Located in east-central California, Yosemite National Park is one of the most popular parks in the nation. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Yosemite is known for its steep waterfalls and rushing streams, its striking granite cliffs and its redwood trees, and for its rich wildlife. The park encloses 1,189 square miles, of which 95 percent is dedicated wilderness. The vast scale of Yosemite and its outdoor splendor draw in over 3.5 million nature lovers, outdoor sports enthusiasts and tourists every year.
There are a variety of ways to access the natural wonders of Yosemite National Park, the most traditional of which are its over 800 miles of hiking trails. Day hikes in the park range from easy strolls to strenuous treks up mountain sides. For the true lover of the great outdoors, the park also offers backpacking, or backcountry hiking and camping. These expeditions are multi-night, on-trail treks into the wilderness regions of the Yosemite. Backpacking in Yosemite requires a wilderness permit, and these can be reserved up to 24 weeks in advance. Reservations are strongly recommended, as some trails are occasionally booked out a full 24 weeks in advance. Yosemite is bear country, so all backpackers are required to exercise proper anti-bear precautions in the wilderness, especially regarding food.
Other options for getting into Yosemite include horseback riding and bicycling. If you’re into horseback riding you can rent your own horse, as there are trails within Yosemite designated for your use. Others interested in exploring the park from the back of a riding animal can join a guided mule ride. There are 12 miles of paved bicycle paths in Yosemite, and the park rents bikes for the use of its patrons. However, off-trail mountain biking is not permitted anywhere within Yosemite.
Yosemite is also a big draw for rock climbers. Indeed, Yosemite’s Camp 4 is one of the places where the sport was developed. Challenges in the park range from the Merced River Canyon and its sustained crack climbs to the big walls of the Valley to the stunning 3,300-foot face of El Capitan.
The Merced River also offers swimming beaches and white-water rafting during the summer months. Fishing in Yosemite is also popular, although fishing requires both a California fishing license and compliance with the park’s own rules and regulations. The fun in Yosemite does not end with the coming of winter either. While the park rarely receives enough snow to merit skis or snowshoes, several trails remain open between December and mid-March for winter hiking. If the park does receive enough snowfall, these become cross-country skiing and snowshoeing trails.