Yosemite travel diary

When I was a kid, we mostly went to the beach or lake for vacation—my family was not super outdoorsy, and we definitely weren't campers. I still love a good beach vacation, and living in California, it may seem like a pretty obvious choice, but with all the Covid craziness still in full effect, we wanted to stay away from people and be outdoors as much as possible. Neither Sean nor I had ever been to Yosemite, so when it reopened with limited capacity, we decided to tack it on to our Big Sur trip. So while we got a week-long pass, we ended up going only three days; you could definitely hit the major sights all in one day if you got an early enough start, or you could spend an entire week in the park—there's so much to see and do there. Oh, and did I mention how insanely beautiful it is? It's kind of surreal to see in real life things you've seen in so many photographs and movies—sort of like the first time you go to Paris or New York, but it's all nature. Now that I sound like a total city slicker (which, of course, I am), here's how we spent our three days in Yosemite. 

Day one
Yosemite Valley is where you can access most of the notable sights, and unless you're driving up from Southern California, you'll most likely enter from the west, along Route 140. As you get into the Valley, the main road turns into a one-way loop; most people take the small detour to Tunnel View, which you'll probably recognize from Ansel Adams photos, however we meant to do this on the second day and kind of forgot, so that's on the list for next time. Instead, we stopped at Bridalveil Falls, which indeed looks like a bridal veil, thanks to its mistiness. The (easy, we're told) trail was partially closed when we were there, but we were able to get close enough. 

When you park at Bridalveil Falls, you also get a perfect view of El Capitan, the 3,000-foot cliff that may look extra familiar if you've seen the movie Free Solo (which I'd highly recommend, if you need something new to stream). We spotted a verrrrry tiny someone climbing the face of it while we were there—equally terrifying and cool. 

We stopped for a picnic lunch at the Swinging Bridge, which, full disclosure, does not actually swing, but there's a little beach area there, and you can wade into the Merced River. There are also trails leading into the adjacent meadow, and you can get a nice view of the surrounding peaks. If you want to do an easy hike, you can also do the Cook's Meadow Loop, which is totally flat and allows you nice views of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Falls. 

Speaking of which, the Lower Yosemite Falls trail was definitely the most crowded trail of the day, but also the most accessible one and, of course, totally worth it. We stuck our feet in the creek afterward, which felt lovely after several hours of hiking. 

Day two
Our AirBnB (more on that later) was equidistant from the western and southern entrances, so on our second day, we decided to hit the southern part of the park, coming in via Route 41 and Wawona Road (this is how you'd enter the park if you're coming from Southern California). I will say, I definitely liked the vibe of this area better—it felt more off the beaten path. Our first stop was the Mariposa Grove, except the parking area was closed, so we did a 2-mile hike there and back from the welcome center. I'd call the hike moderately challenging—it's very uphill on the way there—and note that once you get to the Mariposa Grove, it's another half mile to see the Grizzly Giant. As the risk of sounding weary, I will say that we elected not to do that, knowing that we still had to hike 2 miles back to the car, and living in California, we've seen our share of huge Sequoia trees already. If you're visiting from afar, the hike is probably worth it, but under ideal circumstances, the parking lot would be open and you could save your feet for a more interesting hike. 

After a late lunch along the south fork of the Merced River, near the Pioneer Center, we headed north along Wawona Road, which according to Sean, would have been an amazing road to drive had he not had to contend with a speed limit, park rangers, or tourists. We branched off onto Glacier Point Road en route to Glacier Point, which is another of the most famous points of view in the park, because you can see Yosemite Falls, Half Dome, and the valley from the top down. I also loved the vibe along Glacier Point Road, and had we had more time, I would have loved to explore some of the trails along it. We did hop out of the car at Taft Point on the recommendation of a friend, who said its views were just as good as Glacier Point's, but there's no barrier and only a fraction of the tourists. She was right (I'm assuming)—you have to do a two-mile hike each way, but it's easy, and the views were so beautiful, we ended up staying there for sunset. We never made it to Glacier Point but, again, we'll save it for next time. 

Day three
Considering we did 21,500 steps the previous day (no, I will not shut up), we decided to take it easy on our final day in Yosemite. Previously, we had noticed several groups of people floating down the Merced River on rafts; under normal operating conditions, you can rent one, but the rental office is unfortunately closed for 2020. Sean, however, had the genius idea to buy one, so we're now the proud owners of a three-seat inflatable raft (with paddles), which we christened Sea Señorita. We parked at the Sentinel Bridge, launched our raft on the east side (just past the bridge, toward Curry Village), and drifted lazily down the Merced for the next few hours. 

Ok, I sort of lied about the lazy part—there are definitely portions with a strong current and/or obstructions that Sean had to steer us through. But it was a pretty fantastic experience all around—we may have brought some adult beverages to enjoy along the way—and we got some amazing views of the park. We got out at Sentinel Beach, deflated Sea Señorita, and walked a little over a mile back to our car. I'd highly recommend seeing Yosemite via raft—it was super fun and, for the most part, incredibly relaxing.

Where we stayed
As I mentioned earlier, I am not a camper and we were trying to remain as socially distant as possible, so we rented an AirBnB near Mariposa, which is a cute little town about 50 minutes west of Yosemite. (Midpines is even closer.) There are a bunch of nice-looking hotels inside the park and just outside, to the west and south, if your risk-averseness is higher than ours, and of course, there are plenty of places to camp inside the park, although many of them require advance reservations. We had a hour-long drive to and from the park every day, but I loved coming back to our cabin, particularly because it had a hot tub. We cooked dinner every night in the outdoor kitchen and slept like bears. 

Important things to know
Speaking of bears, we didn't see any, but they're apparently rampant in the park—if you're camping, you have to lock up your food, and all of the trash cans have an elaborate clasp so that bears can't get into them. Apparently if bears start eating human food, it changes their behavior and causes all manner of problems for them and for humans, which is not good. So don't feed the bears! We did, however, see several deer.

The other thing I wanted to mention is that when you get your pass, make sure you are actually planning to enter the park on the first day you're registered for. I had added in a day of buffer on ours (we technically didn't go into the park until our second day) and the park ranger gave me a really hard time about it and almost didn't let us in—apparently this "rule" is disclosed in the terms and conditions, but perhaps it should be more prominently noted! 

Ok, one more thing: there are normally buses that run through the park, but those are also out of commission for 2020. You can, however, rent bikes at the Yosemite Lodge, and I should note that since reservations are highly restricted at the moment, there are far fewer people in the park than normal. We felt kind of spoiled seeing Yosemite this way (there was very little traffic too) but were incredibly glad we did. If you've never been to Yosemite—or have been wanting to go back—now's the time to go! 


Carrie @ Curly Crafty Mom said...

How beautiful! This is on my places to see someday. Yes, outdoorsy things are a must this summer to stay safe!


Nancy 's Fashion Style said...

Fantastic! I love nature Parks! Yosemite looks amazing and so wide!

Darlene said...

Wow, what a great time to go! Beautiful photos. Thanks for sharing!

xx Darlene

Shelbee on the Edge said...

Cheryl, I love this post! My husband and I honeymooned at Yosemite 10 years ago and we visited all those same places. Thanks for the fun memories! Your photos are so great!