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Horsetail Fall is a small, ephemeral waterfall that flows over the eastern edge of El Capitan in Yosemite Valley. For two weeks in February, the setting sun striking the waterfall creates a deep orange glow that resembles Yosemite’s historic “Firefall.”
Yosemite National Park covers nearly 1,200 square miles of mountainous terrain in the Sierra Nevada of California. From high peaks and deep canyons to ancient forests and quiet meadows, the diversity of the world is on display here. At Yosemite you can see the tranquillity of the High Sierra, the power of glaciers, giant sequoia groves, thundering waterfalls, clear streams and much more. Designated a World Heritage Site in 1984, Yosemite is also home to hundreds of wildlife and plant species. Two Wild & Scenic Rivers, the Tuolumne and Merced rivers, begin in the park and flow west to the Central Valley. Visitors experience the park’s 800 miles of hiking trails and 282 miles of road.
Visitors fall in love with the park’s many waterfalls, specifically 2,425-foot Yosemite Falls that ranks as the tallest in North America, flowing down into the scenic Valley meadows. Hikers take notice of the enormous granite mountains from the 8,842-foot Half Dome to the 13,114-foot Mt. Lyell-Yosemite’s tallest peak. Glaciers, which John Muir sought out in California as well as Alaska, add into the mix with the Maclure and Lyell still intact.
“It is by far the grandest of all the special temples of Nature I was ever permitted to enter.” —John Muir
Animals: Yosemite supports more than 400 species of vertebrates, including fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds, and mammals. Overall, the park’s widespread coniferous forests–with a relatively mild climate and a mixture of plant species–provide a lush habitat for animals to live. Wildlife species typically found include mule deer, black bear, bobcat, gray fox, mountain kingsnake, Gilbert’s skink, white-headed woodpecker, brown creeper, spotted owl, and a wide variety of bat species. Black bears in Yosemite are active both day and night. Most bears that rely on natural food sources are active during the day. However, those that get food from people are often active at night, when they can quietly sneak around and grab unattended food.
Plants: Move up or down in elevation and feel as though you are in another park. Vegetation changes from oak woodlands to chaparral scrublands to lower montane to upper montane to subalpine to alpine. Those who step into the alpine zone can see krummholz whitebark pines and perhaps a western juniper or mountain hemlock. Scientists study many individual plants, including the black oak, to understand its future challenges.
TRAVEL & TOURISM
Yosemite is open all year, though some areas of the park are inaccessible by car from approximately November through May due to snow.
Distances and Driving Times From: San Francisco/Bay area (195 mi, 4-5 hours); Sacramento (176 mi, 4 hours); Reno & Lake Tahoe (June through October, conditions permitting, 218 mi, 5 hours/All year, 315 mi, 8 hours); Los Angeles area (313 mi, 6 hours); San Diego area (441 mi, 8 hours); Las Vegas (June through October, conditions permitting, 642 km, 8 hours / November through May, 797 km, 8-10 hours)
Drivers can enter Yosemite National Park by several routes:
From the West and Most Scenic: CA Hwy 140
This route is by far the most scenic drive into Yosemite National Park and the best way to go if you’re visiting for the first time. It’s open most of the time and passes through the towns of Mariposa and Fish Camp. It’s also a popular route for people driving to Yosemite from the San Jose area.
From the West: CA Hwy 120
Open most any time, this route goes through Oakdale and Groveland and is often used by visitors from the San Francisco Bay area and northern California. It passes through fruit and almond orchards, small agricultural towns, fruit stands and ranches in the rolling foothills before ascending sharply up the Priest Grade to Big Oak Flat and the old gold mining town of Groveland.
From the South: CA Hwy 41
From US Hwy 99 at Fresno, Hwy 41 runs north and west toward Yosemite’s South Entrance, which takes you through the towns of Oakhurst and Fish Camp and into the park near the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and Wawona.
From the East: CA Hwy 120 and Tioga Pass
To find out more about traveling this route, average opening and closing dates, check the guide to the Tioga Pass.
From the East: Other Mountain Passes
Other mountain passes that can get you across the Sierras near Yosemite include the Sonora Pass (CA Hwy 108), Monitor Pass (CA Hwy 89) and Ebbetts Pass (CA Hwy 4). Snow may also close these routes in winter, but they are sometimes open when Tioga Pass is still snow-clogged.
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