Where to Start in Yosemite

Yosemite National Park boasts over 1,200 square miles of majestic wilderness to explore, an incredible but overwhelming truth when you have to decide where to start in Yosemite. When you’re ready to experience one of the world’s most iconic natural wonders, let the experts at Rush Creek Lodge, Evergreen Lodge, and Firefall Ranch provide you with insider knowledge to make your trip as spectacular as the views you’ll see.

Where to Start in Yosemite for First-Timers

An incredible view of El Capitan as you are finishing the Yosemite Valley drive through Yosemite.

First-timers to Yosemite National Park generally start in Yosemite Valley. The Valley offers easy access to the Park’s most famous sights and attractions, including Yosemite Falls, El Capitan, and Half Dome. 

This is the most traveled “heart” of the park, and the easiest to navigate, though some of the park’s most difficult hiking trails begin in Yosemite Valley.  

Yosemite Valley is the ideal place for first-timers to start in Yosemite, and lodging that offers the comforts of home with the bonus of local knowledge is less than 20 miles away when you choose Evergreen Lodge or Rush Creek Lodge

Evergreen Lodge is a newly renovated and expanded resort that combines historic mountain beauty with modern touches like hot-stone massages offered in open-air cabanas, their lively but family-friendly Tavern, Wi-Fi and Alexa in every room, and more. 

Places to stay at Evergreen Lodge range from cozy vintage or deluxe cabins and cottages to fully furnished tent sites – whether you want to sleep inside or among the trees is up to you. 

First-timers looking for a place to start in Yosemite can also rest their heads at Rush Creek Lodge, where rustic charm meets contemporary comfort, located just minutes from the Big Oak Flat Entrance to Yosemite National Park. 

This resort features a world-class spa, a must-visit for first-timers sore from their hiking adventures, and a host of daily activities like cracking geodes, bingo, and stargazing. Both resorts offer many things to do in Yosemite besides hiking.

Where to Start in Yosemite for Off-the-Beaten-Path Sights

Wapama Falls at the Hetch Hetchy Reservoir in Yosemite National Park.

Adventurers looking for less-explored territory in Yosemite can start with tours offered at the Evergreen Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge. Led by experienced guides, tours that begin at Rush Creek Lodge or Evergreen Lodge show hikers Yosemite, Columbia Rock, and Hetch Hetchy sights with expert additions of hidden secrets that you won’t find anywhere else. 

While many visitors begin their experience in Yosemite Valley, those looking for unique destinations that may afford a slower, less crowded hike will love the Hetch Hetchy and Wapama Falls Naturalist Hike, a half-day adventure that leaves Rush Creek Lodge and travels a misty 5 miles along a picturesque Wapama Falls reservoir. 

Guests at Evergreen Lodge in search of hidden gems can trust the lodge to deliver – from fly fishing at locations around the property to literally flying above the Yosemite wilderness in a plane and every little-known stop in between. 

Ready to hike? Take a full day to explore the downstream Granite Gorge and Preston Falls, one of the lodge’s favorite but still hidden spots. Venture through paths lined with gorgeous wildflowers and find a spot to enjoy lunch and a dip in the cool, clear water before returning to Evergreen Lodge for a dreamy hot-stone massage.

Learn more about Rush Creek Lodge’s Yosemite National Park tours and Evergreen’s Yosemite tours.

Where to Start in Yosemite for Families with Kids

A father and son hiking a Yosemite valley.

Yosemite National Park offers hiking opportunities for every Junior Ranger, from stroller-friendly paved trails to steeper trails suitable for older kids. Lower Yosemite Falls is one of Yosemite’s most popular day hikes, and for good reason: the trail is fully paved and accessible to everyone, and just 1 mile round trip. 

Families ready for a longer trail can embark on Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow Loop, a 2.25 mile loop with several places to stop and rest while you take in some of the Valley’s most beautiful scenery. Sentinel/Cook’s Meadow Loop is part of a longer trail that circles the whole Valley, and affords your family the ability to get on or off the trail at famous landmarks like The Swinging Bridge, Cook’s Meadow, and Yosemite Chapel. 

Families with kids wondering where to start in Yosemite can rely on Rush Creek Lodge and Evergreen Lodge to be the ideal places to stay. Both lodges offer an impressive list of daily activities that change monthly and cater to the whole family, from nature talks in the lounge at Rush Creek to stargazing at the rec center at Evergreen. 

When your daily adventures come to an end, Rush Creek Lodge and Evergreen Lodge feature incredible water recreation areas, with heated saltwater pools, hot tubs, and plenty of space for kids to be kids. The Pool Bar at both properties is open seasonally, fully-stocked to serve light fare alongside signature cocktails and mocktails – something for you, something for the kids! 

Both lodges encourage guests to gather nightly around the Fire Pit to roast s’mores – the perfect end to each day on vacation with your family in Yosemite.


Travelers ready to book their Yosemite vacation but unsure of where to start can rely on Rush Creek Lodge, Evergreen Lodge, and Firefall Ranch to help them craft an ideal stay in Yosemite. For more travel planning help, see our guide to how many days you should spend in Yosemite and the best time of year to visit Yosemite.

From curious first-timers to seasoned Sierra hikers, everyone will find the beginnings of a magnificent Yosemite vacation at Evergreen Lodge and Rush Creek Lodge – book and discover yours now!