Photograph by CheWei Chang
To appreciate the majesty of Yosemite National Park, you need to visit often—and the 125th anniversary is a great time to start. Experience 360-degree views at Glacier Point or the imposing granite slabs surrounding the valley. Join a year-long celebration that commemorates Oct. 1, 1890, when President Benjamin Harrison signed legislation to make it the third national park and protect stunning alpine meadows, thunderous waterfalls, and incredible rock formations. The calendar is filled with events hosted by the park and gateway areas.
SEE: Bring binoculars because that colorful speck miles away might be a climber scaling a gigantic rock face. Surprisingly strenuous, the three-mile round-trip Mist Trail hike to the brink of Vernal Falls takes you more than 5,000 feet up steep granite stairs and pathways and connects to the aptly named Emerald Pool.
Catch the Yosemite Valley Museum’s exhibit of groundbreaking 19th- and 20th-century landscape paintings before it closes at month’s end (free). After sundown, the stars come out; narrated tours of the night sky give visitors a sense of their tiny place in the cosmos ($7.50 per person).
TASTE: You don’t come to Yosemite for the food, but vigorous outdoor exploration primes the appetite. At the Pizza Deck in Curry Village, refill and refresh with a large slice and a cold beer as you enjoy the valley scenery. Reward yourself with a gourmet meal at the majestic Ahwahnee Dining Room, where a good cabernet pairs with the New York steak with cumin-espresso rub and fingerling potatoes ($47). The Ahwahnee Sunday brunch is legendary for its waffles, blintzes, seafood, hand-carved ham and prime rib, and fresh fruit and vegetables (adults, $49; children, $15).
RELAX: With nearly 4 million visitors a year, Yosemite’s lodging is in high demand. Make reservations early, especially for The Ahwahnee, the only luxury lodging in the park ($300 and up). The historic 88-year-old hotel is renowned for its postcard-perfect location, rustic elegance, and gracious hospitality. The adjacent remodeled cottages offer privacy in the woody landscape. Two miles outside the park, the Tenaya Lodge features modern amenities such as a spa, swimming pools, a climbing wall, meeting spaces, and Wi-Fi. Freshly remodeled, the lodge also includes 53 cottages ($129 and up).