Yosemite National Park is one of the most visited parks in America and with good reason. We drove from Livermore (east bay) and it took us about 3.5 hours to get to the park but we made a few stops along the way. Also, the last 35-40 miles are through mountains and the road is curvy so drive carefully. As soon as I entered the park, I was amazed by the giant granite cliffs, waterfalls, meadows, lakes and mountains. I couldn’t help but stop every mile or so to look around. After every bend in the road, the scenery changes. Because it’s so popular and since the bay area is so close by, it’s hard to get a good camp site in Yosemite Valley. You’ll need to make your reservations well in advance.
Most of the tent sites are gone within milli-seconds of reservation opening up. You might find a camp site in Wawona but it’s a long drive from the valley. We had a heated tent with two outlets in half dome village and that was a perfect location. Half dome village (formerly known as Curry village) doesn’t allow camp fires so we stopped by a grocery store to pick up some canned beans, tuna, bread, tortilla, peanut butter, etc. None of the other parks we’ve visited had any food options inside the park so we thought we need to get food we can eat without heating up. It turns out, half dome village offers everything from coffee, tea, pizzas, burgers, fries, ice cream, beer, whiskey, wine and more so after a long day of hiking, you can just relax, eat, and have a drink of your choice.
When you check into Half Dome Village, the staff will tell you to put all the food items and anything that smells (cosmetics, toothpaste, sunblock, deodorant, anything else with a scent) in the bear locker outside the tent. Bear attacks in half dome village are rare but why risk one so I put just about everything except clothes and shoes in the locker. They don’t allow food inside the tent for the same reason. By the time we got done with that, it was almost 5 pm and couldn’t go for a proper hike. We decided to take the free park shuttle and see the park. The shuttle driver we had must have had a little too much Mary Jane (or something else entirely) because as far as we could tell, he was not following the route. He was just driving around, making up his own route. He was also kind of a jerk to tourists and lied to them. Many other people on the bus were confused and wondering what was going on with him. We wanted to get off at Sentinel Bridge (stop 11) to watch the sunset. Since he was creating his own route, I wanted to confirm the stop I was getting off at was stop 11. This simple question turned into a 3 minute long back and forth and in the end, the stop we were about to get off at was stop 11. All he had to do was say yes, we would have gotten off and that would be it. This was the only negative experience I’ve ever had with a park employee. Generally, they are very nice and helpful.
We walked around Cook’s meadow for spectacular views of half dome, upper and lower Yosemite falls. After that we walked back to half dome village. We didn’t trust the shuttle anymore and the walk back wasn’t long. Since we had bought canned food earlier in the day, I felt like we had to eat it; can’t let it go to waste. So our dinner that night was canned beans with tortilla. The good thing about California is that not only can you buy alcohol just about anywhere but it’s also cheaper than NYC. One of the stores at half dome village had Jameson and other whiskeys so we got a bottle and had a few drinks. The guest lounge also offers WiFi but it’s unreliable. I was still surprised at how many services and amenities were available at this park.
The next morning, after coffee and breakfast (canned tuna sandwich), we decided to
drive instead of taking the shuttle. We parked the car near camp 4 and went on a short and easy hike to lower Yosemite falls footbridge. In early summer, it can get windy and expect a lot of spray from the fall. This year, the falls were especially powerful and that made the hike even better. It’s 1.1 mile loop and it only took about 35 mins. We wanted to do a day hike of 11.5 miles long Valley Loop trail which covers all the major points in the valley: Sentinel rock, Cathedral Rocks, Bridalveil fall, El Capitan, Three brothers and Yosemite falls. In the beginning, we followed signs for upper falls hike for a bit, then El Capitan and Bridalveil falls signs. This hike offers great view of Sentinel falls and half dome. Soon after this point, the actual trail was flooded so we had to walk on the side of the road for about 0.75 miles before getting back on the trail. At the time, we didn’t think much of it. This trail is not very crowded which is one of the reasons we chose it. We wanted to avoid huge crowds. Soon after we got back on the trail, we had beautiful views of El Capitan but the trail was
blocked again. California had a lot of rain this year which made the falls very powerful and beautiful to look at but it also flooded parts of the Valley Loop trail. The flood water in this particular area was waist deep and unfortunately there was no way to get around it. We could see the road so we walked toward it but every direction we turned, our path was blocked. We could see the cars drive by just a few hundred feet away from us, but we couldn’t get through. The only way to go around the flood was to backtrack about 1.5 miles to get back on the road and continue on but for all we knew there were more flooded parts ahead. We realized Valley Loop trail was just not on the cards so we hiked back to the car.
We thought of stopping by our tent to pick up a few things but the traffic was terrible. Turns out this is normal for Yosemite. We gave up on that idea quickly, turned around, and drove to El Capitan bridge. We tried to go on a hike but again, in less than half a mile, the trail was flooded. We drove around the park, stopped by a few pull of points to look at the El Capitan, Three Brothers, and the falls. The next stop was Tunnel View which provides an amazing view of the valley: El Capitan, half dome, three brothers, and Bridalveil falls. This is probably one of the most popular scenic overlooks in Yosemite so you may have to wait a few mins to get a parking spot. Thankfully, we found an empty spot immediately (but we visited on a weekday).
After that, we drove to Bridalveil falls. The walk from the parking lot to the fall is only half a mile so it doesn’t take long. You will get sprayed in early summer so you might want to consider taking a poncho. Also be ready for fast appearing and disappearing rainbows as you get close to the falls. We walked around the falls for a few mins, then walked back to the car. By this time, we were exhausted and sun was going to set in about an hour so we just drove back to Half Dome village for some food and a few drinks. Unfortunately, a lot of people had the same idea because we were stuck in traffic. It took us about an hour to
get through 2.8 miles. After googling for a few mins, we learned this is normal for Yosemite. If the traffic was this bad on a weekday, I don’t even want to know how long we would have waited on a weekend. By the time we made it to half dome village, we were ravenously hungry but as luck would have it, the hog heaven pizza we ordered took 45 mins to get. After hiking all day, we had earned that pie. We watched another beautiful sunset from Stoneman Meadow before going to the guest lounge for some relaxation.
As beautiful as the valley is, we wanted to spend one day exploring the rest of Yosemite National Park. So on our last full day at Yosemite, we drove to Glacier point after breakfast. We could see Glacier point from half dome village (straight up above us) but to get there would take about an hour, maybe a little more depending on traffic. On our way, we made another brief stop at Tunnel View because how often do you get to see such an amazing view. The drive to Glacier point is very curvy and the road is narrow. As you continue to drive, the road conditions also worsens and you have to do your best to avoid pot holes. It took us about an hour and half to get to Glacier point. There are a few pull off points on the way if you need a break. Finding parking at Glacier point can take some time so be patient. Glacier point offers panoramic views of the Yosemite Valley, many different waterfalls, and the Merced river from a birds eye view.
One of the things that struck me was just how skinny half dome looked from this angle. Don’t get me wrong, it’s tall but from the side it looks skinnier than I had expected. I can’t believe people actually hike up that dome. I’m not sure I’ll ever have the courage to do it. I also don’t think I’ll ever be physically fit enough to even try. We walked around for about half an hour, enjoyed an ice cream bar while enjoying the view and deciding on our next hike. It was a beautiful, sunny and warm day. We couldn’t ask for better weather.
Many of the Glacier Point hikes were not open because of weather. There was still a lot of snow around and park services hadn’t maintained the trails. After considering our options we decided to attempt the Sentinel Dome hike. The parking lot for Sentinel Dome hike is very small but we were lucky enough to find a spot immediately. The trail wasn’t open officially yet and start of the trial was snowy. There were signs posted saying hike at your own risk but we saw many people including kids and grandparents finishing the hike so we figured, it’s probably safe enough. Because the
trail wasn’t officially open, it was hard to stay on track initially. In fact, within first 5 minutes we were off trail. Luckily, we realized it quickly and managed to get back on the trail thanks to offline Google maps we had downloaded. Along the hike, we came across a family with 3 kids (aged 7-10) and we asked them how hard was the hike. The kids all said it was easy but then again, kids have no fear so I was skeptical but continued on. There was some snow in the beginning and at the end of the trail but overall, most of the trail was clear. The last part of the hike where you actually go up the dome was a little difficult and snow covered but I managed to make it to the top. If I can make it to the top, anyone can.
Once you are on top of sentinel dome, you have a 360 degree view of the entire Yosemite Valley. The top of the dome is a little over 8,000 feet in elevation so you are looking down at the upper and lower Yosemite falls which is quite an amazing feeling. I had a wonderful sense of accomplishment once I reached the top. One one side you have the view of Three Brothers and El Capitan facing each other, on another side is half dome and on yet another side the upper and lower Yosemite falls. No matter which direction you turn, the view is nothing short of spectacular. After about an hour on top, it was time to go back.
That’s when I realized, going up wasn’t nearly as difficult as coming down the snow covered dome. I tried to go slow, watch every step I took very carefully making sure I had good grip. But ultimately, in about 3 minutes (maybe less), I fell. That’s when I figured, it might be easier to just slide down the snowy dome so that’s exactly what I did. I thought it was fast and effective way of getting down. My butt got a little wet but hey, life isn’t perfect. The rest of the hike back to the car seemed easier and faster.
Next, we tried to go to McGurk Meadow but the trail was too icy and we didn’t see anyone else around. We decided against it and figured, the rest of Glacier point road hikes might not be a very good idea. Most of the trails were not open and we didn’t want to take any unnecessary risks. We drove back to half dome village and parked there. We still had a few hours left of day light and it was our last day so we didn’t want to waste it just sitting around. We walked from half dome village to Mirror Lake which ended up being longer than anticipated. The walk to the lake is pretty, quiet, and mosquito ridden. Make sure and carry a bottle of bug spray because these bugs are relentless. Mirror lake gives you yet another view of half dome but to be honest, there are much better options in Yosemite. I would say this is definitely over-hyped and you are probably better off doing some other trail. To be clear, this isn’t bad by any means. It’s just that Yosemite has so many other options with much nicer views. We didn’t really spend more than 5 mins at the lake before turning around and walking back to one of the shuttle stops.
The next morning, it was time to say good bye to half dome village and Yosemite National Park but not before making a few stops in Wawona. Our first stop on the way out was swinging bridge. The drive to swinging bridge is narrow, one lane only, and just when you think you are close to the trail head, you find yourself in a dead end. Just drive a little further and you’ll see a parking lot. The trail is short and easy. The swinging bridge is short and cute. It was a nice quick break but it wasn’t anything
unique. We also stopped by the Pioneer Village which was kinda cool. We walked around for a few mins, saw the old buildings, a jail cell from back in the day, etc. I can see kids really enjoying this place but once again, I wouldn’t go out of my way for either of these stops.
Overall, the 3 days spent hiking in Yosemite were amazing. Next stop: Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks.
For more pics, go to my Instagram page: Rupal’s Travel Diaries