National Parks

14 BEST Views in Yosemite National Park for Your Bucket List

Dec 16, 2023

National Parks

14 BEST Views in Yosemite National Park for Your Bucket List

Dec 16, 2023

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Yosemite National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s one of the best hiking spots in the US, and it boasts some gorgeous viewing points. 

Due to its large size, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed about where to begin and which spots are the best, and I don’t blame you.

Yosemite is a beast, and in order to conquer it, you have to know your way around it.

So, here’s a breakdown of the most stunning views in Yosemite.

Tip: Check out my guide of all 63 US national parks to uncover more magnificent parks to explore. 

Disclaimer: Hey explorer! This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small percentage of each purchase made through my links. I only ever recommend products I believe in and appreciate your support if you decide to use my links—thank you!

FREE Masterclass: How to Get Paid as a Travel Influencer

In 60-minutes, I’ll walk you through 5-steps I use to get brands like Mazda, Adobe, REI, and Tourism Boards to pay me to travel the world!

Best Yosemite Viewpoints You Can Drive To

Here are some fabulous viewpoints in Yosemite that you can drive to and then hike if necessary. Although most of the views can be reached just by car.

Don’t forget your America the Beautiful Pass!

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is located along Wawona Road at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel, about a 30-minute drive south of Yosemite Village.

This is one of the most famous vistas in Yosemite Valley because you can see several of the park’s features from here, including the best Half Dome and El Capitan views.

The viewpoint is called “Tunnel View” because you will first pass through a long tunnel before emerging into the Valley’s grandeur. 

Read Next: California National Parks Ranked

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake is a large, freezing-cold lake set in the Tuolumne area’s white granite.

This lake is popular among kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, and picnickers.

It’s one of the most gorgeous sights in Yosemite, offering sweeping views of the massive Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Expect crisp mountain air, alpine scenery, and incredible reflections on the lake on a clear day. It is a must-see if you are traveling through the park’s high country.

To get there, take the exit slightly east of Olmsted Point, facing Mt. Conness.

Wanderer Tip: Check out this 3-day Yosemite camping experience!

Olmsted Point

Nothing compares to a journey down the high-altitude Tioga Road. It’s a two-hour drive from the valley, and you can expect a massive dose of breathtaking beauty.

From here, look down into Yosemite Valley and get a different perspective of Half Dome.

You can either observe the view from the road’s viewpoint or take one of the shortest routes in Yosemite for a more spectacular vista.

Read Next: Yosemite National Park Guide

Glacier Point

You can get to Glacier Point by driving yourself or hopping on one of the park’s complimentary shuttles.

This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

It may be crowded here, since it’s so popular, but it has an amazing perspective and is easy to access, so you won’t want to miss it on your Yosemite trip.

You’d Like: This San Francisco to Yosemite day trip!

Merced Grove

Many visit the Mariposa Grove in Wawona for its gigantic sequoias.

But I’d suggest you head to the smaller, more secluded Merced Grove. This grove is near the park’s Big Oak entrance station and also offers a look at these impressive trees.

A wide trail descends 1.5 miles from the trailhead to this tranquil grove of perhaps twenty mature sequoias.

On your way, look for dogwoods in bloom and patches of Western Azaleas in the spring. Merced River is seen as a wild and scenic river, essentially, that means that it has its own national park. 

The Merced River runs the entire length of the Valley, so it offers many different views.

Two amazing views I suggest you check out are from Pohono Bridge and Happy Isles Nature Center. You can travel to Pohono Bridge, which is at the Valley’s western end. 

To reach Happy Isles, — located across the bridge from the Mist Trail Trailhead, boasting some gorgeous views — you’ll need to take the shuttle. 

Royal Arches

The Royal Arches are located on the valley’s north side, across from Curry Village.

They’re not entire arches that may be walked through, but rather arcs that have naturally fallen away from the cliff face as a result of a geologic process known as exfoliation

The greatest site to witness the Royal Aches is from Stoneman Meadow, although you can also see them from the road or sidewalk on Ahwahnee Meadow.

It’s best to look across Stoneman Meadow, which is on the other side of Curry Village, and you’ll see the arches engraved into the wall there.

Yosemite Viewpoints You Can Hike To

Here are 8 wonderful viewpoints in Yosemite that you can walk or hike to in order to experience the magnificent views.

El Capitan

El Capitan is one of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite Valley.

It’s also one of the most sought-after views in the park and one of the most popular climbing routes in the world.

Various rock climbers have ascended the El Captan viewpoint without ropes and have made the rock structure famous over the years. 

Cathedral Lake Trail

This well-trodden trail goes to two alpine lakes surrounded by granite peaks and shows off Yosemite’s lush wilderness.

Walk the John Muir Trail for 1.8 miles before coming to a fork in the road.

Spend the afternoon at Cathedral Picnic Area, where you can see El Capitan from the sandy coast. There are plenty of shady spots to dine and enjoy the park. 

Note: Bears are fairly common in this area, so never leave your food unattended for even a minute. They will come through even if there are other people nearby in the middle of the day. 

Carlon Falls

This popular walk on the park’s western edge takes you to a 20-foot waterfall and swimming hole that boasts refreshing waters, so inviting on a hot summer day.

While the falls are within Yosemite National Park, the trailhead is located outside of the park, so you don’t need a pass to hike this one. 

The mostly level trail twists along the fern-lined South Fork of the Tuolumne River. You’ll wander through a woodland while scrambling over dead logs.

Pack a picnic to eat on the big granite rocks scattered around the destination falls and get some cute pictures as well.

Half Dome Viewpoint

Climbing the cables to the larger-than-life sight at the top of Half Dome viewpoint should be on your bucket list.

The cable ascent of Half Dome’s sheer granite face is difficult for the faint of heart, but the view from the top is breathtaking and well worth the effort. 

Daredevils often pose for photos while sitting on the “Diving Board” with their feet dangling off the edge for those of you who prefer to live life on the edge. But please be careful!

Note: A permit is required to hike to the summit of Half Dome viewpoint.

Chilnualna Falls

Chilnualna Falls is a series of enormous cascades that flow over granite rocks in a remote portion of the Wawona area.

The falls are reached after a long, uphill journey along steep forested slopes. It will be well worth it as you catch glimpses of the stunning views along the way. 

The 50-foot upper fall accompanies a 100-foot cascade. Together, they provide the greatest views. Though the water flows all year, the trip is best done in the spring when temperatures are cold and snowmelt is plentiful.

Mist Trail

The Mist Trail is named after the water of Vernal Falls, a tremendous waterfall that is best seen in the springtime.

This is the most popular trip for Valley hikers, with flocks of trekkers at times, making the area quite busy. 

The waterfall and mist disappear in the summer, so plan to go when you can experience it. But be careful; the trail has been deemed perilous. 

Tip: Arrive by 7 a.m. if you want to be in the long line of fellow hikers for the first mile to the drizzling base of the fall.

Old Big Oak Flat Road

This less-traveled route was used by John Muir to arrive in Yosemite by carriage and functioned as the principal road into the valley until a 1940s rockslide rendered it unusable.

The walk follows the old roadbed to a cliffside with unimpeded views of Bridalveil Fall and is not maintained by the park system. 

If you’re willing to scramble across boulder fields, you’ll ultimately arrive at an old turnout marked by its original metal railing and an Insta-worthy view of the valley.

Pick up the path near the V7 sign along Northside Drive at the base of El Capitan, and you should be good to go.

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls, located in Yosemite’s northwest corner, flows 1,400 feet into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

The reservoir was built in 1923 to supply water to San Francisco.

While swimming and watercrafts are not permitted, the lake is surrounded by granite peaks and makes for an extremely attractive stroll. 

The falls start atop the 430-foot O’Shaughnessy Dam before diving into a long tunnel created to divert river water during the dam’s construction.

The trail follows the waterline before coming to a footbridge at the base of the cascade, which should be approached with caution depending on the flow.

Final Thoughts on Best Views in Yosemite

There is an unbelievable amount of gorgeous views in Yosemite, and I haven’t even covered them all.

The park is filled to the brim with the best Insta-worthy spots that’ll have all your followers gobsmacked.While you’re in sunny Cali, check out my magical 2-day Redwood National Park itinerary to make it even more memorable.

Yosemite National Park is on a lot of people’s bucket list, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s one of the best hiking spots in the US, and it boasts some gorgeous viewing points. 

Due to its large size, you may be feeling a little overwhelmed about where to begin and which spots are the best, and I don’t blame you.

Yosemite is a beast, and in order to conquer it, you have to know your way around it.

So, here’s a breakdown of the most stunning views in Yosemite.

Tip: Check out my guide of all 63 US national parks to uncover more magnificent parks to explore. 

Disclaimer: Hey explorer! This post contains affiliate links which means I earn a small percentage of each purchase made through my links. I only ever recommend products I believe in and appreciate your support if you decide to use my links—thank you!

FREE Masterclass: How to Get Paid as a Travel Influencer

In 60-minutes, I’ll walk you through 5-steps I use to get brands like Mazda, Adobe, REI, and Tourism Boards to pay me to travel the world!

Best Yosemite Viewpoints You Can Drive To

Here are some fabulous viewpoints in Yosemite that you can drive to and then hike if necessary. Although most of the views can be reached just by car.

Don’t forget your America the Beautiful Pass!

Tunnel View

Tunnel View is located along Wawona Road at the east end of the Wawona Tunnel, about a 30-minute drive south of Yosemite Village.

This is one of the most famous vistas in Yosemite Valley because you can see several of the park’s features from here, including the best Half Dome and El Capitan views.

The viewpoint is called “Tunnel View” because you will first pass through a long tunnel before emerging into the Valley’s grandeur. 

Read Next: California National Parks Ranked

Tenaya Lake

Tenaya Lake is a large, freezing-cold lake set in the Tuolumne area’s white granite.

This lake is popular among kayakers, stand-up paddleboarders, and picnickers.

It’s one of the most gorgeous sights in Yosemite, offering sweeping views of the massive Sierra Nevada Mountain Range.

Expect crisp mountain air, alpine scenery, and incredible reflections on the lake on a clear day. It is a must-see if you are traveling through the park’s high country.

To get there, take the exit slightly east of Olmsted Point, facing Mt. Conness.

Wanderer Tip: Check out this 3-day Yosemite camping experience!

Olmsted Point

Nothing compares to a journey down the high-altitude Tioga Road. It’s a two-hour drive from the valley, and you can expect a massive dose of breathtaking beauty.

From here, look down into Yosemite Valley and get a different perspective of Half Dome.

You can either observe the view from the road’s viewpoint or take one of the shortest routes in Yosemite for a more spectacular vista.

Read Next: Yosemite National Park Guide

Glacier Point

You can get to Glacier Point by driving yourself or hopping on one of the park’s complimentary shuttles.

This viewpoint offers a panoramic view of Half Dome, Vernal Falls, Yosemite Falls, and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. 

It may be crowded here, since it’s so popular, but it has an amazing perspective and is easy to access, so you won’t want to miss it on your Yosemite trip.

You’d Like: This San Francisco to Yosemite day trip!

Merced Grove

Many visit the Mariposa Grove in Wawona for its gigantic sequoias.

But I’d suggest you head to the smaller, more secluded Merced Grove. This grove is near the park’s Big Oak entrance station and also offers a look at these impressive trees.

A wide trail descends 1.5 miles from the trailhead to this tranquil grove of perhaps twenty mature sequoias.

On your way, look for dogwoods in bloom and patches of Western Azaleas in the spring. Merced River is seen as a wild and scenic river, essentially, that means that it has its own national park. 

The Merced River runs the entire length of the Valley, so it offers many different views.

Two amazing views I suggest you check out are from Pohono Bridge and Happy Isles Nature Center. You can travel to Pohono Bridge, which is at the Valley’s western end. 

To reach Happy Isles, — located across the bridge from the Mist Trail Trailhead, boasting some gorgeous views — you’ll need to take the shuttle. 

Royal Arches

The Royal Arches are located on the valley’s north side, across from Curry Village.

They’re not entire arches that may be walked through, but rather arcs that have naturally fallen away from the cliff face as a result of a geologic process known as exfoliation

The greatest site to witness the Royal Aches is from Stoneman Meadow, although you can also see them from the road or sidewalk on Ahwahnee Meadow.

It’s best to look across Stoneman Meadow, which is on the other side of Curry Village, and you’ll see the arches engraved into the wall there.

Yosemite Viewpoints You Can Hike To

Here are 8 wonderful viewpoints in Yosemite that you can walk or hike to in order to experience the magnificent views.

El Capitan

El Capitan is one of the most iconic landmarks in Yosemite Valley.

It’s also one of the most sought-after views in the park and one of the most popular climbing routes in the world.

Various rock climbers have ascended the El Captan viewpoint without ropes and have made the rock structure famous over the years. 

Cathedral Lake Trail

This well-trodden trail goes to two alpine lakes surrounded by granite peaks and shows off Yosemite’s lush wilderness.

Walk the John Muir Trail for 1.8 miles before coming to a fork in the road.

Spend the afternoon at Cathedral Picnic Area, where you can see El Capitan from the sandy coast. There are plenty of shady spots to dine and enjoy the park. 

Note: Bears are fairly common in this area, so never leave your food unattended for even a minute. They will come through even if there are other people nearby in the middle of the day. 

Carlon Falls

This popular walk on the park’s western edge takes you to a 20-foot waterfall and swimming hole that boasts refreshing waters, so inviting on a hot summer day.

While the falls are within Yosemite National Park, the trailhead is located outside of the park, so you don’t need a pass to hike this one. 

The mostly level trail twists along the fern-lined South Fork of the Tuolumne River. You’ll wander through a woodland while scrambling over dead logs.

Pack a picnic to eat on the big granite rocks scattered around the destination falls and get some cute pictures as well.

Half Dome Viewpoint

Climbing the cables to the larger-than-life sight at the top of Half Dome viewpoint should be on your bucket list.

The cable ascent of Half Dome’s sheer granite face is difficult for the faint of heart, but the view from the top is breathtaking and well worth the effort. 

Daredevils often pose for photos while sitting on the “Diving Board” with their feet dangling off the edge for those of you who prefer to live life on the edge. But please be careful!

Note: A permit is required to hike to the summit of Half Dome viewpoint.

Chilnualna Falls

Chilnualna Falls is a series of enormous cascades that flow over granite rocks in a remote portion of the Wawona area.

The falls are reached after a long, uphill journey along steep forested slopes. It will be well worth it as you catch glimpses of the stunning views along the way. 

The 50-foot upper fall accompanies a 100-foot cascade. Together, they provide the greatest views. Though the water flows all year, the trip is best done in the spring when temperatures are cold and snowmelt is plentiful.

Mist Trail

The Mist Trail is named after the water of Vernal Falls, a tremendous waterfall that is best seen in the springtime.

This is the most popular trip for Valley hikers, with flocks of trekkers at times, making the area quite busy. 

The waterfall and mist disappear in the summer, so plan to go when you can experience it. But be careful; the trail has been deemed perilous. 

Tip: Arrive by 7 a.m. if you want to be in the long line of fellow hikers for the first mile to the drizzling base of the fall.

Old Big Oak Flat Road

This less-traveled route was used by John Muir to arrive in Yosemite by carriage and functioned as the principal road into the valley until a 1940s rockslide rendered it unusable.

The walk follows the old roadbed to a cliffside with unimpeded views of Bridalveil Fall and is not maintained by the park system. 

If you’re willing to scramble across boulder fields, you’ll ultimately arrive at an old turnout marked by its original metal railing and an Insta-worthy view of the valley.

Pick up the path near the V7 sign along Northside Drive at the base of El Capitan, and you should be good to go.

Wapama Falls

Wapama Falls, located in Yosemite’s northwest corner, flows 1,400 feet into the Hetch Hetchy reservoir.

The reservoir was built in 1923 to supply water to San Francisco.

While swimming and watercrafts are not permitted, the lake is surrounded by granite peaks and makes for an extremely attractive stroll. 

The falls start atop the 430-foot O’Shaughnessy Dam before diving into a long tunnel created to divert river water during the dam’s construction.

The trail follows the waterline before coming to a footbridge at the base of the cascade, which should be approached with caution depending on the flow.

Final Thoughts on Best Views in Yosemite

There is an unbelievable amount of gorgeous views in Yosemite, and I haven’t even covered them all.

The park is filled to the brim with the best Insta-worthy spots that’ll have all your followers gobsmacked.While you’re in sunny Cali, check out my magical 2-day Redwood National Park itinerary to make it even more memorable.

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