“Which is the most beautiful national park in the USA?”
This is a question people often ask me, and you would think it would be difficult to answer with all the places I have seen. But it isn’t!
And that is saying a lot because there certainly are a ton of stunning national parks, not to mention the state parks too. But nowhere have I seen such majesty as Yosemite National Park. The massive granite cliffs, soft gentle meadows, giant sequoias, silky waterfalls, colourful leaves, and meandering rivers, Yosemite is extraordinary at every turn.
Located in California’s Sierra Nevadas, within easy driving distance from major cities, to say it is crowded in the summer would be an understatement. Summer is least photogenic time anyway. I recommend visiting in spring, autumn or winter instead. You’ll need to check road conditions because the roads in Yosemite often close when unfavourable weather comes through.
As far as locations go, you really can’t go wrong in Yosemite. Just pull over anywhere you can and you’ll be treated to a sight like no other. But there are a few locations you absolutely do not want to miss, and I have included 8 of my favourites in this list.
If you are somewhat athletic, you will have many more to choose from that require a more difficult hike, or even some rock climbing. But I have limited this list to places that are easily accessible.
Click on the map above to view in Google Maps.
A note to pet owners
On our first visit to Yosemite, Ray and I had a camper van and got a spot in the campground on the valley floor. At the time we had 2 beagles. We knew that dogs would not be allowed on the trails like in most national parks. What we didn’t know was that we would not be able to leave the dogs in the van in the campground because of bears.
So we couldn’t take them, and we couldn’t leave them! We ended up having to take turns sightseeing on that trip. So best to leave your pets at home or with a friend.
1. Tunnel View
This is the view of the park that Ansel Adams made famous where you can see many of the parks’ classic features such as El Capitan, Half Dome, Cathedral Rocks and Bridalveil Falls.
2. Valley View
If I had to pick a single favourite spot this would be it; with El Capitan on the left, Cathedral Rocks on the right, and the Merced River river in foreground. When it’s calm you get gorgeous reflections, when it’s not you can do long exposures and blur the motion of the river, at sunset, the tips of the mountains light up. There is always something to photograph here.
3. Cathedral Beach
I have called this one “Cathedral Beach” where there is a proper parking lot and picnic area. But really you can go anywhere along the south bank of the Merced River and get some spectacular views. This is a wonderful place to just explore and try to find your own unique perspective.
4. Sentinel Bridge
An absolute must to get reflections of Half Dome in the Merced River! If you go at sunset, you will also get that stunning glow when the last of the day’s light bounces off the top of Half Dome.
5. Cooks Meadow
I love this spot for a mellow stroll where you can get views of most of Yosemite’s landmarks, but also find some unique perspectives of your own.
6. Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls
While you can get many fantastic perspectives of these falls from afar, check out the short trail near Yosemite Lodge for some views through the trees.
7. Swinging Bridge
Another great spot for photographing the Upper Yosemite Falls, you can also photograph the bridge itself and you’ll find some wonderful intimate landscapes here to round out your collection.
8. Glacier Point
Well worth the drive, the views of Half Dome from Glacier Point are breathtaking. The best time to visit here is at twilight, and the park often hosts a ranger talk just before twilight that is entertaining and informative.
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