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National park trips aren't cookie cutter -- a backpacking expedition is far different than a family vacation -- but all of them are best preceded by good planning. Good gear is critical, distances are far, lodgings and campgrounds fill up quickly in summer, and so on -- so the earlier you plan, the better. In this guide, you'll find all the information you need before setting off on your adventure to one of these spectacular national parks.

Orientation

All four main entrances to the park meet in Yosemite Valley, the most popular of the park's three destination points (the other two being Tuolumne Meadows and Wawona). The valley is a mile wide and 7 miles long, set at about 4,000 feet above sea level. The granite walls of Half Dome, El Capitan, and Glacier Point tower another 4,000 feet overhead. The picturesque Merced River, fed by several small brooks and creeks, winds lazily through the length of Yosemite Valley.

It's relatively easy to find your way around Yosemite. All road signs are clear and visible. At first, Yosemite Valley might seem to be a confusing series of roadways, but you'll soon realize that all roads lead to a one-way loop that hugs the valley's perimeter. It is easy to find yourself heading in the wrong direction, so be alert whenever you merge and just follow the signs.

We recommend visitors use year-round shuttle-bus service in the Yosemite Valley; Wawona and Tuolumne Meadows offer a similar service during the summer months only. Driving in any of these places during peak season -- or even off season in the valley -- is not fun, so use the shuttles as much as possible.

Packing 

Prepare yourself for every possible situation: Bring warm- and cold-weather clothing in layers. A jacket is a necessity year-round; it can be considerably warmer in the low country around the parks than in the elevations of the High Sierra. If you are camping or backpacking, good packing is of the essence. For more helpful information on packing for your trip, download our convenient Travel Tools app for your mobile device. Go to www.frommers.com/go/mobile and click on the Travel Tools icon.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.