Yosemite Valley

Most of the park is not Yosemite Valley but most of the people spend all their time in the valley (in the winter, most of the park outside the valley is snowed in). The length of the valley is about the same as the distance across San Francisco, and is all accessible from one road (the one-way loop road). Also it is accessible from the shuttles. (All except the Tunnel/Discovery view and Bridalveil.) The upper (main) valley shuttle is year round, the lower valley shuttle is summer only, and provides access to El Capitan and Cathedral Beach. The best way to see the valley is to first take the shuttle or take one of the tours, then walk the trails, then bike the road and bike paths (no bikes off pavement), then walk some more. Walk into one of the meadows (on the paved trails or boardwalks) and just sit or stand and look and listen. Another location of about the same size that includes steep glacial walls and waterfalls is the Lauterbrunnen Valley in Switzerland. But the falls there are not as high.

Mirror Lake, Yosemite Valley Mirror Lake. is an easy hike up Lower Tenaya Creek and generally less crowded than the Vernal Fall view trail from Happy Isles. Happy Isles, Yosemite Valley Happy Isles. The Merced begins its trip through the relatively level valley floor at Happy Isles. This stop on the shuttle is the access to Vernal and Nevada Falls via the Mist Trail. Most people take this trail only to the bridge with the first view of Vernal Falls. At one time this trail was paved, now it is only mostly paved. Above the bridge, it is the usual dirt and rocks (especially the rocks on the Mist Trail section). Cathedral Rocks, Yosemite Valley Below the lodge and campground areas you find Cathedral Rocks across from El Capitan. Bridalveil Creek flows above and behind this feature before its drop to the valley.
Merced River, Yosemite Valley The large meadow complex near Yosemite Lodge is an outstanding location to spend time. Trails lead to views of the Merced. Merced River, Yosemite Valley, High Water But with a heavy snowmelt, the river spreads over the usual beaches. Half Dome, Sentinel Bridge, Yosemite Valley Sentinel Bridge (near the chapel) is a shuttle stop, a major intersection, and a "classic" view of Half Dome. Afternoon in low water seems to be best to get the reflection, though mornings in the spring with high water are not bad either. Cook's Meadow (behind you while looking at Half Dome) has trails to explore and provide the best views of Yosemite Falls. Current views of Half Dome across a meadow (Ahwahnee Meadow, or close to the Curry Village bike rental/ice skating shuttle stop) are available from the Half Dome Webcam
Snow is always possible into the early spring. But if you get up (and from the floor of a glacial valley, up is the important word) the trail (Yosemite Falls Trail) you get good views of the valley floor. Yosemite Valley from Yosemite Falls Trail
Manzanita, Yosemite Valley The distinctive manzanita is common on the lower slopes. This one is on the Yosemite Falls trail, not the Yosemite Falls path where most people go, but the trail that eventually gets to the top of the Falls. Dogwood, Yosemite The dogwood blooms in the spring. There are some around Sentinel Bridge, and a large number below Bridalveil Meadow. And some are scattered among the lodge and residential cabins (including one pink dogwood). Yosemite Lodge in the Snow, Yosemite Winter sometimes brings snow to the valley floor. The 4000' elevation is low enough that it will not last long so enjoy it while you can.
Weekend Traffic, Yosemite Valley Weekend traffic with early high-waterfall flows can be difficult. It is faster to walk at times. The Loop to Curry and the stop at Sentinel Bridge can be especially difficult. At peak times, cars are held at the Badger Pass ski are parking and released to Glacier Point only after cars have exited. If you are staying overnight near the park, take YARTS! Look at the Yosemite NPS Traffic Forecast Page. Swinging Bridge, Yosemite Valley The foot (and often bike) trails lead to crossings of the Merced (with April snow) Swinging Bridge, Yosemite Valley, High Water Crossings in high snow melt times are often also interesting. Note how close the water is to the bridge deck. (At flood stage, it reaches the deck.)

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