Yosemite is one of our favorite National Parks. Yosemite Valley with its mesmerizing waterfalls, huge granite mountains, and beautiful meadows is paradise for a nature lover.
How to get there: It is about a 4-5 hour drive from the bay area. The closest airports are in San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose and Sacramento.
When to go: If I were to pick one time of the year that is best to visit Yosemite, it has to be spring. We suggest going there in March-April-May as the weather is just perfect and temperatures are in the 70s. The Merced River and all the waterfalls are gushing with the new snow melt, and the park is not as crowded as it gets in the summer. That being said, we have been there in summer and winter as well and the park is just so mesmerizing you wouldn't care about the weather. In the hot summer months (June-September) cool down by river rafting on the gentle Merced. We did that with my parents and had such a fabulous time. I hope K agrees! He was the one who had to compensate for the rest of us rowing in random directions. In the winter months always check road conditions before planning a trip. When we went one December the roads were open, but we needed snow chains. Winter is a great time to try cross country skiing or snowshoeing in the Badger pass ski area. Did you know the first ski school on the west coast was started at Badger Pass in 1928?
Where to Stay: There are a few options inside the park. Recently we discovered a few nice places just outside the park. They are not too far from the Park entrance. They are ideal if you are looking for a little more comfort and want to avoid the crowds. It gets really hard to find accommodation in the park during summers, so book in advance.
Let’s start with places to stay in the park:
Let’s start with places to stay in the park:
- Curry Village: The best thing about Curry Village is its
location. It is right in the middle of the park and it’s easy to get to all the key
locations such as Vernal falls, upper lower Yosemite falls, mirror lake etc. The bus
stop is just a five minute walk. The canvass tent cabins let you experience
camping without having to rig your own tents. The Curry Village has bike and
raft rentals as well. Anytime other than summer make sure that you get a heated
cabin. We stayed there last year in April, and forgot to confirm that the cabin
was heated. That is the coldest I have been in my life, and could not sleep
all night. The shower area is a couple minutes away, and I could not wait for sunrise
to go thaw myself. Last year, Curry
Village had a Hantavirus scare. Many cases of Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome (HPS) were reported, and mice that cause
the disease were found there. They did do a lot of cleanup but we would not be
comfortable staying there. Besides having had the camping experience a few
times, I like a plush bed that many other options around the park offer.
- The Yosemite Lodge: The best thing again is the location at the base of the Yosemite falls. The Mountain Room Lounge at the Yosemite lodge is a great place to relax after a hike or get a picnic lunch before one.
- The Ahwahnee Hotel: This is the best place to stay in Yosemite. It provides you the best of both worlds - luxury with breathtaking views of nature (Yosemite falls, Glacier Point and Half dome). The rooms are just exquisite, and my favorite memory is the dinner we had there during our first trip to Yosemite.
- Hotel Wawona: We saw this hotel on our way to Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoias. I have not seen it from the inside, but was not impressed by the outside look. Also, it is about an hour drive from the park
- Housekeeping Camp: Yosemite is so close to us that we have made last minute plans to go there a couple of times. During the spring and summer months, places get booked well in advance and it gets hard to find a place to stay within the park. This happened to us one time when we went there with my parents. We had to stay at Housekeeping Camp for one night. It is located right across Curry Village. It is ideal for people who want to camp outside without the hassle of setting up a tent. You can choose a unit by the river. Black bears are very common in Yosemite and I was scared that there was no door. You can guess who was the first one to climb the bunk beds! My dad was the bravest and offered to sleep by the entrance. Anyways, bears don't really bother humans. Just make sure there is no food left out in the open. There are bear proof food lockers and trash cans throughout the park.
- Campsites: There are many campsites all along the valley.
We just started exploring options outside the Park, and here is one we stayed at during our trip last weekend:
- River View Lodge: The best part of this hotel was the river view. The sound of the gushing Merced River makes the location so serene. Not all rooms are river facing, so make sure to inquire while making a reservation. The rooms are comfortable, and the bathroom has a Jacuzzi that would feel good after a long hike. Also, the lodge is less than a 10 minute drive from the Park entrance.
What to do:
- Biking: The bike trails in Yosemite are just amazing. Take the bike to the upper/lower falls area, and then walk the last mile to get a fabulous view of the waterfalls. The trails are mostly flat with mild incline at few areas. There is over 10 miles of paved trails in Yosemite. This is the best way to explore the park at your own pace. This time we rented the bikes at Curry Village and rode along the meadows, then went to the lower Yosemite falls, and stopped by at the Swinging Bridges on the way back. Make sure you carry enough hydration!
Biking through the meadows:
View of the upper falls from Swinging Bridges while biking:
A beautiful view of half dome:
- Hiking: Our all time favorite hike is the Mist Trail along the Vernal Falls. It is about a 3-mile round trip hike. You will be hiking right by the waterfall for the last part of the hike, so be ready to be covered with spray. The last few 100 meters are stairs cut into the cliff and are a little steep. The hike is closed in winters when the trail is slippery. After taking in the splendor of Vernal falls you could continue to Nevada falls which is about a 7 mile round trip. If you continue along this trail you can get to the top of half dome, which is an entire day hike.
This trip we decided to go to the Mariposa Grove of the Giant Sequoias. We love going to Muir woods closer to home, and decided to see Mariposa Grove as we had never been there. It is over an hour drive from the park. There is so much to see within the park, it could be a few trips before you would be driving to this area. It was a beautiful hike, and its always great to breathe in the fresh air these 3000+ year giant trees provide.
A fallen Sequoia:
Another favorite hike is the one to mirror lake. It is a super easy flat hike to the lake where you can see beautiful reflections of the half dome and surrounding areas. Once we spotted a black bear on the trail on our way back from the hike!
- River Rafting:The merced river provides a very easy Level 1-2 river rafting experience. At times I was complaining as that meant that we needed to row. Anyways, we let K and dad take care of the rowing while we gave instructions or relaxed with our feet dipped in the icy cold water.
- Enjoy nature and wildlife:Yosemite can be equally amazing even if you don't plan on doing any of the activities. You can just relax, talk a few walks, and enjoy nature. The Yosemite shuttle is an easy way to get to various attractions and lodging within the park.
It is easy to spot black bears, fox, wolves, and deer. On our first trip to Yosemite, K and I were hiking when we saw a mountain lion cub. Last year, we saw a couple of black bears not too far from our hiking trail.
Deer spotting in Curry Village:
Glacier Point: Glacier point is one of the best overlooks in Yosemite. You can see half dome, yosemite falls, Merced river and even spot the little tent cabins of curry village. Roads to Glacier point are usually open May through November.
Rock Climbing: Rock climbing in Yosemite is not for the faint at heart. We have seen people climbing El Capitan through some really high-end binoculars that our fellow travellers shared with us. Just looking at them was scary. People who do this are experts for sure but more importantly they have no concept of fear!
This hike takes multiple days, and the climbers just need to hang out sometimes:
- Curry Village: There are three places to eat in Curry Village. Our favorite after a long day's hike is the Pizza place. They have a wide variety of toppings you can choose from to make your own pizza. There is also a decent sandwich place. We usually pack sandwiches and have a picnic lunch by Sentinel Beach or any other nice spot by the Merced. Curry Village also serves a buffet, but, we are not very fond of it.
- Ahwahnee: The restaurant at the Ahwahnee creates the perfect ambiance for a romantic dinner. Reservations should be made in advance, and the dress code is semi-formal. The ingredients are fresh and organic, and the presentation is great. I have heard that the Sunday Brunch is also good.
- Yosemite Lodge: Located at Yosemite Lodge at the Falls, the Mountain Room Restaurant has striking views of the Yosemite Falls. There is another area - mountain room lounge- that is open till 11pm. It is one of the few places that serves food that late in the valley.
If you have never been to Yosemite, we hope you have already started planning a trip!
We would love to hear from you. Which is your favorite National Park? What is your idea of a perfect vacation - Beach, National parks, City, Historical sites, Adventure? We try to balance all of them, and feel that each vacation teaches us more about this world and shared experiences bring us closer to each other.
Happy travels everyone!