Exploring Yosemite: Trip Review!
I’d always wanted to visit Yosemite ever since I learned about it on a National Geographic special when I was a kid. When my mother and father-in-law mentioned wanting to take a family trip to California, I wasn’t surprised that Yosemite National Park made their list of “must see” places. As someone who appreciates nature and loves detailed vacation planning, Yosemite posed an exciting challenge!
Like any trip worth going on, a visit to Yosemite NP requires preparation. Properly planning ahead will reward you with a visit you’ll remember forever. I promise you, Yosemite is not worth skipping.
Our experience was amazing – here’s how we did it!
WHEN WE VISITED
Late May 2019, the week before Memorial Day. This time of year was very strategic – after researching peak times of park visitation it became clear that once school lets out, Yosemite gets crowded. Once school is back in session, crowds disappear. My group was adamant about wanting to avoid the crowds but also wanting to be outdoors in comfortable weather.
WHERE WE SLEPT
Location was the make-or-break aspect of this trip. We had many things we wanted to see and do during our five days in Yosemite, and spending countless hours in the car was NOT one of them. Our “home base” needed to put us close to all the important stuff. And we knew a hot tub was a must!
I found a cabin on VRBO that was a 20-minute drive to Yosemite Valley, a 30-minute drive to Glacier Point, and a 30-minute drive to Mariposa Grove. Those were the areas we would spent the most time, and our cabin was centrally located between all three. It was perfect!
WHERE WE ATE
This section doesn’t apply to Yosemite since we weren’t going there to experience fine cuisine. Each day we ate breakfast at the cabin, packed our gear, and were out the door before 8am to begin adventuring. We packed lunches to eat on the trail or at a picnic area, and then were back at the cabin for dinner.
It’s very important to note, however, that you must think ahead about where your next meal is going to be. Otherwise you’ll find yourselves hungry, irritable, and wasting time waiting in line for food because you didn’t plan ahead. Every minute spent waiting in line could have been spent enjoying the park.
There was one place we stopped before we entered the park on our first day: South Gate Brewing Co. This was a very fun and rustic brewpub in Oakhurst with VERY good beer! I got a flight of 3 beers – the Oaktown Pecan Brown, Deadwood Porter, and the Glacier Point Pale Ale. All were great!
WHAT WE EXPLORED
Tunnel View – one of the easiest things to see in Yosemite, and for that reason probably the most famous view of the park. It’s a crowded area and parking can be hard to find, but as with every other place on this list it’s easier if you show up before 9am. You slowly descend through this long tunnel and explode out the other end to an extraordinary view…such a cool feeling.
Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls – both of these waterfalls are spectacular, and you can experience them both on the same hike by using the Mist Trail to the top of Nevada Falls and then catching the John Muir Trail back down to where you started. They call it the Mist Trail because you WILL get wet! The portion of the trail right next to Vernal Falls makes you feel like you’re in Lord of the Rings. This is one of my all-time-favorite hikes.
Bridalveil Falls – as the waterfalls in Yosemite go, Bridalveil is the easiest one to access and the first one you’ll see as you enter the park. A very short hike (about ¼ mile) will take you to the base of the falls where it’s likely you’ll get sprayed!
Mirror Lake – a lake in the winter and spring, a swampy field in the summer and autumn. The hike along Tenaya Creek back to Mirror Lake has almost no elevation gain but offers a lot of beautiful vistas across the creek and up the granite walls that surround you. This is a great hike for kids and anyone wanting to take it easy.
Lower Yosemite Falls – this is a short, easy trail that gives you some very picturesque views of the lower cascade of North America’s tallest waterfall.
Upper Yosemite Falls – this was the most difficult hike I’ve ever done, but also the most incredible. It requires a moderate level of fitness and at least 6-8 hours of your time but it’s worth it. Once you reach the top I highly recommend continuing another mile or so to Yosemite Point – it’s a total change in scenery and gives you an unimpeded view of the valley. Shout out to our uncle and active outdoorsman, Larry H., for pushing us to finish this hike!
Mariposa Grove – this area on the southern edge of the park just received a facelift in 2018, with refurbished trails and a very nice visitor center. The sequoia trees will leave you speechless. We visited on a foggy day where you could barely see the tops of some trees, and where others towered into the clouds and out of view. It was like being in a mystic forest!
Glacier Point – we were teased all week because Glacier Point Road was still closed due to a winter storm. But to our surprise, it reopened on the final day of our trip and we high-tailed it straight there! This is one of those all-time special vistas that you will talk about forever. It allows you an elevated 270-degree view of the east valley that includes Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, Vernal Falls, and Nevada Falls.
Hetch Hetchy – this was a nice area to visit on the day we drove home. It’s not as remarkable as Yosemite Valley but apparently it could have been, had it not been dammed to provide hydroelectric power to San Francisco years ago. It’s definitely out of the way but some of the views on your drive in are vast and sprawling.
Cook’s Meadow – an easy hike on the valley floor that has no elevation change. It’s funny saying that this was one of my favorite hikes, probably because it puts you smack dab in the middle of Yosemite Valley and gives you 360-degree views of the surrounding granite cliffs, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls.
Inspiration Point – the trailhead is from the parking lot of Tunnel View. As soon as you hit the trail you’ll see 98% fewer people, and once you get to the top you’ll understand why it’s called Inspiration Point. (The photo at the top of this post is the view you will see!)
WHAT WE MISSED OUT ON
Tuolumne Meadows – Wikipedia actually says it best: “Tuolumne Meadows is a gentle, dome-studded, sub-alpine meadow area along the Tuolumne River in east Yosemite.” Tioga Pass Road was still closed in late May when we visited, and that’s the only vehicular access to Tuolumne. Lakes, flowers, and wildlife are a few of the highlights we couldn’t experience.
The backcountry – they say that 95% of Yosemite is designated wilderness. One day I’d love to return for a backcountry overnight hike to enjoy the solitude and splendor of that wilderness.
SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM THE TRIP
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