Yosemite is another one of those marquee national parks that really doesn’t need a hard sell. I’m going to sing its praises anyway, because it is truly fantastic. My husband and I arrived in the afternoon after a night in Lake Tahoe. Neither one of us was in particularly high spirits, perhaps due to leaving a luxurious hotel in Tahoe and being faced with five nights of camping in a row. Arriving at Yosemite in the afternoon probably didn’t help either; the entrance and the park itself were mobbed, which would put anyone off.
We had reserved two nights of camping at Tuolumne Meadows campsite, which is just off Tioga Road, not far from the Tioga Pass entrance on the east side of the park. We picked it because we wanted to reserve in advance, but knowing what we know now, I’d recommend a site closer to Yosemite Valley, on the other side of the park. I was also disappointed in the facilities at Tuolumne Meadows. There may have been a water spigot somewhere, but it wasn’t near our site, nor was it clearly marked on the map. The bathrooms were basic and unlit, although they did have flush toilets. After a bit of investigation we determined that we’d prefer to be closer to Yosemite Valley (Tuolumne is almost 40 miles away), so despite reserving two nights we opted for a walk up site at Tamarack Flat on our second night. The campground is three miles off the main road, but it still proved to be much more convenient. The downside: there are pit toilets, no sink and no potable water at Tamarack Flat.
Our first afternoon in the park was spent driving Tioga Road, a 39-mile stretch across the park. It was a nice drive, but in all honesty we only did it because we weren’t sure what else we could undertake at that hour. After arriving, setting up camp and checking out the visitor center, we only had a couple hours of sunlight. So, we resolved to get an early start the next day and make a full day of it. Boy did we succeed!
After figuring out the logistics of switching campgrounds we headed to Yosemite Valley to kick off the day. Be warned: Yosemite Valley is a zoo. Get there early if you want a parking spot, and if possible leave your car there and use the shuttle or go on foot. Driving in the park outside of the early morning hours is a headache. Avoid it if you can!
Yosemite Valley is truly spectacular. My husband and I chose to walk Four Mile, a 9+ mile round trip hike from the valley floor up to Glacier Point, a gorgeous lookout point that most people choose to drive to. In fact, I had driven there with my family as a teenager and remember being completely taken with the view of Half Dome and the surrounding mountains. Almost twenty years later, the vista lived up to my memory. Getting there on foot was a slightly different endeavor, however. It’s a switchback trail that is 4.6 miles up and then 4.6 miles back down. Not for the faint of heart – my husband and I were bushed after finishing. The scenery and the views of Yosemite Valley make it worth it, though. Only when surrounded by that kind of beauty is such a strenuous hike tolerable, at least in my book. I’d encourage all hikers to do this one – definitely not to be missed!
The whole hike – walking to the trailhead and doing the hike itself – came to about thirteen miles. Needless to say, our evening was low-key, with some dinner and a few s’mores by the campfire.
The next morning we got another early start and headed to Yosemite Valley visitor center yet again. Getting there at 8:15am means finding an easy parking spot, which is always a plus. After some breakfast we perused an Ansel Adams exhibit on display at Yosemite Village and took in the short Ken Burns documentary about the creation of the park. On our way out, we stopped at Tunnel View viewpoint for a last glance at the park: that classic shot of Yosemite Valley with El Capitan in the foreground and Half Dome in the distance.
I don’t really have the words to describe the beauty of Yosemite. My husband commented on the flowery language that was used in the documentary we watched, noting that he liked it and thought it was more than deserved. In my mind I am already planning a return visit to Yosemite – one in which we spend a week and truly have the time to bask in its grandeur. I was sorry to leave this time, but I know I’ll be back.