On a backpacking trip in Yosemite Valley a few decades ago, a small gray bird zipped across Illilouette Creek, just upstream from me. It bobbed up and down a few times on a moss-covered rock and then dove beneath the ice-cold waves. It was my first encounter with an American Dipper, and watching it hunt along the creek bottom inspired me to learn more about the funny little species. Over the years, I’ve visited the valley dozens of times. Each time, I look for dippers among the boulders and rapids.
Yosemite Valley’s cliffs, meadows, mixed conifer forests, and numerous streams attract birds year-round; my favorite times are late spring and early fall, when the crowds have thinned out and the migrants are still around. If you have a scope, set it up in El Capitan Meadow. You may be fortunate enough to see a Peregrine Falcon on the granite cliffs, and during the summer, you’ll almost always get a great view of climbers ascending 3,000-foot El Capitan.
If you have only a few hours, bird Yosemite Village. The vegetation along the walkways attracts Steller’s Jays, Western Tanagers, Acorn Woodpeckers, hummingbirds, wrens, and chickadees. — Audrey Medina
Pine and oak woodlands, wet and dry meadows, river, streams, cliffs.
Flat. Paved and well-maintained dirt trails. Wheelchair-accessible.
More than 250 species. Year-round: Bewick’s, Canyon, and Pacific Wrens, Northern Pygmy-Owl, Great Horned, Great Gray, and Northern Saw-whet Owls, Common Merganser, Acorn, Nuttall’s, Downy, Hairy, White-headed, and Black-backed Woodpeckers, Mountain and Chestnut-backed Chickadees, Western Bluebird, Steller’s Jay, California Quail, American Dipper. Spring and summer: Sharp-shinned and Red-tailed Hawks, Western Tanager, Anna’s, Calliope, and Rufous Hummingbirds, Lazuli Bunting, Bullock’s Oriole, Lesser Goldfinch, Violet-green Swallow.
When to go
Hotels, restaurants, general store, and visitor center in Yosemite Village. Bicycles for rent. Ranger-led walks and professional tours. Downloadable checklist on park website.
National park. Entrance fee $30 per car, valid for seven days. Free shuttle busses. Amtrak offers train and bus service to the valley; Greyhound serves Merced, and the Yosemite Area Regional Transportation System (YARTS) offers bus service from Merced, Mammoth Lakes, Sonora, and Fresno.
Never leave food in your car. If camping, store all food in bear-proof containers. Bring a spotting scope. Listen for Great Horned Owl and Northern Pygmy-Owl at Upper Pines Campground near Yosemite Village.