Yosemite National Park: History, Best Tips, and a Guide to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park: History, Best Tips, and a Guide to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park

Finding a place to begin when talking about Yosemite National Park can be somewhat difficult. It’s not just the fact that Yosemite has 748,436 acres of natural area, nearly 800 miles of hiking trails, 160 types of rare plant species, or 2,000-foot waterfalls that make it truly remarkable. 

Instead, Yosemite is just so hard to describe because it only really translates well as a lived experience. 

I took my Airstream up Tioga Pass and through Yosemite last September on the way back from Mammoth and it was my first time experiencing the unparalleled beauty of Yosemite.

Airstream at Yosemite National Park at El Capitan

With valleys surrounded by soaring monstrous granite monoliths, snow-covered alpine trails, and densely-covered sequoia forests, Yosemite National Park is undoubtedly like something out of a dream. There’s a reason that dozens of American icons—from illustrators, authors, painters, and photographers—have tried to capture the austere beauty of Yosemite.

Located on the western slopes of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in California, Yosemite National Park attracts between four and five million guests each year.

It’s also a very popular spot for RV adventurers coming from all areas around the country. There are several RV campgrounds in and around the national park with modern accommodations and amenities. 

Although RV campsites in the park are in high demand during the peak season between March and October, there are plenty of available options outside of the park too. With a little bit of research, you can ensure that your road trip to Yosemite is the adventure of a lifetime.

That’s why we’ve got you covered with this comprehensive list on everything you’ll want to know when visiting Yosemite.

The History of Yosemite National Park

The history of Yosemite’s beauty began nearly three million of years ago when tectonic forces collided and thrust a 400-mile long slab of granite into the sky. That was the beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. From then on, ancient glaciers transforming the hulking landscape by carving deep valleys and crevices during the Ice Age. 

Human habitation of the Sierra Nevada’s is estimated to have begun as early as 8,000 and 10,000 years ago. As the Ice Age came to an end, the receding glaciers provided an ideal environment for plants, animals, and people to thrive. For thousands of years, the Yosemite area flourished as hunting grounds for native people.

It wasn’t until the mid-19th century that non-indigenous settlers first arrived in the area. At that time, a band of Native Americans known as the Ahwahnechee inhabited the Yosemite Valley. However, they were quickly driven out of Yosemite upon the discovery of gold in 1849. One of the first groups to engage in conflict with the Ahwahnechee was the Mariposa Batallion, a Euro-American militia formed to force the Yosemite Valley natives onto reservations. The conflict later became known as the Mariposa War.

Once Yosemite was open to settlement and speculation, thousands of pioneers started flocking to the region in search of a new life. Many of the first settlers started tour companies, built hotels, and ran stagecoach operations. 

In 1864, Yosemite was placed under the protection of the state of California when Abraham Lincoln signed the Yosemite Grant. It was due to the work of John Muir and other conservationists that led the federal government to recognize the value of Yosemite by official deeming it a national park in 1890.

Getting to Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park is open year-round. You can drive your car in and around the Yosemite area, but some roads are closed off between November and May due to snow cover.

From the Bay Area of San Francisco, Yosemite is practically due east. To reach the park, follow I-580 E and I-205 E to Highway 120 east or Highway 140 east. The drive is approximately 195 miles from the city and will take about four to five hours. 

From the north around Reno and Lake Tahoe, the drive is approximately 218 miles and takes about 5 hours. For most of the year the park can be entered on the eastern side by taking US-395 S to Highway 120 west. However, in cases of inclement weather due to snowfall, visitors from the north will have to take I-50 or I-80 west to Sacramento and then enter from the west side of the park by taking Highway 99 south.

From the south, visitors from the Los Angeles area can take Highway 99 north to Highway 41 north, approximately 300 total miles. If visitors are coming from Las Vegas, take US-95 N and NV-266 W to Highway 120 west to enter the park on the east side. In inclement weather, visitors from Las Vegas will have to take I-15 south to Barstow, Highway 58 west to Bakersfield, Highway 99 north to Fresno and then Highway 41 north into Yosemite National Park. This drive will take between eight and 10 hours.

Grocery stores with a wider selection of items can be found in Merced, Mariposa, Oakhurst, Oakdale, and Groveland. There are also smaller supermarkets within the national park at Yosemite Village and Curry Village, but don’t expect to find as wide of a selection.

The nearest gas stations can also be found in the towns of Wawona, Crane Flat, and El Portal at all hours of the day. 

RV Camping near Yosemite National Park

rv camping in Yosemite National Park

There are several campgrounds that have accommodations for RV campers in the national park. Each campground has potable water and toilet facilities available, however, there are no electric, water, or sewer hookups in Yosemite.

There are three year-round campgrounds in Yosemite Valley: Upper Pines, Wawona, and Hodgdon Meadow. Seasonal RV campsites between May and October can be found at Lower Pines, North Pines, Bridalveil Creek, Crane Flat, Tuolumne Meadows, and White Wolf.

None of the sites at these campgrounds are pull-through, so the size restrictions differ for each campground. There are only eight sites available in Yosemite Valley for RVs up to 40 feet, but they are only available in the seasonal campgrounds of Lower Pines and North Pines.

For RV campers up to 35 feet, many more campsites can be found in Yosemite Valley. The only exception is the White Wolf campground, where the maximum size for an RV is 27 feet.

Early call-ahead reservations are strongly recommended for each campground.

Alternatively, there are several more campgrounds available in Mariposa County with more RV campsites available, less size restrictions, and accommodations for full hookups. Some ideal campgrounds to look into are Indian Flat, Summerdale, the Mariposa County Fairgrounds, Yosemite Ridge Resort, and Yosemite Westlake Campground and RV Park.

If you’re feeling particularly adventurous and don’t mind more of a rustic experience, there are primitive campgrounds available on the nearby Bureau of Land Management (BLM) Land. Two popular options include McCabe Flat and Railroad Flat. They are relatively inexpensive, but the roads to reach them are not recommended for RVs longer than 18 feet due to the sandy terrain.

Attractions at Yosemite National Park

There are countless opportunities for visitors to Yosemite National Park to experience the majestic landscape of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

Interestingly, out of the four million visitors that the park attracts each year, most will only experience the seven square miles of Yosemite Valley. There’s good reason for this though, the popular Tunnel View lookout point is one of the most scenic vistas anywhere around. On the right is Bridalveil Falls, a 617-foot waterfall cascading down from the granite cliffs. On the left is El Capitan, a 3,000-foot tall granite monolith that serves as a popular rite of passage for rock climbers.

For thrill-seekers who want to get a little closer to Bridalveil Falls, there is a short half-mile hike from the Bridalveil trailhead, accessible from Wawona Road or Southside Drive. These lots can fill up fast in the summer months though.

Following Wawona Road as it loops around the banks of the Merced River, visitors can also stop at another popular trailhead: the Four Mile Trail. This hike is fairly steep but it will ultimately lead you to two popular lookout points over the deep valley below. These awe-inspiring vistas can be found at Glacier Point and Washburn Point.

Hikes in Yosemite

For more experienced hikers, Yosemite’s signature Mist Trail winds through steep stone staircases and across bridges to gain spectacular views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, both gushing from hundreds of feet above.

For those who are interested in more of the historical aspects of the park, consider visiting Yosemite Village on the western half of the Wawona Road loop. There you will find a museum dedicated to the historical indigenous populations, a visitors center featuring some of Yosemite’s earliest American icons, as well as the Ansel Adams gallery.

Alternatively, taking Tioga Road up into the high-elevation regions of the park will bring you into the crisp alpine air for a vastly different type of scenery. Tioga Road is one of the most scenic highways in the United States and year-round snow cover can often be seen in some of the higher elevations. However, keep in mind that this road is usually closed from November to May.

When to Visit Yosemite National Park

Yosemite National Park attractions millions of people between April and October. This is usually due to the more favorable weather conditions, summer break for school children, and access to more campgrounds and areas of the park.

When it comes to visiting between spring and fall, the best option is to arrive in the park before or after the peak hours between 9 am and 5 pm.

However, visitation between late fall and early spring will also yield tons of incredible sights. Photographing the snow-capped granite monoliths and the frigid waterfalls is all the better knowing that there aren’t as many additional guests to get around to capture a good shot. Yosemite Valley can receive rain or snow during any given winter storm, but expect the other 95 percent of the park to be blanketed in snow.

Entrance Fees To Yosemite

Entrance fees range in cost, depending on the mode of transportation. For non-commercial vehicles and RVs, there is a $35 entrance fee. Motorcycles are charged $30 to enter, while those on foot, bicycle, or horse are charged $20. Each entrance pass is good for up to seven days.

There is also the option to purchase the Yosemite Annual Pass for $70, or the National Parks and Federal Recreational Lands Annual Pass for $80. Annual Senior Passes are available for $20.

There is free admission for all U.S. Citizens or permanent residents with permanent disabilities, as well as all active U.S. military personnel and their dependents.

Yosemite: A Mythical National Park 

One the most famous personages to ever reside in Yosemite National Park, John Muir once remarked of Yosemite Valley: “It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.”

Similarly, the famous American landscape photographer and environmentalist, Ansel Adams, became widely renowned for his alluring images of the monuments found in Yosemite.

From teeming oak and chaparral forests to scant alpine high country, thousand foot-tall granite monoliths to fantastic colossal waterfalls, Yosemite is truly something straight out of a fairytale. As one of the oldest national parks, founded in 1890 and second only to Yellowstone, the Yosemite region has been revered in the minds of Americans for nearly two-hundred years.

In 1984, Yosemite was further recognized internationally for its granite cliffs, waterfalls, crystal-clear streams, giant sequoia groves, lakes, mountains, meadows, glaciers, and biological diversity. Almost 95 percent of the park is designated wilderness.

Many RV adventurers come to this area to witness the incredible beauty of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. With so many other national parks not far from the area, Yosemite makes a popular destination for travelers on month-long road trips to visit the multiple national and state parks of the west. 

With some careful planning and a few reservations, RV enthusiasts can score some of the rewarding sites available in and around the Yosemite area. Finding an ideal time to visit need not be much of a challenge, as the park stays just as beautiful all year round.

The only question remaining is why you didn’t book your RV camp trip to Yosemite National Park any earlier.

As the famous naturalist, John Muir, once remarked of Yosemite, it “cleans and warms like a fire, and you will be willing to stay forever in one place like a tree.”