Yosemite is an area of California in the Sierra Nevada mountains that incorporates Yosemite Village, Yosemite Valley, and Yosemite National Park. This is one of the most popular areas in California for tourists to visit, especially for outdoor enthusiasts. The diverse geography of this area provides ample opportunities for enjoying a wide range of outdoor pursuits. However, there are plenty of other things to see and do, regardless of your interests. There are fun family activities, fantastic places to eat, and attractions for those who want to learn about the area’s history. If this is your destination of choice, here are the 20 best things to do in Yosemite for first-timers.
20. Go Swimming at the Swinging Bridge Swimming Hole
According to Crazy Family Adventure, you will find Swinging Bridge and Swimming Hole at the base of Chilahula Falls. You can only go swimming in the swimming during the summer months because the rapids are too strong during the other times of the year. The staff at the visitor center can advise you if it is safe to go swimming or not. Regardless of whether you go swimming, this is still a pretty spot to visit.
19. Go Rafting in the Merced River
Merced River runs through Yosemite Valley, and it provides the perfect playground for some water-based fun. There are many activities you can enjoy along the river, including kayaking and canoeing. However, the most popular activity is rafting. There are also some nice beach spots along the river where children can paddle, or you can relax while enjoying the stunning surroundings.
18. Drink at the Iron Door Saloon
Although most of the activities in Yosemite involve spending time outdoors in daylight hours, there are also places where you can have some fun in the evenings. A great place to spend your evenings is in the Iron Door Saloon, which is the oldest continuously operating saloon in California. You can enjoy a few drinks and grab a bite to eat. On Thursdays, they host a karaoke night, and there is live music at the weekends.
17. Enjoy a Casual Meal at Summerdale BBQ Experience at Tenaya Lodge
There are multiple establishments where you can enjoy a great meal, but the Summerdale BBQ Experience at Tenaya Lodge offers a unique dining experience. The hotel is located on the edge of Yosemite National Park, and the BBQ is hosted seven days a week in a conifer forest clearing. There is a hearty set-price menu, and diners can listen to live music while enjoying their al fresco meal. Tenaya Lodge also has another eatery, Jackalope’s Bar & Grill, which you might like to try. This has both indoor and outdoor dining, and the menu consists of casual meals, such as sandwiches and burgers. Jackalope’s Bar & Grill is famous for its kettle chips.
16. Have a Glass of Wine at Yosemite Wine Tails
Time Out recommends enjoying a glass of wine at Yosemite Wine Tails during your stay in Yosemite. This is a dog-friendly wine bar on Highway 41. It highlights Californian wines, and there is an excellent selection. There are both indoor and outdoor seating areas. Wine is also available to purchase, along with snacks and treats.
15. Relax at Ascent Spa
Often people visit Yosemite to enjoy outdoor physical pursuits. However, it is also a place that you can visit to get away from the hustle and bustle daily life, and to enjoy some rest and relaxation. If you want to enjoy a relaxing experience, then Ascent Spa is the best place for this. It is a state-of-the-art spa that offers a diverse range of treatments and therapies. Having a massage is a fantastic way to unwind after a day of hiking, horseback riding, or climbing.
14. Get Arty at Happy Isles Art and Nature Center
If you are an arts enthusiast and you have a creative streak, then the best place to visit in Yosemite is Happy Isles Art and Nature Center. This center offers outdoor art classes that take place all over Yosemite Valley. Most of the classes last for four hours, and they allow you to explore the beauty of the area while enjoying activities such as drawing and painting. All the materials are supplied in the fee you pay, and you can take your artwork home as a souvenir.
13. Try Horseback Riding
Rather than cycling or hiking around the trails of Yosemite National Park, you might like to give horseback riding a try. There are several companies that offer horseback riding session of various lengths, and this is an excellent way of exploring the area if you are an animal lover. An alternative activity for horse lovers to enjoy in the winter months is taking a horse-pulled sleigh ride. This is a great activity to consider if you are on vacation with children.
12. Enjoy an Upscale Meal at The Majestic Yosemite Hotel
If you want to treat yourself to an upscale meal while you are in Yosemite, then a great option is The Majestic Yosemite Hotel, which is open to the public as well as to hotel guests. This is a grand hotel with a spectacular dining room that boasts floor-to-ceiling windows so that diners can enjoy the views while they dine. It is important to note that this is a formal venue, and they expect guest to wear attire accordingly. However, they are open for Sunday brunch, and the vibe is a little more casual if you visit the hotel at this time. After your meal, make sure you explore the hotel’s beautiful grounds.
11. See the Craft at Ansel Adams Gallery
Art enthusiasts should see the crafts at Ansel Adams Gallery, and this attraction is also a good option if you want something to do that does not require much physical exertion. Ansel Adams was a photographer who is most famous for the black and white photographs he took of the geographical features of Yosemite Park. However, his work extended beyond this region. This small gallery highlights some of his work, along with some work by local artists.
10. Visit Yosemite Museum and the Indian Village of Ahwahnee
If you want to learn more about the history of the area, then you should visit Yosemite Museum and the Indian Village of Ahwahnee. You can learn about when the valley was first inhabited more than three thousand years ago, and there are many interesting artifacts on display. Behind the museum id a replica Indian village consisting of four dwellings that are built in the traditional style of the Miwok people. It is the ideal place to learn about how people have lived in this area throughout its history. This is a free activity, so it is ideal if you are visiting Yosemite on a budget.
9. Have Fun on the Rinks in Half Dome Village
If you are visiting Yosemite as a family in the winter months, then a fun activity that all the family can enjoy is ice skating. During the winter months, much of the landscape in Yosemite is covered by a blanket of snow. Underneath the Half Dome, this creates a natural ice-skating rink. After ice skating, you will often see people sitting around fire pits enjoying s’ mores. Even if you are not a fan of ice-skating, you should go and take a look at the Half Dome as it looks like a magical winter wonderland when it is covered in snow.
8. Go to the Pioneer Yosemite History Center
Yosemite has a long and interesting history, and pioneers have played an important part in this. In the earliest parts of the region’s history, it was inhabited by Native Americans. It then played a central role int eh California Gold Ruch during the mid-19th-century. Later, the ranchers, loggers, and hoteliers arrived in the region. Due to the changes in the inhabitants and the way the land has been used, Yosemite is filled with historical sites. The best place to learn about this is at the Pioneer Yosemite History Center. This includes a visitor center and a collection of buildings that are significant to the history of Yosemite Valley. You might also like to visit the nearby California State Mining and Mineral Museum.
7. Spend a Night Under the Stars
Although there are some amazing hotels around Yosemite, you should try to experience at least one night under the stars during your stay. There are multiple campsites in the area where you can enjoy feeling close to nature. It is best to pitch up your tent in one of the official sites rather than finding yourself a spot in the park as you are at less risk of running into problems with the wildlife. Also, many of the campsites have fire pits that you can sit around at night. If you have not taken along your tent, then you might like to try glamping in a yurt.
6. Try Rock Climbing
Rock climbing is one of the most popular activities in Yosemite, and this is because of the amazing rocks and cliff faces. Experienced climbers often head to this part of the world solely for the purpose of spending their days climbing some of the most challenging structures. Planetware says that Yosemite is the perfect place to try rock climbing for the first time. There are several rock-climbing centers with instructors who will teach rock climbing novices the basics.
5. Hike the Yosemite Trails
One of the most popular activities in Yosemite is hiking, and there are miles of trails to enjoy. These vary in difficulty from short and easy walks that the whole family can enjoy and are suitable for all abilities, to long and challenging walks over varied terrain and with steep inclinations. Each of the trails offers a different experience, and they all boast spectacular views. An alternative way to enjoy the trails is cycling, and there are places where you can hire a bike if you have not taken along your own.
4. Go Wildlife Watching
Yosemite is a brilliant place to visit if you want to get close to nature and enjoy the wildlife. The region is divided into multiple plant zones, and it is the natural habitat of more than 400 species. It is particularly famous for its black bears. If you are visiting the area specifically to see the bears, it is important that you follow all the safety guidelines. Take along your camera when you go for your wildlife spotting walks.
3. Stroll Through the Giant Sequoias
An unusual feature of Yosemite Valley is the giant sequoia trees. These are so huge you will hardly be able to believe that they are real. You will find these trees in the Mariposa Grove, and this has newly renovated boardwalks for you to stroll along. There are also two smaller groves, and these are often less crowded with tourists.
2. Enjoy the World-Famous Viewpoints
There are multiple spectacular landmarks across Yosemite National Park, and there are some famous viewing points where you can admire the scenery. Some of the viewpoints you should try to see during your visit to this area include Valley View with Merced River, Olmsted Point, Half Dome, and Glacier Point. Each of these viewpoints provides a wonderful opportunity to take photographs.
1. See the Yosemite Valley Waterfalls
According to My Yosemite Park, the best thing to do in Yosemite for first-timers is to see the Yosemite Valley Waterfalls. The waterfalls are created from water melting on the mountains and running into the valley. The peak time of the year when the waterfalls are at their most spectacular is from April through to June. There are multiple waterfalls to see, and you will find many of these along the major trails.
Written by Liz Flynn
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