Mist wafts through a valley in Yosemite National Park, surrounded by mountains and rock formations.
Randy Le'Moine Photography/Flickr

Nature's Showcase: Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks

Picture yourself surrounded by dramatic waterfalls and age-old forests. Stunning vistas abound. This is a world that seems untouched by mankind… except for the hundreds of fellow tourists thinking these same thoughts as they elbow each other out of the way for the best view. There are places to escape in peace, as well as spots where the beauty is so intense, the crowds become mere background noise. As these 10 favorite landmarks will show, Yosemite and Sequoia are not merely national parks, but national treasures.
Yosemite Falls is shown, a tall waterfall in the fissure between two large rock formations.
Kevin Eldon/Flickr
Yosemite Falls
This spectacular three-part waterfall stretches 2,425 feet skyward, making it one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. In spring, snow runoff makes it a magnificent spectacle as spray crashes to the base of the falls, leaving visitors drenched. In the winter, cold temperatures help form a cone at the base of the waterfall, sometimes reaching 200 feet high—it looks like a giant upside-down snow cone.
Nearby trees and mountains are shown flawlessly reflected on Mirror Lake.
Mirror Lake (Yosemite)
This picturesque lake, named for its nearly perfect reflection of the surrounding scenery, is slowly filling with sediment thanks to the forces of nature and, depending on the spring runoff, may be little more than a watering hole by late summer. Eventually, the sedimentation will turn the lake into a meadow. Still, the lake as it is captures beautiful images of Half Dome and North Dome, which tower above. It is surrounded by forest and has a fairly level, paved trail along its banks, which also offer places to sunbathe and picnic. It’s accessible (by vehicle) to people with disabilities; there’s a 60-foot elevation gain.
With a few trees in the foreground, several granite domes are shown in the background.
Sebastian Bergmann/Flickr
Glacier Point
Viewing Yosemite Valley from Glacier Point will leave you speechless. From here, you’ll get an eye-level view of the great rocks, such as Half Dome, North Dome, and Cloud’s Rest. The stunning valley and waterfalls are spread far below. For a similar view with thinner crowds, hike to the top of nearby Sentinel Dome.
A spectacular blue sky with some clouds is reflected upon Tenaya Lake, along with some mountains in the background.
Dave Toussaint/Flickr
Tenaya Lake (Yosemite)
The solitude and beauty of this high-altitude, crystal-clear lake (accessible by road in summer only) outshines others in the park. Tenaya Lake is larger and more dramatic, edging up against an iridescent granite landscape.
With a flat but fissured, light gray rock in the foreground, trees and then a magnificent snow-covered mountain sit in the background.
Koen Blanquart/Flickr
Olmsted Point (Yosemite)
Located midway between White Wolf and Tuolumne Meadows, this spot offers one of the most spectacular vistas anywhere in the park. Here the enormous walls of the Tenaya Canyon are exposed, and an endless view stretches all the way to Yosemite Valley. In the distance are Cloud’s Rest and the rear of Half Dome. To the east, Tenaya Lake glistens like a sapphire.
Multiple mountain peaks lie beneath the blue sky on a partly cloudy day, with trees and a narrow path sitting in the valley below.
Mineral King
Located in the southern part of Sequoia National Park, Mineral King is a pristine high-mountain valley carved by glaciers and bordered by the tall peaks of the Great Western Divide. Red and orange shale mix with white marble, black metamorphic shale, and granite to give the rocky landscape a rainbow of hues. This area resembles the Rocky Mountains more than the rest of the Sierra Nevada because the peaks are formed of metamorphic rock. A silver prospector gave Mineral King its name in the 1800s, and the region was annexed to the park in 1978.
A long string of mountain peaks dig into the purple and orange sky at sunset. Toward the top of the image is a small full moon.
Moro Rock (Sequoia)
The view atop Moro Rock is one of the most spectacular in the Sierra—the Great Western Divide dominates the eastern horizon. These high-elevation barren mountains can seem dark and ominous, even though snow caps the ridgeline throughout the year. The cliffs appear towering and steep, and with some peaks over 13,000 feet, they are only slightly below the summit of Mount Whitney (14,505 ft.), which is obscured from view. The climb to the top of the Rock takes you up hundreds of stairs, so pace yourself. The summit offers a narrow, fenced plateau with endless views. During a full moon, the mountain peaks shimmer like silver.
In the mist, the huge General Sherman Tree protrudes toward the sky, along with other sequoia trees surrounding it. Most of the branches and greenery are on the upper half of the trees.
The Giant Forest
The best-known stand of sequoias in the world can be found in Giant Forest, part of Sequoia National Park. Named in 1875 by explorer and environmentalist John Muir, this area consists mostly of huge meadows and a large grove of trees. At the northern edge of the grove, you can’t miss the General Sherman Tree, considered the largest living tree on the planet, although it is neither the tallest nor the widest. Its size is noteworthy because of the tree’s mass—experts estimate the weight of its trunk at about 1,385 tons. The General Sherman Tree is 275 feet tall, it measures 102.5 feet around at its base, and its largest branch is 6.75 feet in diameter. It is believed to be about 2,100 years old—and it’s still growing. Every year, it adds enough new wood to make another 60-foot-tall tree.
Innumerable stalactites hang down in clumps from inside the cave. The rock is primarily of a light brown hue.
Crystal Cave
South of the Giant Forest in Sequoia National Park is the turnoff from the Generals Highway for Crystal Cave, a beautiful underground world that was formed from limestone that turned to marble. The cave contains an array of cave formations, many still growing, that range from sharply pointed stalactites and towering stalagmites to elaborate flowing draperies.
A waterfall splashes over a rock formation and diverges into three distinct streams of water as it goes down.
Mist Falls
Standing at the base of this waterfall in Kings Canyon National Park, you’ll really appreciate its force, especially during spring and early summer, when it’s fed by the snowmelt. The crashing of water onto the rocks below drowns out all other noise, and there are rainbows galore. But be careful and keep back from the slippery rocks at its edge!