Non-Hiker Guide to Yosemite National Park

Does the idea of hiking up almost 8 miles round-trip to the top of Upper Yosemite Fall sounds more like a nightmare than a pleasant summer day? Well then, this guide is for you. I present to you the non-hiker guide to Yosemite National Park. Here are 7 great activities you can enjoy that don’t involve hiking up a mountain.

1) Art Classes

Art classes - non-hiker guide to Yosemite National Park

Artist Jim Kingwell. All masterpieces start with… color lines?

Yosemite Art Center is part of the Yosemite Conservancy, which is the organization that helps fund the park’s programs and projects. By taking part in these art classes, you not only get to take home your unique Yosemite masterpiece, but you also get to give back to help preserve the park.

Every week there is a different theme and instructor. I personally took 3 classes with 2 artists (Jim Kingwell & Juan Pena). I loved photographing Yosemite, but sometimes I felt like I was just snapping a pic and moving on to the next place. Painting Yosemite gave me a chance to sit down and examine the scenery on a more detailed level. The instructors will help you draft sketches or mix the perfect color. Additionally, they will take you to their favorite (potentially secret) spots for painting sessions. Go and express your inner artist!

  • Cost: $15 per class. Art materials can be purchased at the center. You can also bring your own supplies.
  • Time Commitment: 10 am – 2pm

Classes are offered Monday to Saturday. Check out the Yosemite Art Center class schedule for more information.

2) Ansel Adams Gallery

Speaking of art in Yosemite, I cannot forget to mention Ansel Adams. His most famous work is Monolith, the Face of Half Dome. The Ansel Adams Gallery at Yosemite Valley helps preserve the life and work of this great photographer and conservationist. Once a week, the gallery shows a documentary about Ansel Adam (location varies).

3) Photography Walks

dogwood tree photo taken during a photography class at Yosemite National Park

I took this picture during the walk after the instructor pointed out there is a PINK dogwood tree.

The Ansel Adams Gallery also offers photography workshops led by professional photographers. There is also a free Camera Walk that is offered 3 times a week. It is an hour walk with a resident photographer, who can offer tips and advice.

  • Cost: Depends on the class (Camera Walks are free)
  • Time Commitment: Depends on the class (Camera Walks are 9:00am – 10:00am on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays)

You can call 3 days ahead to make a reservation for a Camera Walk, or you can book any of the other classes online far in advance of your visit.

4) Ranger Tours/Programs

Milky Way above Half Dome and Glacier Point

Milky Way above Half Dome and Glacier Point

Ever since I went to my first ranger program at Crater Lake National Park, I became a ranger program enthusiast. There are many walks and talks you can attend at Yosemite National Park. To see a full current list, make sure you grab a Yosemite guide at the Visitor Center. Some programs are free, some are not. To purchase a ticket, check with the tour & activity desk.

One of my favorite programs is called Starry Night Skies Over Yosemite ($10). If you like secret locations, lying on your back to watch the night sky, and listening to stories about our galaxy, then this is your jam. I learned quite a bit about stars, different culture stories about constellations and horoscopes.
Other programs you might be interested:

– Night Prowl
– Moonlight Tours
– Valley Floor Tour
– Glacier Point Tour
– Glacier Point Stargazing Tour

  • Cost: Depends on the program
  • Time commitment: Depends on the program

5) Historic Majestic (AKA Ahwahnee) Hotel Tour

Established in 1927, this historic hotel located in the middle of Yosemite Valley is an ideal location to see Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls. Longtime visitors still refer to this place as Ahwahnee, as a change of management resulted in the name change. The tour will give you a rundown of the hotel history. They may periodically cancel this tour, so I suggest calling the front desk before you get there to be sure it is still happening before you get there.

If you are staying at the Majestic Hotel, they have a daily activities sheet. Content includes weather forecast, walks and talks, hikes suggestions, and services available in the park.

  • Cost: Free
  • Time Commitment: 2:00pm – 3:00pm

6) Biking

You can rent bikes at tour and activities desks in the Yosemite Valley Lodge and Half Dome Village. Bike lanes are clearly marked on the hiking map, which you can get at the Visitor Center.

  • Cost: $12.50 per hour or $30.50 per day

7) Easy Yosemite Trails (less than a mile)

Since you are here reading my non-hiker guide to Yosemite National Park, you probably aren’t into long and strenuous hikes. But what about short and flat walks around the park? Here are several short, easy hikes that are perfect for non-hikers visiting Yosemie.

Glacier Point*

You can drive up directly up to Glacier Point. From there you have a full panorama view of the Yosemite Valley that you didn’t have to hike to see!

*Opens between Mid May to September

Yosemite Valley Loop

This is a 13-mile round-trip loop around the whole valley, but don’t worry–you don’t have to walk the whole thing. There are a couple of sections worth a visit. My favorite route is from camp 4 heading west to El Capitan or from Yosemite Valley Lodge to Majestic Hotel.

Lower Yosemite Falls (1 mile roundtrip)

Lower Yosemite Falls
This trail offers a  full-frontal view of the upper and lower Yosemite Falls. You will walk on a paved road right into the center of lower falls.

Cook’s Meadow Loop (1 mile roundtrip)

Cook's Meadow Loop with a dog

You might spot a deer or a fluffy friend from time to time. Not only is this a great place to photograph Yosemite Falls, but an even better place for some picnic time. Warning, though: DO NOT FEED THE SQUIRRELS.

If you do decide to give hiking a try, or want to have a professional teach you the proper way to hike, Yosemite Mountaineering School (located in the Half Dome [AKA Curry] Village) offers group hikes and climbing classes.

I hope this non-hiker guide to Yosemite National Park helps you enjoy this beautiful place from a lower elevation. I LOVE YOSEMITE!

Also be sure to check out my non-hiker guide to Joshua Tree National Park!