Visit Yosemite Solo or With a Group? 8 Tips for Exploring California's Iconic National Park
Visiting Yosemite for the first time is breathtaking—dare we even say life changing—with its incredible landscape and natural attractions. Whether you’re planning a solo Yosemite trip, or you want a to see it with a group (spoiler: we think Yosemite is better when experienced together), we’ve got the key tips to know before you go. EF Ultimate Break Tour Director Tyson, an expert on all things national parks, shares the best ways to see Yosemite (and what not to do!).
by Reid Flynn
November 6, 2020
So you want to explore Yosemite? Ready to go all Ruth Dyar Mendehnall (look her up) and capture your wild(erness) side? Great! You came to the right place. There’s so much to see and do at Yosemite National Park, but knowing where to start can feel intimidating.
That’s especially true if you’re visiting Yosemite solo. Do you camp overnight or just spend the day? Join a hiking tour or try to figure out the trails yourself? Kill your phone battery with too many photos of El Capitan or save some life for Cathedral Lake? (Yes, yes to all the photos—bring a portable battery).
At EF Ultimate Break, we love showing travelers the surreal beauty of Yosemite and beyond, like on our US National Parks: California to the Grand Canyon trip (you’ll see Yosemite, Death Valley, Zion, Bryce Canyon and the Grand Canyon—talk about epic). Don’t sweat the details like flights, accommodations, transportation, and local guides—we handle everything—and enjoy the comfort and safety of being with a group of adventure-lovers like you.
No matter what type of Yosemite vacation you’re after (or any of America's glorious national parks out West), these tips from our Tour Director Tyson can help you be prepared.
Yosemite Tunnel View. Credit: Vashishtha Jogi/Unsplash
1. Get high! As in, change your altitude for jaw-dropping views
You’re here. Yosemite National Park. You’re at ground level, you can see beautiful things all around you. But just like your parents telling you not to fill up on bread, you shouldn’t just settle for what’s directly in front of you. If you really want to see Yosemite, you need to get high—as in, increase your altitude.
“The classic spot to start with is Tunnel View,” says our Tour Director Tyson. No hiking necessary, it’s accessible by car (another thing to consider if you’re visiting Yosemite alone). With EF Ultiumate Break, we include Yosemite’s top attractions in our itinerary, including Tunnel View.
You can look up photos in advance all you want, but nothing will prepare you for seeing El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Falls all at once from this surreal vantage point. With pine trees stretching before you for miles, this is an iconic way to start your Yosemite vacation. By all means, look down.
Top: Yosemite Valley (Mark Brazier/ Unsplash). Left: View of Nevada Fall from John Muir Trail (Ryan OConnor/Unsplash). Right: View of Half Dome from the top of Clouds Rest (Fran/Unsplash)
2. Pick your hike (or do ‘em all)
No matter your level of experience, there’s a rewarding hike for everyone here. Tour Director Tyson has some faves. He says start easy. Spend the day like a pioneer following the old wagon roads of the Valley Loop (make sure to look up!). Or pretend you’re cooling down in the world’s largest lawn sprinkler, getting misted by the powerful Vernal, Nevada, or Bridalveil Falls.
For the bolder and more experienced, Tyson recommends getting into high Sierra wilderness by scaling Cloud’s Rest. Sitting a full 1,000 feet above Half Dome, get a view of the iconic rock like no other. Shoot, you could even just go for a quick little walk and pack a lifetime’s worth of natural beauty into a half hour here. You do you!
You may need to squint (or bring some binoculars!), but El Capitan Meadow provides a relaxing spot to watch climbers on the iconic rock formation. Credit: Lu Sea/Shutterstock
3. Watch the insanely impressive (or maybe just insane, depending on your stance) rock climbers from El Capitan Meadow
Legs feel like Jell-O after that hike? Sick and tired of doing things? You earned some idle time. Head to El Capitan Meadow, pop a squat and crane your neck. Watch as the adrenaline junkies scale the 3,000-foot-high granite face.
Even better, pack binoculars and a snack and kill an hour or two tracking the progress of the thrill-seekers who climb El Capitan. The award-winning 2018 documentary, Free Solo, tracked Alex Honnold as he became the first person to scale the entire wall without any ropes or safety equipment. Pretty nuts, right? (Please don’t get any ideas.)
US National Parks: California to the Grand Canyon
11 days. 6 cities.
Gaze into the great void of the Grand Canyon. Snap pics of the most famous rocks in America: El Capitan & Half Dome in Yosemite. Hit the lowest (and hottest) point in North America: Death Valley. Stroll over the rock bridges and under the archways at Bryce Canyon. And trek the out-of-this-world terrain of Zion. Oh, and did we mention the sightseeing day in Las Vegas?
The calm, glass-like waters of Cathedral Lake. Put your phone away, if just for a moment. Credit: Kevin Noble/Unsplash
4. Embrace being off-the-grid
If you wanted to see some of the world’s most pristine natural assets on a screen, you could just watch Planet Earth. Put the phone away and immerse yourself in the real thing in Yosemite. It’s not like you’re going to get much signal out here anyway. (Don’t worry, when you’re back at your hotel you can post all the Instagram stories and TikToks you want.)
But while there, Tyson encourages you to really disconnect from the Internet. “Use your senses and experience nature as it was intended. Maybe you’ll miss a great photo, but the memory will live forever in your mind.” So true, so wise. Even better, the memory will live on not just in your mind, but also in the collective recollection of you and the people you’re sharing the moment with. Group travel truly gives you the ultimate “remember when” stories—something you can’t get from visiting Yosemite solo.
Your path to Yosemite goes through EF Ultimate Break (okay that was corny, we know). Credit: Jeffrey Keenan/Unsplash
5. Leave nothing but footprints
We have a responsibility to our national parks: to leave them exactly as we found them. That means the obvious stuff like not leaving trash or desecrating a tree with your initials carved into it. But it also means staying on trails at all times and not taking home a souvenir rock for your rock collection.
As Tyson says: “Take nothing but pictures, leave nothing but footprints.” And like we said earlier, the less time you spend staring at your phone’s camera frame, the better, at that.
Starry sky over Glacier Point in Yosemite. Credit: Vezzani Photography/Shutterstock
6. Embrace your inner(stellar) night owl
When in Yosemite, you simply must stay up late to hit the clubs. Just kidding. Though you should try and stay up late—and wake up early. Being so far from any major city, and therefore, any major source of light pollution, the stars at night here are like nothing you’ve ever seen before. Here’s an idea: Book your Yosemite trip with us and take the guesswork out of it. Our itinerary includes an optional starry skies excursion; voyage into Yosemite Valley with your Tour Director and fellow trip-goers, lay under the stars, learn about the galaxy above, the meteors, constellations, comets, and folklore of the valley.
And if you’re enough of an early bird, you can watch the most epic sun rises of your life. Forget everything you know about your circadian rhythm—Yosemite’s sights are worth missing a few hours of rest. You can always take a little mid-day nap in the meadow, anyway.
Seeing wildlife in its natural habitat is one benefit of a national parks adventure. Credit: Jaume/Shutterstock
7. Don't feed the bears (it has to be said)
Listen, there’s nothing to be afraid of, but bears do live at Yosemite National Park. You’re in their home, remember. And while they may not all have Paddington’s manners, there’s a few things you can do to stay on their good side. (FYI: This is more relevant for campers who stay overnight in the park. If you’re visiting during the day with a group, the concern is minimal.)
In any case, absolutely do not leave food out, or toss leftover food or snacks on the ground. Instead, Tour Director Tyson says: “Use the bear canisters around the parking areas and trailheads for any and all of your food and toiletries. This is the golden rule of Yosemite.”
This could be you and all your new friends. Credit: ggTravelDiary/Shutterstock
8. Share the stunning Yosemite experience with a group
In our opinion, the best way to really make the most of your Yosemite trip is to share it with others. Experiencing all of this—from the hikes to the surreal views and all the laughs, photos, and “OMG my legs are tired!” moments in between—is simply enhanced with a group. Even if you start out as strangers, you’ll be travel family by the end of your journey.
Without a group, who would take your picture in front of Cathedral Lake, or pass you another hot dog around the fire pit, or stay up late to watch the stars with you? On top of that, it’s always a good idea to hike with others, for your own safety.
If that sounds good to you, consider checking out our US National Parks: California to the Grand Canyon trip. Not only will you be with a group of eager hikers to experience the national parks of the American West, we also take care of every little logistical detail (flights, accommodations, daily meals, plus a top-notch itinerary for each park you visit). And you'll have an expert Tour Director like Tyson.
Now go forth and remember that not all who wander are lost—some are trying to remember which bear canister they left the marshmallows in.
by Reid Flynn
Reid is a copywriter at EF Ultimate Break. He loves cheese, playing guitar, and speaking loudly about indie rock to anyone who will listen. His favorite place in the world is Amsterdam.