Yosemite, California, is the king of all National Parks. Although it was declared a National Park October 1st, 1890, after Yellowstone and Sequoia, Yosemite is the Park that started it all. It was here, amidst the spectacular beauty of “the valley” that John Muir convinced the US government to set aside some of its most precious and beautiful lands as sanctuaries for future generations to enjoy unspoiled.
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ILNP Park Review
In a Word “Magnificent”
“From the ends of the earth I call to You, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For You have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of Your wings.” -Psalms 61:2-4
Our Visit I visited Yosemite by myself (unfortunately) in June when I had a two-day break mid-week (Tuesday and Wednesday) break from a trip to central California. The drive was well worth it!
Our Weather Gorgeous for both days. Clear skies with just a little haze and a temperature near 90 degrees.
Overall Impression Just one look down the valley and you will understand why generations have fallen in love with Yosemite. Gray has never looked so good! Spectacular scenery and views are everywhere in this huge Park, so a short visit serves only as a tease. The only drawback to Yosemite is the crowds, but even when the Park is full, there are still many places to find solitude on the hundreds of miles of trails and some of the less-traveled roads.
Favorite Spot peering down the valley from Tunnel View
Minimum Time Required about 2 hours. There is no doubt, “The Valley” is the centerpiece of this Park. In about 2 hours, you can drive the loop through the valley and take one of the shorter hikes. The loop drive will offer breathtaking views of El Capitan and glimpses of Half Dome in the distance along with closer views of the meadows and pine forests which line the valley. Be sure to take the quick drive up to the Tunnel View pull off at Wawona Tunnel on California 41 at the southwest corner of the valley. For hikes, try either Lower Yosemite Fall or Bridalveil Fall, both about a 1-mile round trip. The visitors center in the valley is nice but crowded, so if you’re pressed for time, skip it to spend more time in the valley.
A Longer Visit A trip to Yosemite can easily fill a week. At least two full days is needed to see the different areas of the Park and take some of the most popular hikes. The Park is open year-round, but some roads are closed in winter. To avoid too much “crowd exposure,” split your time between the valley and other areas of the Park such as Tuolumne Meadows or one of the groves of giant sequoia trees where there are fewer people. Plan on spending about half your time in the valley. When in the valley, you have many options for transportation. You can drive your own vehicle, take one of the free shuttle buses or rent a bicycle. Driving can be a little confusing because many of the roads are one-way, and some roads are closed to autos–keep up with your map! The buses are a good option, but you’ll need to spend a few minutes orienting yourself to the routes and times to get the most out of them. On a weekend in the summer, the bus is probably your only option if you actually want to stop and hike or take pictures because the parking lots will be full. I went mid-week in June, and there were some areas with only one or two parking spots open. Spend a little time at the visitors center in Yosemite Village. If you’re interested in history, you can learn about the Native Americans who once lived in the valley by walking through the reconstructed village and talking to historical figures in Ahwahnee Village behind the visitors center.
Take the easy hikes to both Bridalveil Fall and Lower Yosemite Falls (near the visitors center). The falls are the most spectacular in Spring when the snow is melting. By July, they are much more subdued but still beautiful. There are also easy hikes through many of the meadows along the Merced River down the middle of the valley. If you have more stamina, take the hike to Mirror Lake (as a Ranger if there is still water in the lake first) or one of the more strenuous hikes to either Upper Yosemite Falls or the Four Mile Trail which goes from the valley floor up to Glacier Point overlooking the valley. If you take Four Mile Trail in the summer, you can take a free bus back to the valley. If you’ve still got time in your day, take the bus or drive to Glacier Point (a couple of hours round-trip) for a commanding view overlooking the valley and Half Dome. While in the lower half of the Park, stop by the Mariposa Grove of giant sequoias and hike at least as far as the Grizzly Giant tree.
On a second day in the summer or fall, take the long drive out Tioga Road to Tuolumne Meadows. This road takes you up a few thousand feet to drive among the granite domes abbove the valley. Along the way, there are lots of places to stop and hike or just enjoy the view. There are more giant sequoias at Tuolume Grove and great views of Half Dome fromOlmsted Point. The road circles Tenaya Lake with its blue water and beaches–it’s beautiful but cold! The Tuolumne Meadows area is a beautiful and huge meadow crisscrossed by streams, lined by pine forests and surrounded by distinctive granite domes and peaks. There are hikes of all shapes and sizes here. The shorter ones take you across the meadow; one even visits an old cabin left over from the 1800s. Longer hikes take you to destinations like Cathederal Lakes along the John Muir Trail.
If you have even longer, the possibilities are endless. Make the all-day hike to the top of Half Dome. Rent a bike and ride through the valley. Drive up to Hetch Hetchy Reservoir, once considered Yosemite Valley’s twin before they dammed the river. Rent a raft and float down the Merced River. Go fishing (license required). You can even play a round of golf at Wawona (the only golf course I know of in a National Park).
Suggestions The first consideration when planning a trip to Yosemite is where to stay. Within the Park, there are several lodges, tent cabins (large tents with cots and access to a central shower) and hundreds of campsites. Call early, especially if you want to stay in the valley. If the Park is full or you want to save some money, there are several hotels just outside the Park. It’s important to find one that’s close to what you want to see–this is a big area, and you don’t want to spend half your day driving to-and-from the Park. I stayed at the Cedar Lodge, 6 miles west of El Portal and only a 20-minute drive from the valley. It was clean, comfortable and decently priced compared to some of the in-Park rooms.
Yosemite is a crowded Park. If you can, avoid weekends, especially in the Summer. I went on a Tuesday/Wednesday in June, and the Park felt pretty crowded. It would be a pity to spend your time in Yosemite looking for a parking spot or fighting traffic in the valley. If you’re going to be staying across a weekend, consider traveling to the far corners of the Park like Tuolumne Meadows or Mariposa Grove on Saturday and Sunday and leaving the valley for a weekday.
Yosemite is great at night, especially near a full moon. On a clear, moonlight night, the granite walls within the valley reflect a beautiful pale light. The Park even offers a narrated tram tour on such nights. It’s also a fun way to try your hand at nighttime photography. You’ll need a camera where you can control the shutter speed to get at least a 30 second exposure.
Photography in Yosemite is easy–just point and shoot at anything! The background is usually spectacular, so spend your time looking for interesting foreground subjects to make your photos stand out. Having said that, don’t be afraid to shoot photos from the popular spots–they’re popular for a good reason!
Yosemite has bears. Keep this in mind when bringing food into the Park. There are many signs that warn you not to leave food in your car when hiking or sleeping.
You can get just about everything you need in the Park. There are multiple gas stations scattered along the Park’s main roads and eating establishments and a small grocery/essentials store within walking distance of the visitors center in the valley. Because of the remote location within a National Park, however, things are expensive (especially gas). Try to bring as much as you can with you, but don’t fret if you forgot something.
Leave your “aggressive driver” side at home. The entrances to Yosemite and roads within the Park are all curvy, hilly two-lane roads. Many drivers, especially those with trailers and RVs, tend to drive much slower than the posted speed limits. Most slower drivers are very courteous and use the many turnouts designed for them to pull over and let faster traffic pass. There are a few, however, who don’t know what these turnouts are for or just don’t care. If you find yourself stuck behind one of these drivers, be patient! I witnessed more than one rude hand gesture from an impatient driver in the Park. Remember, you are enjoying the serene beauty of a National Park, right? Oh, and if you’re one of the slow drivers, please use the turnouts–you’ll be much happier without that guy riding your tail and flashing his lights.
Nearby Towns Wawona, Fish Camp, El Portal, Buck Meadows, Fresno, Modesto (California)
Other Nearby Attractions Devil’s Postpile National Monument, Sequoia and Kings Canyon NPs
Official NPS Website Yosemite NP
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