Including one of the national parks of America in your gap year schedule will certainly pay off, especially if you head to Yosemite in California. The destination is easily accessible from San Francisco and LA, so make sure it is a port of call.
Yosemite National Park spans almost 1,200 sq miles, so there is lots to see and do. From huge waterfalls and near-vertical cliffs to giant sequoia tree groves and dazzling lakes, its beauty alone should be enough to convince you to factor it into your itinerary.
However, should you need any more convincing, here are some reasons why you will not regret taking activity holidays in the park.
Around 400 species of vertebrates call Yosemite National Park home, including the mule deer, black bear, California ground squirrel, bobcat, acorn woodpecker and Western fence lizard. Since the park is so huge, you have plenty of scope to spread your wings and go on an adventure to see how many animals you can spot. The park provides wildlife observation cards to download so you can report back with your findings. To make proceedings even more interesting, hold a competition with your fellow travellers to see who can spot a creature first.
There are around 40 endangered species living in the park, as defined by state law. It will certainly be a highlight of your USA holidays if you manage to spot one of these, especially since such creatures are increasingly at risk. The grizzly bear, California red-legged frog and foothill yellow-legged frog are thought to no longer live in the park, so it's important to note down any endangered animals you come across.
The rock climbing
Yosemite's landscape is perfect for rock climbing and its varied terrain means there are ascents for people of different abilities. The majestic walls rising up from the valley are popular with climbers, as are the Merced River Canyon and the domes of the Toulumne Meadows. In fact, the official website of the national park boasts that Yosemite is one of the best places in the world to go rock climbing.
If you do decide to tackle the terrain, there are a few things to keep in mind. Firstly, never clear vegetation from a rock so that you are provided with a safer path to climb. This is illegal and you should instead find a different route to take. Secondly, try and use as few bolts as safely possible to minimise damage to the surfaces. Thirdly, you should dispose of your litter in bins provided, even if this means keeping hold of it until you get back down. Finally, when walking between routes, stick to the marked routes to minimise soil erosion.
One of the best activities on offer in Yosemite National Park is hiking. There are routes for people of all abilities, so don't worry about getting left behind, or not being challenged enough. One part of the national park that is great for hiking is Hetch Hetchy. Here, you will be able to follow the Wapama Falls and Rancheria Falls trails, which, as the names suggest, will allow you to get closer to these two landmarks.
You can also go on day hikes in Yosemite Valley. The Panorama Trail is 8.5 miles one way and offers brilliant views across the valley. It is a tricky route, however, and will see you tackle a 3,200 ft descent. A much easier option is the Cook's Meadow Loop, which is a mile long and affords you with breathtaking scenery that includes Glacier Point, Royal Arches and Half Dome.
If you have seen Yosemite National Park from both the ground and at a height, the next step is to appreciate its beauty from the water. You can rent a raft and take to the Merced River, but there are some rules in place to ensure your adventure is a safe as possible. There must be enough flotation devices for each person onboard, while rafting can only be participated in between the hours of 10:00 and 18:00 and between Stoneman Bridge and the Sentinel Beach Picnic Area. The river must also be between certain temperatures and depths before you head out on it. For a relaxed paddle, glide along the calm waters of Tenaya Lake.