Yosemite National Park
Honestly, not my favorite of the National Parks. Blasphemy you say?! I know, I know, I should be burned at the stake for admitting it. Ansel Adams spent a good portion of his career taking photos of just this park. How could it not be my favorite too? Well, it’s not. And it’s not because there aren’t some spectacular views, because there are, but as a whole experience, it’s just not my favorite of the Parks.
And it’s mostly not my favorite Park because of YOU PEOPLE! I’m kidding. It’s a popular park, let's just not all go on the same day, okay? Yosemite Valley just isn’t big enough to handle all of us at once. In fact, they are having a REALLY hard time handling the 5 million people a year who visit it now.
This Park is very popular
We visited in June 2017, the second week after the kids got out of school, and it was packed. There were signs 10 miles outside the Highway 120 gate entrance warning incomers that all parking was full and there was a 3 HOUR wait to travel through or park in the Valley. THREE HOURS? The Valley clearly just isn’t big enough to handle all of the visitors.
So, we did what many do and left our campsite at Yosemite Lakes campground at 6:30am to be sure to get a parking spot at Half Dome Village parking before 8:00am when they all fill up. Then we left our car in the same spot all day and took the shuttle around to all the various attractions. However, the shuttle only runs every 20 minutes even during the busy times, and everyone is encouraged to use the shuttle, so they are PACKED to the brim. Ultimately, we ended up walking everywhere, which wasn’t bad, except it was raining and even sleeting. Good times.
It was so cloudy and rainy during this visit that we couldn’t even see one of the iconic monoliths, Half Dome. Bummer.
Drive Highway 120
The drive into the Park via Highway 120 is breathtaking and probably the best part. You exit one of the tunnels on your drive and are immediately faced with this spectacular view down the valley. Everyone hits their brakes and pulls over. E-V-E-R-Y-O-N-E. It is that spectacular.
Hike to Vernal Falls
We started our morning on the hike to the foot bridge of Vernal Falls (about 0.8 miles one way). Be forewarned, this hike is mostly uphill. It should have occurred to me given you are hiking towards the top of a waterfall, but it didn’t at the time, so I share with you the wisdom I gained. It’s a lot of uphill. There are some spots to stop along the way that provide some great views of the various peaks. And be on the lookout for mountain climbers on those peaks too, which is fun.
The Winter of 2016-17 resulted in record amounts of rain and snow pack, so the Merced River, which runs through the Valley, was swollen and raging. The amount of power in that water is amazing and on the verge of kinda scary. It just roars down the falls.
After the hike down from the falls, we took a shuttle to Yosemite Village where we grabbed a quick lunch of burgers, fries, and the likes at the little grill outside the Village Store. We wandered through the various buildings that make up Yosemite Village, partially to stay dry and warm, then hopped a crammed shuttle again to drive by Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls (too wet to do the hike) and stop at Yosemite Valley Lodge. The lodge isn’t much to look at, and the kids wanted to see the “The Majestic Yosemite Hotel” (more famously known as the Ahwahnee Lodge), so we hopped on a crammed shuttle again and headed to the Ahwahnee. The trip to the Ahwahnee required that we change shuttles, but even the shuttles were stuck in the traffic in the Valley, so it was faster for us to just walk. During our decision to do so, we met an adorable Australian couple at the shuttle stop who were abandoned by their tour bus at the stop and were expected to hop a shuttle with all of their luggage to the Ahwahnee where they were staying for the night. Instead, we shared carrying their luggage at various times and hiked it to the Ahwahnee together.
The Ahwahnee was not quite what I remembered it. I thought there was a grand view out the windows that overlooked the valley and peaks, similar to the lodge on the North Rim of the Grand Canyon, but that is not true. The formal dining room is grand; however, it is expensive ($55 for Sunday brunch) and you must dress appropriately for dinner. Sopping wet hiking gear is frowned upon.
We pretty much ended our adventure there…hiked and shuttled it back to our car and entered the long line of one-lane traffic past the village and out of the park. Whew.
Try an alternative adventure
If I was to visit this park again, I think I’d do it differently and avoid the Yosemite Village, Ahwahnee, and Half Dome Village areas as much as possible. Start at the entrance from Highway 120, enjoy the spectacular view of the Valley outside the tunnel along the drive in. Stop at Bridalveil Fall and enjoy the falls to the south and El Capitan to the north. Continue along Southside Drive stopping whenever you see a great view or point that interests you. Swing around to the Northside Drive on the cut over just past the Chapel. Drive by Yosemite Falls and stop many times on the way out of the park to enjoy views of the Three Brothers, El Capitan, and various falls and meadows that can be teaming with wildlife. We were in such a hurry to get a parking spot in the morning that we didn’t stop enough on the drive in, and we were so exhausted at the end of the day, that we didn’t stop on the way out of the park. And both that drive in and out really provide some of the best views of the park.
Location: Located in central-eastern California. Multiple access road from the West and South, limited access from the East. Check for road closures before you visit.
My recommendation: I highly recommend you try the alternative adventure mentioned above instead of visiting the Village, or visit an area of the park other than the Valley.
Bears: Yes. This park is notorious for bears.
For more information: https://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm