The centerpiece of Yosemite National Park is Yosemite Valley. While this valley comprises perhaps one percent of the entire park, it attracts the vast majority of tourists to Yosemite due to its incredibly breathtaking features. On the western side of the valley is El Capitan, a 3,000 foot high granite formation that has lured thousands of rock climbers to it for decades. On the eastern end of the valley is Half Dome, a granite structure 4,737 feet high that looks as if an entire mountain has been sheared in half by unseen forces. Other famous rock formations in the valley include the Cathedral Rocks, the Three Brothers formation and Cloud's Rest, the region's highest elevation at 9,926 feet. In addition to these wonders, the Yosemite Valley is home to several waterfalls that are over 1,000 feet high such as Yosemite Falls at 2,425 feet, Snow Creek Falls at 2,140, and Ribbon Falls at 1,612.
Yosemite National Park contains 750 miles of hiking and backpacking trails laid out for the enjoyment of visitors. Anyone planning an overnight stay in the park needs to obtain a permit. These permits can be reserved well in advance for a five-dollar fee but the party using them still must pick it up at the park on the day of or the day before planning to use it. The park's trails have a quota system that is strictly enforced and designed to keep traffic on the trails at a point where there is no overcrowding, allowing the hikers to enjoy the moment. There are a dozen miles of bike paths in Yosemite as well as trails for horseback riding, but mountain biking is not allowed here. Bird watching, fishing, photography, rafting, swimming, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and rock climbing are just some of the other popular activities that people going to Yosemite National Park can enjoy.
Since Yosemite National Park has an elevation that ranges from 2,000 feet above sea level to over 11,000 feet in some portions, the plant life is varied. Ponderosa pine, white firs, Douglas firs and giant sequoia trees are found in the lower portions of the park, as are different types of oak such as the black oak tree. The higher up you travel in Yosemite the more likely you are to find lodgepole pines, western white pines and red fir trees. At Yosemite's highest points the trees are smaller, with hemlocks and white-bark pines growing until the tree line is reached, where no trees thrive due to the elevation. The park is renowned for its wildflowers, with species such as lupines, owl's clover, shooting stars, milkweed, violets, goldenrod, paintbrushes, monkeyflowers and phlox just a fraction of the total numbers on display throughout the park.
A wilderness as large as Yosemite naturally holds a wide variety of wildlife. Black bear and cougars are the top of the food chain in the forests while there are mule deer, bobcats, bighorn sheep, beaver, fishers, foxes, squirrels, otters, marmots and pikas in Yosemite as well. Bird species include the golden eagle, the bald eagle, the spotted owl, woodpeckers, jays, thrushes, goshawks, chickadees, finches and nutcrackers.