Yosemite National Park spans over 761,000 acres, and contains some of the most beautiful, unspoiled wildlife in the United States. Just outside of the park is the city of Fresno, which has the closest major airport to the park, making it the perfect base for explorers who aren’t interested in camping or staying inside the park. The variety of cheap hotels in Fresno are a serious boon to travelers. If you’re getting ready to explore Yosemite, check out some of the top sites you should make a point to see in this gorgeous national park.
Image via Flickr by Isolino Ferreira
One of the most iconic sites in the whole park, Yosemite Falls is a towering waterfall in the heart of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world – from the base to the top is 2,425 feet. In years of little snow, the falls can sometimes run dry, but this is a rare phenomenon. The best time to see the falls in their full force is during the spring, when snow melts send water thundering down the falls.
To reach this landmark, take the trail to Columbia Rock. This may be a little much for novice hikers – it’s rated as moderate by the National Park Service. Climbing almost 1,000 feet via seemingly endless switchbacks, the view is definitely worth the strain. It’s a 2-3 hour round trip. If you really want a fabulous view, keep going on to the last ascent, which is extremely arduous and only for experienced hikers – at the top, you’ll find the Yosemite Creek, which feeds the falls, but use caution – despite its small size, it is directly above a waterfall and you shouldn’t risk the fall. The extended hike can run you 6-8 hours, so plan accordingly.
Image via Flickr by Steve Dunleavy
If you’re looking for something a little less strenuous, take a walk at the breathtaking Tuolomne Meadows. Reachable by car via the park roadway, it’s scenic views have been inspiring visitors since the days of the pioneers. Located at 8,600 feet, it is one of the highest elevated meadows in the park. Relax alongside the Tuolomne river and take in the stunning glacier-carved mountain crags and the peacefulness of the river. There are also plenty of creeks to discover, and wildlife abounds.
Take advantage of some of the day-hiking opportunities in Tuolomne. One of the best parts of the area is that it marks the northern edge of the roadless portion of the park, meaning you don’t have to worry about little ones running into a road, ideal for families. If you don’t feel like driving back to Fresno that night, go ahead and camp out under the stars – the views are unparalleled, with no light pollution to mask the stars.
Image via Flickr by Melissa Wiese
A two hour straight shot drive from Fresno is Glacier Point, one of the most supremely stellar views in all of Yosemite. With sweeping vistas of Yosemite Falls, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, and the high country of Yosemite, this should be near the top of your list if you only have a short time in the area. Reachable by car from late May to October or November, depending on snowfall, its the perfect choice for those not looking for a challenging hike but still wanting to experience the majesty of Yosemite. However, if you are looking for a bit of a walk, take the Four Mile Trail, which is truthfully closer to five miles, that will take you all the way up to the 3,200 foot elevation view-point.
If you’re visiting during the winter and looking for an adventure, pick up some cross-country skis in Fresno and embark on the 10.5 mile ski to the viewpoint. Just be aware that the trip can take all day, but if you want to spend the night, there’s a ski hut on the way – just make sure to make reservations! Skiing is open from December to mid March – if you’re planning on going in either December or March, you may want to call ahead to make sure the pass is open, as it all depends on snowfall.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias
Image via Flickr by Albert de Bruijn
While this incredible site will be closed 2014-2016, it’s absolutely worth marking down for future trips. With some of the sequoias over 3,000 years old, the Mariposa grove is as close to living history as it gets. Only an hour outside of Fresno, this grove is open from April to November, so long as the snow allows. With only a small parking lot, it may be a good idea to leave the car at the shuttle stop, and take the Wawona-Mariposa shuttle in. It’s under a mile to hike to two of the more iconic trees in the grove – the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree. This is a non-strenuous hike, and you gain about 500 feet of elevation during it, so completely inexperienced hikers or those with kids may want to take it slow. Besides those two, there are lots more fascinating sequoias with personalities of their own, like the Faithful Couple, Telescope Tree, and the fallen Wawona Tunnel Tree, which can be found at close to 7,000 feet elevation.
This is one of the more accessible areas for those in wheelchairs who are looking to experience Yosemite, and it’s also a great place to bring kids. Restrooms are on site. If you’re travelling to Yosemite during the winter when the road is closed, don’t worry. You can snowshoe, skii, or walk, weather permitting, into the grove to take in the majestic sequoia trees. The grove boasts approximately 500, so there’s lots to see and do.
Fresno is a great base to explore Yosemite from, and it’s proximity joined with its multitude of affordable lodgings, restaurants, and the airport make it perfect for visitors who aren’t looking to stay in the park and don’t mind the drive. Don’t forget to check out the excursions into the park, which guarantee you see all the highlights with a knowledgable guide that will help you make sense of one of the most impressive displays of nature in North America.
Megan Tilley is a travel-enthusiast in Tallahassee, Florida who loves cooking, knitting, and reading. You can find her on Google+. She’s currently working on the #HipmunkCityLove project, as well as a book series.