“There are few places where reality exceeds the imagination. Yosemite is one of those places” – Shelton Johnson
Back in 2012 I briefly visited Yosemite National Park and immediately fell in love. I promised myself to come back for a longer period of time, and this year I was lucky enough to win a 5 night holiday to the park (Thank-you Ray’s Outdoors)! Such an amazing surprise and it inspired me to extend the trip and take a total of 13 weeks to venture through the rest of the country. “When in Rome”…
Yosemite is a popular travel destination for locals and international visitors alike. And how could anybody argue with the stunning beauty of the dramatic valley with its dizzying granite peaks of El Capitan and Half Dome, plentiful waterfalls and wide meadows bordering the Merced river that meanders through the valley floor. Visiting the park in November meant some parts of the park were closed due to snow and ice and little water in the waterfalls, but instead we encountered the striking colours of the turning autumn leaves and a much quieter, less busy park.
We had out own hire car (got a great rate through carrentals.com, picked up in San Francisco – about a 3.5 hour drive to the park), which I highly recommend if you want to explore the park well. There are free shuttles that run into and through the park, but they can limit what you can see and during the ‘off’ season, do not run as frequently or as far into the park. So hire your own car! And make sure to fuel up before entering as the fuel you can find is expensive! The park entry fee is $20 per car for 7 days and the park map and park newspaper are full of important information. The rangers at the visitors centre can also give great information on what parts of the park are accessible in that season and what trails are recommended. Included in our prize was a Valley Floor 2 hour bus tour ($25 per person), which was, despite my hesitations about organised tours, really fantastic and gave excellent information about the park.
I stayed in Mariposa for 2 nights, which was great as it gave me some time to explore the cute little town and had access to restaurants and a grocery store (great variety of products and you must try the delicious local Half Dome beer). Mariposa is the closest town to the south entrance to the park. The three nights we spent in the park, at Yosemite West, were great as I did not have to commute into the park (Mariposa is about an hour’s drive from Yosemite Valley, but it is a beautiful drive and passes quickly), but had to stock up on food, as even though there is a grocery store in Yosemite Valley, it has limited supplies and is quite expensive.
During the time there I did some smaller hikes in the valley (Mirror Lake [a seasonal lake, thus empty at this time of year] and part of the Valley Floor Trail) and one full day of hiking to Glacier Point. Usually one can drive to Glacier Point, but the day before I arrived they got a huge dumping of snow which closed the road up there. So what do a couple of hiking enthusiasts do instead? Hike the 20km roundtrip (from the strenuous and icy 4 Mile Trail, to Nevada and Vernal falls via the Panorama Trail) for what I believe to be one of the best views in the park.
Unfortunately the snow had also closed Tioga Rd that leads to the Toloumne meadows and to the trailhead of the track to Clouds Rest that I had hiked in 2012. But, nature is as nature does so we had to put that one on the backburner for another time as we were not prepared to hike what would be the very dangerous snow covered trail to Clouds Rest from the valley floor.
When the roads opened I also headed to Wawona and the giant sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove. These immense trees range from ‘only’ a few hundred years old to 1800 years old (Grizzly Giant – 8m wide at the base!) and tower great and tall over people and other trees. These enormous trees glow red in the afternoon sun (hence the nickname Redwoods) and ooze the wisdom of hundreds of years gone by.
“Everything about this ancient race of trees is heroic in scale and cannot be absorbed in a single glance. You must spend quality time among them” – Sharon Giacomazzi
There are a few accommodation and eating options within the park but one of the most spectacular is at the Ahwahnee Hotel in the east end of the valley. Built in 1927, this large timber hotel has a gorgeous view and a lovely lounge with an open fireplace, a large dining hall and a lobby bar. I enjoyed a hot chocolate and people watched the fancy rich people that could afford to stay there.
We had an absolutely spectacular time in Yosemite National Park! It is a must visit for anyone visiting California, even if you only have a few days, or even better a week! Every season offers something different and highlights diverse beautiful aspects of this part of mother nature.
A huge thank you to Ray’s Outdoors for making this trip possible!