We arrived in Yosemite Valley at 5 am because we had no reservations and we were told to come early to try to catch a cancellation but with 36 people in our group we didn't get that lucky. We were told to go check out a campsite, 45 minutes away from Yosemite Center, called Tamarack Flats, it was a long way down (3 miles) on a rocky road but we found the perfect spot for our entire family. It's a first come, first serve site, very quiet, with no water but a toilet. The rangers were very strict about locking the food at night because of the bears, (the provide you with a bear safe container on the site), we were told it's $100 per cooler if not in a bear safe container.
If you're looking for something decent to eat, you can head out Yosemite's southwestern Arches Rock Entrance and take Highway 140 around 40 miles west through El Portal and Midpines to the town of Mariposa.
The Miners Inn is not only a hotel, but it also has a decent restaurant and a separate bar where the night we were there, the karaoke was blaring in all its off-pitched glory.
I had a French Dip and it was actually pretty delicious! You'll find a partial menu at the link below.
Hidden behind the Valley Visitor Center and the Yosemite Museum is the recreated traditional cultural presentations of the Ahwahneechee, the native people of Yosemite Valley, who called the area "Ahwahnee" ("Place of a Gaping Mouth"). Looking up from their villages to the surrounding valley of waterfalls and cliffs with magnificent trees, one does have to say the mouth does gape. There are many fine recreations that are still used for ceremonial practices.
It's about a two hour drive from the valley but well worth the trip. A very beautiful drive and some nice hikes once you get up there. Since it's high elevation, bring a jacket as it can get cold up there. The trail to Parsons Lodge and Soda Springs is a fantastic walk, not too long or hard. Beautiful views along the way.
The 370 foot Illilouette Falls is one of the park's most constantly flowing and is best seen from the Panorama Trail though it is possible to get a glimpse of it on the hike to Vernal Falls. This is one waterfall you cannot see unless you hike a fairly steep trail and despite its pools looking very inviting, its top cannot be reached by a park maintained trail.
Tioga Lake is not part of Yosemite National Park, laying just outside the Tioga Pass Entrance Station but you could not fault yourself for thinking you are still in the park. The glacial lake is stunning and the only reason it is not overly crowded is its distance from Yosemite Valley. It surely would be packed if more accessible. That is fine with those who do flock there. With a campground, good fishing, and abundant scenery, not everyone needs to be in Yosemite to feel they are some place special. We were pretty bowled over when we drove by this beauty on our way to Mono Lake and Bodie State Park. I would certainly consider camping here the next time I am in the area!
Located on Route 120 at over 9000 feet, don't plan on doing it in winter!
The Tuolumne area has numerous alpine lakes and ponds along various trails. These areas make a great place to take a dip and unwind a little. It helps refresh you after hours on the trail, and feels invigorating. The lakes are cold, so be warned... make sure there's enough warmth in the day and sunlight to be sure and dry off. But it can be a wonderful compliment to a hike through the upper regions of the park. Give them a try, whether you dip a toe or go all-in!
While the majority of people show up to Yosemite during the warm summer months, it is worth visiting in the winter. Even if you don't ski. There are dozens of miles of trails open to snowshoers all over the park. The weather usually isn't too cold, and the roads are well maintained to get to the trailheads.
It is a unique way to see the park. Taking off with just the crunch of snow under your shoes, the landscape is changed into a tranquil environment of snow and ice. The pine trees literally drip with drifting snow, and the air is crisp as you plug along the trail. You can visit the redwoods or the higher alpine passes of the valleys; the whole park is your playground. And since there are fewer people present, you have more of the park to yourself.
Starting from Happy Isles toward Vernal Falls, you'll pass a nasty avalanche site. Turn left, and start climbing along the right edge of the rocks. If you keep an eye out, you'll catch a path that later veers off to the right and climbs the mountain diagonally. This is the Sierra Point trail, abandoned in the 1960s. It's not in great shape, and you'll have to do some climbing on all fours (it used to be the steepest trail in Yosemite, I believe), but closer to the top, rocks piled like stairs do remain, making it easier both to climb and to recognize the trail. Careful though--some steps are now quite loose. Once you make it to Sierra Point, the view is beautiful, and the guardrail remains intact.
I'm leaving out a couple of the best pictures because they're on the overview page.
Part of the reason the travel into the Park takes long is because you drive thru this nice National Forest.
This forest has a variety of activities for travelers and is dubbed the "Land of Many Uses". There are are 1143 campsites and open-all year round. Joins Yosemite on the north and east.
There is plenty of backcounty hiking and recreational things at this National Forest.
White water on Kings River as well as Giant Sequoia groves.
There are 1500 campsites and food service. Forest is open all year long and campsites from May to October.
Located next to the Inyo National Forest, this monument is known for its 60 foot basphalt columns which were made by volcanic eruptions and glaciers.
There are 21 campsites that are open from mid- june to mid-october. Plenty of hiking.
Located off CA. 203, and 40 minutes from Yosemite NP.
Mariposa is a town in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada that usually thrives off its position on Hwy 140, one of the principal routes into Yosemite Valley. In 2006, a large rock slide covered the road between the town and the park; pretty soon, it became empty. We passed by Mariposa on our way to Oakhurst and the South Entrance of the park. It is a typical Gold Country town, with souvenir shops and a very western-looking main street (Hwy 140).
We pulled over here on our first evening in the park, simply because it looked so peaceful and pretty. Travelling from the valley, it's located on the right hand side of the road just before arriving in Wawona. It's by a (comparatively) small, bubbling little river, and there's a campsite, some picnic benches and a pebbly beach. There's not a lot here, and I'm not aware of any trails near here, but if you're looking for somewhere away from the crowds, then this is a good choice.
The best moments in any national park are those found off the beaten path, away from the masses who congregate at the visitor center and the scenic overlooks. The real beauty of a park, or any place of natural beauty, can only be captured in the silence of a stolen moment.
Its tough to find your moment in a brief visit to Yosemite. If you were to strap on a backpack and hike into Yosemite's wilderness, you'd surely find a spot of your own. But when your trip is restricted to the paved portions of one of our most popular parks, solitude, for even a moment, is at best a challenge and likely an impossibility. But there are spots, high and far on a less popular trail, where you can find that moment. Like all great things in life, you'll have to work harder to get it here. But if you hike or climb just far enough, that moment can be yours.
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