If you drive in from the south you will enter Yosemite Valley through a tunnel. The view as you come through this tunnel is spectacular in any season. If you came in from any other direction, you should go up to the tunnel to check it out.
Yosemite Valley is a rather compact area, that can be seen as the heart of Yosemite National Park. Without putting the rest of Yosemite behind, this is the part of the park where the "main attractions" can be found; either in the valley or close to the valley. Pay attention that the road into the valley is a one-way ring road.
In the picture you see Yosemite Valley from the viewpoint at "Tunnel View". The steep rock to the left is "El Capitan" and in the back you can see "Half Dome".
Yosemite Village happened along at an opportune moment, just as that gnawing feeling in our stomachs was growing!
Here you'll find the Yosemite Lodge or pick up the road to the Ahwahnee Hotel. You'll also find a walkway leading to Yosemite Falls (see my tip).
A large food court provides various food options:
Degnan's Cafe-baked goods, smoothies
Degnan's Deli-sandwiches, fresh salads
Degnan's Loft-pizza, salad, soups and appetizers
Serving at 12 noon-10pm daily (Spring-Fall)
Village Grill-cheeseburgers, salmon burgers, veggie burgers, fries, milkshakes
Serving 11am-5pm daily (Spring-Fall)
I was dreaming of Pizza and a few minutes later had it in my hungry little hands. My husband and grandson wanted something from the grill and this line took a while longer. There was no problem finding a table, although most were filled.
FYI: The food court has restrooms on the side of its building, but those off the lobby at the Yosemite Lodge check-in area seemed to be cleaner.
The Yosemite Valley has been hosting visitors for more than a hundred years. It is seven miles long and nearly one mile wide, 3,000 feet deep and holds some of the most intriguing rock formations in the world! Here are some interesting statistics...
Some of its more familiar formations are:
Half Dome--8,842 feet,the youngest creation
Sentinel Rock--7,038 feet
El Capitan--3,593 feet
Mt. Lyell--13,114 feet, the tallest peak
Mt. Gibbs--12, 764 feet
Glacier Point-sits 3,214 above the valley floor
Glaciers helped to carve out this wondrous place, but it was "plutonic" rocks which cooled millions of years ago below the earth's surface that created the material. *Geologists think the last glacier departed Yosemite 15,000 years ago.
*For more information see: The Geologic Story of Yosemite Valley by N.King Huber
Your first glimpse of the view down Yosemite Valley will leave you breathless. In the centre of course is Half Dome, flanked by El Capitain on the left and the 3 Brothers on the right.
With over 800 miles of wilderness trails meandering through the Valley and up the peaks, you're sure to find one to suit your abilities.
Right past the west entrance gate on Route 140 lies the tunnel-like Arch Rock. Unfortunately there is no place to park to take a photo of these massive leaning rocks so I decided to scan an old time postcard. Shown is a vintage touring car driving through. Since our lodging was in El Portal, we passed through the arch many times while visiting the park.
Yosemite Valley is the heart of the park. Drained by the Merced River, this valley is just seven miles long and one mile wide, but is flanked by some of the world's tallest waterfalls alongside towering granite peaks. The valley was formed by molten magma that solidified below the surface then was lifted and carved by glacial activity.
The following waterfalls enter the valley: Yosemite Falls (2,425 ft drop), Snow Creek Falls (2,140 ft), Sentinel Falls (1,920 ft), Ribbon Fall (1,612 ft), Royal Arch Cascade (1,250 ft), Lehamite Falls (1,180 ft), Staircase Falls (1,020 ft), Bridalveil Fall (620 ft). (Bridalveil Creek), and Silver Strand Falls (574 ft).
The main mountainous features along the valley include El Capitan (7569 feet above sea level), Cathedral Rocks, Sentinel Rock, Three Brothers, North Dome, Glacier Point (7,214 feet), Half Dome, and Cloud's Rest (9926 feet).
For visitors the valley offers various camp grounds, cabins, hotels, restaurants, and shops. We stayed in the Upper Pines campground and hiked the nearby Happy Isles trail entrance, shopped and showered at Camp Curry, and stopped by the Ahwahnee Hotel for drinks one evening.
The meadows of Yosemite Valley are former lakes of the lazy Merced river. Overtime, the lakes silted up, and then grasses began to thrive in the wetland areas. Over longer periods of time, the forests move in and cover the meadows. During unusually stormy winter rains, flooding and erosion serve to knock down some trees, and as was documented by the 1996 rock slide near Happy Isles, trees are also felled by brief stronger than hurricane force gusts of wind. Naturally, thunderstorm started fires can also reduce a forest, returning the soil to a state where winter rains can wash out and create a new lake. For the most part though, the meadows remain a constant within the valley, being dormant during winter, having a brief bloom of colorful wildflowers, and then staying mostly green during the summer months. See my tips for local customs about how to appreciate meadows, but basically hikers and picnickers are not welcome to wander through the meadows. Enjoy them from a distance, and hope to see wildlife grazing there. Most of the meadows are under restoration after many years of being trampled by tourists, but conditions have improved considerably over the past decade or so.
I was luck enough to be staying in Yosemite during a full moon and when the Perseids Meteor shower was just starting.
The guides in Yosemite organise tours on their trolley buses starting quite late during the full moon period and I would recommend getting on one of these tours - well worth the money! Most tours leave from Yosemite Lodge.
This photo was taken at the Mountain Tunnel View with my camera shutter open for 15 seconds - even them not enough!
This is just a fantastic place to visit - put it on your list straight away!
As far as meadows go, this my second favorite in Yosemite Valley. Southside Drive bisects this meadow, so you can park anywhere and automatically have some wonderful views. Boardwalks lead out onto the meadow; please don't wander off these boardwalks, since doing so damages the meadows and hampers park service efforts to restore them. Walking onto the boardwalks, you'll get a view encompassing North Dome, the Sentinel, Cathedral Rocks, and Yosemite Falls. This meadow has one of the best views of the falls. Its easy to spend an hour wandering around this often-crowded meadow; bring bug spray to fend off the mosquitoes that also tend to congregate here.
Cook's Meadow is undoubtably the most beautiful meadow in the park, rivaling even Tuolumne Meadows. The five photos shown here were taken on four different visits to the meadow. Ansel Adams took many photos here, and it's really not hard to see why. There is probably no greater perspective of Half Dome than from here; walk out onto the boardwalks in the meadow and you'll also be able to see Glacier Point, Three Brothers, the Sentinel, Cathedral Spires, and both Upper and Lower Yosemite Falls. Since the view is so wide, you'll probably want to come to meadow at least three times: sunrise, noon, and sunset. If you start at either the Sentinel Bridge Parking, Yosemite Falls Parking, or the Valley Visitor Center, you can make a short loop around the meadow. Although it would probably only take you 20 minutes to walk the meadow, plan on at least an hour; this is captivating place. Cook's Meadow was named after a certain Cook who once grazed cattle here; the meadow was originally formed by the Ahwahneechee who periodically burned this area. Please stay on maintained trails or boardwalks; the Park Service is trying to restore Cook's Meadow.
The view from the Yosemite Valley of the monoliths is the reason you go to Yosemite Park. It is just monolith after monolith. A truely awesome site. I just love the flatness of the valley next to the massive cliffs of the nearby monoliths.
This is a mouthwatering drive to do, I say drive because like many people I would love to walk it but there are far too many cars out there. Perhaps one day it'll become like Zion N.P. and you could leave your car at certain strategic points and then walk or take the shuttle. With El Capitan ,a sheer rock face rising up to around 1000 metres on one side and Bridal Veil falls on the other it is a wonderful spot.
Although it's commonly seen and photographed, most people who've visited Yosemite wouldn't be able to name Washington Column. This pillar of granite is at the end of a ridge leading down from North Dome and can be clearly seen from the eastern half of the valley, including places like Stoneman, Cook's, and Ahwahnee Meadow. Washington Column is very popular with rock climbers (with the famous South Face route. You can find alot of this info around the Mountain Shop at Curry Village...)
The view from Glacier Point is impressive, but looking up at the point from below, while still beautiful, isn't quite equal to standing at the top. Glacier Point is visible from throughout the valley, especially at Curry Village, which lies at he foot of the giant granite mountain. Three trails ascend from the valley to the Glacier, none of which I hiked in their entirety: the Four-Mile Trail, Pohono Trail, and the Panorama Trail. From in the valley, you can take a pair of binoculars, peer up, and see tourists looking back down at you.