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Yosemite's Wide Open Spaces - as viewed from Valley View
Itineraries Yosemite's Wide Open Spaces

Yosemite is OPEN – in more ways than one! Open and welcoming visitors, with over 800 miles of open trails, wide-open vistas and skies that open into the heavens. Yosemite is a milestone. A marker for the love of travel and exploration ingrained in our spirits. 

Did you know that 94% of Yosemite National Park is a designated wilderness area (over 677,000 acres!)? That's more open space than you can shake a stick at (believe it). The trick is knowing how to access that space, and that's where we come in. The Oakhurst Visitor Center at Visit Yosemite | Madera County has a beautiful visitors guide and lots of maps and information to make your trip the best it can be.

Remember to tread lightly, pack it all out, and leave it cleaner than you found it. Give fellow hikers your attention and courtesy. Find a way to waste less. Be considerate of wildlife. Get back to the wild!

Step One: Be a Bird 

Whether you are a night owl or an early bird, the best advice in Yosemite is to arrive early and stay late. To find true happiness in and around Yosemite Valley during the summer season, arrive at the park gate before 8 am. Park your car and rent a bike for the day. Quiet moments in the park are ample when you find a perfect picnic spot with your family. Take in the world's most magnificent view on a sandy beach of the Merced River. Yosemite will soothe your soul and fill your heart with sunshine if you let it.

If you are day hiking, hit the trail seriously early. Hiking in the cool morning air of summer is a helpful reprieve from the heat. Popular trails like the Mist Trail or Lower Yosemite Falls Trail are busiest by mid-morning, but there are other alternatives nearby, like the Yosemite Valley Loop Trail. This 12-mile, mostly flat, loop around the grassy Yosemite valley will take you to all the iconic sights you've dreamed of,  Bridalveil Fall, El Capitan, Half dome. What's the best part? You'll spend the day away from your car on a perfectly-easy ramble through the park.

The wise owl plans and packs for dinner too. Put a blanket down and bundle up for a sunset picnic with a view of El Capitan.  Visitors who stay outside until the "big wall" climbers switch on their headlamps are rewarded with a magical view of this moonlit monolith. Stay out until the stars start to twinkle, and you'll have found a universe full of open space. Yes, it's true, life really is for the birds.

Solsitce Moonrise about Mount Starr King

View from Glacier Point of the Summer Solstice moon rise over Mount Starr King.

Photo by Steve Montalto/HighMountain Images

Step Two: Speaking of Picnics

Yosemite's southern gateway towns of Oakhurst, Coarsegold, Bass Lake, North Fork & Fish Camp have the provisions for every level of adventure. From backpacking the high country to packed lunches for the crew, fresh-pressed juices, and snacks for you're little monsters. Stock-up for your full day in the Sierra Nevada or as John Muir called it, "The Range of Light." Grab a sandwich in Oakhurst from Deli Delicious or Smokehouse 41, or for a farm-fresh option go to Glow Juicery. There are many delicious options for take-out dining whether for a picnic or after you've worked up a Half Dome sized appetite from a day of adventuring. See the full restaurant list HERE.

We also have a great variety of adult to-go and enjoy-in beverage options. Try handcrafted beverages from South Gate Brewing Company, distilled beverages from Oakhurst Spirits, and the family-owned wineries along the Madera Wine Trail. Plus for after-hour delights, we have a pet-friendly Wine Bar - Yosemite Wine Tails and the Queens Inn Wine Bar and Beer Garden - both offer live entertainment during the summer season.

Smokehouse 41

Takeout from Smokehouse 41 - a great and delicious way to satisfy your barbecue cravings!

Step Three: Don't miss the High Sierra

Yosemite is not just open; it is BIG, too! 

Big walls, big trees, big open spaces. Get off the beaten path and see more of the park. Tioga Road or Highway 120 East connects to what's known as, Yosemite's High Country. Only accessible in the warmer months of the year, winter snow blocks this region of the park to travelers. 

Yosemite fans know, spending the day at Tuolumne Meadows, Tenaya Lake, or Clouds Rest is a peaceful alternative to the hustle and bustle of Yosemite Valley. At an elevation of 9943', Tioga Pass is one of the highest roads in the state of California. The drive is a visual experience and will wow your fellow travelers with glacial cliffs and Big Horn Sheep. 

Tenaya Lake in Yosemite National Park

Walking along the shore of Tenaya Lake...can't get more peaceful than that!

Step Four: Go Gate to Gate 

Yosemite is surrounded by four unique gateways with their own history and wide opens spaces to explore.

Go into Yosemite through the Highway 41's south gate entrance and come out at any of the other gateways for more adventures.  

North Gate:  From Yosemite Valley take Highway 120 West and explore Yosemite's Hetch Hetchy Reservoir.   Hetch Hetchy is the name of a valley, a reservoir and a water system in California in the United States. The glacial Hetch Hetchy Valley lies in the northwestern part of Yosemite National Park and is drained by the Tuolumne River.   Continue on and visit the historic towns of Tuolumne County - Click HERE for visitor information.

West Gate:  Go out Highway 49, and travel along the Merced River Canyon and into the historic town of Mariposa.  Visit the California State Mining & Mineral Museum for a fascinating glimpse of California's mineral wealth, colorful mining history and geologic diversity.  For Mariposa County visitor information click HERE.

East Gate:  Head out through Highway 120 East for a visual experience that will wow your fellow travelers with glacial cliffs, Big Horn Sheep, and even the back side of Yosemite's iconic Half Dome.  You can explore Tuolumne Meadows and Tenaya Lake which are perfect picnic stops along the way.  The east gate summits at Tioga Pass (an elevation of 9,943') where you start your downhill decent to the bottom of the pass, where you can stop at the famous Mobile Gas Station and the Whoa Nellie Deli, enjoy a slice of pizza or world-famous sandwich with out-of-this-world views of Mono Lake. (Trust us on this one).  For Mono County visitor information click HERE.

Insider Tip for 2020:  Highway 49 or The Golden Chain Highway is celebrating a milestone this year; its centennial anniversary, 100 years! Although the history of this scenic byway goes back much further, it dates back to the 49'ers and the California gold rush history. It originates in the southern Yosemite gateway town of Oakhurst and travels north through historic towns, recreational lakes and some of California's incredible wine country.  For California's Gold Country visitor information, click HERE.

Yosemite Gateways Map

Yosemite has four gateways with lots to see and do outside of Yosemite National Park.


Trusted guides will ensure you see the park! Plus, you will not need a Park entry reservation if you book a guided day or specialty tour.


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Our annual Visit Yosemite | Madera County Visitors Guide can answer all your questions about visiting California's Gateway to Yosemite. From the park itself to the museums, wineries, art galleries and more throughout Madera County, our guide can help you plan the perfect vacation. Please note that we mail to the USA only, but anyone can download the guide.
Visit Yosemite - Madera County
Oakhurst Visitor Center, 40343 Highway 41, Oakhurst, CA 93644
(559) 683-4636
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Summer Hours - 7 days a week: 8:30 am to 4:30 pm
Winter Hours - Monday thru Saturday 8:30 am to 4:30 pm

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