Home » 2013 Yosemite Thanksgiving

Yosemite National Park, CA

Wednesday, November 27, 2013 - 10:15am by Lolo
205 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 4 night stay


Lazy Daze at El CapitanLazy Daze at El CapitanNow that the boys were living on the West Coast and we on the East, planning holiday get-togethers was getting a bit more challenging. Since they didn’t have that much vacation time in their new jobs and the airfare around the holidays is so high, we thought it would make more sense for us to come their way, adding some vacationing on the front and back end of the holiday weekend.

But where to go? I originally thought of Bend, Oregon, a halfway point between Seattle and San Francisco, and that probably would have been really great. But then, just on a whim, I went onto the Recreation.gov website and looked at campgrounds in Yosemite. I wasn’t even sure if they were open this time of year. There it was calling to me – one RV site left in the Upper Pines Campground. My heart started pounding. I didn’t really think this was going to be a possibility. I hadn’t even discussed it with the family yet. For all they knew, Thanksgiving was still going to be in New Jersey.

Family Photo with El CapitanFamily Photo with El CapitanFearing it would be gone if I hesitated, I grabbed the campsite and figured I would ask questions later. Any fee associated with a cancellation was well worth the possibility of doing this. There was one more obstacle to overcome before I brought the family into this plan – where to have our turkey? I had absolutely no desire to cook a Thanksgiving feast in the crowded quarters of our RV kitchen.

A quick search of the Yosemite website showed that there were several Thanksgiving dining options: the Ahwahnee Dining Room, the Mountain Room at Yosemite Lodge, and the Wawona Hotel. I knew the Ahwahnee would be unbelievable but very expensive, and the Wawona Hotel would be a bit too far of a drive, but I figured Yosemite Lodge would be just right. As luck would have it, the only reservation time left for 4 people was 4:00, the exact time I would have selected anyway.

Wawona HotelWawona HotelThe last hurtle was clearing this idea with the family. I really wasn’t sure if the boys had their hearts set on a good old fashioned Thanksgiving at home in New Jersey. Who was I kidding? Like Herb and me, Yosemite was probably their favorite place on Earth, and I barely got the question out before receiving an enthusiastic and resounding “Yes!!” Herb, was a tiny bit more skeptical, however, as he hates the cold and didn’t know what kind of weather to expect in Yosemite in late November.

So that was how our Thanksgiving plans came to be, and now here we were, the four of us together in the motorhome once again, driving to Yosemite. Family morale was extremely high.

We arrived near dusk and, not wanting to waste a moment, quickly headed over to the Ahwahnee Meadow to watch the sun set over Half Dome. Andrew wanted to go for a run, so I went along with him on my bike – the only way I can keep up with him – while Herb and Tommy stayed behind to photograph. It was just so great to be back in the Valley again.

Half DomeHalf DomeAndrew and I decided to run/bike over to Yosemite Lodge to check out the Mountain Room, where we would be having Thanksgiving dinner the next day. The dining room wasn’t open yet, but a peek through the window satisfied our curiosity—not quite the Ahwahnee dining room, but very nice and cozy.

While in the Lodge, we just by chance saw a time schedule for ice skating sessions in Curry Village. I had no idea there even was ice skating in the Valley. My planning skills were slipping. Andrew and I both had the same immediate and very enthusiastic reaction. This was something we definitely had to do, and tomorrow after Thanksgiving dinner would be the perfect time to do it. We could hardly wait to get back and tell Tommy and Herb the good news. Herb was a wee bit less excited than the rest of us, but we knew he would come around when he hit the ice – hopefully figuratively and not literally.

Mariposa Grove, Thanksgiving Dinner, and Ice Skating

Mariposa GroveMariposa GroveFor a different perspective on the Park, we drove down to Wawona and the Mariposa Grove of Big Trees, about 30 twisty miles south of the Valley, but not without stopping first at Tunnel View, a turnout just before the tunnel to Wawona, for the iconic and breathtaking view of El Capitan, Half Dome, and Yosemite Valley in between. It was from this spot that Herb and I got our first view of Yosemite 27 years ago, and I can still remember our awed reaction.

The viewpoint was busy as always, so we had to wait awhile before we could get the stone wall to ourselves to pose for the first of many attempts at the Gaidus Family 2013 Christmas Card shot.

Family Photo at Tunnel ViewFamily Photo at Tunnel ViewBefore hiking in the sequoia grove, we stopped at the historic Wawona Hotel, a lovely two-story, wooden structure that opened for business back in 1879, before Yosemite was even a park. We went inside, mostly because I wanted to peek into the dining room to visualize what their Thanksgiving dinner would be like. It was very warm and cozy and would have been an excellent choice as well.

The main reason we drove down to Wawona, however, was to hike in the nearby Mariposa Grove, a grove of about 500 giant sequoias, many of which are more than 3,000 years old. They are considered to be the largest living things on earth – almost 300 feet tall, 50 feet in circumference, and about 2 million pounds.

Lolo Glowing during the Mountain Room Thanksgiving DinnerLolo Glowing during the Mountain Room Thanksgiving DinnerThe trees are divided into a Lower and Upper Grove connected by hiking trails and a road. During the summer months an open-air tram takes tourists on the road through the grove, past many of the more famous giants. Thankfully, it wasn’t running this time of year and the only way to experience the grove was on foot. Although you can hike both groves for a total of 6 miles, we chose to just do 2.2 miles through the Lower Grove, so that we could get back in time to spend some time in the Valley before dinner. We did see some of the most famous ones, like the Fallen Monarch, the Bachelor and the Three Graces, the Grizzly Giant, the California Tunnel Tree, and my personal favorite, the Faithful Couple.

We drove back to the Valley, stopping once more at Tunnel View for another attempt at the Christmas Card shot under different lighting conditions, and then over to Yosemite Village, which is the main center for visitor services in the park. Our goal in the Village was a hot cup of coffee and then the Ansel Adams Gallery, which is run by his son Michael Adams. There are many wonderful prints on exhibit—actually they are for sale, but I treat this place more like a museum—both by Ansel Adams himself, as well as several contemporary landscape photographers.

Ice Skating in Curry VillageIce Skating in Curry VillageAfter a quick trip back to the RV to shower and change for dinner, we drove over to the Yosemite Lodge for our Thanksgiving dinner. I must say that even if the dinner turned out to be mediocre, none of us would have regretted coming to Yosemite for Thanksgiving. Fortunately, however, that was not the case. The Mountain Room setting was cozy and warm, with wonderful views out its floor to ceiling windows, and the food, with the exception of having to send Tommy’s prime rib, which was totally raw, back for some additional cooking (that’s what he gets for not ordering turkey), was excellent as well. I was so content that I was probably glowing.

Happy Ice SkatersHappy Ice SkatersThe fun was not over yet though. There was still ice skating in Curry Village. If none of us broke a limb, the day would be absolutely perfect. We used to ice skate a lot when the kids were growing up, but none of us had been on skates for probably about 10 years. Let’s just say that it’s not like riding a bike. The boys regained their skills a lot quicker than Herb and I, and soon they were careening at high speed around the rink. I, however, and Herb too to some degree, kind of just shuffled awkwardly around the rink a few times before getting the hang of it again. But when we did, boy was this fun again. I had actually been pretty good in my youth and could skate backwards while doing crossovers and even spin around a little. I actually started doing this, and I would have to say I made the boys proud, and somewhat shocked as well.

It had been such a wonderful day that I hated for it to end, but at least we had three more days to look forward to in the Valley.

Rock Climbing, Sentinel Beach, and Ahwahnee Bar

Tommy at Five and Dime WallTommy at Five and Dime WallFor avid rock climbers, such as Herb and the boys, it is difficult to come to this climbing “mecca” and not at least get on the rock a little. However, Yosemite is famous for its multi-pitch, 3,000 foot routes up granite faces such as El Cap and Half Dome, a feat that requires great technical skill, years of experience, stoutheartedness, and, in my humble opinion, a tad of insanity.

While taking on something like El Cap or Half Dome might be a long-term aspiration, this weekend they were looking for something a bit less extreme, like a short “sport” climbing route or one they could top rope. Before stumbling upon a book called “Yosemite Sport Climbs and Top Ropes,” in the Visitor Center yesterday, they didn’t know that routes like this were an option in the Valley. So thanks to that book, today they would get their chance to rock climb in Yosemite.

Tommy was in charge, because he would be the one leading the climbs, so he got to choose where to go. He chose a cliff called the Five and Dime Wall, located just north of the Valley along Route 120. It was a “sport climbing” wall, which meant that unlike “traditional” climbing where the lead climber has to put protection pieces in the rock as he climbs up to keep from falling to the ground, the bolts and protection are already there, permanently fixed to the rock. It’s a bit safer and quicker to set up a climb than “trad” climbing. They love when I use rock climbing lingo like that.

Andrew at Five and Dime WallAndrew at Five and Dime WallStill though, Tommy had to lead, which meant that of the three of them, he had the greatest potential distance to fall. When you lead climb you are attached to one end of the rope and a belayer has the other end, which he feeds up to you as you move up the rock, keeping as little slack in the rope as possible, while still allowing the climber to move upwards. As you proceed up the rock, you must clip the rope into each of the pre-placed protection pieces as you get to them.

The furthest you can fall, if your belayer is good, is twice the distance from your last protection. In other words, if you climb 4 feet above your last piece of protection and fall, you will fall 8 feet and wind up 4 feet below that last piece of protection you clipped into. You always want to make sure you are not that far above the last protection that you will hit the ground if you fall.

Often, for me, the approach to the base of the climb is the equivalent of the actual climb for them. This was one of those instances. The Five and Dime Wall is located on the downhill side of Route 120, making its top just about level with the road. This meant that we had to climb down rather than up to the base. The trail was so steep that at one point I somewhat kiddingly asked if I should be roped in so they wouldn’t lose me.

Herb at Five and Dime WallHerb at Five and Dime WallWell, we made it down to a nice flat rock at the base of the cliff, where we set up our little base camp. Oh, the other reason Tommy chose this spot to climb was that it had a southern exposure, which meant that we would be in the sun practically the whole day. This really makes a big difference in the Valley at this time of the year. In the shade, we would have needed warm jackets, but here they were actually able to climb with shorts and no shirt.

This really was beyond all expectations – challenging, but doable routes, and warm, sunny weather. I had thought that morale couldn’t possibly get any better than yesterday, but it actually did.

On our drive back into the valley, we stopped at Sentinel Beach, one of Yosemite’s nicest riverside beaches. In the summer months this is a great place to float in a tube on the Merced, gazing up at El Cap, which is probably one of my favorite things to do in the valley. It was warm today, but not quite that warm, so we spent our beach time photographing reflections of El Cap in the river.

El Capitan Reflection in the Merced RiverEl Capitan Reflection in the Merced RiverHerb and the boys still wanted to climb some more, so we headed over to Camp 4, the famous rock climbers’ campground located near the base of Yosemite Falls. Over the last half century or so, the most renowned climbers in the world have used this as their base camp when climbing in Yosemite, climbers I have even heard of like Yvan Chouinard and Royal Robbins. So important was this site to the climbing community, that when its removal was threatened in the late 1990s, a campaign was started to save it. It worked, and today it is listed on the National Register of Historic Places for "its significant association with the growth and development of rock climbing in the Yosemite Valley during the 'golden years' of pioneer mountaineering.”

So here we were, on hallowed climbing ground. Even if you don’t climb, it’s fun to just walk through this camp and watch the climbing and bouldering that goes on here. Also, it was a great base camp for me, because unlike the Five and Dime Wall, there was no treacherous descent to the base. Instead, a nice flat trail ran along its base. This does, however, mean that it is a lot more crowded and you often have to wait to get on the climb you want to do.

El Capitan and Merced RiverEl Capitan and Merced RiverTommy had found a good section to top rope called Swan Slab. This was not a “sport” climb, so Tommy would have to put in his own protective pieces on the way up. However, unlike “traditional” climbing where the leader sets up a belay station on the wall from which he belays the other climbers up to him, with top roping the leader climbs up to a secure anchor point, attaches the rope, and then rapels back down, so that both ends of the rope are on the ground, secured above at the anchor point. Then one person belays from the ground as the next climber goes up the route, removing the protective pieces along the way. The reason that it is safer is that the climber can’t fall very far at all, because the belayer has him tight on the other end.

The Swan Slab, like all climbing walls, had dozens of routes up it with varying degrees of difficulty. That is why everyone has guide books with route descriptions and pictures where each of these routes are on the rock. For some reason, they put me in charge of the book, which I diligently studied trying to identify each of the possible routes. I must have looked somewhat knowledgeable, because several real climbers stopped to ask me if I knew what a particular route was, and surprisingly I actually did. The boys were quite amused.

However, this facade of climbing knowledge only made me look the bigger fool later. Somehow the boys had convinced me that I should climb too. While I had done a bit of climbing in the past (way, way past), I had never felt really comfortable with it and as a result had never gotten good at it. It wasn’t that I was afraid I would get hurt – I knew the belayer would have me, but still I was a bit nervous.

Valley Bike Loop ViewpointValley Bike Loop ViewpointAs Tommy was setting up the top rope, two climbers stopped and asked if we were all going to climb the route that Tommy was starting up on. They were trying to gauge whether or not they should wait for us to finish so they could climb it afterwards. My regrettable response was, “the four of us are each going to take a run up it,” implying that I was actually a legitimate climber and knew what I was doing.

Andrew went next and quickly scaled the wall, removing Tommy’s protective pieces as he should. Then I heard the dreaded words, “Mom, you’re up next.” I somewhat skillfully tied a figure 8 knot and attached it to my harness, perpetuating the myth that I was a climber. I stared at the rock briefly seeing nothing for me to grip or step onto. “The beginning is a little tough,” Tommy said, “but once you get up about 8 feet you’ll be fine. I’ll help you.”

Famous last words. Over the next 10 minutes, I put on what was probably the most embarrassing display of climbing to every take place in Camp 4. I have to give Tommy a lot of credit for trying. Seeing me struggle to get a start, he gallantly cupped his hands for me to place a foot in to step upwards. When both my feet were off the ground, flailing madly, he placed one hand under each of my feet and tried to push me up the rock. I felt like a puppet.

Bouldering El CapBouldering El CapThe climax came when I actually sat on his head for a brief moment before finally hauling myself up beyond his reach. Herb and Andrew were practically rolling on the ground, and to my embarrassment, the climbers I had talked to earlier were still waiting for me to complete my “run up the rock.” I should have been mortified, but at least I was trying. I didn’t see any other 57 year old moms on the rock. The climb actually did get fun after that first part, and I was able to get up to the anchor point and be lowered down without further humiliation.

To prevent any attempts to get me to do another climb, I went off for a run around the Valley, which is not just a physical experience, but a spiritual one as well. Also, I was trying to recover my pride. I actually am a pretty decent runner.

When I got back, it was starting to get dark, but they were still going at it. When the time came for Tommy to climb up to take the top rope equipment down, it was pitch black, and he had to use a headlamp to find his way up the wall. Poor Tommy was really getting the tough stuff to do today – leading the climbs, having his mother use his head as part of the route, climbing in the dark. Everyone was appreciative though, because we wouldn’t have had such a fun day of climbing without his skill and willingness to be such a good sport.

Lolo Bouldering with Tommy as AidLolo Bouldering with Tommy as AidThat evening, instead of cooking dinner in the RV, we headed over to the Ahwahnee Hotel to have dinner at the bar. I absolutely love national park lodges, and the Ahwahnee is one of my favorites. Herb and I stayed here with the boys when they were little, way back in 1996, and it was absolutely incredible. Now whenever we are in the park, we like to come here in the evenings to hang out in the Great Lounge. I always feel a bit self conscious doing this when I am not a hotel guest, but I saw plenty of others who I was convinced were doing the same. In fact, I don’t think the staff minds at all. I’d like to think of it as Yosemite’s living room.

Dinner at the bar was good, much more casual and affordable than the elegant grand dining room. However, I do think that everyone should experience eating in the Ahwahnee dining room at least once during a visit to the Valley. It is an experience one will not easily forget. While the guys were finishing up at the bar, I went over to the hotel desk and made reservations for Sunday Brunch in the dining room. Lucky I did, because they were almost booked already. We thought that brunch would be a nice way to wrap up our weekend.

After dinner we found a private sitting room and played a rousing game of family hearts, where I stunned the family with my bold “shooting of the moon” on the very first round. This really was a very good day, despite my climbing debacle.

Inspiration Point, Sentinel Beach, Base of El Cap, and Ahwahnee

Hiking Back from Inspiration PointHiking Back from Inspiration PointOver the years we have probably done most, if not all, of the hikes there are from the Valley, and although each of them is well worth repeating again and again, we wanted if possible to find something new. For some reason we had never done the hike to Inspiration Point, maybe because technically it starts just outside the Valley at the Wawona Tunnel Overlook, where we had attempted our annual Christmas photo on Thanksgiving.

Although the views from the parking lot were hard to beat, it was always so crowded there, because it required absolutely no effort to get to. What we have always found is that all you have to do is hike 1 mile away from the car to lose the crowd. We figured if we hiked the 2.5-mile steep trail up to Inspiration Point, not only would we be able to more leisurely compose another attempt at the annual Christmas shot, but who knows, maybe the views could get even better.

Relaxing at Sentinel BeachRelaxing at Sentinel BeachWe probably passed only about a dozen people, if even that many, on the trail, and when we got to the viewpoint itself, we were the only ones there. The views might not have been objectively better than those from the parking lot, but it certainly felt like they were from the solitude of this ridge.

It was so beautiful that it seemed almost unreal, like one of those fake backdrops they put behind you in a photo studio. Without the pressure of a lineup of people waiting to stand in the same spot, we got the shot that did become our 2013 Christmas photo.

At the Base of El CapAt the Base of El CapThe rest of the day, we passed leisurely in the Valley, stopping for awhile at the El Cap Meadow and then again at Sentinel Beach. We actually dragged our chairs out to the beach, but didn’t last very long. Once the sun starts to dip behind the cliffs at this time of year, the temperatures drop dramatically, and we had to put on all the layers we had. Andrew looked a little like a cross between the Michelin Man and the Great Pumpkin.

We really needed to get out in the sun, along the northern side of the Valley where the sun was still shining on the cliffs. The boys suggested a hike up to the base of El Cap to see where the classic routes up this massive face began. There was a little bit of rock scrambling to do to get there, and I think we got off trail a few times, but getting there wasn’t too bad.

El Capitan BaseEl Capitan BaseThere are few words to describe the feeling you get looking up from the base at this seemingly endless wall of granite – but awe-inspiring, breathtaking, daunting, and intimidating come to mind. We regretted not bringing climbing gear so that we could have at least climbed a little bit of El Cap, but the boys did boulder a bit at its base. Of course the family conversation turned to what it would take to get me up this entire climb, and how they would have to put me in a bag and just haul me up behind them – hahaha, very funny.

Somehow on the way back down from the base, Herb and Tommy separated from me and Andrew, and I just obliviously charged on, leading us into a field of boulders that we had to clamber over. Andrew, thinking that I had Herb in our sights, now questioned the wisdom of letting me lead. I knew we couldn’t get too lost. All we had to do was keep the big fella behind us. I was really cranky by the time we met up with Herb and Tommy on the bottom.

That night, sadly our last in Yosemite, Andrew cooked us a delicious Penne Vodka dinner in the RV. Thanks to Celeste’s training, he was becoming a very good cook, and an enthusiastic one as well. It was a pleasure watching him in the kitchen.

Afterward we went back to the Ahwahnee for one more time and sat in one of the cozy sitting rooms reading and chatting.

Ahwahnee Brunch

Ahwahnee BrunchAhwahnee BrunchWell, here it was, our last day in Yosemite. I wasn’t sure whether to be sad or ecstatic that we could still have had such a great time together. I guess I was a little of both.

We still had one more classic Yosemite event left – Sunday brunch in the Ahwahnee dining room. When we got there, we requested a table in the alcove at the back of the dining room, where we had eaten on previous occasions, one of which was Tommy’s 16th birthday. So far, however, we have never been able to get the Queen’s Table, named for the fact that this is where Queen Elizabeth sat during one of her visits here. Still, no matter where you sit, you do feel a bit like royalty when dining here. The food was absolutely delicious and beautifully presented as always, but for me it’s the elegant setting and the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows that are the main attraction.

Afterwards we wandered back over to the Visitor Center and watched the national park movie about Yosemite playing in the auditorium. I think we were all just stalling, not wanting to leave just yet.

In summary, it had been what one of the boys -- I’m not sure which, but I think they both felt the same way -- described as “Our best family vacation ever,” and believe me, that’s saying a lot..


Andrew at Approach to YosemiteAndrew at Approach to YosemiteYosemite 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.

Tommy at Approach to YosemiteTommy at Approach to YosemiteTwo 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!

Yosemite National Park location map in "high definition"

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