take you to far better views than what you’ll find near the parking lots.

Half Dome

Yosemite, Prominent tree in Meadow with Half Dome
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Half Dome stands tall at the end of Yosemite Valley and is a beacon to climbers and hikers looking to scale its imposing granite dome. Even if you’re not interested in making the long hike, which includes the anxiety-inducing trip up the cables up to the top, there are still plenty of places to take in views of this massive rock from below. Some of our favorite places to take in the view of Half Dome include Glacier Point, Olmstead Point (which offers a unique view of the backside of Half Dome), Stoneman Meadow, and Mirror Lake.

El Capitan

World famous rock climbing wall of El Capitan, Yosemite national park, California, usa
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El Capitan is a near-vertical cliff of pure granite that rises 3,000 feet from the valley floor and has long been a beacon to climbers looking to scale its imposing face. Bring a pair of binoculars on your trip so you can park alongside the road and try to spot the climbers slowly making their way up the face.

Did you know that most climbers take 4 to 6 days to climb from the valley floor all the way to the top? This means that they sleep in cots anchored to the side of the cliff and have to pull all of their gear up with them!

Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall in Yosemite National Park
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Bridalveil Fall stands as one of the first major sights (other than that of the entire valley itself) when you first enter the valley. This 620-foot-tall waterfall thunders with water during the peak spring runoff season and during the rest of the year, producing a gentle, steady flow that drifts down to the valley floor. There is a short half-mile trail that will take you near the base of the falls for an up-close look at this park icon.

Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias

Early morning sunlight in the Sequoias of Mariposa Grove, Yosemite National Park, California, USA
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Many visitors to Yosemite don’t realize that the park is home to huge groves of giant sequoia trees that rival those found in nearby Sequoia National Park. While Sequoia National Park may lay claim to having the largest tree in the world with General Sherman, the sequoias within Yosemite are no slouch either!

Hike the easy trails that meander through the grove to landmark trees like the Grizzly Giant, which stands nearly as tall as the Statue of Liberty, or the Tunnel Tree, where you can walk through the gap within its trunk.

Tunnel View

tunnel view in yosemite national park
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If you’re entering Yosemite from the South entrance, then the first view you’ll have of the valley is from what is known as Tunnel View. The parking lot, where you can take in this stunning sight, sits just after passing through a tunnel along Wawona Rd. From this elevated position, you can see along the entire length of the valley, with Bridalveil Fall on one side, El Capitan on the other, and Half Dome at the end. This is an incredible spot to catch the sunrise as it filters over the cliffs and into the valley below, so even if you’re not arriving from the South entrance, it is highly recommended you take a drive up to this amazing overlook.

Yosemite Falls

Yosemite National Park, renowned for its breathtaking scenery, characterized by towering granite cliffs, majestic waterfalls, lush valleys, and ancient sequoia trees, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Falls
Photo Credit: Shutterstock.com

Yosemite Falls stands as one of the tallest waterfalls in all of North America, with a vertical drop of over 2,400 feet! The falls are actually made up of three separate falls, and put together, they make up one of the most stunning scenes in the entire park. The falls can be seen from a number of places around the valley, so we recommend heading out on a hike or bike along the valley’s many paved paths to see it from different angles.

There is also a trail that will take you through the woods and right up to the base of the falls for an up-close look at this natural wonder. Those looking for a workout can keep heading uphill, where you can see the different segments of the falls along with stunning views of the valley below.

Mirror Lake

Half Dome reflecting in a Mirror Lake, Yosemite National Park. California, USA
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Mirror Lake is a hidden gem of Yosemite as it is far enough off the road system that it doesn’t see many visitors, yet it is very accessible by bike. The trail to the lake follows an old road that is closed to auto traffic. The lake itself sits right at the base of Half Dome, which makes for incredible photo opportunities. We also love the shallow river flowing out of the lake with its numerous sandbars and swimming holes.

Tuolumne Meadows

Landscape of Tuolumne Meadows and Lembert Dome with reflections in calm water, Yosemite National Park, California, USA
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Tuolumne Meadows sits between Yosemite Valley and the eastern entrance to the park and, in our opinion, is one of the most beautiful areas of the entire park. This high alpine meadow is over 8,500 feet and sees only a fraction of the visitors as the valley attractions. This makes it the perfect area to escape the crowds and hike amongst the stunning granite domes and meandering rivers.

Note that the area’s high elevation means that it holds snow for far longer than the valley, so some years, it may take until July before the roads and trails are fully open and accessible.

Cathedral Lakes

Cathedral Peak and Upper Cathedral Lake, Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada, California, USA
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These backcountry lakes are accessible along the John Muir Trail, which starts near Tuolumne Meadows. The trail to the lake is moderately challenging in both its length of around 9 miles and its high elevation during the duration of the hike, beginning at 8,500 feet and topping out at over 9,000. For those who make the journey, the payoff is surreal. The jagged and bare Cathedral Peaks tower over the lakes and create a serene experience you won’t soon forget.

Beware of both the bugs and storms at these high elevations, as there aren’t many places to hide from either.

Vernal and Nevada Falls

Vernal Fall Mist Trail, Yosemite National Park
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The Mist Trail departs from the end of the Yosemite Valley and quickly climbs its way up and along the Merced River. It doesn’t take long to figure out why it is named the Mist Trail, as you’ll find yourself hiking in the shadow of Vernal Falls, which showers the trail with an often welcome cooling mist. If the hike to Vernal Falls wasn’t enough, you can continue upriver to the mighty and impressive Nevada Falls, which pour over the cliff edge into the river below. This is a great spot to stop for a rest, have a snack, and decide whether you want to return along the steep, wet steps of the Mist Trail or along the gentler but less scenic John Muir Trail.

Sentinel Dome

Wide shot of the Sentinel Dome in Yosemite in California
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We mentioned Glacier Point earlier as a must-visit spot in Yosemite, but we would be remiss if we didn’t specifically mention Sentinel Dome (along with the next spot on the list) as a place to visit while you’re up there!

Sentinel Dome is a relatively easy spot to reach, provided you’re comfortable with a short but steep hike up the side of this granite dome. It offers incredible views of the valley without the crowds of tourists near the parking lots at Glacier Point. Make sure to avoid walking on any snow during the hike, as the dome’s smooth sides make it dangerous in slippery conditions.

Taft Point

A man stands at the edge of a cliff at Taft Point,Yosemite National Park, California.
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Another favorite near Glacier Point is the incredibly Instagrammable Taft Point. This narrow band of rock extends out over the valley and, from the right perspective, looks a lot more dangerous than it actually is. Getting to Taft Point requires a 2-mile round-trip hike, although it is along fairly mellow trails, so don’t let that discourage you from visiting. The views from the point are especially enchanting during sunrise and sunset, as the valley and air around you explode with warm orange hues.

Hetch Hetchy Reservoir

Hiking on the shoreline of Hetch Hetchy reservoir in Yosemite National Park, Sierra Nevada mountains, California; the reservoir is one of the main sources of drinking water for the San Francisco bay
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Hetch Hetchy is a little-known (at least by most visitors to Yosemite) valley that some say rivaled Yosemite Valley in beauty prior to being dammed for use as a reservoir to feed the water needs of the Bay area. Today, visitors can still visit the valley and follow the trails that hug the shoreline of the reservoir. Here, you will find towering waterfalls and lower-elevation hiking, which allows for a longer season than you’ll find in most of the rest of the park.

Clouds Rest

Clouds rest trail Yosemite
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The trail to Clouds Rest is a challenging hike even for the fittest of adventurers, with over 13 miles and 3,000 feet of climbing. It also features sections of trail with more than enough exposure to make those who are afraid of heights question their own sanity. For those willing to make the trek, the payoff is enormous, with jaw-dropping views of the valley below and sights both near and far within the park.

About the author
Derek Carlson
Pacific Northwest native, cross-country skier, hiker, mountain biker, wannabe fly fisherman, writer and owner of Roam the Northwest