Seven miles long and a half-mile wide, Yosemite Valley makes up the heart of any Yosemite National Park adventure, as it houses the vast majority of the park’s most famous sites. Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite Falls, Nevada Falls, Glacier Point — all of the park’s most popular destinations can be found in the Yosemite Valley's majestic landscape. Framed by countless granite monoliths and rushing waterfalls, the valley’s natural appeal draws more than 3.5 million visitors to Yosemite National Park each year.
Nestled in the famous Sierra Nevada mountain range, Yosemite Valley takes full advantage of the region’s plethora of natural resources, allowing it to have a huge range of activities and attractions for visitors. The most notable feature of the park is its countless rock formations, crafted over millions of years by glaciers and erosion. Most visitors probably recognize the famed Half Dome most easily, as its unique shape has made it both a state-wide and international icon for the wonders of the Sierra Nevada. El Capitan and Glacier Point are also notable features of the valley, as all three perch on the top-most edges of the basin, creating a dramatic and truly unforgettable rim for Yosemite Valley itself.
Many visitors do not know that a large, wide glacier created the valley’s U-shape and countless rock features during a period of extreme cold about 2 to 3 million years ago. The Sherwin age glaciers, or the oldest of all documented California glaciers, probably contributed most to the formation of Yosemite Valley and the rest of the Sierra Nevada mountain range’s astounding geography. For instance, the glacier contributed to the extreme, vertical front of the valley’s famous Half Dome formation. As the glacier slid through the valley and deposited water in the fissures of Half Dome's once-rounded front, this water soon froze, turned to ice, and expanded, causing pieces of rock to sheer off of the front.
However, the area’s landscape has evolved much since this period of extremity. Yosemite Valley is now home to a wide array of flora, fauna and natural attractions beyond just its countless rock formations. Visitors are treated to an encyclopedic collection of trees and plants, the most notable of which are the thousands of pine trees blanketing almost the entire valley floor. The valley itself is home to countless meadows, hiking trails, and the Merced River, a fairly slow-moving river that begins at the base of the astounding Yosemite Falls. Yosemite Valley is also home to some of the United States’ most breathtaking waterfalls. Ribbon Fall, Nevada Fall, Vernal Fall, Yosemite Falls, and Yosemite Falls all cascade down hundreds of feet of granite cliffs toward the Yosemite Valley floor. Yosemite Falls, an especially unforgettable stop on our tour, is actually one of the highest waterfalls in the world. Separated into three distinct sections, it is one of the most dominating natural features of Yosemite Valley and will surely make for amazing photographic opportunities year-round! Hiking trails up to the top of Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls, and El Capitan begin on the Yosemite Valley floor, and the peaceful Cook’s Meadow has a dazzling array of wildflowers in spring as well as a stark, icy beauty in winter.
In addition to these countless natural attractions, Yosemite Valley is also the center of the park in that most of the park’s food and lodging are also located here. The famous Ahwahnee Hotel, quaint Curry Village, Yosemite Lodge, the Yosemite Visitor’s Center and numerous campgrounds are all found in Yosemite Valley. These destinations are a comfort to any visitor, giving a much-needed taste of home and community to tired campers throughout their visits.
The Tunnel View of Yosemite Valley off of Highway 41 is a jaw-dropping introduction to the park, giving visitors who stop at this western lookout point off of Highway 41 a spectacular panorama of El Capitan at left, Half Dome at center, and Sentinel Rock and Bridalveil Falls at right. In fact, so spectacular is the Valley that it became the main feature on the California state quarter in 2005. Half Dome majestically sits on one side, framed by naturalist and Yosemite Valley explorer John Muir on the other.