Yosemite National Park

Spanning an amazing 761,000 acres, Yosemite National Park is an outdoors lover’s dream.

Photo By: somchaij; iStock

Photo By: southernfaithstudio; iStock

Photo By: Thinkstock

Photo By: Beth Rucker

Photo By: Beth Rucker

Photo By: Yosemite Hospitality

Photo By: W.MUSTAFEEZ

Yosemite

It's a trip you won't soon forget. With spectacular waterfalls, sky-high sequoias, scenic overlooks and enough hiking trails to sate the most avid of outdoorsmen, Yosemite National Park is one of the shining gems of the national park service.

Yosemite in Winter

The park attracts nearly 3.5 million visitors each year, but the best time of year to see its beauty unfold is during winter. Winter is Yosemite's "secret season," boasting mild temperatures, smaller crowds and lots of snow-filled fun. Lodging is more readily available, and wildlife -- like coyotes, mule deer, raccoons and even the occasional bear -- are easier to spot when the leaves are off the trees.

Yosemite

Established in 1864 as a state park (it became a national park in 1890), this 1,189-square-mile park about the size of Rhode Island includes 263 miles of roads, 800 miles of hiking trails and nearly 240 species of birds, 80 species of mammals and 1,400 species of flowering plants.

Yosemite Falls

Discover the highest waterfall in North America -- and the sixth largest in the world: Yosemite Falls. At 2,424 feet, the waterfall is a major attraction in the park, located in the central Sierra Nevada mountain range of California. It’s best viewed in late spring when snowmelt flows most vigorously.

Half Dome

The granite dome in the background is Yosemite’s most popular rock formation: Half Dome. The granite crest rises more than 4,737 feet above the valley floor -- hikers can ascend it with the use of cables.

El Capitan

Rock climbers will find few vertical rock formations as challenging as El Capitan (left, background). At one time "El Cap," which stretches roughly 3,000 feet from base to top, was considered impossible to climb. Today, the most popular route to tackle is The Nose, which follows the rock’s huge projecting front.

From: Beth Rucker

Merced River, California

Thank the 145-mile-long Merced River: It’s responsible for carving out the glacial valley known as Yosemite Valley. The valley is about 8 miles long and a mile deep, with an amazing vantage point offered at Valley View. This turnout is located near the park exit, traveling west on Northside Drive.

Float the Merced River in the Yosemite Valley for stunning views of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls that you can’t get on land. Rent a raft in Half Dome Village or bring your own inner tube for a three-mile float, then take a shuttle bus back to the village.

Stargazing at Yosemite National Park in Calif.

Enjoy a night of stargazing at Yosemite National Park located in California.