Home » 2016 Yosemite & Eastern Sierra

Yosemite Valley, CA

Thursday, July 14, 2016 - 1:30pm by Lolo
245 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 7 night stay


North DomeNorth DomeYosemite Valley in summer is not for the faint of heart. The crowds are unbearable and unless you’ve figured out a way to leave your car behind, you are destined to spend hours sitting in gridlock in the road that loops around the Valley. Although the views from your car window are incredibly awesome all along the way, there are much more rewarding and peaceful ways to experience all that this place has to offer. Use anything but your car – the free Valley Shuttle, a bike, a tube, your feet, or any combination of these.

As usual, Herb and I arrived in the Valley a day ahead of the boys so that we would have time to get settled and ready ourselves for the physically demanding days ahead.

Bike Riding the Valley Loop Trail

Yosemite FallsYosemite FallsWe always bring our bikes when we come to Yosemite because it’s the best way to cover a lot of ground without stepping foot in a car, so today, as we often do on our first day in the Valley, we set off on our bikes to revisit some old favorite spots and find some new ones as well.

With backpacks loaded with cameras, lunch, and high spirits, we set off on the bike path with the intention of stopping first at the beautiful historic Ahwahnee Hotel, one of the most beautiful lodges in the National Park System. We have so many wonderful memories here that I always feel the need to pay it a visit early in our stay. As soon as I step into the Grand Lounge, with its rustic wooden-beamed ceiling and floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking Royal Arches, I immediately relax and the world outside Yosemite disappears – at least for a little while.

Unfortunately, this historic building has lost its right to call itself the Ahwahnee, due to a legal dispute between the Federal Government, which owns the property, and the outgoing concessionaire, Delaware North, which claimed the rights to the trademarked name. They also required the park to change the name Curry Village to Half Dome Village. I don’t care about any court ruling – this hotel is pretty damn majestic, but it will always be the Ahwahnee to me.

Ahwahnee Grand LoungeAhwahnee Grand LoungeWhile in the lobby, I made reservations for Sunday Bruch. Tommy was turning 25 on Sunday, so I thought it would be a nice surprise. Having a birthday in July when we were often on the road, he has gotten used to having some pretty spectacular birthday meals, so I didn’t want to disappoint. Poor Andrew. His birthday is in May, so his remembrances of birthdays is usually of taking final exams.

The only time that was available was 8:30 am, but I figured that would allow us to have the whole rest of the day to climb before the kids had to head back to San Francisco.

Back on our bikes, we headed over to Yosemite Village, which is the main center for visitor services in the park. As a result, it is pretty crowded throughout the day. However, if you need something during your stay in Yosemite, you’re bound to find it here. There are restaurants, lodging, a grocery store, post office, and even a medical clinic. Our goal in the Village was the Ansel Adams Gallery, which is run by his son Michael Adams.

Yosemite ValleyYosemite ValleyFrom Yosemite Village, we continued on the bike path alongside Northside Drive towards El Capitan. For now, we decided to cruise right on past the Yosemite Falls Vista, as a mob scene had already gathered. This walk is always crowded, in that it requires very little effort for an awesome view from the base of the 2,425-feet Yosemite Falls, the highest waterfall in North America – actually it’s three waterfalls in one, with an upper, middle and lower section. Perhaps we would come back either early in the morning or later in the evening when it would be quieter.

Somewhere after Yosemite Lodge, we ran out of paved bike trail and rode on Northside Drive a bit before getting on a dirt path, which was fine for our mountain bikes, which we had, but might not so great for road bikes.

Soon we came across a lovely, fairly deserted sandy beach with great views of nearby El Cap. It was so hot that we decided to stop for lunch and a refreshing swim. We still find it pretty amazing that no matter how crowded the park is, with a little effort, you can still find pockets of solitude – you just have to get off the beaten path and be willing to walk/ride a mile or so.

Once we were ready to move on, we hung a left across El Capitan Bridge to get over to the Southside Road. Not taking this cutover and continuing on Northside Drive until the next chance to crossover would have added another 11 miles to our ride – not something I wanted to do in this heat.

Herb cooling off in the MercedHerb cooling off in the MercedThere are no bike paths along this part of Southside Drive, so we had to drive along the shoulder of the road for about 3 miles – not something I am particularly crazy about doing with tour buses and tons of cars whizzing by. Also, Herb left me in the dust, which only made it worse.

We found each other again near Swinging Bridge, where we were able to get back on a bike path the rest of the way back to the campground. All in all, the ride was 13 miles.

That evening Herb and I bushwhacked over to the river from our campsite with our tubes and a bottle of wine. While the water was too cold to go in, the wine temperature was just fine, so we enjoyed sitting in our tubes (on land) sipping wine and watching the river flow by.

Back at the campsite, we got to talking to our neighbor Ira, who along with his wife and son, were in Yosemite for the first time. He really had done his research well, because he had a good itinerary planned and some great hikes selected as well.

On Sunday they were going to do the 8.5-mile Panorama Trail from Glacier Point back down to the Valley via the Mist Trail past Nevada and Vernal Falls. Coincidentally, this was exactly the hike we had chosen to do next week after the boys left, as it was the only highly rated one that we had not as yet done in the Valley.

However, Ira was an even better trip planner than me, because he had been smart enough to reserve seats on the Glacier Point tour bus, which was now fully booked for the following week. One-way tickets are $25. I probably would have paid $50, because without one we would have to get to Glacier Point via the poorly named Four Mile Trail, which was a grueling 5 (not 4) miles and 3,220 feet of elevation gain, just to get to the start of the Panorama Trail.

Valley Bike LoopValley Bike LoopDuring the conversation, Ira happened to mention that they were not really “hikers,” which gave us pause, because an 8.5-mile hike in Yosemite, even if it is mostly downhill, is pretty significant. People tend to get in trouble because they think, “Oh I can walk 8.5 miles, but when those miles have serious gains and losses over rocky trails, it can feel like three times the distance. Hopefully, they would not be getting in over their heads.

Hopefully we wouldn’t either by having to add the Four Mile Trail just to get to the starting line. We had a few days though to think about whether we wanted to do that. In the meantime, I was hoping for a cancellation on the shuttle.

Later than night, Andrew, Tommy, and Celeste arrived for the weekend, and as always, it was a happy reunion.

Climbing (Almost), Bouldering, and Tubing on the Merced

Trying to find Sentinel Creek Climbing WallTrying to find Sentinel Creek Climbing WallThe boys and Celeste had arrived late last night and the plan for the day – as is the plan every day on vacation with them – was to rock climb, especially when in Yosemite.

Tommy had diligently studied his Yosemite climbing guides, as well as the Mountain Project website, to select an area to climb in for the day that would be in the shade. Summer is not great for climbing in the Valley because the rock just gets too hot. Rock that has been in the sun for hours can actually burn your hands.

We decided to try a newly developed climbing area in the Sentinel Creek area on the south side of the valley where the north facing wall gets shade most of the day. Finding climbing routes is challenging even on established routes, but as we learned today, new ones are even harder to find. I don’t know why the guide books don’t just put the GPS coordinates for the base of climbs in the directions.

Needless to say, we got pretty lost and never found it, and during the process, had to do quite a bit of rock scrambling. However, on the bright side, during our search we came across the Presidential Boulder, a classic in Yosemite that the boys recognized from photos in the guidebook.

Lolo attempting to boulderLolo attempting to boulderI am not as big a fan of bouldering as of climbing on a top rope. Bouldering is not done on a rock wall, but rather on freestanding boulders. Since the routes are short, rather than use ropes, crash pads are placed on the ground to protect the climber’s fall. Also, other climbers (and sometimes climber’s mothers) spot the person bouldering by standing below with arms outstretched and ready to protect the climber’s head from hitting any rocks off the pad. It’s the thought of falling through free space with no rope to catch me, even if that space is short, that makes me a bit fearful of bouldering.

We were all a bit frustrated about not finding the Sentinel Creek climbing area, so I suggested salvaging the day with a refreshing tubing session in the river. Who wouldn’t be cheered up floating in the Merced while gazing up at El Cap?

Fortuitously, we had parked the car at Sentinel Beach, so it was easy enough to throw the climbing gear in the car, blow up the tubes, and hit the beach. Not to gloat (but I will), I think we all very much enjoyed floating around and refreshing ourselves in the river.

Tubing the MercedTubing the MercedThe boys are driven though and hadn’t forgotten about bouldering, so after about an hour of relaxing, we deflated the tubes, grabbed the crash pads and climbing shoes, and headed a short distance up Four Mile Trail to the Sentinel Boulders, where we spent the next few hours (even me!) trying routes of various difficulties. The same way routes climbed with ropes up rock walls is graded by level of difficulty from 5.4 up through 5.14, boulder routes are graded from V0 to V16. Needless to say, V0 was more than enough of a challenge for me.

After a little slow start, it turned out to be a great day.

Breakfast Brunching at the Ahwahnee and Climbing on Chapel Wall

Sunday brunch in the Ahwahnee grand dining room is something that every visitor to Yosemite should experience once – and probably twice and thrice as well. With a setting this beautiful, the food doesn’t even have to be good to make it a memorable experience, but it is.

Ahwahnee HotelAhwahnee HotelMaking a reservation a few days ahead is strongly recommended as the time slots do fill up quickly. I was only able to get an 8:30 am spot, but actually this worked out best for us in that it allowed us to have a full day of activity afterwards before the boys had to head back to San Francisco and real life.

Knowing how bad traffic in the Valley was going to get later, we moved the RV to a parking spot along Southside Drive near the Yosemite Chapel, where we planned to climb later on, and drove the car over to the Ahwahnee.

Breakfast was wonderful as always. As usual, the waiter tried to push the buffet, which at $48 a person is very pricey for breakfast, but instead we asked for the ala carte menu and ordered from there – a much more reasonable, but yet very tasty and ample option. I highly recommend the French Toast.

Although Tommy’s birthday was a week away, we chose to declare this his official birthday meal. As I have mentioned several times in the past, Tommy’s birthday celebrations often occur during one of our road trips, so he is used to having some pretty awesome birthday meals, and this was about as awesome as you could get.

After breakfast, we did our traditional stroll around the Ahwahnee backyard, and then headed back to the RV to get ready for climbing.

Tommy on Chapel WallTommy on Chapel WallChapel Wall, our climbing destination for the day, was to my delight much more accessible than yesterday’s attempts at finding the Sentinel Creek Wall. Plus, it was just a short walk from behind the Yosemite Chapel, which I happen to think is the most adorable church I have ever seen.

The climbing in Yosemite is usually too difficult for my abilities, but there were plenty of routes on Chapel Wall for them to enjoy. I love just sitting back in my Crazy Creek chair watching them climb and taking pictures.

Meanwhile, out in the Valley, Southside Drive looked like a parking lot, as an endless stream of cars inched its way along the road. It made absolutely no sense for the boys to head home now, as it would take them well over an hour just to get out of the Valley.

Rather than going through that aggravation, we took beach chairs and towels and walked down to the river right from the motorhome to relax and wait out the traffic. It wasn’t until almost 7:00 that they decided it was time to go.

We said our goodbyes, which weren’t too tearful considering they were meeting us in Tuolumne Meadows the following weekend.

Back at our campsite, we saw that our neighbor Ira was back from his hike down the Panorama Trail. When we asked him how it went, he was a little less than enthusiastic. As we feared, he and his family had found the 8.5 miles a lot tougher than they thought. Hopefully, his wife was still speaking to him.

Tubing down the Merced

Herb trying to relax on his tubeHerb trying to relax on his tubeSince yesterday had pretty much been a spectating day for me, we started our day with a trail run from the campground out to and along the Valley Loop Trail, this time stopping at Lower Yosemite Falls to take our obligatory photo – no one comes to Yosemite Valley and doesn’t take their picture in front of the falls.

From there we crossed over to the south side via Swinging Bridge, ran past the cute little Chapel, and on back past Curry Village to the campground. We did 7.5 miles in all, which earned us the right to just relax for the rest of the day, especially since tomorrow we were doing the 15.5-mile Four Mile Trail + Panorama Trail hike.

We decided to spend the rest of the day literally on our butts, floating in our tubes down the Merced, perhaps with a beer or two tucked in the cup holders.

Herb is always cold, so he was a bit concerned about spending that much time with his butt wet, so he invented a method of elevating his bottom off the tube’s bottom – filling a waterproof river bag with towels and other soft stuff and then slightly inflating it before sealing it closed. I scoffed at first, but was later very glad that he was kind enough to make me one.

Herb sets Lolo looseHerb sets Lolo looseSince the Upper Pines Campground is right near the river, we just grabbed our tubes and Herb’s new butt elevation devices (otherwise known as river bags) and just carried them through the campground to the bridge near the entrance.

After placing our river bags over the netting in the center, we made the plunge, and much to our delight, we actually stayed a few inches above the water. Unlike a kayak, there is little to no control in a tube, so I made Herb tie mine to his, so that we were truly in this together.

We went through the first set of ripples together, but it soon became obvious that whatever tiny maneuverability we had was practically eliminated when tethered together. Without my consent, Herb set me free.

Okay, so it was every man for himself. I didn’t mind going it alone through the ripples because the current was swift enough to move me along without too much effort, but the calm sections were tough as my arms were too short for my hands to really get deep enough to paddle effectively. I looked like Sponge Bob.

Deer pooping in MercedDeer pooping in MercedMeanwhile, Herb was casually paddling away, getting further and further ahead of me. He must have sensed my evil thoughts about him, because he stopped to wait for me. I made him tie us back together, and just to punish him a little, I let him do the paddling while I rested my tiny arms.

Whenever we could, we just sat back and looked at the incredible scenery passing by – Royal Arches, Half Dome, North Dome, and Sentinel Dome, to name a few. Plus a beautiful buck with a huge rack crossed the river right in front of us. It was pretty awesome.

After about 2 hours we came to Swinging Bridge and decided to take out there. The sun was just starting to dip behind the granite walls and we knew that once that happened the temperature would drop swiftly. All in all we had gone 3.8 miles through some of the best scenery in the world. Not a bad way to spend an afternoon.

Herb showing how tubing should be doneHerb showing how tubing should be doneWe didn’t totally think out how we were going to get back to the campground once we were done. The thought was that we would take the Valley Shuttle back, but unfortunately it doesn’t run this far west in the Valley after 5:00 pm.

Instead we had to walk the 2.5 miles back. Fortunately, when we deflated the tubes, we were able to fit them inside the “magical” river bags, which not only kept us dry, but carried our gear as well.

Another satisfying day in the Valley.

Hiking Four Mile, Panorama, and Mist Trails

We had been to Yosemite Valley so many times that we pretty much had hiked all its trails. However, there was one classic left – the Panorama Trail from Glacier Point down to Yosemite Valley via the Mist Trail – 8.5 miles one way with an elevation loss of 3,200 feet.

Yosemite Falls from Four Mile TrailYosemite Falls from Four Mile TrailSince the hike begins at Glacier Point, you have to get there first. The preferred method is riding up on the Glacier Point tour bus, but as I mentioned earlier, we had been too slow in making a reservation. As a result, we had to get there on our own via the Four Mile Trail, which is a strenuous event on its own, gaining 3,220 feet in its 4.8 miles of switchbacks.

I have to admit that I was a bit nervous about whether this day was going to be too much for me. Plus, I was having a lot of trouble with my feet. Despite having a very good pair of Asola hiking boots, I kept getting a blister on my right heel. For weeks before this trip, I tried to break them in by walking up and down hills in my neighborhood. As an extra precaution, I bought 2 pairs of hiking socks from REI, which were double layered and guaranteed blister-free.

Before heading out on the hike, I covered the area where I had been getting a blister in the past with moleskin. What I should have done – hindsight is always great – is put moleskin in the same place on the other foot, but I didn’t.

Approaching Glacier PointApproaching Glacier PointI thought about just hiking in my Solomon trail runners, which never give me blisters, but I am a bit clumsy on rocky trails, so I thought the ankle support of the higher-topped Asolos would help me avoid an ankle twist. However, I did throw my trail runners in my backpack, just in case I needed to change along the way.

By 7:30 am, we were at the Four Mile Trailhead. Spirits were high. We hiked past the area where we had bouldered with the boys a few days ago and continued on for about a mile before we climbed above the tree line and the views of Yosemite Falls and much of the Valley began. From there it just got better and better, almost (just almost) making me forget that I was steadily and relentlessly climbing, as a continuous parade of the Valley’s classics came into view – Cathedral Rocks, El Cap, Half Dome, Clouds Rest, North Dome, and Royal Arches.

Somewhere short of Glacier Point, I began to feel a warm spot on my left heel, so we stopped to put some moleskin on – probably a little too late. I should have stopped as soon as I felt anything.

During the entire time on the Four Mile Trail, we had seen only four people. It felt like we had the Valley all too ourselves. Not so once we reached the top where dozens (perhaps hundreds?) of tourists are delivered by the Glacier Point tour bus three times a day.

We set up our tripod and patiently awaited our turn to stand on the rock ledge that had the best view of Half Dome and the Valley (site of our 2007 family Christmas shot). Once we got that done, we found the trailhead for the Panorama Trail and quickly left the crowds behind.

Glacier PointGlacier PointAs we began our descent along the well-maintained dirt trail, we were immediately confronted with expansive views of Half Dome, Basket Dome, North Dome, Liberty Cap, and Vernal and Nevada Falls in the distance.

In about a mile, Illilouette Falls came into view – a Yosemite waterfall we had never seen before. However, the best view of it was yet to come. At about 2.5 miles from Glacier Point, we stopped at a perch high above the canyon where we had a direct view of the falls cascading 370 feet into a side canyon below.

After about 3 miles, and an elevation drop of 1,300 feet, we came to Illilouette Creek, just above the waterfall. There were several people lounging in the sun on the rocks along the creek, but we forged on, crossing a footbridge and starting up the trail’s only ascent, which was a pretty significant one, rising 750 feet in about a mile.

By this point, my left heel was really starting to hurt, but having already put moleskin on, there was not much else I could do. I had totally forgotten that I had my more comfortable, but less supportive, trail runners in my pack.

View of Vernal and Nevada Falls from Panorama TrailView of Vernal and Nevada Falls from Panorama TrailBefore we even got to the first switchback in the ascent, I heard a wheezing sound ahead, so loud that I thought it could be a bear. However, as we came around the corner, I saw that it was a man, a lot younger than us, sitting on the side of the trail. As we passed, he muttered, “I wish I was in better shape.” Oh boy. I really worried about him making it. There was still about 7 miles to go before the Valley. It made me wonder just how many people get in over their heads and have to be rescued by park rangers. Hopefully, I wouldn’t be one of them.

Fortunately, the views were keeping me somewhat distracted from thinking about my sore feet. Eventually, at about 3.5 miles from Illilouette Creek, we came to a T-junction with the John Muir Trail, which is one of the options for getting back down to the Valley. The Muir Trail, to the left, is a little longer, but less steep and scenic in that it doesn’t go to the top of Nevada Falls. We chose to continue straight towards the falls and the Mist Trail.

When we came to the footbridge over the falls and saw people lounging on the rocks upstream, my aching feet mutinied and cried out for a break and a dunking in the Merced. I ripped my hiking boots and “not so magic blister-free” socks off -- pulling the moleskin off with it -- and plunged my feet in the chilly water. It stung at first, but eventually felt quite soothing and numbing. I wanted to throw my hiking boots over the falls. I was none too happy about putting my boots back on, but onward we must go.

Lolo dealing with her blistersLolo dealing with her blistersFrom the far side of the footbridge there is a detour to the left down to an overlook where we watched Nevada Falls plunge 600 feet into the canyon below. We continued on about ¼ mile to the junction where we turned left onto the Mist Trail. Straight ahead was the trail to the Half Dome cable route.

12 miles down, 3 to go.

The fact that it was all downhill – it drops 1,900 on its way down to the Valley – should have perked me up, but I often find hiking down a steep trail much harder than hiking up, especially on the knees. Much of the Mist Trail is a series of steep stone steps that can become quite slippery when covered by the mist from the falls – hence the trail name.

In about a mile we crossed another footbridge over the Merced just above the Emerald Pool and a short distance from the top of Vernal Falls. Emerald Pool looked so inviting, full of happy people ignoring the Danger No Swimming signs. I confess to having done so myself on our way back from the Half Dome cable route in 2007. I think the real danger is in the springtime when the water flows so swiftly that there is a real chance of being swept downstream over the falls, but in mid-summer the current just isn’t strong enough.

Vernal FallsVernal FallsWe hadn’t had the foresight to pack bathing suits this time, so we continued on to the fenced-in overlook at the top of the falls. From there we descended the long series of stone steps down to the base of the falls.

The last mile down to the Valley was thankfully paved. I felt like kissing the ground when we got to the Happy Isle shuttle stop. We took the shuttle to Yosemite Lodge and then walked across Swinging Bridge to the Four Mile Trailhead where we had parked our car about a month ago (or at least it felt like that long ago).

The final tally: 15.5 miles with a 4,756 foot elevation gain – and therefore a 4,756 foot elevation loss since we started and ended in the Valley. Not bad for two sexagenerians – I just love using that word.

Chilling on our final day in the Valley

I fully expected to not even be able to walk this morning after yesterday’s hike, but I felt surprisingly chipper when I woke up. Just to see if I could, I bandaged my blistered feet and did a 5-mile run from the campground to Mirror Lake and then around the Happy Isle Road loop.

Afterwards we packed lunch, kindles, and Crazy Creeks on our bikes and rode to a beach on the river near the back of the Ahwahnee, where we spent the majority of the day reading and relaxing. There are lots of quiet places along the river if you just look hard enough.

Tomorrow, it was up to Tuolumne Meadows for the second half of our Yosemite vacation.


Almost at the topAlmost at the topYosemite 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!

Jeff on January 3, 2017

I am just now catching up on your latest trips an would like to say that you guys were a big influence in my decision to start rv'ing 4 years ago. Your latest trip to Yosemite is another example of how i think a vacation should be. You both always seem to fully embrace the outdoors and take full advantage of what a place has to offer. My kids are now 7 and 4 and I am trying to embrace the love for the outdoors in them. We live in Virginia and have gone up and down the east coast and am hoping to venture out west in the next year or two. Thanks for all the great info and congratulations on your new home in Sonoma. My wife and I are wine nuts and are truly jealous!

Lolo on January 4, 2017

Hi Jeff. You are doing the right thing by your kids. Exposing ours from a young age to the national parks and all the beautiful places this country has to offer definitely shaped the young men they have become -- not to mention all the fun we had along the way.

Happy Travels!

Yosemite Valley location map in "high definition"

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