Western USA road trips should always include rides through the National Parks. While most span the sizes of small countries, they are achievable if you give them a few days. After overnighting in Bishop, California – our overnight stop after Death Valley National Park we ventured into Yosemite National Park with our convertible top down and soaked in the sights. While there is no bad time to go to Yosemite, we chose to go in October to enjoy the colors of the approaching fall. The leaves were changing from various shades of green to ambers, yellows, and reds. Be sure to check for closures if you choose to visit in the fall or early winter – the Tioga pass closes as soon as the wintery weather comes in. Not planning ahead could mean you are in for a very long drive to get to the next accessible park entrance.
We definitely got out work out in on this trip as we kept pulling over to enjoy the marvels of the park. While there is no going wrong when admiring the park, there are a large number of sign-posted vista points to get the quintessential shots that have kept us gazing at our desktop backgrounds for years. Stop and take the picture, but be sure to take time to enjoy without the viewfinder against your eye.
We stayed at the newly built Rush Creek Lodge located a couple miles outside of the west park gate entrance. We had difficulty finding accommodation in Yosemite Valley and I am glad we did. Rush Creek Lodge has lovely rooms, a cozy lodge feel, and lots of fun extras – heated pool/jacuzzi, board games and books in the room, smores on the fire pits out on the terrace, a general store that will put your local grocery store to shame, and a lodge bar with tons of adult beverages.
Below are some Yosemite Park highlights that are not to be missed.
Glacier Point is one of Yosemite’s highest points. When overlooking the floor of Yosmite Valley you will quickly see why it is considered one of the best vista points in the park. Among many things, you’ll get a perfect view of one of Yosemite’s favorites – Half Dome. Some choose to hike to the point, but it is very accessible by car and has abundant parking. We choose to go later in the day as the sun began to set.
Tuolumne Grove is located on the western part of the park and was a perfect stop enroute to our lodge. We had originally planned to visit the larger, more well-known Mariposa Grove but it was closed due to conservation efforts. The 2 mile round trip walk from the trailhead was a small price to pay to see the Giant Sequoias in the grandeur. Ever see that picture of the car driving through the tree? It’s here (minus the car).
Having watched multiple rock climbing documentaries, I knew that El Capitan was a granite beast. It was awe inspiring to see it in person – particularly the 3,000 vertical wall. Like most sites in the park, you can see it from a few places. I’d recommend packing a lunch and having a picnic on El Capitan Meadow. You can look straight up the sheer rock and even catch climbers navigating the rivets on the rock face. Another great spot to catch El Capitan is the well-known vista point Tunnel View – which is accessible by car and can be stopped at on your drive up to Glacier Point.
Yosemite’s Half Dome attracts hikers from around the world and rightfully so. It is a challenging hike to Half Dome, which then is summited by using the Half Dome Cables – two steel cables that needed to scale the vertical, exposed rock face. We did the trek to Half Dome on the first day the cables were closed. If you are keen to get to the summit be sure you visit when the cables are accessible, typically May – October, and pre-book your free permit. Only 300 hikers are allowed to access the cables to Half Dome. Prepare yourself for the strenuous 12-hour hike and make sure you pack nibbles and plenty of water.
The Mist Trail is one of the most popular hiking trails in Yosemite. While challenging, it is quite accessible and offers sights in the park that can’t be accessed form your car. Hikers can choose to take the trail to Vernal Falls and turn around, or venture further to Nevada Falls. At Nevada Falls you can turn around, or cross the wooden bridge to join the John Muir Trail. I’d recommend taking this one down as it’s much easier on your knees and offers another vantage point to the trailhead. We took the Mist Trail all the way to Half Dome, and joined the John Muir trail from Nevada Falls. I’ll be providing a closer look at the Mist Trail in an upcoming post – so watch this space.
It’s a real shame I don’t live closer to Yosemite National Park. Like any place of great beauty, I imagine YNP provides different experiences year round. Next time I’ll organize my visit while the Half Dome Cables are open and add extra couple days to enjoy the sights in a more relaxed way.