Some of the most stunning and iconic sights in America can be found in California’s Yosemite National Park, home of ancient giant sequoias and more than 400 species, including the rare Sierra Nevada red fox. While most visitors spend days traveling to the park from around the world, Las Vegans can get there in less than a day’s drive.
The quickest route to the hub of the park, Yosemite Valley, is also the most scenic. There visitors are treated to the sight of sparkling lakes, meadows, granite monoliths, which glow like fire at sunset, and scenic overlooks. This is via the east entrance, Tioga Road (SR 120), which leaves from the town of Lee Vining, California, and immediately climbs into the Sierra Nevada, reaching an elevation of 9,945 feet before descending to your destination. This sky-high road is open only in summer, which is one of the best times to head for Yosemite.
The park encompasses nearly 1,200 square miles, and has elevations ranging from 2,000 to 13,000 feet. More than 750 miles of hiking trails, from easy to strenuous, await visitors.
In Yosemite Valley, which has an elevation of about 4,000 feet, expect daily high temperatures in the 80s in August and daily lows of 56 degrees. September highs average 82 degrees, with lows of 51.
First-time visitors usually start in Yosemite Valley where the main visitor center, post office, medical center, market, restaurants, campgrounds and a variety of lodging are located. It is also the place to see Half-Dome and El Capitan — famously photographed by Ansel Adams — and to compare how closely your photos mirror the master’s work. Alex Honnold and Hans Florine set the record in 2012 for being the fastest to climb El Capitan, tackling it in less than three hours.
Visitors here also will find trailheads for hiking to Yosemite Falls, North America’s tallest waterfall, rising 2,425 feet from the valley floor, and to other classic destinations such as Bridalveil Falls, which, at 620 feet tall, is often the first waterfall park patrons see when entering Yosemite Valley. Expect to get wet in spring and early summer when the water is at its peak.
If you go
■ Not to be overlooked: When traveling to Yosemite in the summer, arrive before 8 a.m. or very late in the afternoon, as the entry stations have long wait times from late mornings through early afternoons. Parking in the valley is extremely limited. Once parked, the quickest way to get around is to walk or take the free shuttle bus. Biking is another alternative. Bike rentals are available, and you can ride 12 miles of mostly flat, paved trails.
■ What to pack: A refillable water bottle or hydration system. Comfortable hiking boots or sneakers with good tread. Dress in layers, wear a hat and use sunscreen. Binoculars come in handy to get a look at rock climbers scaling El Capitan.
■ Directions: From Las Vegas take U.S. 95 north about 115 miles to Beatty. Turn left onto Nevada Route 374 and go west for about 27 miles. Then go west for 73 miles on California Route 190, which becomes California 136, just before passing through Keeler, Calif., and intersecting US-395, just south of Lone Pine. Follow US-395 north for 122 miles to Lee Vining (where some people stop for the night.) Go left onto Tioga Road (SR 120). Drive about 75 miles to Yosemite Village.