Located in Central California, Yosemite National Park was designated a World Heritage site in 1984.
The park is famous for its massive granite faces, valleys, waterfalls and giant sequoia trees and is visited by roughly 4 million people each year.
The key attraction that pulls in tourists is the stunning valley, stretching for almost 12 kilometres and is approximately 3000–3500 feet deep. Yosemite houses thousands of lakes and ponds and approximately 800 miles of hiking trails and is home to over 300 species of mammals.
The valley is forested with pines and surrounded by towering granite summits such as Half Dome and El Capitan.
Yosemite Valley is where most visitors arrive and stay, despite only making up a small part of the entire park. The valley and El Capitan are heavily photographed by tourists and are what most people will associate with the name Yosemite.
If you’ve ever seen the background photos on Apple Macs, you’ll get a taste of what to expect!
Over 1,500 kilometres of trails are available to hikers with a range of difficulties available to suit every ability.
The Yosemite Grand Trail is just one of the many options for trails in Yosemite, however due to its length and price it requires much more advance planning than some of the other routes on offer, and turning up on the day is not an option.
Depending on whether you choose to go self-guided or as part of a package, and what company you choose to do the experience with, individuals should expect to pay around £1600/ USD$2200.
- A traverse through the heart of Yosemite offering stunning views of iconic locations and access to more remote parts of the park
- Named by National Geographic as one of the ‘Worlds Top 15 Trails’
- Breathtaking natural beauty that can be found in few other places in the world
Fly into San Francisco and then you can take either a private tour bus or coach to the National Park or jump onto one of the Amtrak trains.
Alternatively, you can arrive via the Fresno Yosemite International airport, which is roughly a two-hour drive from the park.
Tour operators will have you stay in a hotel on the evening of your arrival and departure for the park will begin early the next morning.
Even for those going self-guided, it is recommended to arrive the night before.
From your hotel, a shuttle can take you to the trailhead in Yosemite, which is the beginning of the actual trek and from here the rest of the journey will be carried out on foot.
This route is roughly 96 kilometres and is completed in an eight-day stint, the first of which includes your night at the hotel in Fresno when you arrive.
This is something that can make the route more challenging – sustained distances over consecutive days and in tour groups, individuals are required to stick to an itinerary and travel a certain distance each day.
Hikers will be required to stay with the guides and do not have the option to break off and complete the trail at their own pace.
Grade and difficulty of the walk
The gradient of the walk will see hikers climbing up a gradual increase of a few hundred metres and walking downhill at the same gradient for some of the walk.
Inclines are not very steep however the added weight of carrying a backpack will make the walk more challenging.
It is recommended that hikers have some overnight backpacking experience but the trip can still be enjoyed without it.
The trip will include on and off trail hiking with the potential for some of the ground to be quite uneven, so boots with ankle support are highly recommended.
As the walk is usually guided, individuals do not need much prior experience.
However it is recommended that hikers maintain a good level of fitness and do some training before the walk starts.
Ideal training would include going on medium to long distance hikes with an appropriately weighted backpack.
Experience with setting up things like tents, stoves etc. is also helpful but not vital.
For those that are choosing to go self-guided, an ample level of fitness is given but you will also need some back-country hiking experience and be confident in your map-reading ability as some sections are not always clearly marked.
Wilderness permits are required if you wish to camp overnight in the park.
Tour operators typically factor the cost of said permit into the price they charge and you will not need to obtain the permit yourself.
Guided or self-guided
Whilst there are many routes in Yosemite that can be undertaken without a guide, due to the length and distance of the Grand Traverse, parties usually opt to travel with a guide.
A bonus of this is that they will not only be informative about the park along your journey, but will also help with setting up camp in the evening and cooking food whilst you partake in activities.
Having said that, it is possible to go self-guided but you will need to obtain camping permits and pre-plan your route, as well as ensuring you have ample food and drink to sustain you between refuelling stations.
The best times to visit Yosemite are May and September, when the park is accessible but not too crowded.
Trails in the valley offer the best trekking conditions from late May through until October or early November, depending on snow levels.
Multiple tracks are closed in winter (December through until May) for safety reasons due to access roads being shut.
The tours of the Grand Traverse are run in the American summer time, from mid June to the beginning of September. Dates will vary depending on what company you book with and these can be found on the appropriate websites.
An itinerary for the trip would look like:
Check into you hotel and meet your guides in the evening to be briefed about the trip (for guided tours).
Shuttle transfer to the trail start, roughly a three-hour drive.
6-kilometre hike ending at Knoblock Meadow.
Pass through the Isberg Pass and down towards Merced River.
9-kilometre hike ending at 10km.
Descend along Merced River.
13-kilometre hike ending at riverside camp spot.
Trek through Echo Valley, traversing of large granite ridges with impressive views of Little Yosemite Valley.
14-kilometre hike ending at Sunrise Creek.
Summiting Cloud’s Rest and views of Tenaya Canyon.
8-kilometre hike ending at Sunrise Lakes camp.
Connect to infamous John Muir Trail in the Tuolumne region of Yosemite.
10-kilometre hike ending at Cathedral Lake.
Final stretch through the back country.
6-kilometre hike ending at Tuolumne Meadows. Meet shuttle for return journey to Fresno.
Accommodation for your first and last night in Fresno should be booked ahead of time and they will be able to help with securing spots in a shuttle to the trail start point.
For anyone booking as part of a tour, the hotel in Fresno is included in the price of the trip. Tour operators will also provide camping equipment for the entire duration of the trip.
Tents will be set up each night at a designated camping spot which will provide basic amenities. Tour guides will help and show walkers how to put up and take down their tents, something that will be a common occurrence throughout the trip.
Those who are going self-guided will need to either bring their own camping equipment or rent it from one of the many outlets in Fresno.
Yosemite is an area of outstanding natural beauty and has a plethora of other trails for visitors to walk and explore. Simply spending time in the park is rewarding as every day there is something new to look at and wildlife to see.
Within Yosemite National Park, there are vast areas to explore with routes of varying lengths, depending on how much energy you’ve got to spare.
As well as the various trails around the valley floor and sections within, there are also several trails that lead out of the Valley, including:
- The John Muir Trail – running 340 kilometres to Mount Whitney
- The Mist Trail – with views of Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall
- The Four Mile Trail – leading to Glacier Point
- The Yosemite Falls Trail – to the top of Yosemite Falls
You can also go and see the infamous giant sequoias, which grow up to 90 metres tall and are truly mind-blowing.
These can be accessed via the boardwalks of the Mariposa Grove but if you want to avoid the crowds there are two other slightly smaller groves nearby.
Go wildlife spotting around the park and keep a look out for the native black bears and then have an evening back in the valley, trying out ice skating in Half Dome Village.
If you have kids (or even if you don’t!) it’s well-worth signing up for a tour or ranger-led activity to learn more about the history and geology of the park.
Should you prefer to spend time in an iconic city then San Francisco is only a few hours by both car and train. The city offers endless opportunities and sights to see with visitors being able to spend days or weeks here at a time.
Jump on a bike and cycle over the Golden Gate Bridge or relax and picnic down at Golden Gate Park. Ride the legendary cable car around the city, jumping off at Chinatown, Union Square, or to see (and smell) the seals down at Fisherman’s Wharf.
One of the most popular attractions not to be missed is Alcatraz. Jump on a ferry over to Alcatraz Island and take a guided tour of the notorious prison. If you’re feeling brave you can even do it at night or on Halloween!
|Skills Required||Hiking, Walking|
|Starts at||Knoblock Meadow, California, USA|
|Finishes at||Tuolumne Meadows|
|Length of route||96 Km|
|Average time to complete||8 - Days|
|Possible to complete sub-sections||No|
|Highest point||3048 metres|
|Equipment needed||Camping equipment, Poles if preferred, Trekking gear, walking boots|
|Countries visited||United States|