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Yosemite National Park

Updated: March 25, 2011 02:44 PM EDT
Rising more than 3,000 feet, El Capitan is a favorite for experienced rock climbers. (©California Travel and Tourism Commission, photo by Robert Holmes) Rising more than 3,000 feet, El Capitan is a favorite for experienced rock climbers. (©California Travel and Tourism Commission, photo by Robert Holmes)


By Eric Peterson

When John Muir arrived in the Yosemite Valley in 1868, he was so struck by the natural grandeur that he devoted his life to its preservation, helping to establish Yosemite as one of the nation's first national parks. Today, visitors are still struck by the Yosemite National Park's majestic mountains, waterfalls and abundant flora and fauna. Whether you come to hit the highlights in the Yosemite Valley or to explore the park's secluded wilderness, your world view will be forever changed by Yosemite's grandeur.

Things to Do

The park's most dramatic features are packed into the Yosemite Valley, including three of the highest waterfalls in the world -- Upper Yosemite, Sentinel and Ribbon Falls. The iconic face of El Capitan also towers over the valley. Do range outside the valley, if only to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. The Ansel Adams Gallery, where you can see his storied black-and-white images and then take a free photo walk led by a professional photographer, is well worth a stop. Day hikes range from the wheelchair-accessible walk to the base of Bridalveil Falls, to the strenuous 17-mile, 5,000-foot ascent to the top of Half Dome, Yosemite's other imposing granite monolith.

Shopping

The lodges' gift shops, especially The Ahwahnee, are a recreational-shopper's paradise, featuring tasteless souvenirs to one-of-a-kind keepsakes. For basic clothing, camping gear and groceries, head to one of the four general stores in Yosemite Village, Curry Village, Wawona or Tuolumne Meadows. Stop by a visitors center, buy a good book from one of the superbly stocked book stores and enjoy some fireside reading in a lodge.

Nightlife and Entertainment

In season expect ranger-led hikes, evening programs and storytelling -- sometimes fireside -- and, in the winter, moonlit snowshoe walks. All the lodges have lounges, with a grand piano in The Ahwahnee and four flat-screen TVs for sports fans in the Mountain Room Lounge at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls. Better yet, roast marshmallows around the lounge's fire pit -- children welcome. For people-watching, don't miss the extreme-sports crowd, sucking down microbrews at Curry Village Pizza Deck.

Restaurants and Dining

The Ahwahnee is a Four-Diamond hotel and its chef, like the chefs at the park's other two lodges, are Culinary Institute trained. Using, whenever possible, organic, sustainable and local products, all three restaurants offer refined cuisine in a magnificent setting, like the floor-to-ceiling views of Yosemite Falls at the Mountain Room. Even the buffet at Curry Village Pavillion is well-prepared. Campers can buy food and cooking supplies in the Yosemite Valley and Tuolumne Meadows.

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