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Towering rock formations, thundering waterfalls, giant sequoia groves, flower-blanketed meadows-add it all together and you get Yosemite National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that sprawls across nearly 750,000 acres (304,000 ha) of Northern California. Approximately 4 million people visit the park each year, and the majority spend most of their time in the glacier-carved Yosemite Valley, which is dominated by the granite summits of Half Dome and El Capitan, as well as the world's highest waterfall. More jaw-dropping beauty awaits in the less-traveled sections of the park, where outdoor enthusiasts can pursue hiking, camping, and rock climbing in addition to winter activities in the majestic Sierra Nevada mountain range. Whether you have a single day or a week to spend in Yosemite, the natural treasures of this rugged national park don't disappoint.
Only a handful of paved roads run through Yosemite, but many of its most spectacular destinations are accessible by car. The world-famous Yosemite Valley lies roughly at the center, while breathtaking areas like the Tuolumne Meadows and the Mariposa Grove are well worth the trip to the outer reaches of the park.
While it constitutes only one percent of the park's total area, Yosemite Valley draws the greatest number of annual visitors with its dramatic landscape of lofty granite peaks, dense pine forest, and tumbling waterfalls. The Half Dome and El Capitan summits attract scores of hikers and rock climbers, and areas like Tunnel View and Sentinel Bridge offer some of the park's most postcard-worthy views.
Found on the eastern side of the park, Tuolumne Meadows is a vast subalpine meadow marked by majestic domes and the meandering Tuolumne River. Many visitors stop at the meadows for camping and hiking as they travel the Tioga Road, a 47-mile (76-km) route between Crane Flat and Tioga Pass known for its spectacular vistas of craggy mountains and pristine lakes.
For those seeking glimpses of Yosemite's mighty sequoias, a visit to Mariposa Grove is a must. Among the several hundred mature specimens of these colossal trees are 2 of the 30 largest giant sequoias in the world, including the Grizzly Giant, thought to be between 1,900 and 2,400 years old.
With Yosemite's hundreds of thousands of acres of untamed Northern California scenery, there's no shortage of stunning things to see. Springtime is the best season to admire mighty waterfalls like Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Fall, and the famously fiery Horsetail Fall, which glows orange at sunset in late February. The Glacier Point overlook offers awe-inspiring views of Yosemite Valley, including 3 of its waterfalls and the soaring Half Dome. The world-renowned valley is known for its remarkable rock formations. The majestic spires of the Cathedral Rocks make up the eastern side of the canyon, while Sentinel Rock stands guard over the valley opposite Yosemite Falls. In the quieter northwest section of the park, the Hetch Hetchy Valley enchants visitors with brilliant wildflower displays and the cerulean expanse of the O'Shaughnessy Dam. Vast wilderness areas make up more than 95 percent of the park, rewarding backpackers seeking solitude amidst unspoiled natural beauty.
With a variety of activities and adventures to choose from in Yosemite, explore the park the way you want. Hit the highlights in just a single day with a full-day tour, or head out on a camping tour for 3 days of hiking, incredible scenery, and sleeping under the stars. Adrenaline seekers can hit the throttle for an ATV tour of some of the park's most stunning off-road terrain, while those seeking a more personalized tour experience can opt for a private tour of the sights of their choice. About an hour outside the park, Crowley Lake offers a water lover's paradise in the summertime. Rent a speedboat for a day of outdoor recreation and exploration on your own, or hire a charter boat and let the pros handle the driving.