Thanks to the screening of our film ‘Bachelor Girls’ in San Francisco and Oakland, we were traveling in California. And no trip to California is complete without visiting its fabulous outdoors with Yosemite National Park on top on our list.
Yosemite National Park lies in the Western part of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in the North of California, USA. The Sierra Nevada are a beautiful range running almost 400 miles north to south, and includes many beautiful natural landscapes including Lake Tahoe, the largest Alpine Lake in America.
Since this was March (2017) the weather forecasts showed plenty of snow with many places in the park rendered inaccessible. So we had to cancel our reservations at Yosemite and instead went to Death Valley. Next week was clearer and we drove to the beautiful Yosemite. There is something extremely visceral about being with nature. And you get a very strong spiritual essence of this as you come closer to a large piece of untrampled wilderness. How we wish more of our beautiful planet was conserved for this very deep connect that we have with the land. We found an excellent stay at Fish Camp in a lovely place called the Narrow Gauge Inn. Surrounded by dense alpine greenery, this was the perfect introduction to Yosemite, The drive from Fish Camp to Yosemite Valley is roughly 36 miles, but it’s beautiful and through winding roads uphill with gentle snow flakes hitting our windscreen, setting the mood for what we were to see ahead.
The first thing that strikes you is the stunning natural beauty of the park. It’s no wonder that John Muir, the celebrated conservationist, fell in love with the Sierra Nevada mountains. Be sure to stop by the visitor center for information and maps/guides. The clarity with which everything is organised and labelled will ensure you are able to enjoy the park on your own. There are parking lots inside, a large convenience store, trails are marked out, the visitor centres will provide all the maps and information, washrooms etc.
If you happen to visit around Winter (check park website for details, but its generally November to March), a lot of the higher elevations and north entrances will be shut. The beautiful Yosemite Valley is open throughout the year.
We could hence see only the valley. Beautiful as it is, we missed seeing the higher elevations like the Tuolumne Meadows and Groves, the Mariposa Groves, etc.
What to see At Yosemite National Park: The Park itself is a beautiful piece of the Sierra Nevada mountains. The landscape itself is gorgeous. Add to that the Giant Sequoia trees that grow to over 300 feet in height and some 30 feet in diameter. These are ancient trees and can now be seen in only three groves (the rest were chopped away by the timber industry before the park was notified for preservation): The Mariposa Grove (near the South Entrance), and the Tuolumne and Merced Groves near Crane Flat. For the latter two, a 2/3 mile hike up an elevation is required. Again, check park website for current conditions. If you have the time and energy for hikes, make sure you do them. The park is best explored on foot. Enquire about the best trails for your time at the Visitor Center. Be careful of wild bears and ask for advice and information at the Visitor Center. Once inside the park, a shuttle bus service can take you quickly to points of interest.
In the summers you will be able to drive right up to Glacier Point. Taft Point and Sentinel Dome are also reachable in the summers and offer a grand view of the valley below. If coming from the South Entrance, Tunnel View offers a fantastic introductory view to the valley and the waterfall. The Bridalveil Falls in the Yosemite Valley are easily reachable. The Lembert Dome is another granite rock hills worth seeing. Olmstead Point offers a rare view of the Half Dome. The Tuolumne Meadow is gorgeous gentle meadow along the Tuolumne River. Can only be reached in late spring or summer.
In winters, spring or fall, a lot of the park will be closed. However you can be assured the South Entrance remains open, and so does the Yosemite Valley. Here you can visit the meadows, Half Dome, El Capitan, Merced River, Bridalveil Falls etc. Do check the National Park Service website for details on what is accessible during your visit.
Geting There: There are 5 park entrances at Yosemite. You can choose any of them based on weather, your starting point, your enthusiasm and any combination of these. (1) The Northern most entrance is the Hetch Hetchy via Highway 120. It may be shut for winters. (2) If you drive from the San Francisco Bay area, you are most like to attempt the Big Oak Flat Entrance. (3) Coming from San Francisco side you could also try the Arch Rock Entrance. It is likely to remain open year round. The closest town here is El Portal where you can find stay, restaurants, gas, shopping etc. (4) South Entrance via Fishcamp if you are coming via Los Angeles or that direction. Fish Camp is a cute tiny town, where you can find stay, food, shopping, etc. (5) Tioga Pass Entrance in the East is an option if you are coming from that direction but it is closed in Winters.
The best place to stay of course inside the park. All the information can be found very easily on the National Park Service website.
Where to stay: There are a few stay options inside the Yosemite Village although they get booked very soon. The Ahwahnee Hotel, also known as the Majestic Yosemite Hotel is a luxury choice and since its expensive, one can generally find a room.