ENP Episode 19.1 Yosemite: Trip Report
"Every turn, every curve is another spectacular view whether you are seeing falls or granite walls. Stunning every step of the way." - Danielle
Yosemite National Park in all of its wonder — from Cook’s Meadow and Glacier Point, to hiking the Vernal and Nevada Falls Trails and beyond — is stunning. However, it wasn’t simply the awesome views, granite walls and falls that stunned our family, but the sheer amount of people immersing themselves in the Yosemite National Park experience. We thought early May would be shoulder season, but Yosemite Valley was packed with people.
Bryan reflects on how the family got lucky with fantastic spring weather in early May in between snow storms. A challenge when planning your trip to Yosemite is how to avoid crowds, especially in the valley. Because of its immense popularity — there isn’t a typical “shoulder season” to rely on in order to beat the crowds. However, with some planning, you may be able to escape the bulk of the “crowd noise” by taking the trail less traveled. Even then, access to many areas of the park, such as the Tuolumne Meadows and the High Sierras are subject to the weather. However, spending time in Yosemite Valley brings both beauty and many “camp-like” activities, which may be fun for the family — like rock climbing, hiking, biking, art and photography.
Yosemite FallsWe arrived from the direction of the Bay area and entered via the Big Oak Flat entrance, but there are many different points of entry to Yosemite. We had hoped to arrive early enough to explore Hetch Hetchy, but opted to go straight to Yosemite Valley in order to get settled in before dark. Of course, I was enthralled by the beautiful Yosemite Falls, which I ended up seeing quite often! Mirror Lake was not as crowded, so it was a nice walk to take with the family.
View from Vernal FallsIf you want another beautiful hike, which may be more challenging for kids, make sure to hike the Vernal Falls trail up through the Nevada Falls Trail — it will be worth the energy! But, beware, it’s an “elevation game” for sure! When coming back, consider taking the John Muir Trail because the former is pretty steep and also very wet. The series of trails is an unforgettable and very popular hike. While this hike is typically done within four hours, our family spent the entire day hiking there and back taking it all in, and we never got bored.
Other rewarding activities include biking in the Valley, childrens’ art programs through the Happy Isles Nature Center, photo walks offered by the Ansel Adams Gallery, and having a relaxing picnic on the edge of the Merced River at the Housekeeping Campground. Bryan thought that The Happy Isles Fen was his favorite spot because of the serenity it offered both in terms of the babbling brook and the privacy it offered.
Another great place to venture to is the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center, the Sierra Club’s home in Yosemite. It has educational programs and children’s activities.
If you are a “Lodge Junkie” like Bryan, be sure to visit the 1920’s inspired Ahwahnee lodge — the Queen of all Lodges! It is a splurge to stay there, but you can visit it and participate in their organized programs such as the fireside storytelling in the Great Hall, nature walks on the grounds or a guided tour of the lodge itself. Or, grab a cocktail from the bar or a fabulous meal in the fancy dining room.
Half DomeOn the day we left Yosemite Valley for Wawona, we stopped along the way to see the climbers on El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, and the iconic Tunnel View, which includes a view of Half Dome, We lucked out on this day, as it was the first day that the Glacier Point Road opened for the season. The road closed again a week later due to some late season snowstorms. On the drive up you will see erie views of the scars from the 2018 forest fires. After viewing the breathtaking beauty of Glacier Point with the valley below, we ended the day at the Wawona Hotel, which has a very campy 1950’s feel to it.
Visitors, including children and families, will love some of the guided tours offered at Yosemite. One of our favorites was the ranger walk of the Giant Sequoias at Mariposa Grove with Ranger Lindsay Sweet. She truly engaged our children and they asked her the best questions.
After Bryan and I finish our recap, our youngest daughter joins us to share her impressions of Yosemite National Park, including the Night Skies Program, Vernal and Nevada Falls, rainbows and firefalls. Our oldest daughter loved bike riding to Happy Isles, the waterfalls, and the tiny pinecones of the Giant Sequoia trees. She also loves the Douglas or chicaree squirrel that chews the cones to release the seeds that birth the sequoia tree.
Nevada Falls from John Muir TrailYosemite Falls from Cook’s MeadowWawona HotelOur Discussion Includes the Following:
- Why Bryan feels that planning is important when visiting Yosemite (2:45)
- How we spent our time in Yosemite — after hitting the “weather lottery” (5:23)
- Challenges to planning your trip in Yosemite (6:32)
- How adjusting your expectations may help you enjoy the crowds and camaraderie in Yosemite Valley (7:19)
- Arriving in the park and getting our bearings at the Visitor Center (10:00)
- Court settlement - original names of several iconic lodging are reinstated (13:00)
- Mirror Lake (14:15)
- Advantage of visiting in spring - waterfalls (15:09)
- Unforgettable Vernal-Nevada Falls - strenuous, popular hike that is worth testing the limits of your kids! (15:53)
- Biking around the Valley to Happy Isles (25:16)
- Ansel Adams Gallery Camera Walk (30:48)
- Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center (Sierra Club) (32:27)
- Housekeeping Camp Beach (33:06)
- The Ahwahnee (34:20)
- Starry Night Skies over Yosemite through Yosemite Hospitality in Cook’s Meadow (36:18)
- Stops along the way from Yosemite Valley to Wawona starting with El Capitan, including tips for viewing climbers and parking (38:34)
- Bridalveil Falls, Tunnel View, Glacier Point (39:44)
- Wawona and the Wawona Hotel (42:14)
- Tom Bopp’s Yosemite Music at the Wawona Hotel (42:56)
- Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias (45:11)
- Tip: Check the date of The Yosemite Half Marathon when choosing dates and planning your trip! (47:31)
- Something different that Danielle wants to do on the next visit to Yosemite (48:36)
- Lottery for the backcountry campsites to visit the High Sierras (49:16)
- Our youngest daughter’s take on our Yosemite trip- Night skies, Vernal & Nevada Falls a rainbow joke, Tom Bopp (52:18)
- The “Firefall” around February (57:14)
- Our oldest daughter shares her favorite memories - bike riding to Happy Isles, waterfall hike, waterfall joke, Giant Sequoia facts (59:42)
Mariposa Grove’s Giant SequoiasTips for your Travels:
Half Dome from Glacier Point
- Talk to a ranger at the Visitor Center when you first arrive at Yosemite. There is 20 minute parking at the Camp Store.
- Plan around the Yosemite Half Marathon if you wish to participate or avoid it.
- In cooler months, you may want to pay up for a heated tent at Camp Curry. It gets chilly.
- Plan ahead! It will likely be crowded as there seems to be no true “shoulder season” in Yosemite.
- Many of the waterfalls do not flow year-round, so if that is something you would like to see, plan to visit in spring.
- Bring plenty of water, especially on a hike like Vernal & Nevada Falls in warm weather.
- Check the park newspaper for special programs in Yosemite.
- You need a permit for back-country camping in the High Sierras.
- Don’t touch the large pinecones in Mariposa Grove! They will stain your clothes.
- Don’t forget your camera for some gorgeous and dramatic natural photos. In Yosemite, whenever you see those information signs, there is a photo opp!
- When traveling with family, schedule a day of solo photography ahead of time.
- Use a hotel shower cap to protect your camera from the rain in a pinch.
- Use what you have on hand, like a wallet or boulder, if a tripod isn’t available to you.
- Always backup your photos.
- Always check the weather!
Additional Resources From This Episode:
- Yosemite Lodging
- Yosemite Camping Reservations
- Wawona @ Yosemite National Park
- Sierra Club
- Yosemite Conservancy Programs
- Aramark: Experience Yosemite National Park - activities, tours, programs
- Guided Ranger Tours @ Yosemite
- Tree Ecology and the Giant Sequoia
- Moon USA National Parks: The Complete Guide to All 59 Parks (Travel Guide)
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- Explore more adventures through beautiful parks.
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