The primary purpose of our road trip to California was Sequoia National Park but a trip to Yosemite was a close second. Aside from hearing a lot of people rave about Yosemite I didn’t know anything about the park. Most national parks have fairly descriptive names. For example, Rocky Mountain National Park is known for its towering mountains, Arches National Park has the red arched rock formations, Sequoia National Park has massive trees, etc.
What does the name Yosemite tell you about the park? Not much. Turns out the park is known for its waterfalls and massive granite rocks, not so much for the “those who kill” translation of Yos.se’meti, the Miwok tribe that the park is named after.
Day 1: Luken’s Lake & Glacier Point
I wasn’t sure what to expect from Yosemite. I’d done the research and planning for the logistics of the trip while Stacy took care of all the tourist-y stuff so I didn’t know what to prepared for. The park is massive so we split it into two days. Unfortunately one of those days happened to land on a weekend. We were smart enough to make that our day to explore far away from the very popular Yosemite Valley.
We did a 2 mile hike to Luken’s Lake then stopped at the overlooks on Glacier Point. We’d talked about going further into the park for the soda springs and another hike but what you don’t realize when just looking at a map is that the park is huge. Seriously, huge. From the main entrance all the way over to the soda springs was something like 70 miles on windy roads!
The outlooks on Glacier Point were worth the extra 30 mile round trip drive. We got to see the layout of the park and got a better grasp on what we had planned and what we “must see” the next day. And, as an added bonus, Glacier Point had a little shop with ice cream and other treats…we “refueled” with ice cream!
Day 2: Yosemite Valley
Our first day at Yosemite involved a ton of driving, which wasn’t horrible but it did make us want to really plan out our next day. Our second visit to Yosemite fell on a Monday and the crowds were a bit more bearable, we were at least able to find parking in Yosemite Valley!
Our first stop was Inspiration Point which is just after the tunnel you drive through to get into the valley. It is kind of an introduction into the valley with a view what you are about to drive into. It also puts everything into perspective – there are hundreds of cars driving in the valley but you cannot see any of them, that is how huge not only the park is, but the granite walls of the valley are!
From there we stopped at Bridalveil Falls. The base of the falls was a short half mile hike in from the parking lot. This was the first waterfall we got to see up close at the park so there was a lot of “ooh, look!” going on…little did we know how much cooler it was going to get!
The next stop we made involved ditching the car in a parking lot for a few hours. Stacy had done her research well and planned out our time in the valley based upon the shuttle rides since parking was rather hit or miss. We stopped at the furthest trailhead and hiked our way to the Happy Isles Nature Center.
Before we caught our first bus we hiked up stream to Vernal Falls. The trail started out paved and uphill but the final stretch of trail leading up to the top of Vernal Falls has 600+ steps and is known for being very wet. It is appropriately named the Mist Trail! There was a lot of climbing just to get to the bridge with a view of Vernal Falls and shortly after that we split up. Chris and I headed up the stairs to the top of Vernal Falls while Stacy and Besian headed back down to the Nature Center.
The hike up wasn’t too bad. There were a lot of stairs and near the top we did get really wet but it was a hot day and rather refreshing. We really powered up the stairs – I was using it for Mt Evans “training” and Chris was on board if it meant avoiding the confused children wandering around.
As we hiked up the water fall was thundering next to us but as soon as we got to the top the sound of water almost disappeared. Just up river from the water fall was a still pool of water just waiting to plunge over the edge. It was really pretty, and quiet. A lot of people were breaking for lunch in this area and I kind of wished we were doing the same.
The hike down was a bit more challenging – hopping down slick stairs is not nearly as easy as climbing them! On the way up the mist from the waterfall was welcome and cooling. On the way down we weren’t working quite as hard and the mist was actually quite cold. Not the mention the joyous family ahead of us with a mother that made all 15 kids stop at every bend for a group photo. I guarantee you each photo shows distracted kids with an increasing number of annoyed strangers in the background!
Mirror Lake, our next destination, involved a quick shuttle ride from the Vernal Falls trailhead. As thunder rumbled overhead we booked it out to Mirror Lake. Our friendly meteorologist, Chris, reassured us the clouds were moving away and that we would be fine. We only felt a few drops of rain, he is smart like that.
Mirror Lake wasn’t quite as exciting as we’d hoped. It was a completely still lake with a perfect reflection of Half Dome but it was smaller than we expected. While there we saw two deer wandering through the shrubs, a duckling swim across the lake and a squirrel sitting in a unattended stroller eating a bag of sunflower seeds, so we didn’t leave disappointed!
The final stop of the day had us getting back on the shuttle for a short ride to one of the most visited areas of the park – Yosemite Falls. The paved trail to the falls was less than a mile round trip it was a popular place to be. After seeing the full height of the falls from Glacier Point the day before we mad this a quick photo op then moved on.
In our two days at Yosemite we saw a lot but the park is so big we also missed out on a lot. Considering our time constraints and overall patients as human beings I think we did well! However, if we ever go back here are a few things we’d like to see and do:
- Mariposa Grove – we skipped it since we’d just been to Sequoia
- Half Dome – a permit is required to climb it
- Soda Springs + Tuolumne Meadows – near the Tioga Pass entrance
- Upper Yosemite Falls Hike – a 9.4 mile round trip hike with nearly 3,000 elevation gain
- Rock Climbing – we aren’t there yet, but maybe some day
Many people truly love Yosemite and consider it to be one of the best national parks in the United States. I can’t say that I’m ready to make that claim – Rocky Mountain National Park is basically in my backyard so I might be biased – but we had a great time. After we check a few more national parks off our list I think we’ll make time to come back!