When you arrive in Yosemite Valley, park your car and walk to the places you want to see. Distances are short. If you prefer, use the tree shuttle bus system that serves most of the valley. Either way, you'll save gas and frustration. It you are visiting just for the day, park your car in the day-use parking lot at Curry Village.
"The Incomparable Valley"
, it has been called, is probably the world's best known example of a glacier-carved canyon. Its leaping waterfalls, towering cliffs, rounded domes, and massive monoliths make it a preeminent natural marvel. These attributes have inspired poets, painters, photographers, and millions of visitors beginning with John Muir for more than one hundred years. Nowhere in Yosemite is the sense of scale so dramatic.
Yosemite Valley is characterized by sheer walls and a flat floor. Its evolution began when alpine glaciers lumbered through the canyon of the Merced River. The ice carved through weaker sections of granite plucking and scouring rock but leaving harder, more solid portions, such as El Capitan and Cathedral Rocks, intact and greatly enlarging the canyon that the Merced River had carved through successive uplifts of the Sierra. Finally the glacier began to melt and the terminal moraine left by the last glacial advance into the valley dammed the melting water to form ancient Lake Yosemite, which sat in the newly carved U-shaped valley. Sediment eventually filled in the lake, forming the flat valley floor you see today. This same process is now filling Mirror Lake at the base of Half Dome.
In contrast to the valley's sheer walls, the Merced Canyon along California 140 outside the park is a typical river-cut, V-shaped canyon, for the glaciers did not extend this far. Back from the rim of the valley itself, forested slopes show some glacial polish. But for the most part these areas also were not glaciated.
The valley is a mosaic of open meadows sprinkled with wildflowers and flowering shrubs, oak woodlands, and mixed-conifer forests of ponderosa pine, incense-cedar, and Douglas-fir. Wildlife from monarch butterflies to mule deer and black boars flourishes in these communities. Around the valley's perimeter, waterfalls, which reach their maximum flow in May and June, crash to the floor. Yosemite, Bridalveil, Vernal, Nevada, and Illilouette are the most prominent of these falls, some of which have little or no water from mid-August through early fall.
Take time to visit the Valley Visitor Center, where an orientation slide program and publications are available. Exhibits highlight the valley's natural and human history. Rangers are available to answer questions or assist you. The Indian Cultural Exhibit and the Indian Village, located behind the visitor center, display the cultural history of the native Miwok and Paiute people from 1850 to the present. Nearby, the Museum Gallery features artwork of past and current Yosemite artists.
Yosemite Valley HikesBridalveil Fall
Categorized as: easy
Length: 0.5 miles/0.8 km round-trip; 20 minutes [leashed pets allowed]
Begin at the Bridalveil Fall parking area.
A paved trail leads from the parking area to the base of this waterfall, which flows year-round. Walk back to the parking area via the same trail. Expect lots of spray in spring and early summer; you may encounter icy conditions in winter.
The cables are typically up from late May to early-October.
Length: 17 miles/27.4 km round-trip; 10 to 12 hours; 4,800 feet/1,463 m. elevation gain.
Begin at Happy Isles (shuttle stop #16).
DO NOT BEGIN THIS ASCENT IF: 1) the cables are down, 2) there is any chance of rain (moisture makes the granite too slick for safety), or 3) there is any chance of lightning.
Follow the Mist Trail or John Muir Trail to Nevada Fall. Continue on the trail, following the signs to Half Dome. The last 900 feet (275 m) of trail is a very steep climb up the east side of Half Dome. Cables assist hikers on the final 400 feet (122 m). They consist of two steel cables, about 3 feet apart and suspended at arm's height from pipes set in the rock. The top of Half Dome is a fairly large and level open surface. Camping is not permitted on top of Half Dome.