Home » 2019 August in Yosemite Valley

Yosemite Valley, CA

Wednesday, August 14, 2019 - 6:00pm by Lolo
245 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 6 night stay


Day 1 - Arrival and Prep for Hike to Half Dome “Diving Board”

Welcome Toast to another Yosemite Valley adventureWelcome Toast to another Yosemite Valley adventureAlthough we have been to Yosemite more than a dozen times, the scenery driving into the Valley still takes my breath away, no matter what the season.

August is quite hot in the Valley, so the Merced River which meanders through it becomes a welcome respite from the heat. Although it was a little too late in the day for us to start inflating our tubes and floating - that would happen when the kids joined us, a chair and a glass of wine beside the river bank sure was nice.

I could see, however, that Herb was pretty preoccupied with his plan to hike up to the Half Dome “Diving Board” tomorrow to photograph it during sunset, moonrise, and sunrise,” so we went back to the campsite for him to start preparing for his adventure.

As an avid photographer, the Diving Board has been on Herb’s bucket list for some time now. It is the location of one of Ansel Adams’ most famous photographs - Monolith, the Face of Half Dome, which he took in 1927.

Alpenglow over Half DomeAlpenglow over Half DomeThe problem is that there is no trail to the Diving Board, so getting there requires some strong navigation and route finding skills. Fortunately, unlike me, Herb has both of those. Plus, he had downloaded tracks from others that have hiked there onto his phone so that he would have some guidance.

One of the main reasons for going tomorrow was that it would be a full moon, which would provide some added drama to an already incredible subject.

Since the hike is a grueling 10.5 miles, with 3,700 feet of elevation gain, and several miles of bushwhacking, Herb packed a tent and sleeping bag to spend the night if necessary, which we both were pretty sure it would be. He didn’t bring much food though as he had no bear canister to store it.

I was quite nervous about the whole thing, but Herb was confident and quite determined to finally do this.

Day 2 - Herb hikes to the Diving Board and Lolo plays in the Valley

Lolo sets off on her Valley Loop runLolo sets off on her Valley Loop runBefore sunrise, we said our goodbyes, and I watched Herb set off through the campground towards Happy Isles, where he would start his hike up the Mist Trail past Vernal Falls before veering off the established trails and start bushwhacking to his destination. But, I will leave that for him to describe on day 3 when he wandered somewhat bedraggled back into camp.

In the meantime, I had a whole day alone in the Valley to figure out how to fill. I don’t particularly like missing out on a big adventure, so I decided that if Herb was going to have an epic day, I would too. So, I came up with this plan that I would run around the entire Valley - all 15+ miles of it, making stops along the way. It was a bit of an ill-conceived plan.

Meanwhile Herb is bushwhacking his way up to the Diving BoardMeanwhile Herb is bushwhacking his way up to the Diving BoardThe first 9 miles or so were awesome. I stopped to take pictures of Half Dome and Yosemite Falls, and even stopped in the Visitor Center to purchase a Yosemite Theater Live ticket for that evening’s performance of John Muir’s Wild Mountain Adventures - more about that later.

After drinking some water at the Visitor Center, I continued along the Valley Loop dirt trails, rather than the paved bike path, passing through the climbers’ Camp 4, across the road and along the Merced River for awhile, past El Cap and then eventually on to El Cap Meadow.

At El Cap I had the choice of taking the El Capitan Bridge over to the Southside of the river and back to the campground, which would have made it about an 8-mile loop, but I wanted an epic, so on I went along the Northside Drive all the way out to Valley View - one of my favorite viewpoints of the Valley.

Lolo's view from Valley View (9 miles into my run)Lolo's view from Valley View (9 miles into my run)At this point it was getting pretty hot - probably low 90s - and I hadn’t had a water stop in awhile, so I figured I would take a brief detour to the Bridalveil Fall Trailhead where they were sure to have water. No water. Just lots and lots of people. Arrgghh.

The running was starting to get less and less fun. I forged on, stopping at both Cathedral Beach and Sentinel Beach to get water, but to no avail. Finally at mile 13, I gave up and waited at the trailhead for Four Mile Trail for the shuttle, which would drop me off back at the campground.

I was pretty exhausted, so I just hung out at the campsite, reading by the river and worrying about where Herb was now.

Fortunately, I had the John Muir performance to go to tonight to take my mind off things. We had been to one of these shows before, so I knew it would be entertaining and distracting.

Herb's view along the way to the Diving BoardHerb's view along the way to the Diving BoardLee Stetson has been playing the role of John Muir in this theater since 1983, and I highly recommend attending one of his performances. You will be absolutely convinced you are spending a delightful evening with John Muir.

Last time, we had seen “Conversation with a Tramp: An Evening with John Muir,” where we shared an evening with him waiting for the decision on his beloved Hetch Hetchy. This performance, “John Muir’s Wild Mountain Adventures,” was more of an audience participation event, where we all got to ask him questions about his life and experiences.

For over an hour I was mesmerized and completely absorbed in the self-reflections of this great man who did so much to preserve Yosemite for all of us to enjoy. Stetson was incredibly convincing in his role as he rambled on about his childhood, his obsession with the beauty of Yosemite, and his many adventures both there and in Alaska.

I wish it had gone on longer so I wouldn’t have to think about how Herb was doing up on the Diving Board. It looked so dark and lonely up there.

Day 3 - Herb returns from the Diving Board

The bagel and coffee I tried to bring Herb before eating it myselfThe bagel and coffee I tried to bring Herb before eating it myselfIt was weird waking up in the motorhome alone. I hoped all went according to plan and that I would be seeing him sometime in the next few hours.

At 9:00 am, I started feeling antsy just sitting around, so I decided to take my bike out on the Happy Isle loop and see if I could meet up with Herb coming down, greeting him with the coffee and bagel with cream cheese I had put in my backpack for him.

I rode the whole loop, but no Herb. I don’t know why I would think he would be down this early, as the hike would easily take 5 or 6 hours, but I just felt like I had to do something.

Herb's photo of Vernal Falls on the hike down from the Diving BoardHerb's photo of Vernal Falls on the hike down from the Diving BoardAt 11:30, I set out again, and locked my bike up near the start Mist Trail, where Herb would eventually appear. Rather than just sit around, I started hiking up the trail thinking we might cross paths. I made it all the way to the top of Vernal Falls, but still no Herb, so I ate his bagel and drank his coffee.

Realizing this was futile, I started hiking back down, pausing only to take photo of Vernal Falls with a rainbow at its base. Ironically, we would later find out that Herb took almost the identical photo just 25 minutes after I did, so we had just missed each other.

Around 2:30 in the afternoon, Herb wandered into the campsite, looking bedraggled and tired. “Well, I’m glad that’s done with,” he said.

I’ll turn over the narrative to him now, so he can share his experience:

Herb - blah blah

blah blah

blah blah

blah blah

Relaxing on the Ahwahnee patio after a very tiring day for both of usRelaxing on the Ahwahnee patio after a very tiring day for both of usLater that evening, after dinner and some well needed rest on Herb’s part, we hopped on our bikes and rode over to the Ahwahnee. I absolutely love the Ahwahnee and the fact that its lovely lounge and grounds are open to all Yosemite visitors and not just hotel guests. We definitely have taken advantage of their hospitality over the years.

This was the first time, however, that we sat out on the back patio with a bottle of wine. We had the whole outdoor area to ourselves. Appropriately, our table had a great view of Half Dome, so Herb pointed out the “Diving Board,” which is the large cliff that juts out the right side of Half Dome about half way up its face. Pretty awesome accomplishment.
The wine must have impaired those great navigational skills Herb used finding the Diving Board, because on our bike ride back to the campground, we missed a turn and wound up riding the whole Happy Isle loop - my third time today! We didn’t mind though, because cruising on a bike through the Valley at night is a very exhilarating experience.

Day 4 - Rafting down the Merced River

The ladies being pulled behind the raft on our trip down the MercedThe ladies being pulled behind the raft on our trip down the MercedMy favorite people in the world were arriving today - Andrew and his wife Celeste, and Tommy and his fiancee Erin -- so I was pretty excited. It was too hot to rock climb, so we had all agreed that a great alternative would be rafting down the Merced River through the Valley.

Since what goes down a river must come up, Herb and Tommy dropped one car down at Cathedral Beach where we planned to end our journey.

We launched our very seaworthy Avon Redshank raft and with 3 tubes tied behind it at the bridge near the entrance to the Upper Pines Campground. The ladies (Celeste, Erin, and I) manned (or more correctly, womanned) the tubes while the men got in the raft.

Motherly loveMotherly lovePerhaps tying the tubes to the raft wasn’t a great idea, because it wasn’t long before Celeste’s tube got caught on a branch flipping her over and taking her tube away. Once we reunited Celeste and her tube, we untied them from the raft and let them float freely.

After a few more fiascos with tubes getting caught, we all got in the raft and took turns rowing. It was quite lovely just lying back watching the incredible scenery pass by - Royal Arches, Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome, to name a few.

Primitive baseballPrimitive baseballAfter about 2 ½ hours we came to Sentinel Beach where we were greeted by a sign that said all rafts/tubes must come out at this point. That was unfortunate, as our car was parked about 2 miles down the road at Cathedral Beach.

Andrew volunteered to run down the road to the car, but then we realized that he didn’t know how to drive stick shift, so I ran with him.

By the time we got back, the rest had deflated the raft and the tubes, and we were ready to go.

After dinner at the campground, we all walked to the Ahwahnee (as there weren’t enough bikes for us) to enjoy wine and cheese on the Ahwahnee patio again.

Day 5 - Kids Depart and Herb and I Bike Ride

Brunch at the AhwahneeBrunch at the AhwahneeAndrew and Celeste left early to get back home, but Tommy and Erin hung around with us to have Sunday brunch at the Ahwahnee, which has become somewhat of a tradition with us.

Traffic getting out of the Valley can be somewhat horrendous on a Sunday afternoon, so Tommy and Erin smartly drove their van to the El Cap meadow on the Northside Drive and then biked back to meet us at the Ahwahnee.

When we presented ourselves at the Grand Dining Room, we were seated at the highly coveted Queen’s Table, named for the fact that this is where Queen Elizabeth sat during her visit to Yosemite. My guess is she didn’t get here by bike.

Alpenglow over Half DomeAlpenglow over Half DomeAs always, the food was absolutely delicious and beautifully presented, but for me it’s the elegant setting and the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows that keep me coming back.

Afterwards the four of us rode our bikes around the Valley for awhile before Tommy and Erin left to go back to Berkeley.

Later that evening, Herb and I took our bikes out again, but this time to one of our old favorite spots - the Ahwahnee Meadow, where there is a fabulous view of Half Dome. We set out our beach chairs and sat back and watched the color of Half Dome change from grayish white when we first arrived, to yellow in the evening, to orange at sunset, and finally red at aspenglow.

The best show in town!

Day 6 - Tuolumne Grove and Wedding Venue search

Tuolumne GroveTuolumne GroveOn their way home yesterday, Tommy and Erin stopped at the Evergreen Lodge in Groveland, just outside Yosemite, to look at a possible venue for their wedding next Fall. They really liked it, so we thought it might be helpful if we checked it out as well - and maybe even have lunch to make sure the food was good.

Since we had some time to kill before lunch, we stopped along the way to hike the Tuolumne Grove Trail near Crane Flat to one of the three Giant Sequoia groves in Yosemite. The hike itself goes along the Old Big Flat Road, a narrow paved road that has long been closed to vehicles, and descends about 400 feet into the grove of about a dozen Giant Sequoias. At the bottom, a short loop path passes through the base of the tunnel tree and continues past several other giant sequoia, both alive and dead. I actually crawled through the inside of the trunk of a dead one. From there we hiked back up the road to the parking lot for a total of about 3 miles.

El CapEl CapWe continued on to the Evergreen Lodge, which is on the road to Hetch Hetchy. As soon as we got there, we knew immediately that it was perfect for Tommy and Erin - lovely setting, charming rustic cabins, an old historic tavern, swimming pool, etc. Yosemite has been a very important part of their lives, so what better place to celebrate their union.

The wedding event planner wasn’t there, but we got a tour of the facilities and then had a very nice lunch. I think the search for a venue is over!!

We drove back to the Valley, about an hour away, and stopped at Cathedral Beach, which has great views of El Cap. Tommy and Erin actually climbed El Cap together in their early dating days, and if they stayed together through that experience, we knew their relationship was solid. How nice that they would celebrate their wedding here.

Tomorrow morning it was time for us to head home. Another great trip to Yosemite - is there any other kind?


Yosemite National Park lies near the eastern border of California in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its spectacular waterfalls, soaring granite cliffs, and lush meadows are just a few of the reasons it is considered by many to be nature’s ultimate masterpiece. In the words of John Muir, “it is surely the brightest and the best of all the Lord has built.”

This description will focus on Yosemite Valley, which is the section of the park we visited. Although the Yosemite Valley is just a small portion of Yosemite’s 761,268 acres, it is part receives 95% of its visitors. In fact, an estimated 4.1 million people visit the Valley each year, making it extremely crowded.

Two one-way roads traverse Yosemite Valley: the east-bound Southside Drive and the west-bound Northside Drive, which wind through woodlands and meadows along the base of the 3,000-foot-high granite cliffs. As of today, cars are still allowed to enter and drive through the valley, but visitors are highly encouraged to park their vehicles and use the park’s free shuttle bus, which stops at the major attractions in the valley.

Virtual Tour of Yosemite Valley Highlights

  • As you enter the valley, the first sight you’ll see is the 620-foot Bridalveil Falls flowing down from a hanging valley to the valley floor. From the parking area, a short paved path leads to the base of the falls. This is one of the few falls in Yosemite that does not completely dry up in the summer.
  • Just past the Bridalveil Fall parking area, the Southside Drive begins to trace the Merced River. Soon El Capitan comes fully into view. This 3,000 foot high granite cliff is the largest single piece of exposed granite in the world and one of the most famous landmarks in Yosemite. If you look closely, you might see small dots that are actually rock climbers along its face.
  • Continuing east on the Southside Drive are two riverside picnic areas and beaches: Cathedral Beach and Sentinel Beach.
  • Right after the Sentinel Beach parking area is the trailhead for the 4-Mile trail, which ascends more than 3,200 feet from the valley floor to Glacier Point and one of the most spectacular views of the valley.
  • A short distance further is Swinging Bridge, another picnic and swimming area. This area is also the westernmost point of the 8-mile bicycle loop that goes through the eastern part of the valley. From this point on, the bike path parallels the road.
  • Next stop is the picturesque tiny Yosemite Chapel where many outdoor enthusiasts choose to exchange wedding vows.
  • Now you enter the congested and developed portion of the valley.
  • Right past the chapel, you can either take a left onto Sentinel Bridge towards Yosemite Village and the park exit, or you can continue straight towards Curry Village, the campgrounds, and Happy Isles Nature Center. For now, let’s stop at Sentinel Bridge for what is probably the most spectacular Half Dome viewpoint in the park. It’s a great spot for a photograph of Half Dome with the Merced River in the foreground.
  • Continuing east on the Southside Drive, you pass Housekeeping Camp and Curry Village. Curry Village has lodging, restaurants, bicycle and raft rentals, a grocery store, and other shops. Curry Village is also one of the main parking areas in the valley.
  • From Curry Village you can either take Northside Drive across the Ahwahnee Bridge back to Yosemite Village and the park exit, or continue east to the campgrounds. The Happy Isles Nature Center is also this way, but only shuttle buses are allowed on the road to it.
  • The Happy Isles Nature Center features exhibits on the natural history of the park. It also serves as the trailhead for some of the best hikes in Yosemite. 1.5 mile trail leads to the top of Vernal Falls and then continues another 1.5 miles to the top of Nevada Falls (two waterfalls that flow even in the summer time). From there you can continue even further into the backcountry of Yosemite, including the cable route up the back of Half Dome.
  • From Curry Village, the Northside Drive crosses the Ahwahnee Meadow, a wonderful spot to gaze at Half Dome during sunset, and enters Yosemite Village, the main center of visitor services in the park. Here you’ll find the park’s main Visitor Center, restaurants, lodging, shops, a grocery store, a post office, a medical clinic, the Ansel Adams Gallery, an Indian Cultural Exhibit and more. It’s also a good place to park your car and jump on the shuttle.
  • A short dead end road from Yosemite Village leads to the majestic old Ahwahnee Hotel, which has played host to Queen Elizabeth, President John F. Kennedy, and Clint Eastwood, to name a few. This beautiful six-story rock structure offers tremendous views from every room. Within the hotel is the elegant and quite expensive Ahwahnee Dining Room (jackets required for dinner).
  • Back on the Northside Drive heading west from Yosemite Village, the next stop is the Yosemite Falls parking area. At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America. It is actually three waterfalls in one, with an upper, middle and lower section. A short walk from the parking lot along a paved walk leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. This is the most visited landmark in the valley. Except in summer when the fall temporarily dries up, you’ll be sure to be covered in spray.
  • A little further west on the Northside Drive is Yosemite Lodge, which marks the end of the developed area of the park going west.
  • Right after Yosemite Lodge is Sunnyside Campground/Camp 4, a place where most rock climbers choose to congregate. From this campground begins the popular and strenuous Yosemite Falls hike, which ascends 2,600 feet from the valley floor to the top of the Upper Falls. The views from the top are incredible.
  • Continuing west, there is nothing but woods and meadows from which to enjoy the views. Along the road there are several pullouts where you can stop and walk down to the Merced River for a swim. Just after the El Capitan Bridge, you’ll come to the El Capitan Meadow where you’re sure to find people looking through binoculars at the miniscule rock climbers clinging to the granite face.
  • Just to the west of El Capitan, Ribbon Falls plunges over 1,600 feet down to the valley floor. It is the seventh highest waterfall in the world. However, it too dries up in the summer time.
  • Finally the road nears the end of the Northside Drive at Valley View where El Capitan, on the left, and Cathedral Rocks, on the right, frame a magnificent valley view.

Several guided bus tours are also available. The 2-hour Valley Floor Tour is a great way to get acclimated. Visitors ride through the valley in an open tram while a guide leads a informative discussion of Yosemite’s history and geology. There are many photo stops along the way. In addition, there are bus tours out of the valley to Glacier Point, the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees, and Tuolumne Meadows.

Although much of Yosemite can be enjoyed from the comforts of your car or a shuttle, the best way to truly experience Yosemite is do get out and experience it more directly..

Things to do in Yosemite

  • Hike one of the many trails around the valley, ranging from an easy walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls to the strenuous 16-mile round trip hike up the back of Half Dome via cables
  • Take an overnight backpacking trip
  • Bike along the 12 miles of bicycle paths that loop through the Valley. Rentals are available at Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge.
  • Rock climb in one of the premier climbing places in the world
  • Raft down the calm waters of the Merced River through the valley. Rentals are available at Curry Village.
  • Swim or tube in the Merced River. Besides the designated beaches, there are many pullouts along the road from which you can walk down to the river.
  • Join one of the many ranger walks, which are offered daily
  • Take a free art class at the Yosemite Art and Education Center
  • Photograph the amazing scenery of the valley and surrounding granite cliffs
  • Browse the Ansel Adams Gallery and see some of the photographs that first made Yosemite famous
  • Relax in the meadow while gazing up at Half Dome or El Capitan
  • Dine at the 5-star Ahwahnee Hotel, where presidents and royalty have stayed

Although many try to see Yosemite in a day, it is best to devote several days to seeing all the park has to offer. Besides the numerous hotels, lodges, and cabins in the Valley, there are three RV campgrounds: Upper Pines (238 sites), Lower Pines (60 sites), and North Pines (81 sites). That’s less than 400 campsites to accommodate all the people that want to camp here.

Since these campgrounds usually fill-up within the first hour they become available, it is essential to make your reservations as soon as possible. Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. For example, if your arrival date is July 15 through August 14, the first day you can make reservations is March 15. The National Park Reservation System can be found at www.recreation.gov. Good luck!

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