Yosemite National Park, CA 


Yosemite is certainly high on everyone’s list of top national parks to visit in the United States and for good reason. Within its nearly 1200 square miles you can experience the power of glaciers, the wonder and beauty of waterfalls (best viewed in the springtime), Yosemite Valley with views of El Capitan lurking around almost every corner, sprawling meadows and groves of giant sequoia trees.

Yosemite was first protected in 1864 when President Lincoln signed the Yosemite Valley Grant Act which gave California the Yosemite Valley and the nearby Mariposa Big Tree Grove under the condition that the land be for public use, resort and recreation. It’s lucky for us that there was such foresight to preserve this natural wonder.


 Yosemite National Park Interesting Facts 
  • Total size of Yosemite is 1,187 square miles. 94% of which is “designated wilderness”. This is not quite ⅔ of the original size of the Park, land was removed from the Park dimensions early in the 1900s for various reasons, almost always commercial in nature.
  • Yosemite contains 800 miles of trails and/or bicycle paths and 214 miles of paved roads.
  • Various Indian tribes lived in Yosemite Valley for thousands of years; the Paiutes and the Miwok tribes were the most recent. There is a considerable amount of evidence that Indians lived in this area for the previous 3,000 years.
  • The first European/American visitors to Yosemite were a group of trappers led by the famous Jedebiah Smith in 1827. Even though Spain and subsequently Mexico had explored extensive areas of California, there is no recorded information about any exploration of the Sierra Nevada Mountains until Americans began visiting in the early 1800s. Even though Father Junipero Serra explored all of California from Mexico all the way to the Santa Rosa area, he and his exploration group never went inland towards the Sierra Nevada mountains.
  • In 1833 a group of trappers led by Joseph Walker appear to have entered Yosemite via the Merced Grove area. Unfortunately the journals created by that group were lost in a fire in a Philadelphia print shop while waiting to be printed. If this is accurate, these men were the first to see the Giant Sequoia trees.
  • California drove the Indian Tribes out of Yosemite Valley during the “Mariposa War” in 1851. The Army group that was sent to push the Indians out (the Mariposa Battalion) spent quite a bit of time in the Valley and the Doctor that came with them (Dr. Lafayette Bunnell) named many of the geographic features they came across in the Valley. The Army group found that the Indians already called the Valley “Yosemite” so they retained that name.
  • John Muir arrived in California in 1868 and took a job at a sheep ranch in Yosemite Valley. As he became familiar with the area, he began to realize that it needed to be protected from visitors who were slowly destroying the land, cutting down the giant trees and John Muir began a long campaign to have Yosemite protected by Federal laws. On 10/1/1890 Yosemite became a National Park and Muir turned his attention to other areas of California, and in 1892 he became one of the founding members of the Sierra Club.
  • Yosemite has been receiving over four million visitors annually, that number has been reduced during the Pandemic.
Getting Around Yosemite

A book such as the "Yosemite, Sequoia and Kings Canyon" by Ann Marie Brown and published by Moon (click here to search Amazon for Yosemite media) is a useful tool for getting familiar with the parks and what there is to see and do. Since cell service is spotty in the park and frequently non existent doing things the old fashioned way and keeping a book with you in your pack is recommended.

We recommend also reading the newspaper with current information when you receive it at the park entrance so that you are aware of anything that will affect you while you are visiting and you can plan around it.

Usually there are buses that help move people around the park but due to COVID the buses were NOT running when we were there and that created some logistical challenges. The park is huge and there can be a lot of driving time. Reservations were required for the park when we visited but currently that restriction has been lifted. Head to the official Yosemite parks page for current information here.

If you aren’t staying in the park, getting there as early as possible is crucial to finding a parking space at the site that you are most interested in. We have a family joke and it seems to apply to wherever we travel. Everyone arrives by 10:00 AM. This applies to boating on a lake, going to the beach, and clearly national parks as well. If you can get there much earlier than everyone else then you have a much better chance at finding a spot and having less crowds and lines.

Suggested 3 Day Itinerary

It’s always easier to know what to do once you’ve been somewhere. We found the information about Yosemite a bit overwhelming and it was hard to come up with our plan. We thought we’d share some information to make it easier for first time visitors to get the lay of the land by providing a suggested three day itinerary. Note that this can be for people who are active or those who have some physical limitations. Much of the suggested itinerary involves driving to viewing areas. If you want more exercise add more hikes to your day.

NOTE: Scroll down to see our images and descriptions of our 3 day adventure in Yosemite.


Day 1: Yosemite Valley Area and Hikes
  • Mist Trail (moderate) - The mist trail is the most difficult trail on our list and may be challenging for anyone with walking issues (or arthritis) due to the incline of the trail, but we saw young children and families on the trail and they were able to make it with frequent stops. The trail is paved the entire way and there is water and bathrooms at the bridge viewing area below the falls.
  • Lower Yosemite Falls (easy) - This is a very short flat hike to the lower falls.
  • El Capitan - turnouts along Big Oak Flat Road (Highway 120 to Yosemite Valley) provide stunning views of El Capitan and Half Dome. Stop and take your time enjoying the views.
Day 2: Glacier Point
  • Tunnel View on the way to Glacier Point - This is a turn out just before the tunnel on the way to the Glacier Point viewing area.
  • Glacier Point Viewing area (driving). Amazing views await you at the main viewing area for Glacier Point. There is a large parking lot and bathrooms and water available at the viewing area. Take a picnic lunch and enjoy the vistas.
  • Hikes: Sentinel Dome and Taft Point are two hikes near the Glacier Point viewing area. Parking can be challenging if the buses aren’t running. The parking is along the road there isn’t a parking lot. These are considered moderate trails so gauge your ability to do them. More information can be found here.
Day 3: Sequoia Groves - Merced Grove or Tuolumne Grove and Tuolumne Meadows or Mariposa Grove
  • Merced Grove: This is closest to the entrance on route 120 and is the smallest grove with about 20 Sequoia trees but the least crowded. It’s a 3 mile round trip hike. It’s downhill to the grove and uphill rising about 600 feet on the way out. It’s a very pleasant hike.
  • Tuolumne Grove and Tuolumne Meadows. First of all Tuolumne is pronounced like this...too.aa.luh.mee. Everytime we read the word we would get stuck so now you know how to pronounce it and can move forward. The grove is a 2.5 mile round trip hike. It’s downhill on the way in and rises about 400 feet on the way out. There are a few dozent trees in the grove including one that you can walk through. If you chose this grove and head there early you could also drive over to Tuolumne Meadows (about an hour away) and try one of the hikes there. There are different hikes for different levels. Check them out here.
  • Mariposa grove - furthest drive from the route 120 entrance and is the most popular grove. There are some restrictions during covid that require an additional (x) amount of hiking to get to the trail head. It is the largest grove with several hundred sequoia trees including the grizzly giant which is somewhere between 1900 and 2400 years old. More information about hikes in Mariposa Grove can be found here.
Yosemite Where to Stay

Visiting Yosemite can be challenging. The roads (all of them are two lanes) into the park can be curvy and steep and it’s a little slow going. The park is so big that there can be a lot of driving to see the different sites and planning is important. We stayed at Rush Creek Lodge which is just outside of the park on Route 120 because there wasn’t any availability within the parks when we booked. Rush Creek lodge exceeded our expectations with a bit of rustic luxury during our visit and we can’t recommend it enough. However, if you want to reduce the amount of drive time required and challenges with parking consider trying to book in advance within the park itself close to the area that you want to see the most. The Travel Yosemite site has a list of properties from the luxurious Ahwahnee resort, to the Yosemite lodge to tent cabins and campgrounds, etc.

Day 1: Yosemite Valley

As you can see in this map, Rush Creek Lodge is approximately 25 miles from Curry Village, and the road twists & turns as it descends into Yosemite Valley - and joins Route 140. There are only 3 roads into the park from the western side; routes 120 & 140 and 41 and all 3 join together on the way to the village.

The road into the valley has been turned into a one way loop road to help with traffic flow. Pictures can be taken on the way in and on the way out. You may want to head to one of the parking areas (there are numerous turn-outs to park in or you could park at Curry Village) so that you get a parking place and take pictures on the way out of the park later on if you aren’t staying in the park itself.

There are numerous waterfalls with the biggest attraction being Yosemite falls which is the highest waterfall in North America dropping 2425 feet from the top to the base of the lower falls. We didn’t get to see the falls because it was dry when we went in September. Go earlier in the season if you want to see it in its full glory. Check out images of the falls in Yosemite here.

Yosemite Valley was carved by glaciers and it measures about 7.5 miles long and up to 3500 ft. deep. It comprises only about 1 percent of the park but is where you’ll find the most visitors. It is surrounded by granite peaks such as half dome and El Capitan. The drive into the valley offers views of these giant granite formations.

There are numerous waterfalls with the biggest attraction being Yosemite falls which is the highest waterfall in North America dropping 2425 feet from the top to the base of the lower falls. We didn’t get to see the falls because it was dry when we went in September. Go earlier in the season if you want to see it in its full glory. Check out images of the falls in Yosemite here.

Day 1: Curry Village (formerly known as 'Half Dome Village' in 2019)

Curry Village which used to be known as Half Dome Village has a good sized parking lot and is a great location to park if you want to reach the Mist Trail to Vernal Falls. You can get provisions, eat breakfast, use the rest rooms and ask questions of a Yosemite park ranger about the park and hikes and even rent bikes. Note that some of the text we ran across still mentions Half Dome village. Just remember that they are the same village.

Curry Village also features standard hotel rooms, wood cabins and canvas tent cabin accommodations. Numerous dining options and activities are available at the Village. There is a gift shop, multiple dining options, a bar, a mountaineering school, and an outdoor swimming pool on the premises. Did I forget to mention the public restrooms ? It is a nice central location for accessing numerous hikes and a great place to stay or park for the day to access sites in the valley. When the buses are running you can grab a ride and leave your car parked in the lot for the day.

Day 1: Mist Trail   Map

The Mist Trail climbs 400ft in about 1.6 miles. Along the way you are rewarded with views across Yosemite Valley and then rewarded at the top with views of Vernal Falls. In the spring the falls are really flowing. While we were there it was more like a trickle. visit the National Park Service page for more info.

The Vernal Falls Footbridge crosses the Merced River. The footbridge is a mile from the trailhead and the elevation rise is 300 feet, but neither of those numbers can make you understand how steep the trail was. Even though the difficulty rating is 4 out of 10, it certainly kicked my butt! There is a water fountain there, and you can see how everyone has decided to chill out for a few minutes. From the footbridge, the trail continues up to the top of the Vernal Falls, but since it was dry, we decided to take a break and then head back down."


NOTE: See that mule-train in these images - they were hauling something back down to the bottom, but we have no idea what it was?

Day 2: Glacier Point   Map

As you can see in this map, Rush Creek Lodge is approximately 26 miles from Glacier Point, and the road twists & turns as it descends into Yosemite Valley - so you will need to realize that there is no quick way to drive there! The views along the road to Glacier Point are non-stop fascinating, so the ride is long but enjoyable.

It is a 32.9 mile drive (says Google Maps) from Curry Village to the vista area of Glacier Point, however, it is only approximately 4.5 miles via the Four Mile Trail (one way). It should be noted that the National Park Service states that the Four Mile Trail is strenuous and you should be in excellent hiking condition to do this hike but it is supposed to be the ultimate Yosemite Hike.

Glacier Point is located on the south wall of Yosemite Valley at an elevation of 7,214 feet, 3,200 feet above Curry Village (previously known as "Half Dome"). The point offers a superb view of several of Yosemite National Park's well-known landmarks, including Yosemite Valley, Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, Vernal Fall, Nevada Fall, and Clouds Rest. Between 1872 and 1968, it was the site of the Yosemite Firefall.

The Glacier point overlook allows you to see the entire valley and envision how glaciers formed it 2 to 3 million years ago. The USGS site provides information about the geology of Yosemite.

Day 3: Merced Grove   Map

For our day 3, we chose to visit Merced Grove due to its proximity to our hotel and the fact that it was an easy hike down to see the Sequoia trees. After the previous two days we needed some relaxation and decided to spend the rest of day three hanging out at the Rush Creek Lodge and enjoying the amenities.

The trail was not excessively steep, but it was certainly a continuously downhill grade with very few flat spots. The grove was impressive with about 20 large trees spread out over the last .4 km of the trail. There is a cabin that marks the end of the grove. Once you get to the cabin you know you've seen the bulk of the trees. You can sit and take a rest there before returning back. Bring water and snacks as there aren't any amenities on this trail.

 Merced Grove Trail History  The Merced Grove Trail is a remnant of the old Coulterville Road, a route used by stage coach companies in the 1800's to bring visitors to Yosemite. The Coulterville Road was the first stagecoach road (opened in 1874) that reached the Yosemite Valley floor. Before that, the only way to get there was by horse, mule or foot along treacherous trails. In 1870, the Coulterville and Yosemite Turnpike company was organized by Mariposa County citizens that lived on the north side of the Merced River and near Coulterville to build a wagon road from Bower Cave to the western boundary of the Yosemite Valley Grant. Remember, this was long before Yosemite National Park was created.
Tips for Exploring Yosemite
  • Consider staying inside the park to reduce driving time.
  • If you want to hike, get into shape before your visit - unless you are used to hiking above 7,000 feet you are going to feel the altitude in Yosemite!
  • The spring offers the best views of the waterfalls, many of them dry up later in the summer are not flowing then. There are only a few that flow all year.
  • Layer clothing so you can remove clothes as it warms up during the day.
  • Read the Yosemite paper they give you when you arrive so that you are aware of closures, construction, activities and anything else going on in the parks.
  • Bring a refillable water bottle with you wherever you go. Water and bathrooms can be found on some of the most popular hikes but don’t assume it will be there.
  • Pack snacks for eating during your hikes (bring more than you think you will need).
  • Make sure your cameras have enough battery power for an entire day adventure. Bring extra power to ensure your camera or phone doesn’t die on you.
  • Avoid crowds by going early - seriously - go early or you won’t get parking which is even more important during COVID restrictions. The buses are not operating in 2021.
  • Rest during the heat of the day.
 Camera Equipment Utilized 
 
 
 
  • California Road Trip Overview Page: This page will give you a view of the entire trip, including maps and other information regarding each of our destinations; click here to read more.
  • San Francisco: our arrival airport as well as our first adventure in California - we explored it via walking, cable car as well as uBer. Click here to view our San Francisco page.
  • Bonita Point & Sausalito: We visited this area as we drove north from San Francisco to wine country. Click here to view our Bonita Point & Sausalito page.
  • Santa Rosa / Sonoma County: This is the heart of Sonoma Wine Country, and we explored this area with enthusiasm. Click here to view our Santa Rosa / Sonoma County page.
  • Muir Woods National Monument: One of the few Coast Redwood Forests remaining, the trees are stunning. After hiking about, we headed north through Muir Beach & Stinson Beach. Click here to view our Muir Woods National Monument page.
  • Rush Creek Lodge & Spa: . A beautiful place to stay, right on California Route 120 at the western edge of Yosemite National Park. Click here to view our Rush Creek Lodge & Spa page.
  • Yosemite National Park: A large and beautiful park, with amazing geography. Click here to view our Yosemite National Park page.
  • Forestiere Underground Gardens, Fresno, CA: We discovered this interesting place as we were searching for a good lunch spot in Fresno. The way it was built, and how the builder created such a fascinating home was well worth the time we spent there. Click here to view our Forestiere Underground Gardens page.
  • Santa Barbara, CA: This was the start of our "coastal drive" through California, and this city is such a great place to start such a drive. Click here to view our Santa Barbara page.
  • Coast Highway, CA: Even though we were looking forward to seeing Monterey, part of our enthusiasm was due to being able to drive north on this highway. Click here to view our Coast Highway page.
  • Monterey, CA: Somewhat of a "living museum" but now adjusting to life as a "tourist destination", this is a neat town that has a split personality, ie; one part bayside beach tourist town and the other part a typical California beach town where residents live. Click here to view our Monterey page.
  • Carmel-by-the-Sea, CA: This was a day trip drive we took to Carmel-by-the-Sea as we drove south to hike at Point Lobos. Click here to view our Carmel page.

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