The Best Yosemite National Park Photo Spots for Drool-Worthy, Instagram-Ready Photos

Woman standing on a rock outcropping at sunset
Explorer Chick on Half Dome.

Let’s face it, pics or it didn’t happen is real. Our insta-ready society often means that the perfect vacation needs to be both fun and photogenic. 

Photography has weaved its way into our vacations as a great hobby that doubles as a souvenir. It’s become our way to permanently imbed memories of unforgettable destinations — such as Yosemite National Park. 

If you’re on your way to Yosemite and want to make sure you snap the best shots in the park, we’re right there with you! To help you out, here are eight locations you’ll want to hit to step up your Yosemite National Park photo game. Plus, there’s one bonus location too if you really want to go the extra mile.

1. Half Dome (Glacier Point or Between the Valley’s Village Store and Ahwahnee Hotel)

Women posing with backpacks and holding up trekking poles during a hike to Half Dome
Explorer Chicks at Glacier Point.

Crowd level: Medium – high

Best time to go: Sunrise or Sunset

Difficulty to get there: Easy

Half Dome is arguably the most iconic view of the park. And one of the most stunning spots to view Yosemite’s Half Dome is from Glacier Point. 

There are two ways to get to the lookout: by a 4-mile hike or by bus or car depending on the season. The south wall of Glacier Point is a great place to catch a sunrise photo with the sun coming up right over Half Dome. You will almost definitely be sharing this photo spot with other Yosemite goers though, so don’t expect to have the place to yourself. (Yes, even at 6am!)

Another great unobstructed view for Half Dome is between the Village Store and Ahwahnee Hotel in the Yosemite Valley.

If you’re really down for working hard for the pic, you can climb to the top of Half Dome and get one of these epic shots.

2. Bridal Veil Falls

bridal veil falls

Crowd level: High
Best time to go: Spring, late afternoon
Difficulty to get there: Easy – medium

One of the most majestic falls in Yosemite, Bridalveil Falls has the power to have water flowing all year long. 

While the falls are visible from many areas in Yosemite Valley like the Tunnel Viewpoint, you can get an up-close vantage point of the falls with the Bridalveil Falls Trail. This trail is mostly paved and fairly short, but you’ll definitely get some crowds. The late afternoon sun offers less chance for a shadow casting on the falls and springtime is the best for images of the water flowing fully.

3. El Capitan (El Capitan Meadow — Yosemite Valley)

el capitan meadow

Crowd level: Medium-high
Best time to go: Anytime
Difficulty to get there: Easy

“El Cap” as it’s affectionately called, is possibly the most famous rock face in the world. It’s well-known for free climbing world records (have you seen Free Solo?!). 

You can take the El Capitan shuttle to the crossover stop where you have access to the El Capitan meadow, so it’s very easy to access. The granite giant offers a wonderful contrast with the gray sheers and surrounding rocks as a backdrop and the greenery and trees in the foreground. 

You may also be able to snag a few images of rock climbers if you bring a telephoto lens! 

4. Tunnel View

tunnel view yosemite
Photo credit: Sparta fox/Creative Commons

Crowd level: High
Best time to go: Sunset
Difficulty to get there: Easy

This is a drive-up viewpoint in the Yosemite Valley just before the Wawona Tunnel. It’s that iconic moment where you drive through the tunnel and get your first breath-taking view of the full valley. 

You can look out and see a panoramic view of some of the most iconic mountains in the park. If you aren’t an avid hiker, you can easily park just a few steps from the vantage point, so it’s a quick and easy stop on your way in or out of the valley. However, because it’s so accessible, be ready to share it with plenty of other selfie-takers too. 

Sunrise or sunset are the best times to see the view, but sunset offers full light and beautiful colors.

In this spot, you can channel your inner Ansel Adams and try your hand at getting an iconic shot.

5. Yosemite Falls

yosemite falls explorer chicks

Crowd level: High
Best time to go: Spring, morning
Difficulty to get there: Easy – Medium

As the largest waterfall in North America, upper and lower Yosemite Falls is a major photogenic draw. If you want the full effect of how impressive this waterfall is, you need to be there during spring months when the snow melts and the falls are in their full glory. Lower falls is a favorite photo spot, providing an iconic contrast between falling water and redwood trees.

Aside from right under the lower falls, favorite viewpoints of the falls are near Yosemite Village as well as Yosemite Valley Lodge. If you’re lucky with the lighting in the morning you can occasionally see a rainbow. Swinging Bridge or Sentinel Bridge are also both popular spots for the best views of the falls too.

6. Sentinel Dome and Taft Point

taft point lookout

Crowd level: Medium
Best time to go: Sunset (but bring a headlamp!)
Difficulty to get there: Medium

Those who take Yosemite National Park photographs regularly might tell you that Sentinel Dome has one of the best views in all of the park. Hey, we won’t argue! (OK, mayyyybe the top of Half Dome is better..)

From the top, you have a full view of all the famed attractions. Starting at the same trailhead as Taft Point, a 2-mile round trip hike will take you to a heavenly overlook view. If you want to put in a little extra effort, you can also turn this hike into a loop and hit up Taft Point as well.

Making this hike a sunset hike or even night hike can offer fantastic pictures, just make sure to bring a headlamp since it will involve hiking in the dark.

7. Merced River (Sentinel Bridge, Sentinel Beach, & Cathedral Beach)

cathedral beach yosemite sunrise

Crowd level: Medium
Best time to go: Sunset
Difficulty to get there: Easy – Medium 

The Merced River runs through the valley and can provide for a wonderful leading line, drawing your eyes toward El Capitan in the distance. Hiking along the river will give you some wonderful inspiration. If you’re looking for specific spots along the river, Sentinel Bridge, Sentinel Beach Picnic Area, and Cathedral Beach are all well worth the trip. 

With a reflection in the water, Sentinel Bridge can provide a spectacular mirror image of Half Dome in the distance.  

Around the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area you can get a nice scale of mountain and river. (Add yourself in there and you’ve got the perfect composition!) Cathedral Beach offers some wonderful river bank views with El Cap and is a classic wedding spot.

Take a stroll along the river around sunset to get all these photographs with a sparkling sunset light. 

8. Cooks Meadow

cooks meadow halfdome

Crowd level: Medium
Best time to go: Sunrise or sunset
Difficulty to get there: Easy 

Located on the Valley Floor, Cooks Meadow offers this serene and ethereal setting. If you go during those golden hours, around sunrise or sunset you’ll often catch some deer grazing in the fields. 

The light can be really soft during those hours, so you’ll find it easy to capture an image that rivals those of the professionals. Plus, that soft light goes easy on your face too! Take the Cook’s Meadow loop walking trail to get a shot of Lower Yosemite Falls from the boardwalk as well.

The great thing about Yosemite photography is that while the mountains offer such eye-popping views, the forest floor can equally be a compelling place to capture beautiful smaller images. Keep a look out for a few bendy tree lines in the Cooks Meadow for a more artistic, unique photo opportunity!

Bonus Location: Horsetail Falls during Yosemite Valley Firefall

firefall yosemite national park photo

Crowd level: High
Best time to go: Mid to late February, sunset
Difficulty to get there: Difficult 

Okay, this one’s seriously epic and if you’re visiting Yosemite at the right time, then you are in for a treat.

Along the eastern edge of El Cap, Horsetail Falls only flow from winter through early spring. When the sun sets on a clear evening (normally mid to late February) the reflection from the waterfall and the angle of the sun create an optical illusion of glowing lava-like hues of orange and yellow. Basically, it makes it look like fire falling down the rock, hence “firefall”. 

It’s hard to predict and because of its popularity, there have occasionally been timed reservations for entry (why we’ve labeled this as difficult to get to). However, if you want to see a magnificent magic trick from mother nature and wow your Insta followers with your sweet photo skills, it may be worth the hassle.

Quick Tips for Getting the Best Photos in Yosemite National Park

best yosemite national park photo tips

Now that you know where to get the picture, you’ll also probably want to know how, right? Here are a few quick tips to make sure that you leave the park with images that match the memories.

Get the Timing Right

Timing is always tricky, but professional photographers will all tell you that sunrise and sunset are the ideal times for photography and getting a good photo in Yosemite is no different. 

In addition to time of day, each season offers something different. Long sunsets. Snow. Wildflowers. Be aware of areas that may be closed in the winter (December through February) as well as high trafficked sections of the park in the summer (June through August).

Get There Early

Depending on the tourist season, parking may be difficult, so be sure to arrive early. This way you don’t have to rush to get your perfect shot and you’ll still be able to snag a good spot when crowds form.

Have Your Route Ready Before You Enter the Park 

Many areas in Yosemite National Park (especially in the Valley) don’t have cell phone service, so you won’t be able to just plug in destinations into Waze or Google Maps on a whim. 

These are a few options you can do before heading out to avoid getting lost with no service: 

  • Download the area as an offline map in Google Maps.
  • Use an offline map app like Maps.me.
  • Bring a literal paper map. 
  • Take a screenshot of the route or your map.  

Check the NPS Yosemite National Park Website Before Your Trip

As your trip approaches, be sure to check the NPS website for Yosemite National Park to double check if there are any updates, changes or closures to certain areas. 

Nature can be unpredictable and depending on the time of year you’re visiting, there could be road closures, trails under maintenance, or just pertinent information that may impact your journey through the park.

What to Pack for that Perfect Yosemite National Park Photo

Women wearing backpacks and hiking on a trail surrounded by trees and mountains
Explorer Chicks backpacking in Yosemite.

If you’re looking for that perfect Yosemite photo, there’s some gear you’ll want to bring with you. Depending on your knowledge and experience with photography, your photo packing list may look a little different. 

While many people are perfectly content capturing memories of their trip with their phones, others may be interested in using a DSLR camera to take better quality images. If you decide to bring a designated camera with you, then your packing list grows a little longer.

Aside from the camera itself, bring a bag you can comfortably carry to keep your equipment secure. You may also want to invest in a few different lenses in order to take that ideal shot. In addition to the body and lens, a camera bag can store any extra accessories you need; extra batteries, memory cards, a camera strap, you get the idea.

If you’re really trying to improve your photos, you may even consider bringing a tripod and a remote to help steady the camera for low light shooting or for self-portraits if you’re traveling solo.Ready to go on an epic Yosemite National Park adventure with some badass ladies? Come hang with Explorer Chicks on our Yosemite Half Dome hike and backpacking trip!

Meet the Writer

Abbie Synan

Abbie Synan is a freelance writer who focuses on sustainability initiatives within the tourism industry. Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, she has been traveling full time since 2013, hopping the globe, visiting over 95 countries while exploring ways to be a more mindful global citizen. She is the sustainable travel expert for Wanderful, an international travel community, as well as the content co-lead for Impact Travel Alliance, a global organization educating and inspiring travelers.

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