As someone who loves rockclimbing and nature, visiting Yosemite National Park has always been a dream of mine. I decided, what better time to cross it off my bucket list than for my birthday?!
Not far from Sequoia National Park is the legendary Yosemite National Park. Stretching over 748,436 acres across the Sierra Nevada, Yosemite offers some of the most breathtaking views I’ve seen to date. If you like to really get out into nature, over 94% of the park is made up of wilderness.
If you’re heading into the park from the south, you’ll likely pass through Mariposa Grove first. This section of Yosemite is home to over 500 mature sequoia trees, with two of them holding records within the top 30 largest sequoia trees in the world.
As you head into the Grove, you will pass by the Fallen Monarch tree. This massive sequoia tree fell centuries ago, but is still preserved enough for us to admire it's impressive size today. Pictures really don't do these trees justice, but I did my best!
As you keep hiking through the grove, you’ll come across the Bachelor and Three Graces trees. Their roots have become so intertwined over the years that if one falls, they may all fall. You can see how they got their name though...
Next you’ll come across the star of the show. The Grizzly Giant tree is the oldest tree in the Grove at an estimated 2,400 years in age. It is the 25th largest tree on the planet at 34,000 cubic feet. It stands over the Grove at over 210 feet tall and has an impressive base of 30 feet in diameter.
After you pass by the Grizzly Giant tree you’ll see the California Tunnel Tree. This one you don’t drive through, but you can walk through it! The California Tree is one of two living sequoia trees in Mariposa Grove that have been tunneled through. This tree was cut through all the way back in 1895!!!
The grove is full of huge trees like this! All with their own story. You can see the map above to get an idea of what trees you'll see there. The Grove consists of many miles to hike of unforgettable views. You definitely want to make time for this area of Yosemite.
Not far from Mariposa Grove is the Wawona Hotel, previously known as the Big Trees Lodge. This Victorian-style hotel has been offering visitors a place to eat and sleep since 1856. It’s located right next to the Wawona Visitor center, so take a second to check it out if you stop by!
Another way into the park is taking El Portal Road. This scenic drive takes you through woods and mountains into the heart of it all. It is a beautiful drive into the Valley and the main section of the park.
Many people say Yosemite Valley is the highlight of the park. It was definitely one of my favorite spots. And, if I'm being honest, you don't want to drive all the way to Yosemite and skip the Valley. Since it is so popular, that means it’s most often one of the busiest areas, especially if you go in the summer. The Valley is what most people think of when you hear 'Yosemite', although the park has so much to offer.
One of the other well-known granite rock formations in the park is El Capitan. El Cap hovers over 7,500 feet above Yosemite Valley. Native Americans named the formation, Rock Chief, which later was renamed to El Capitan, or El Cap for short.
For many years, people believed El Cap was unclimbable. That is, until Warren Harding. He was the first person to say hey, I’m crazy enough to pull this off. His dream inspired millions to climb the notorious rock structure and claim victory. I hope to one day to add my name to the list if I am ever so lucky. You never know what the future holds!
If you’re taking the time to visit Yosemite, be sure to make time for one of the most famous views in Yosemite Park - Tunnel View. Here you can see epic views of Bridalveil Fall, Half Dome, El Capitan, and Yosemite Valley. The parking lot is a bit small and everyyyoneeee wants to stop here, so it may take some patience and planning.
There’s something magical about coming out of the dark tunnel and the first thing you see is some of the most legendary rock formations on Earth. Here you can see some of the most epic views of Half Dome, Yosemite Valley, Bridalveil Fall, and El Cap the park has to offer. Whether you’re experiencing good or bad weather, Tunnel View is a must!
Once you’ve got your fill of Tunnel View, head further into the park to check out the Valley. Here you'll find different vantage points of some of the different rock formations. There are a variety of lodges, hikes, and other things to do in the Valley. Beware: this is also one of the most busiest areas of the park! I suggest you find a parking spot in the Valley and explore by foot or take a shuttle. It gets crazy by midday.
One of the most famous waterfalls in the park is Yosemite Falls. This three-tiered waterfall is over 2,400 feet tall, ranking as the tallest waterfall in North America and the fifth largest in the world. The Upper Fall is 1,430 feet, the Middle Cascades is 675 feet and the Lower Fall is 320 feet. Depending on the time of year you visit, the waterfall may be more or less powerful. It will be at it's peak in the spring after the snow melts, and the later you wait to visit in the summer, the smaller the stream will be. I was surprised how powerful the waterfalls were for my birthday!
The infamous Half Dome! I waited many years to see this. Half Dome formed over 65 million years ago, can you believe that?! Despite the name, Half Dome was never whole. This 8,800 foot landmark is one of the main attractions of the park and is a prime rockclimbing location. The Sentinel Bridge offers amazing views of Half Dome and the Merced River.
The Sentinel Bridge is a great spot to visit during the day or for sunset. During the day in the summer, it’s common to see people tubing down the Merced River. Can you blame them? That crystal clear water looks so inviting! Plus, the summertime weather is absolutely perfect, just be sure to check about local wildfires in the area before visiting. This year we got really lucky, but I remember hearing how much of the park burned last year. I saw a LOT of acres of burned land in Yosemite during my visit, but only a few fires.
The Sentinel Bridge can be really busy at sunset, especially with all the photographers and tripods spread out across the bridge, but we got lucky! We visited during the day and went back the next evening for sunset because it was such a beautiful spot. You can watch the sun line change over Half Dome, casting a beautiful orangey color on it. Definitely a highlight of the trip!
Once you’ve had your fill of the Valley, hop back in your rig and head to Glacier Point. Here you can get a great view of Half Dome and three waterfalls. The road to Glacier Point is only open to vehicles from May/June through November, depending on the weather. Some people ski the two miles down the road to the point in the winter.
This view is epic anytime of day or night. After staying to watch the sunset, we waited to watch the moon rise over the mountain!!! You can see it as it peaks over the horizon in the picture above. This spot is also killer for star-gazing. Make sure to look up at the sky at night wherever you are in the park, you can see the Milky Way in Yosemite!!
We spent quite a few nights posted up in Yosemite watching the moon rise and capturing star pictures. Whether you're into night photography or you just appreciate a clear, star-filled sky, the views are incredible. In the picture above, the moonlight is reflecting down on El Cap as the moon rises, just like when the sun rises. It was quite cool to experience, but I have to say, it takes a lot of patience!!!
Another cool waterfall to see in Yosemite is Bridalveil Fall. It is the most photographed waterfall in the park, made famous by Ansel Adams' Gates of Yosemite picture. This 620 foot waterfall only requires a short hike to get to and the trail is open year-round. The waterfall peaks in spring and early summer after the snow melts. Towards the end of the summer the water slows, but you can still see it year-round, unlike Yosemite Falls. This waterfall is known for how it moves left and right as the wind blows it. Another important thing to say is to stay on the effing trail! Scrambling could result in you getting hurt. Rocks may not look slippery but may in fact be wet. The waterfall moves, so a trail you used to get up may no longer be safe on the way down.
There is so much to do in Yosemite including rockclimbing, rafting, hiking, photography, camping, and more. If you love hiking, you’re going to have a blast in Yosemite. There are tons of trails all over the park ranging from easy to strenuous. If you're into backpacking, head toward Hetch Hetchy, a much less traveled area of the park.
Next up on our Yosemite tour is Tioga Road. This gorgeous route is only open for one or two months during the summer, depending on weather, and stretches across the northern section of the park. It is a beautiful drive towards Mono Lake and the Lee Vining area. There are a variety of viewpoints to stop at along the way.
One of the most popular spots along Tioga Road is Toulumne Meadows. It is one of the largest high-elevation meadows in the Sierra Nevada at 8,600 feet. It will take you about 1.5 to 2 hours to get there from Yosemite Valley, so plan accordingly. The park is really big and you'll definitely want to take your time exploring!
Toulumne Meadows is a great place to hike, grab a bite to eat at the lodge, or enjoy the gorgeous views. I found this area very calming. Although there were people left and right, it didn't feel as claustrophobic as the Valley and I enjoyed my time here a lot. We ended up stopping here again on our way back through because we liked it so much!
Tenaya Lake, also known as the "Jewel of High Country," is a great place to swim, boat, or enjoy the fruits of lake life. This breathtaking lake is surrounded by lush forests and granite domes. It is quite the scenic area!
Another scenic spot and a great place to picnic or hike along Tioga Road is Lembert Dome. If you choose to do this hike, it is about a 3 mile roundtrip loop rated as moderate. If you have a few hours to kill, this is a scenic hike you may like. It is one of the spots you are allowed to scramble as you ascend up to the top of the dome. (This was the rule when I visited - please check with park rangers when you visit to ensure this is still allowed...you never know which idiot will ruin it next!)
As you keep going down Tioga Road, you’ll eventually reach the end of the park. If you keep heading towards Lee Vining, you’ll end up at Mono Lake, a spot you certainly don’t want to miss. It was one of my favorite places by far and one of the stops we spent the most time at during the trip. This ancient saltine lake covers over 70 square miles and provides a unique ecosystem attracting 1-2 million migrating birds per year. I was shocked at how many alkaline flies there were!!!!!! There are no fish in this lake - only shrimp and these crazy flies. The files hover by the edge of the water and swarm by the literal thousands... no I'm not exaggerating.
Now about the crazy rock formations you see all over the lake. These tufa towers are formed as fresh water bubbles up through the lake's alkaline water. The calcium-carbonate spires you see hovering over the lake attract tons of people annually. The lake is so salty that if you try to swim, you will find yourself floating to the surface more than in other water due to the salt levels.... eerie.... For more geology must-sees check out the Panum Crater right around the corner.
Ok now that you all are drooling over my pictures and going over when and how to get there yourself, lets talk basics: lodging. While Yosemite National Park offers hotels, cabins, campsites, and more, these can sell out very quick, making planning difficult. Also, Yosemite isn't super dog friendly, but you can bring your dog in certain areas. If you want to stay outside the park and drive in for the day, there are lots of towns an hour or so away.
Also important to note is there aren't a ton of towns immediately surrounding Yosemite and cell coverage will be limited, but there is AAA in the park. My Jeep unfortunately malfunctioned on a mountain pass (yikes), and we ended up using a shoestring until we could get to an auto parts store an hour or so out. Before you plan your trip, be sure to map out all the Jeep stores you may need in case it decides to give you trouble.
Speaking of being prepared, always think ahead when it comes to fuel, food, and water. While there are a few gas stations in Yosemite, be prepared to pay a pretty penny!!! You can see just how much it costs in the picture above, although I'm sure in a few years we may be bragging about this... sigh..... You can find quite a few restaurants throughout Yosemite National Park and there are also places to grab ice as well as supplies.
I had so much fun at Yosemite, I know I'll be back many more times!!! Although I covered a ton during my visit, and probably much more than the average person, I barely scratched the surface. There are so many awesome things to see and do in Yosemite depending on what you're in to, you really can get a new experience every time you visit. Contact me if you plan on going and I'll help you plan your vacation!
Check out more pictures from my trip below: