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Yosemite 101: An Introduction to Yosemite's Most Famous Sights

Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite Falls, Mariposa Grove, and Glacier Point
4.5 - 8 miles (7.2 - 13 km)

This tour will definitely take a full day, primarily because there's a lot of driving involved. The Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall, and Yosemite Falls are all within a few miles of each other in Yosemite Valley, but the Mariposa Grove is 25 miles (40 km) south of the valley, and Glacier Point is 16 miles (25 km) from the Glacier Point Road turnoff. Most of the roads in Yosemite are slow and winding - they're designed for maximizing scenery, rather than getting you places fast - so don't expect to be able to get from Yosemite Valley to the Mariposa Grove in half an hour.

Stop 1: Tunnel View

If you're making your first visit to Yosemite, this is an essential stop. Approaching from the south, it's a turnout just after you emerge from the tunnel with Yosemite Valley in full view. If you entered Yosemite any other way, you'll need to head a mile or so (about 2 km) uphill from the Bridalveil Fall parking lot in Yosemite Valley. The Tunnel View, subject of several million photographs annually, provides a spectacular overview of Yosemite Valley, including El Capitan, Half Dome, and Bridalveil Fall.

Stop 2: Bridalveil Fall

Bridalveil Fall is the tallest waterfall along Yosemite Valley's southern rim, 620 feet (189 meters) tall. There are good views of it from several places in the valley, but it's easily worth the short hike to the base of the fall to see it up close. If you do hike all the way to the base during high runoff, you'll get drenched with spray, so you might want to bring rain gear. It's also worthwhile to take the fork of the trail that crosses a pair of stone bridges over Bridalveil Creek below the fall.

Stop 3: Yosemite Falls

Yosemite Falls is also visible from much of the valley -- visit the Swinging Bridge for a particularly good photo opportunity of the upper falls -- but it's worth taking the short trail to the base of the falls, because the lower falls aren't visible from the rest of the valley. (If you want to see the entire falls at once, try hiking to the top of Sentinel Dome or taking the Four-Mile Trail.)

Stop 4: Mariposa Grove

The Mariposa Grove is easily the largest and most famous of Yosemite's Giant Sequoia groves, and the Grizzly Giant and California Tunnel Tree are the most popular attractions here. They're near the top of the 2.2 mile (3.5 km) lower loop trail. It's usually worth continuing to the upper loop, but on this tour you probably won't have time.

Stop 5: Glacier Point

Although you can mix up the order of the other stops on this tour, you should leave Glacier Point, arguably Yosemite's best sunset-watching locale, for the last stop. It's a rewarding place to sit and watch the peaks change colors after a long day's driving and hiking, and it's especially scenic if there are some clouds in the eastern sky. There's a cafeteria / gift shop at the trailhead, so you can grab a snack, settle down, and enjoy the ending of an event-filled day in Yosemite.