Yosemite for Beginners – First-Timers Guide

Yosemite National Park is almost otherworldly, with cascading waterfalls, towering groves of giant sequoias, and iconic granite formations like world-famous Half Dome and El Capitan. These famous landscapes and challenging adventures draw nature enthusiasts from all over the world. Whether you’re a seasoned backpacker and hiker or a first time visitor, Yosemite has something for you. 

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Planning Your Trip to Yosemite

Yosemite Valley Vista (Kim Carroll Photography)

Best Time to Visit Yosemite

For smaller crowds, the best time to visit Yosemite is during shoulder seasons: spring’s April and May, and fall’s September and October. Chasing waterfalls in Yosemite? Early spring is the best time to visit. The park’s legendary wildflower bloom sees its peak in late spring and early summer.

Getting to Yosemite

Yosemite National Park is easily accessible by car from all major California cities, including San Francisco. Some adventurers arriving without cars rely on bus services, while others fly into the nearby Fresno Yosemite International Airport and rent a car to get them the rest of the way to the park. Get directions to Rush Creek Lodge Yosemite.

Where to Stay in Yosemite

Explore Yosemite in style! Often called a “destination within a destination,” Rush Creek Lodge features the perfect blend of rustic sensibility and contemporary touches. Our 20-acre lodge offers 143 lodge rooms, suites, and hillside Yosemite villas with private decks for stunning views anytime and amenities designed to create an outstanding getaway for kids and adults alike. See all of Rush Creek’s lodge rooms and suites.

Yosemite Park Passes and Reservations

Yosemite National Park charges an entry fee. Additionally, you’ll need a Peak Hour day-use reservation to drive your own vehicle into the park during peak seasons. Always check the National Park Service’s website while you plan your trip and frequently before you visit for the most up-to-date information about passes and fees, road closures, and more. 

Yosemite Valley Must-Sees

Tunnel View (Kim Carroll Photography)

Start your Yosemite trip with the unparalleled vista views at Tunnel View and Glacier Point, both offering awe-inspiring panoramic views of Yosemite Valley. If you’re looking for easy hikes and adventures, check out our list of easy hikes near Rush Creek Lodge or choose one of these highlights: 

  • Nature Trail at Rush Creek Lodge: this .5 mile round trip hike is perfect for a leisurely family stroll and hikers looking to stretch their legs
  • Bridalveil Fall: another easy half mile hike in Yosemite, this hike leads to the base of Bridalveil Fall and treats those who venture close enough to a refreshing spray of alpine water
  • Cooks Meadow: this one mile hike in Yosemite is a simple, flat trail that rewards you with some of the best views of the Valley!

Yosemite offers more than hiking – visit the Yosemite Museum to learn about the park’s history, browse exhibits at the visitor centers, at trailheads and entrances throughout the park, or join a ranger-led program through the National Park Service to learn more about the beautiful landscape surrounding you in Yosemite. 

Beyond the Valley

Hetch Hetchy Hike (KimCarroll.com- RC MAR 2017-50)

Venture beyond Yosemite Valley and discover hidden gems like Hetch Hetchy Reservoir. This less-crowded area features waterfalls and steep granite cliffs. Feel the enormity of Giant Sequoias in a grove near the historic Big Oak Flat Road, and explore the wide expanses of Tuolumne Meadows, a picturesque high country setting home to sparkling lakes, scenic hiking trails, and serene wildflower meadows. 

Tips for First-Timers

Visiting Yosemite for the first time? Keep these tips handy. 

  1. Be Weather Wise: the temperature and weather conditions in the park can change quickly and unexpectedly. Wear layers so you can adapt, and always bring an extra pair of socks!
  2. Stay Hydrated: Carry plenty of water during any activity, and particularly during hikes. When at mountain elevations, plan to drink twice as much water as you would in your home environment.
  3. Slow Down: Yosemite holds endless wonders, and isn’t going anywhere – prioritize what you’re most excited about, and remember that Yosemite is here to welcome you back anytime!

Your first Yosemite adventure is just the beginning! With each return visit, you’ll uncover new treasures and deepen your appreciation for this extraordinary park. Let Rush Creek Lodge be your luxurious basecamp and gateway to all the wonders Yosemite offers. Select from these packages and offers to add to your Yosemite trip!

Which Entrance to Yosemite is Best for Your Trip?

There are five entrances to Yosemite National Park – so how do you know which entrance to Yosemite is best for your trip? Each entrance offers access to unique trails and sights, from waterfalls and the reservoir in Hetch Hetchy to the Mono Basin National Forest Scenic Area through the Tioga Pass Entrance. Plan your perfect Yosemite trip with these tips and see what entrance will work best for you! 

Yosemite Valley View (Santino T.).

Big Oak Flat Entrance

Best for seeing Yosemite’s most famous sights.

If you want to explore Yosemite Valley, the best entrance at Yosemite is the Big Oak Flat Entrance. Just minutes from Rush Creek Lodge, this entrance to Yosemite gives you access to explore Yosemite Valley’s famous sights like Tunnel View, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. The valley is surrounded by bucket list climbs Half Dome and El Capitan, where hikers watch experienced climbers scale these granite summits (or undertake it themselves with the proper permits). 

You can also access Tuolumne Meadows through the Big Oak Flat Entrance of Yosemite National Park, following Tioga Road before the Tioga Pass Entrance of the park. Tuolumne Meadows holds a portion of the Tuolumne River, and is a popular spot in Yosemite for birdwatching, fishing, picnicking, stargazing, and photography. 

Yosemite Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Bridge (Kim Carroll 3-17.70)

Hetch Hetchy Entrance

Best for encountering fewer crowds.

The Hetch Hetchy Entrance of Yosemite National Park is the best entrance for those seeking an extra peaceful experience in Yosemite. The farthest north of all the entrances to the park, the Hetch Hetchy Entrance typically has fewer crowds. There are fish in the majority of the lakes for fishing. Hetch Hetchy is also one of the best entrances to Yosemite for hiking due to the long hiking season (early spring through the fall) and access to many of the park’s hiking trails. 

Not sure where to start? Let the experts at nearby Rush Creek Lodge guide you. You can enjoy a leisurely and fascinating 5 mile hike high above the shores of the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir on the Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Naturalist Hike while your knowledgeable guide shares history, science, and local lore you can’t find anywhere else. Learn more about our guided Yosemite National Park tours.

El Capitan (Kim Carroll).

Arch Rock Entrance

Best for access to the center of Yosemite National Park.

Arch Rock Entrance welcomes visitors to the park with a unique rock feature that passes over the roadway. Arch Rock consists of two house-sized boulders that form an archway large enough for visitors to drive through. You’ll be close to the center of the park and many iconic sights like Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the Merced River when you use the Arch Rock Entrance. 

Arch Rock Entrance is a direct route to Yosemite Valley, reachable via a gorgeous 10-mile drive. You’ll be treated to views of Bridalveil Fall, Pohono Bridge over the Merced River, and the iconic El Capitan.

Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.

South Entrance

Best for seeing the Giant Sequoias in Mariposa Grove.

If you’re traveling to Yosemite to see the Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias, the best entrance to the park is the South Entrance. This popular place to visit in Yosemite National Park is just 8 miles from the South Entrance, giving you access to the grove without driving through the whole park. Just before the entrance, you’ll find the South Entrance Information Station – there you can grab a park map and pay your entrance fee. You can also hop the free shuttle to Mariposa Grove from the Welcome Plaza, just two minutes from the South Entrance. 

Inside the park, you can visit Wawona, a historic town that holds the Pioneer Yosemite History Center, historic buildings, and interactive experiences available during the summer. The historic town comes back to life with blacksmith demonstrations, horse-drawn carriage rides, and more.

Tioga Pass mountain range in Yosemite National Park.

Tioga Pass Entrance

Best for access to Tioga Lake and Glacier Canyon.

The Tioga Pass Entrance to Yosemite National Park is the best entrance for access to Tioga Lake, Glacier Canyon, and the Ellery Lake Lookout. This entrance to Yosemite is only open during the summer, and offers easy access to outdoor activities like Tioga and Ellery Lakes and the stunning Tuolumne Meadows. 

Glacier Canyon is less than a mile from Tioga Pass Entrance, and one of the most popular sights to see in Yosemite. This valley was carved by a glacier and now features stunning views of the surrounding cliffs and sparkling waterfalls. As you head deeper into the park, you’ll catch glimpses of Mount Dana’s towering peaks, see climbers scale Lembert Dome, and finally reach Tenaya Lake, an alpine lake surrounded by towering granite cliffsides.

No matter where you start in Yosemite National Park, you’re surrounded by breathtaking landscapes and opportunities for adventure at every turn. From cascading waterfalls and granite peaks to gentle rolling meadows and meandering streams, you can see it all in Yosemite National Park – save your precious exploring time when you stay nearby at Rush Creek Lodge, just minutes from two of Yosemite’s best entrances. 

510 Families: The Ultimate Guide to Weekend Getaways For Bay Area Families

By Clara Hogan, February 29, 2024

Yosemite is a classic family destination, and hands down, Rush Creek Lodge is one of the most family-friendly hotels near the national park (and, honestly, even the state of California). Kids will love the large playroom (which has a large climbing structure and games), outdoor playground (featuring slides and swings), on-site trails, kids’ activity programming, and heated pool year-round. The hotel even lets families use the spa during the morning hours—something I’ve never heard of before.

Read More

Golden Gate: Playing with Light: Here’s How to See Yosemite’s Firefall Now

By Jennie Nunn, February 21, 2024

There’s a lot to be said for being in exactly the right place at the right time. In the case of Yosemite National Park’s rare natural phenomenon, Firefall, it’s everything. It’s no surprise the two-week annual spectacle at Horsetail Fall caused by sunlight hitting the waterfall at precisely the right moment—happening now through February 25th—has attracted renowned photographers, nature enthusiasts and throngs of visitors from around the globe. If you plan on attempting to get in on the action (pending perfect weather conditions), here’s what you need to know.

Read More

2-Rush-Creek-Lodge-Aerial-Kim-Carroll-3-19_022-1200

Is One Day Enough in Yosemite?

Is one day enough to experience Yosemite, or does this stunning location require an extended stay? You can check iconic sights off your bucket list, like El Capitan and Bridalveil Fall, with just a day in Yosemite – but you can truly dive into the wonders of Yosemite National Park with a longer stay. 

Yosemite in One Day

If you only have a day to spend in Yosemite, you can pack plenty into your short Yosemite trip by visiting the park’s main attractions. Leave the planning and navigation to the professionals with a guided trip from Rush Creek Lodge, where your expert guide will lead you to and through the most iconic sights in Yosemite: the cool shadows of Yosemite Valley, sparkling Bridalveil Fall, and majestic El Capitan, to name a few. 

Families with children hiking in Yosemite National Park.

Benefits of Staying More Than One Day in Yosemite

While you can do a speedrun of the park in a day and come away with memories of the landscapes and experiences to last a lifetime, additional days in Yosemite allow additional exploration! Spending more than a day in Yosemite gives you the opportunity to explore the park’s unique and widely varied ecosystems, ranging from the low elevation Foothill-Woodland Zone all the way up to the 9,500+ foot Alpine Zone. 

When you stay longer in Yosemite, you give yourself the flexibility and freedom to adjust your plans based on personal preferences, weather conditions, and unexpected discoveries. If you find a place you love and want to explore deeper, you can spend more time there or easily return to the location another day. A longer stay in Yosemite also affords you the privilege to capture sunrises and sunsets in the park – a truly unforgettable experience. 

Photographers and light chasers wake before dawn for a chance to capture First Light, the early rays of morning sunlight cresting over the iconic mountains that brings folks from around the world to cross the experience off their bucket list. Just as popular is Golden Hour, when the sun begins to set over the park and bathes sights like Half Dome and the Valley in a vibrant orange light called the alpine glow – so beautiful that photos of this time in the park often look unreal. 

Miller Brother Jeep Tours in Yosemite.

Yosemite Activities Beyond the Main Attractions

Beyond Yosemite’s iconic main attractions, when you take an extended stay to Yosemite, you can dive deep into the park and explore the extensive trail network to discover new sights, like hidden waterfalls, peaceful meadows, and breathtaking viewpoints and overlooks. Not sure about striking out on your own? Let an experienced guide from Rush Creek Lodge lead the charge, showcasing Yosemite’s hidden gems and providing expert background knowledge about this magical location. Rush Creek Lodge’s guided tours give you access to lesser-traveled areas of the park, in addition to the classic sights like Half Dome, El Capitan, and other Valley icons, on half- and full- day excursions. 

Wild Flowers at Hetch Hetchy (Jamie A.)

Planning Tips for Longer Yosemite Stays

Planning a longer stay in Yosemite? We’re happy to have you! What you want out of your Yosemite vacation will determine the best time for you to visit. Mesmerizing fields of wildflowers return every spring, making for unbeatable landscapes and breathtaking views. Snowmelt is also highest in spring, making waterfalls rush at their top capacity. Visitors say that standing near one of these magnificent falls makes you feel tiny and powerful at the same time, a unique experience called a “Yosemite Moment” that, of course, can only be experienced in Yosemite National Park. 

Summer means the most open roads throughout the park and the most terrain available for exploring, weather permitting. Fall brings vibrantly colored leaves and mild temperatures, while Yosemite winters guarantee snowshoeing and tranquil landscapes. 

When visiting Yosemite, it’s important to plan ahead – if you’re not sure where to begin, check out this itinerary for week-long trips to Yosemite and adjust it to your liking. Permits are required to access certain areas of the park, like the iconic Horsetail Falls during Firefall season, and must be reserved in advance. There are a limited number of permits available, so don’t miss out! 

Rush Creek Lodge Villa Deck Cheers (Kim Carroll)

Yosemite Lodging Options

Where will you spend your time when you aren’t exploring the great outdoors? Rush Creek Lodge is often called a destination within a destination, offering a range of amenities and activities that often encourage guests to stay an extra day just to enjoy the property. Rush Creek Lodge is conveniently located just outside the Big Oak Flat entrance to Yosemite National Park, giving you quick access to the park and letting you spend more time exploring your surroundings. 

Rush Creek Spa Winter Specials

This winter at Rush Creek Spa we invite you to seek warmth and rejuvenation in our indoor and heated outdoor Spa, and we have some exciting new offerings to top off your time with us.

seasonal scentsAromatherapy Add-OnAromatherapy Take-Home Gift

Set the tone for your wellness journey and immerse yourself in one of our seasonal scents:

  • Tangerine Basil is an uplifting scent that refreshes and relaxes.
  • Lavender Aphrodisia is a balancing scent that calms and soothes.
  • Vanilla and Lemongrass is a comforting scent that warms and rejuvenates.

The scent you choose will be mixed into the lotion or body oil used during your 50 or 80-minute treatment, and will include a travel-sized kit of scrub, wash and lotion in your chosen scent.

Signature Scent BundleWhite Wood Bath BombWhite Wood Reed Diffuser

Whether a treat for yourself or someone close, our Signature Scent Bundle has arrived and will transport you to the Spa through scent association. The bundle includes a white wood reed diffuser and white wood bath bomb.

What does white wood smell like? Visit our Revitalizing Sensory Room where this scent is featured.

Massage special7 - Rush Creek Spa Treatment (Kim Carroll 6-20_137) 1200

Our 80-minute Synergy Hot Stone Massage elevates your inner senses with heated basalt river stones that soothe aching muscles and a heated Himalayan salt stone for detoxing. Aside from its many benefits, this treatment is sure to provide ultimate relaxation.

Through February this treatment is completed with a cold glass of chlorophyll water and a complimentary gift.

facial specialRush Creek Spa Facial Treatment (Kim Carroll 9-20_1301) 1200

For a hydrating, deep cleansing treatment that provides the ideal combination of anti-aging, calming and brightening effects, look no further than our 50-minute Back to Basics Facial, featuring Eminence Skin Care products.

Through February enjoy a complimentary gift when you book this treatment.

body treatment specialRush Creek Spa Mineral Foot Soak-Scrub (Kim Carroll 9-20_1159 1200)Rush Creek Spa Treatment Room (Kim Carroll)

Elevate your body ritual with our 80-minute Rush Creek Signature Body Scrub, a head-to-toe detox treatment that features Eminence products designed for ultimate hydration, a light hot stone massage and body cocoon to seal in the moisture.

Through February enjoy a complimentary gift when you book this treatment.

twilight specialRush Creek Spa Granite Waterfall Hot Tub Waterfall (Kim Carroll)Rush Creek Spa Essential ElementsTea StationRush Creek Spa Himalayan Salt Block Sauna (Kim Carroll)

When the sun goes down, as does the Day Use Pass price. Regularly $65, get yours for only $45 when you visit between 6-9pm daily.*

Your wellness journey begins the moment you walk through the door, where you’ll be greeted by the soothing ambiance and signature white wood scent, receive your robe and slippers, brew yourself a complimentary cup of herbal tea and be lead through a tour of the Spa before landing at the door of the changing rooms.

COMING SOON!
Twilight Socials are on the horizon, and with it are a variety of new offerings that will be included with the purchase of a Twilight Special Day Use Pass.

  • Friday Refresh – after a long week, reset your skin with complimentary face wash, warm aromatherapy-infused washcloth, conditioning face mask and an enriching moisturizer.
  • Saturday Bath Salts – create your own bath salt blend for your complimentary Foot Soak with a mixture of magnesium and various essential oils. When combined with warm water, your special blend is sure to promote muscle relaxation, potentially relieving soreness, and will leave your skin feeling softer.
  • Sunday Aromatherapy Blending – the use of essential oils to promote physical, emotional, and mental well-being. With each aroma offering a unique benefit, we will assist in curating a blend that focuses on your specific wellness journey.

Reservations are required for treatments and day use.

Contact the Spa at 209-379-2425 or spa@rushcreeklodge.com for more information and to book.

*Ages 16+, not valid during private events.

12 Things to Do in Yosemite in Winter

From stargazing and hot stone massages to snowshoe hikes and holiday celebrations, there is an array of things to do in Yosemite in winter – especially when visiting Rush Creek Lodge. Along with daily activities that change seasonally, the winter schedule at Rush Creek is packed full of mountain fun and snowy scenes. 

Stargazing in Yosemite National Park at Rush Creek Lodge.

Stargazing 

Far from light pollution, the dark skies surrounding Rush Creek Lodge are perfect for stargazing. After watching a beautiful Yosemite sunset, bundle up and embark on a stargazing tour with the lodge’s expert Star Guides, where you’ll see the cosmos through a digital telescope with clarity like never before. Star Guides will direct you around the night sky, pointing out constellations, star clusters, and other beautiful features of the Milky Way.

Wonders of Yosemite Hike & Tour

This full day hike is a great way to spend a winter day in Yosemite. The Wonders of Yosemite trip begins with a driving tour through Yosemite Valley, showcasing beautiful snowy views of the landscape as you approach the giant sequoia groves. The grove portion of the hike is done on snowshoes during the winter, winding 3 miles total through the giant sequoias that represent Yosemite’s natural history. 

Learn more about Rush Creek’s guided Yosemite tours.

Father & Daughter enjoying s'mores at Rush Creek Lodge.

S’mores at the Lodge

Join other Rush Creek Lodge guests nightly around the cozy fire pit for s’mores! Enjoy the warmth of a well-maintained campfire and indulge in the most classic outdoor snack, a delicious melty s’more. Meet your fellow guests, warm up by the fire, and head off to bed after your mountain dessert. 

Wood Ornaments

Rush Creek Lodge offers an impressive variety of activities for guests, including the chance to decorate your own wooden ornament. Paint your ornament and take it home to hang on your Christmas tree as a reminder of your awesome Yosemite adventure! 

Happy Snowshoeing the Merced Grove of Giant Sequoias in Yosemite National Park.

Giant Sequoia Snowshoe

The Giant Sequoia Snowshoe is a 3-mile hike, showcasing the beautiful giant sequoias. The largest living species on earth, seeing these gorgeous trees flanked by bright white snow is an experience you just can’t miss in Yosemite. This half-day excursion requires beginner to intermediate effort. 

Rim of the Valley Snowshoe Adventure

Venture out to one of the best overlooks in all of Yosemite with Rush Creek Lodge’s Rim of the Valley Snowshoe Adventure. You’ll snowshoe up and down forested ridges to reach Dewey Point, an idyllic outlook that provides breathtaking views of Yosemite Valley’s southern rim, El Capitan, Three Brothers, and other famous Yosemite landmarks. 

Snow swimming in the heated pool at Rush Creek Lodge Yosemite.

 

Heated Saltwater Pools

The pool at Rush Creek Lodge is heated and open year-round, weather permitting, as are both of the large hot tubs. Relax away tired muscles from your day of Yosemite adventuring, or turn your attention upward for sublime stargazing. 

Range of Light Yosemite Valley Tour

See Yosemite from an insider’s perspective on a driving tour of Yosemite Valley’s most famous wonders and hidden secrets. Perfect for the winter with short walks on flat, easy-to-navigate terrain, the Range of Light Yosemite Valley Tour features opportunities to take in the views from vista overlooks, bright snow and ice formations, and other classic Yosemite winter sights, supplemented by your guide with information about the Park and its natural history, wildlife, and more.  

Yosemite Valley snowfall.

Yosemite Valley Explorer Snowshoe

Don your snowshoes and follow one of Rush Creek’s expert guides through Yosemite’s hidden trails on the Yosemite Valley Explorer Snowshoe, one of the best things to do in Yosemite in winter. Your guide will take care of the driving so you can enjoy the views, and provide interesting facts about the area’s hidden wonders once you’re on foot and ready to explore 4.5 miles surrounding Yosemite’s most famous icons. 

Craft Classes at Rush Creek Lodge

Ready for some time away from the chill? Create a beautiful keepsake of your winter Yosemite trip in a gemstone bracelet class, stitch beaded earring class, or basket weaving class taught by traveling art educator and artisan Willow Polson. Class fees include all the materials you need to create your own masterpiece.

Family enjoying Christmas in Yosemite at Rush Creek Lodge. 

Christmas Activities at Rush Creek Lodge

December 22 – 28, 2023

If you’re joining us for the holiday season, we’re excited to provide you with traditional holiday celebrations in ways you’ve never experienced before. From live music and visits with Santa to our tree lighting and special Christmas menu, you’re in for an unforgettable Yosemite Christmas experience

New Year’s Eve Activities at Rush Creek Lodge

December 29, 2023 – January 2, 2024

Spend your New Year’s Eve at Rush Creek Lodge! Treat yourself to a delicious dinner by Executive Chef Lemens, a sparkling champagne toast, and late-night fun in the Tavern to ring in the new year right.  

Frequently Asked Questions about Yosemite in Winter

Deciding whether to take on Yosemite in the winter brings up a host of questions. Let the experts at Rush Creek Lodge answer your most frequently asked questions about winter in Yosemite! 

Is Yosemite worth visiting in winter?

Of course! Yosemite is worth visiting anytime, including the winter. You can take a snowshoe hike to access less-traveled parts of the park and see breathtaking views of the snow-covered landscapes, experience festive mountain holiday celebrations, stargaze from your private balcony at Rush Creek Lodge, and more. 

What not to miss in Yosemite in winter?

Christmas Week at Rush Creek Lodge is a can’t miss Yosemite winter event. In addition to unforgettable views of Yosemite’s iconic landmarks blanketed in snow, winter in Yosemite brings magical mountain experiences like campfire s’mores, stargazing, snowshoeing, and chef-curated dining. 

What to do in Yosemite when it snows?

There are plenty of fun things to do in Yosemite when it snows. Embark on a snowshoe hike guided by one of our expert naturalist guides and see the Park’s most famous landmarks in their wintery beauty, gather around the fireplace with a classic board game in your Yosemite villa, or even visit our Yosemite spa for a dip in the Warm Waterfall Coves to contrast with the cold outdoors. 


At Rush Creek Lodge, you’re just minutes from the best things to do in Yosemite in the winter. From expert-led snowshoe hikes to relaxing soaks in our heated granite waterfall mineral hot tubs, an amazing Yosemite winter experience is at your fingertips when you choose Rush Creek Lodge. 

Trending This Fall at Rush Creek Lodge & Spa

Fall holds a special place in our hearts at Rush Creek Lodge and Yosemite, as the sweeping foliage brings warm days, cool nights, and a bounty of Yosemite adventure.

We’ve gathered the top 10 trending attractions and activities this fall that guests are enjoying right now.

In Yosemite

 

1. vALLEY LOOP TRAILFall Color and Half Dome on the Merced River (Desiree S.)

This is the ultimate choose-your-own-adventure, with loops as short as 1-mile and as long as 11.5-miles. Every bend in the trail offers unique perspectives of Yosemite Valley’s most iconic granite features.

Throughout the year, the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail transforms with the changing seasons, making it a popular destination for sightseers and experienced hikers.

Whether blanketed with falling leaves in autumn or adorned with a glistening dusting of snow in the winter, this trail offers an ever-evolving and enchanting glimpse into the natural beauty of Yosemite Valley!

 

2. Wapama fallsGroup Photo at Wapama Falls (Kim Carroll)

Hetch Hetchy, 35-minute drive

Yosemite National Park is no doubt recognized for its jaw dropping waterfalls. Though every year when fall rolls around, the flow of Yosemite’s most iconic waterfalls begins to dwindle.

This is not the case in Hetch Hetchy! Wapama Falls is Yosemite National Park’s biggest waterfall by volume, making it a must-see for those chasing waterfalls this fall.

For the sightseer, Wapama Falls can be viewed while standing on the O’Shaughnessy Dam.

For hikers, it’s a 5-mile round trip hike to the base of this waterfall.

 

3. Tuolumne GroveTuolumne Grove of Giant Sequoias (Megan G.)

30-minute drive

We will never stop recommending this grove of giants, where every season brings new beauty. Catch the changing dogwoods against the brilliant red bark of the Sequoias in this dense Evergreen forest.

Visit a Tunnel Tree and the largest Sequoia, Big Red, on the 3-mile round trip trail through the grove.

Fun Fact: The path down to the Grove is paved because it is the old Big Oak Flat Road! Completed in 1875, this road welcomed tourists traveling by stagecoach and eventually some of the first automobiles until it closed in 1940.

 

4. Glacier point road Glacier Point Sunset (Corey M.)

This scenic road winds its way to one of the most spectacular viewpoints in the park: Glacier Point. Along the way, travelers are treated to vistas of Half Dome, Vernal and Nevada Falls and pass multiple trailheads. Glacier Point Road is typically open from late spring to early fall, so get your trip in before the season’s first snow blankets the road!

For sightseers, Glacier Point offers a jaw-dropping vista overlooking Yosemite Valley. You’ll receive unforgettable views of Half Dome with Yosemite’s high country painted in the background.

For hikers, there are many trails that begin along this road. The two most notable being Sentinel Dome and Taft Point. Both trails have the same starting point and do not exceed a 2.2-mile roundtrip.

Looking for a longer trek? Connect the two trails to form a 5.8-mile loop.

 

5. Mirror  lakeMirror Lake (Jonah C.)

In the fall, Mirror Lake in Yosemite National Park undergoes a breathtaking transformation.

This pristine body of water, nestled at the base of Half Dome, becomes a magical reflection of the season’s colors!

 

6. Tioga roadTuolumne Meadows (Megan G.)

This road flaunts an extensive list of renowned Yosemite hikes and destinations. Whether you’re looking for a day of sightseeing with back-to-back big vistas, or to explore Yosemite’s backcountry, Tioga Road will amaze and inspire you. So go on a journey through diverse ecosystems, from lush forests to seas of granite, and from alpine lakes to sweeping meadows.

Tioga Road reaches an elevation of 9,945 feet and is the first road to see snow, so be sure to get it in while you can!

7. Fly FishingFly Fishing

$40/day to rent fly fishing equipment from the Recreation Desk

Grab a trail lunch from the General Store and rent Fly Fishing equipment from the Recreation Desk and escape to one of our local rivers. Rental includes all necessary equipment to secure a big catch!

A California Fishing License is required to fish our local rivers, and is not included with the rental.

Our favorite fishing spots:

  • Middle Fork Day Use Area, located on Evergreen Road
  • Carlon Day Use Area, located on Evergreen Road
    This one can be a hike and fish, with the trailhead to Carlon Falls located in the Day Use Area!
Back at the lodge…

 

8. Basket Weaving & JEWELRY makingJewelry Making (Willow B.)

Sunday, Monday, Tuesday & Thursday | 7pm

Using a basketry kit from Traditional Craft Kits, this class guides students through how to make a traditional California Native-style one-rod coiled basket.

Alternatively make a beautiful bracelet or earring keepsake of your Yosemite adventure using a variety of real gemstone, glass, wood, and other natural material beads.

Book now

9. stargazingRush Creek Stargazing (Kim Carroll 9-17_303 4800)

Experience the night sky like never before! Up close to nature’s light show, you’ll be gazing through our 12″ aperture Dobsonian telescope with goto tracking technology.

Learn about constellations, observe planets, nebulas, galaxies and other celestial wonders. Book now on our website!

 

10. Twilight spa day useRush Creek Spa Aromatherapy Steam Room (Kim Carroll)

Nov-Apr 6-9pm | Ages 16 and up, $45 per person

After a day’s adventure, find warmth and relaxation in our indoor/outdoor spa filled with innovative elements inspired by the natural beauty and power of Yosemite. Amenities at Rush Creek Spa integrate our signature combination of stone, sound, scent and warmth.

Get into your robes and settle in for an evening of crisp mountain air under starry skies.

10 Best Moderate Hikes in Yosemite

If you’re ready for a challenge, Yosemite National Park is the place to find one. From less-traveled Hetch Hetchy to the famous Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Loop, the best moderate hikes in Yosemite are at your fingertips thanks to Rush Creek Lodge’s expert guided Yosemite hiking tours.

Read on to see our 10 favorite moderate hikes in Yosemite! 

Wapama Falls in Yosemite National Park.

Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Naturalist Hike | 2.2 Miles Each Way

This moderate hike covers 5 miles of Hetch Hetchy, 2.2 miles each way. Hetch Hetchy is typically less crowded than Yosemite Valley, and boasts similar beautiful views complete with mountain domes and waterfalls. Once you reach Wapama Falls, you’ll have the opportunity to relax by the water or continue past the falls for a little more adventure before hiking back to the lodge. 

The Hetch Hetchy Wapama Falls Naturalist Hike departs from Rush Creek Lodge’s sister property, Evergreen Lodge. Participants should arrive at the Evergreen Lodge Recreation Center 15-20 minutes before departure. 

Giant Sequoia Hike or Snowshoe | 3 Miles Round Trip

This half-day Giant Sequoia Hike or Snowshoe is one of the best moderate hikes in Yosemite. The giant sequoias in Merced Grove are incredible any time of year, but the year round accessibility of this hike means you can snowshoe through the rarely-traveled landscape seen by few visitors when snow blankets the grove in winter. Snowshoe rental is included in this hike’s fee. 

The sequoia grove portion of this tour requires a 3 mile round trip hike or snowshoe. Participants should be comfortable walking or snowshoeing up to 3 miles in varied terrain, at elevations up to 6,000 feet. 

Wonders of Yosemite Hike and Tour | 3 Miles Round Trip

The Wonders of Yosemite Hike and Tour is a full day, moderate hike in Yosemite. The trip begins with a driving tour of Yosemite Valley, where expert guides from Rush Creek Lodge will do the driving so you can enjoy the beautiful scenery. You’ll see rushing waterfalls, majestic giant sequoia trees, and stunning vista views on your way to the giant sequoia groves. 

This moderate hike in Yosemite will take you on a 3 mile round trip hike through the giant sequoias that were an integral part of Yosemite’s beginnings as a National Park. During the winter and early spring, this moderate Yosemite hike turns into a snowshoe adventure – snowshoe rental is available through Rush Creek Lodge.  

Yosemite Valley View (Santino T.).

Yosemite Valley Explorer | 4-5 Miles

Get to know Yosemite Valley on the Yosemite Valley Explorer hike, one of the best moderate hikes in Yosemite. Rush Creek Lodge’s expert guide will show you Yosemite Valley’s hidden trails as you traverse 4-5 miles around many of the area’s iconic wonders. 

Rush Creek’s friendly naturalist guides will take care of the driving while you see the Valley’s icons and hidden secrets. When it’s time to go on foot, participants should be comfortable walking up to 5 miles on varied terrain at elevations up to 6,000 feet. This moderate hike in Yosemite may be a snowshoeing trip in late fall and winter. 

May Lake + Mount Hoffman Naturalist Hike | 5.5 Miles

May Lake + Mount Hoffman Naturalist Hike with Rush Creek Lodge will take you to the geographic center of Yosemite National Park. At May Lake, you’ll see the picturesque Mount Hoffman in double as the lake reflects it. 

The journey farther into the park leads to Mount Hoffman, a lesser-traveled area of the park that will show 360-degree views of Yosemite National Park. This moderate Yosemite hike is available through Rush Creek Lodge during the summer and fall. 

View from Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park.

Taft Point and Sentinel Dome Loop | 5.8 Miles

This moderate Yosemite hike covers the area between two iconic lookouts, Taft Point and Sentinel Dome. At the top of Sentinel Dome, you’ll be treated to a 360-degree view of the park featuring Half Dome and majestic Yosemite Falls. Taft Point’s draw is the picturesque views of the valley’s plunging cliffs, providing some of the most spectacular sights in Yosemite. 

Participants should be ready to gain about 1,200 feet of elevation on this 5.8 mile hike. Beginning at around 7,300 feet, hikers will carefully reach up to 8,114 feet before the loop turns for descent. 

Mono Pass Naturalist Hike | 7.4 Miles Round Trip

The Mono Pass Naturalist Hike is a moderate hike in Yosemite National Park, leading you to the top of Mono Pass for unbeatable views of the park’s eastern side and boundary. Sierra Nevada is one of the nation’s most rugged and least-accessed mountain ranges, and this hike places you on the crest for an unforgettable experience. 

This full-day hiking trip features sights like Mount Gibbs, Kuna Peak, and Mount Dana. Participants should be comfortable hiking up to 7.4 miles on varied terrain at elevations between 9,700 and 10,600 feet. 

North Dome at Yosemite National Park.

North Dome Naturalist Hike | 9 Miles Round Trip

Embark on a full-day trip to the North Rim of Yosemite Valley with the North Dome Naturalist Hike. One of the best moderate hikes in Yosemite for Half Dome views, this hike takes you to an impressive vantage point to look out over Half Dome and the surrounding canyons and peaks. 

Starting from the Tioga Road trailhead, you’ll follow your naturalist guide through old growth forests, keeping an eye out for local wildlife, and be met at the end with views from North Dome that some call the most spectacular on earth. Participants should be ready for up to 5 hours of hiking. 

Glen Aulin Naturalist Hike | 10 Miles Round Trip

Journey to the heart of Yosemite High Country for this moderate hike, the Glen Aulin Naturalist Hike. This trail covers 10 miles (5 miles each way) of breathtaking Yosemite High Country. Tuolumne Fall is stunning, a high cascading waterfall surrounded by granite cliffs and meadows full of wildflowers. 

This is a 6-8 hour hike, but you’ll be rewarded with time to swim in the refreshing High Sierra waters if the weather allows. The views of the Tuolumne River and surrounding alpine forest from the top of the falls is unmatched. This hike is available through Rush Creek Lodge from June – October, conditions permitting. 

Rancheria Falls Naturalist Hike | 13 Miles Round Trip

This moderate 13-mile hike in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy, the Rancheria Falls Naturalist Hike, takes you deep into the less-traveled Hetch Hetchy Valley. Your naturalist guide will take care to point out local flora and fauna, flourishing in the quiet forest that surrounds Hetch Hetchy Valley. 

The Rancheria Falls Naturalist Hike operates from our sister property, Evergreen Lodge. Participants should arrive at the meeting place, the Evergreen Lodge Recreation Center, 15-20 minutes prior to departure. Please allow yourself 15-20 minutes to drive to Evergreen Lodge from Rush Creek Lodge. 

Learn more about these moderate Yosemite National Park hikes. Sometimes less steps equals more sights. See our list of easy hikes in Yosemite.


Yosemite National Park is the place for you if you’re ready for moderate level hiking trails. You’ll be rewarded for your work with unbeatable views of Yosemite that you just can’t get without some effort – a moderate hike in Yosemite means breathtaking views and unparalleled experiences. Ready to take on the trails? Book your stay with Rush Creek Lodge today!

8 Best Yosemite Hikes in the Summer

Yosemite National Park offers countless hikes for visitors to enjoy throughout the year, but adventurers searching for the best Yosemite hikes in the summer need to look no further than right here at Rush Creek Lodge and the surrounding area.

Read on for a list of some of the best Yosemite hikes in the summer! 

Yosemite Valley View (Santino T.).

Best summer hikes in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite Falls Trail

Approximately 7.2 miles | Moderate 

Starting in Yosemite Valley, this trail will lead you to the majestic Yosemite Falls, one of the tallest waterfalls in North America. This hike offers challenging uphill sections that reward hikers with awe-inspiring views of the valley, Half Dome, and the surrounding peaks. 

Tuolumne Meadows + Cathedral Lakes

8 miles | Moderate

One of the best Yosemite hikes in the summer is Tuolumne Meadows and Cathedral Lakes, beginning in the high country of Yosemite. The picturesque trail leads hikers through Tuolumne Meadows to Cathedral Lakes, where you can take a dip beneath the tall granite peaks. The crystal clear waters and stunning vistas make this trail an ideal summer hike. 

Yosemite Valley Explorer 

4-5 miles | Gentle to Moderate

Yosemite Valley Explorer traverses both iconic and hidden sights of Yosemite Valley. This trail takes about half a day round-trip, and showcases seasonal creeks, meadows, and unforgettable views of the park. During the summer is when you’ll see the landscape covered in its brightest green under gorgeous blue skies. 

Yosemite Overnight Backpacking Adventure

6-30 miles | Intermediate to Advanced

This overnight backpacking trip is fully customizable, making it one of the best Yosemite hikes in summer. Your Rush Creek Lodge guide will craft a unique, memorable adventure tailored to your goals. Whether you’re looking for a slow-paced overnight camping trip with the family or a 30-mile trek through the backwoods of the park, this overnight adventure in Yosemite is one of the best summer hikes. 

South Rim of Yosemite Valley Tour

10.5 miles | Moderate

This hike takes you away from summer crowds to the southern rim of Yosemite Valley. See the Red Fir groves, wildflower meadows, and historic sites that populate this less-traveled area of the park. Stop at multiple vista points along the way for stunning views of Mt. Hoffman and Mt. Conness. 

Learn more about Rush Creek Lodge’s guided Yosemite National park tours to add to your summer getaway itinerary.

Rush Creek Vista Trail (Amy C.).

New Hiking Trails at Rush Creek Lodge

Guests at Rush Creek Lodge can enjoy three onsite hiking trails, bringing the best Yosemite hikes in the summer right to their doorsteps. 

Nature Trail at Rush Creek Lodge

.5 mile | Gentle 

The Nature Trail is a leisurely and picturesque half-mile trail. Conveniently located on Rush Creek’s property, this is an ideal choice for families and individuals seeking a short, relaxing stroll. Created to showcase the natural flora of the Yosemite area, the trail is also an opportunity to learn about the nature of Yosemite Valley.

Vista Trail at Rush Creek Lodge

1.6 miles | Moderate

The Vista Trail is a moderate 1.6 mile trail that offers stunning views of the Stanislaus forest and the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The trail features lookout points with benches that encourage you to stop and take in the natural beauty of your surroundings in their brightest shades of summer green. 

Adventure Trail at Rush Creek Lodge

2.7 miles | Moderate to Advanced

The Adventure Trail is a 2.7 mile trail that begins at Rush Creek Lodge. The trail is multi-use for hikers and mountain bikers – you can rent a bike on the property or bring your own! This trail was created with adventure in mind, promising an unforgettable journey through the Yosemite wilderness on foot or by bike. 


Some of the best Yosemite hikes in summer are located right here at Rush Creek Lodge. Whether you venture off the property to tour Yosemite Valley or stick around near our Yosemite lodging, no day of trail adventures is complete until you end your day with a starlit soak in our hot tub, a dip in our 2,400 square-foot saltwater pool, or an aromatherapy massage at the Rush Creek Spa. Rest well at Rush Creek Lodge knowing you’re just steps from the action when you wake up!