Yosemite National Park was established in 1890 as the Nation’s second recognized Park, although protection began as early as 1864 while Abraham Lincoln was in office. There are over 750,000 acres protected yet when most think of Yosemite they are typically referring to the 7 square miles of Yosemite Valley. It is rich with iconic granite peaks, cliffs and domes, dramatic waterfalls and some of the most beautiful meadows to be found. It truly is a remarkable place and, whether you are seeing it for the first time or are a longtime fan, when you get your glimpse of the valley it is jaw-dropping.
Over 4 million people visit Yosemite each year so you can expect it to be crowed, especially during the Summer months. Instead of getting annoyed by the crowds I’m always thankful that so many people are getting up and getting out to see what this country has to offer. That might be the PollyAnna approach but it works for me. HA! The best thing to do here is to park you car and take the shuttle. The main parking area is located at the Yosemite Village and the Shuttles will take you to all of the key locations. Better yet, get out on foot and discover the many wonders of Yosemite. There is so much to see and do here in the Valley (we’ll discuss the other areas of the park in another blog post!). We recommend staying as long as you can, however, you can capture a lot on just a day trip. Here are our 5 Tips to Enhance Your Yosemite Experience:
Valley Floor Loop – We believe that this is the best way to see Yosemite Valley. The well-marked trail takes you off the beaten path and, in most parts, away from the crowds. We are often amazed how you don’t have to get that far away from the most popular tourist stops and you find that you are alone in this beautiful sanctuary. The Valley Floor loop may be the very best example of this because at times you aren’t more than 100 feet away yet you have the feeling that you are alone. This hike can be as long or as short as you’d like. It is easy to jump on and off as you please and although the entire loop is 11.5 miles you can modify it to your timing and skill level (the hike is primarily easy although there is some elevation gain around Yosemite Falls and as you head toward Mirror Lake. A great place to start is either:
- Shuttle Stop 3 (the Ahwahnee Hotel) From the stop you just head toward the granite wall of the valley away from the hotel and you will be right there – go right toward Mirror lake, left toward Yosemite Village
- Shuttle Stop 6 (Lower Yosemite Falls) Head west along the bicycle path until you see signs for the Valley Loop Trail – from here it is best to head on out into the meadows for some spectacular views
You can also pick the trail up at Curry Village, Happy Isles, Bridalveil Fall or just about anywhere else in the valley – it’s a loop after all! On this hike you will be exposed to all of the major Park sites – Yosemite Falls, the Meadows, the Merced, El Capitan, Bridalveil Falls, The Three Brothers, Cathedral Rock, Half Dome, Mirror Lake, Yosemite Lodge, Camp Curry, the Ahwahnee Hotel, Yosemite Village, The Visitor Center and Museum, and countless other gems along the way. This is a shutterbugs dream and you will be stumbling over yourself to take that next great shot. We go on all or part of this trail every time we go to Yosemite. It is different each time and it is incredible at all times of the year. As a matter of fact it is very difficult to decide which season is the most beautiful. I’m an Autumn fan so that almost always wins with me but I’d be hard pressed to knock any time of the year here. Take this hike – you will be very glad that you did.
Yosemite Falls – As you get off the Shuttle at stop 6 and head toward the falls trail you’ll be faced with two options; go right or to the left. Most visitors will head to the left and the main pathway to the bottom of Lower Yosemite Falls. We recommend that you go to the right. Not only will you find fewer people but the trail itself is more intimate and winds you through the forest toward the Falls, at times you are on well-constructed boardwalks that take you off the ground – this area can be wet during the spring as the snow melts which makes the whole place even more beautiful. Not too far from the shuttle stop as you head up this trail you will see a path that branches off to the left across a foot bridge. I believe it is marked Falls View. DO NOT miss this side journey. It’s short and the pay off is actually better than getting to the bottom of the Falls in my opinion. The path opens into a small area by the river and your have a complete unobstructed view of the Falls. It is gorgeous – trust me, it is going to be selfie time! John Muir built a cabin here in 1869 that he lived in for a couple years as he explored the wilderness. We have never been to this spot when we weren’t alone, at least for a few minutes.
“Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into the trees” – John Muir
Yosemite Village – This is a must stop, and most will. After you do the typical things here; go to the store, grab a quick bite to eat, visit the Ansel Adams Gallery, make sure that you go to the Visitors Center and get a few tips from the Park Rangers. They are very helpful and can help point you in the right direction, especially if you are planning a longer more strenuous hike. Don’t stop there though, out the back door of the Visitors Center is a recreation of an Indian Village. This is a great place to stroll though and pick up some detail on the people who originally called Yosemite Home. The Yosemite Museum is right there as well and a little father down the path is the Yosemite Cemetery. All of these are less visited and will enhance your visit because it grounds you with a sense of history, time, and understanding that this Valley is much more than just breathtaking scenery.
Mirror Lake – Hard to say what is the most photographed area of the Park but this is definitely on the list. The Mirror Lake area is wonderful all year around and at it’s peak when the water level is as such where it forms a still body of water that reflects the most amazing images of the cliffs and sky overhead. There are a couple ways to get here; Shuttle Stop 17 will be the most traveled way although we prescribe a more immersive experience that starts back at Shuttle Stop 3 (Ahwahnee Hotel). This is the Valley Floor Loop trail that was mentioned above and to us, the very best way to get to Mirror Lake, you’ll miss the crowds and it will lead you directly to the lake and it’s photo ops! If you are feeling like more hiking definitely take the Mirror Lake Loop trail. This will take you back to where the valley walls begin to close in on themselves and you will be exposed to really great views of the granite wall that creates the flat surface of the iconic Half Dome. Once you cross the Tenaya Creek bridge you’ll be headed back toward Mirror Lake. On this part of the trail you will encounter the location of a massive rock slide that closed this loop for some time. You get a very real understanding of the power of these rock slides as you walk through this area and see the devastation that is caused. The trail continues back to the lake and then down Tenaya Creek back to the path to the Shuttle Stop. You can take the Shuttle, walk back the way you came from the Ahwanhee or continue on the Valley Loop Trail toward Happy Isles. Too many great choices! Your timing and tiredness will be your guide. No path is the wrong one. From the Shuttle it is 2 miles round trip to the lake. The lake loop is another 5 miles total and add another 2 to and from the Ahwahnee. Your Fitbit won’t know what hit it today because this never feels like you could possibly have taken that many steps on this journey.
Breakfast at the Ahwahnee Hotel – Cleary I am a Yosemite fan so I may be a tad biased but I saying it anyway – the Ahwanhee Hotel is one of the most beautiful hotels in the world! Designed by Gilbert Stanley Underwood (a NPS favorite who crafted other lodges and buildings throughout the system), the Ahwahnee Hotel was built to blend seemlessly into it’s surroundings and present grand, yet warm interior spaces. Mission Accomplished! The Ahwahnee opened it’s doors in 1927 and was spearheaded by Stephen Mather, the first Director of the National Park System as a way to attract people of influence and money to put visits to the National Parks on their radar and checkbooks for donations. The Hotel has gone through many changes over the years, however, thanks to Underwoods striking design elements, it has maintained it’s original concepts and philosophy. The rustic yet elegant interior spaces are grand and intimate at the same time. Underwood really nailed this. It feels like both a cabin or ski lodge as well as cathedral like. The Great Room with it’s huge fireplace, wooden floors and stained glass windows showcases this well. It is the perfect place to curl up with a good book, quietly play a game of cards, or sip a cocktail or three over your tales of the trails. The six-story hotel has 123 unique guest rooms and a number of really incredible suites. We’ve had the pleasure of staying here many times and we have never had a room that we didn’t like. Some have incredible views of Half Dome, Glacier Point, and Yosemite Falls, there are rooms with private or shared balconies, and many of the suites have in-room fireplaces – point being that they are all great in their own way.
But I digress, this was supposed to be about breakfast! The dining room of the Ahwahnee is far and away the most spectacular space in the hotel. The towering ceilings, massive windows that look out on to the Valley and the warm inviting lighting makes this one of the best places to eat – ANYWHERE. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner are served and are all delicious. We have found that this is the very best way to start your day with both great food and atmosphere. If you are lucky to be here on a Sunday, make a reservation for their fantastic Sunday Brunch; made-to-order omelettes, roast beef, ham, salmon, shrimp, eggs benedict, fruit, oats, pancakes, waffles, desserts – you have the idea, all the normal brunch fare – although it just seems to taste better here! Monday though Saturday they have a small buffet with many options or menu items to choose from. Never been when there wasn’t a family of deer prancing around outside and the showstopper here is when you are fortunate enough to experience a little snowfall. Best moments ever!
Yosemite National Park is this Travologist’s favorite place on the planet. Beyond the obvious spectacular scenery and awesome hiking, I always experience revitalization and a sense of peace when I visit. I can think of no other place that you should put on your to-go list than Yosemite – for the first time or the fiftieth! Get Up and Get Out to #FindYourPark!
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