This blog post was updated on May 12, 2020.
Whether you are a thrill-seeking mountain climber, long-distance biker, or just like to relax outdoors with the family, chances are that you will be able to find an amazing vacation that will satisfy your mind and body in the expansive 1,200 miles of Yosemite National Park. While the best time to visit Yosemite is during spring when the snow is melting and the waterfalls are at their full gushing glory, its massive granite mountains covered with glaciers, ancient giant sequoias, and vast meadows are spectacular year-round.
Start at the Gold Rush in Downtown Sonora
Tuolumne County, California, acts as a gateway to Yosemite and High Sierra. In its heart lies the town of Sonora, which is famous for being a gold rush mining camp until the mid-1800s. This historic downtown is a good place to take a nostalgic stroll through time, imagining Mexican, French and American miners passing through the yellow Roman-pressed brick courthouse, the iconic Red Church, and the 19th century Opera House. The few walkable blocks are full of antique and country western shops, small international restaurants, and a few museums.
Sip on Fresh Hard Cider
Take a pause for a hard cider tasting at Indigeny Reserve for free. This family-run 160-acre preserve and apple orchard set in the breathtaking hills of Sonora grows 51 varieties of apples. Indigeny Reserve makes hand-crafted hard cider and apple brandy in oak barrels. You can taste hard ciders on tap and unique flavors of infused vodkas such as figs and tomatoes. Take a tour of the distillery or enjoy a bottle while sitting outside at the picnic tables under apple trees dating back as far as the early 1900s.
Fill Up on California Country Cuisine
For dinner, head away from downtown Sonora to the Standard Pour for local and sustainable fresh casual food and brews. The restaurant sources all their cheese, meat, and honey from California farms and offers tasty dishes such as fried Brussels sprouts, salt and pepper rock shrimp, and avocado toast with cheddar and chili. Watch a baseball game on the big screen, enjoy the open-air patio, or mingle with fellow travelers.
Take a Snooze at Lazy Z
At night, stay in one of the spacious family cottages and cabins at the Lazy Z Resort nestled in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Rooms come with private kitchens and decks, while common areas include a rustic clubhouse filled with family heirlooms and a relaxing swimming pool surrounded by woods. The mountain retreat is great for nature lovers looking for peace and tranquility.
Soak in The Landscapes
One of America’s most popular national parks, Yosemite Valley is home to deep valleys, rocky cliffs, and cascading waterfalls. Wake up early and plan to spend at least an entire day in the park unless you are camping overnight, but make sure to book your campsite months in advance. Make stops to see Sentinel Falls, El Capitan Meadow, Bridalveil Falls, Yosemite Valley, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, and Merced River to capture some stunning photographs.
Just outside the park entrance is a new hotel called Rush Creek Lodge, which offers luxurious accommodations, a relaxing spa, saltwater swimming pool, game rooms, and event facilities. Even if you are not staying overnight, you can stop by for a casual dinner and crafted cocktails at The Restaurant at Rush Creek, overlooking a forest sunset.
Explore the Lesser Known Valleys
While most people head straight to Yosemite National Park, the adjacent Hetch Hetchy Valley has one of the longest hiking seasons of any of the park attractions due to its relatively low elevation, and is often not as crowded. Besides hiking, you can go backpacking, bird watching, fishing, or visit the spectacular Wapama Fall. If you are up for a bigger challenge, hike the 16-mile round trip trail with 3,300 feet in elevation gain to reach Smith Peak. It’s the highest point on the Tuolumne side of the park and offers unparalleled views.
What’s your favorite national park? Share your ideas in the comments section below.