Yosemite is one of five most popular national parks in US ( Great Smoky Mountain, Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and Olympic National Park being the other four).
And it is my favoritest park ever. I simply love looking at the valley with the river flowing through, the monolithic El Capitan and the magnificent Half dome. Sunset on Half Dome is one the prettiest sights in the national park. Situated in central California, about 3 – 4 hours drive from Bay Area, this is the national park for city slickers.It has meadows, waterfalls, giant Sequoia trees and starry nights. At any point in the Yosemite Valley, we saw folks cycling around, rafting in the river or hiking to the waterfalls. It was alive and buzzing. Spring and Summer are the most popular times as the weather is pleasant and the waterfalls are gushing; though I can imagine Fall being equally attractive.
Planning a trip
We planned on the west and south park attractions of El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Glacier Point and Mariposa Grove. The north side of Yosemite are the beautiful Tuolumne meadows and Tioga Pass which Sunset magazine has crowned as the best spot to lose the crowds. But as it is open only from June thru November and is another hour – to hour and half further we skipped it. We only had the weekend in Yosemite as we had a Monday morning appointment in the French embassy for Schengen Visa so we didn’t really have a day to spare.
There are quiet a few options to stay inside the park from rustic cabins, campgrounds to elegant Ahwahnee; but they tend to be sold out during summer weekends. So plan early or stay near one of the entrances. If staying outside the park ensure that the lodging is really close to the park entrance else you will spend time driving back and forth instead of in the park. Being a popular park close to San Francisco and Bay Area the park sees a fair amount of visitors resulting in long entrance lines.
We went via Oakdale to the west entrance of the park and luckily didn’t encounter much traffic. We stayed at a Bed and Breakfast (Falcons Nest) inside the park in West Yosemite which had most hospitable owners ever. More about this later.
This is the most visited place in the park and has a visitor center and wilderness center. Free shuttles are offered to most common points of interest – Bridal Veil Falls, Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls, El Capitan and Sentinel Bridge.
This is the most crowded part of the park. Parking is hard. We enjoyed the hike up to and the mists from Bridal Veil falls but didn’t care about Yellowstone falls as they were very crowded.
And the Tunnel view is not to be missed. This is the classic photo-op with the half dome in the distance and the bridal veil falls on the right. Plan it for late afternoon when the sun lights up the half dome.
El Capitan soars high above and you do see fair number of climbers on its face. The rafting in the river looked particular inviting but we had plans to go up to Glacier point for Sunset.
To get away from the crowds and the day trippers, Glacier point is one the options. It’s about an hours drive from the valley.The ranger talk at Glacier point was one of the highlights of our trip. The sight of the valley below, the river, waterfalls and the setting sun over the half dome is surreal and is one experience you should not miss in the park. Most folks left after sunset, but this would be an awesome place to star gaze perched high above in the Sierra Nevada forest!
Falcons Nest B & B
After the sunset we drove to our B & B. We were lost as the forest floor darkens post sunset and we couldn’t find the signs easily. We reached the B & B by 9:00 pm. Our plan was to check in and then go out for dinner. There were no restaurants around. We asked our hosts for nearest restaurants and everything would either be already closed or would be by the time we reached. As Donn explained “this ain’t Spain“. So plan meals or carry food along. He heated some south-western chicken chipotle soup and made us some PB& J. Yummm, after a long day.
The next morning, Kay, cooked us some fabulous breakfast. Cornmeal waffles, eggs, fresh fruit and coffee. It was served on their beautiful outdoor deck. It was a lovely morning and we lingered over breakfast exchanging travel tales and getting tips for the day ahead.
Near the south end of the park,this is another place which is quiet and not crowded. A bus takes you along the loop amongst century year old giant sequoia trees which are over 300 feet tall! I was humbled in their presence. The trees are naturally fire resistant and have survived many a fires in their time.
After the tour, it was time for us to head back to San Francisco. We had a 7 am appointment the following morning and wanted to make sure we reached on time.
The drive back was routine except for these beautiful windmills that dotted the road.
Yosemite is one park that I simply fell in love with. So much so that Vipul and I planned to retire as Forest Rangers here! If we lived in Bay area we would probably visit it every spring and fall! Two days are very short to visit the park – we hope to return again with a camper and stay for long. Some day, some fall day!