It’s really hard to think of anything profound to write about Yosemite. It is truly an awe-inspiring place. I’m mostly going to let the pictures speak for themselves and instead publish some hints if you’re planning a trip here.
First, though, this scene. We visited at a not-so-good time for the sun on three of the primary attractions: El Capitan, Half Dome and Bridalveil Falls. But, still. Isn’t this amazing?
We stayed in Half Dome Village in a tent cabin. This was previously known as Curry Village until some type of trademark dispute in 2015 stripped it and the historic Ahwahnee Hotel of their names. What a shame. Curry Village has existed since 1899 and was so named because of the family that originally started the tourist camp. My folks stayed at this same place in the late 1950s / early 1960s.
We were returning to our tent cabin at dusk the first night. One of the residents on our “street” was apparently sorting their food or prepping for the next day. They had their tent cabin door open and the bear box right next to their door open too. As we walked by, a big raccoon jumped out of their bear box. Apparently the masked bandit had been lurking in the shadows waiting for this opportunity. This was the day after our raccoon encounter in Pinnacles. Sarah is not a fan of raccoons!
In the “small world” category – we were approached by an off-duty shuttle driver who saw our Missouri license plate. She has a place in Ellington, Missouri. Summers she drives the Yosemite shuttle. Winters she “draws California unemployment” and hangs out with old Navy friends in Ellington. I’m not sure I’d pick Ellington as my winter retreat but it sounds like she has a nice semi-retirement plan!
Whatever you do, don’t stop at the footbridge overlook at Vernal Falls. Just look at these pictures! Yes, it’s 600 steps up to the top but look at these pictures! It was one of the most amazing waterfalls I’ve encountered and certainly the best of this trip (so far). I have to admit that I didn’t go all the way up although we did go up past the stairs in this picture. Not included in the stair count are lots of rock ledges you have to scramble up. Going up wasn’t that bad but coming down is hard – particularly with no depth perception. I had trouble seeing where there was an actual difference in elevation so I bailed short of the top. The hike to Vernal Falls is all uphill. It was already pushing 90 degrees the morning we hiked. On the way back down, we encountered an elderly man walking with two canes up the trail to the falls. His t-shirt – “still perfect after all these years.” I quit complaining after I saw him.
Mirror Lake Hike
Vernal and Nevada Falls
Nevada is the upper falls in the photo. No, we didn’t hike to it!
Stay in the park. It’s a long way into the park and you don’t want to waste precious hours driving in and out each day. It’s a good two hour drive from Mariposa. Even within the park, it’s an hour plus to drive the 35 miles from Wawona to the valley floor. Plus parking is awful in Yosemite Valley. If you’re staying there, you can pretty much just leave your car the whole time and use the free shuttle.
Unless you have specific plans for hikes or other activities in other areas of the park, stay in the valley. This is where Half Dome, El Capitan, Yosemite, Bridalveil, Vernal and other falls are located. This is also where the majority of the food and other services are located.
The only reliable internet (unless you’re staying at one of the hotels) is at Degnan’s Deli and Loft. Also it’s the only place that has made-to-order sandwiches.
Bring a power strip, especially if you’re not staying in a hotel room. The tent cabin has one outlet with just one plug-in. If you leave your car for a couple of days like we did, you’ll need more than one plug to recharge camera batteries, phones, etc. We actually made a Target run our first night of this trip for a power cord even though we have a power block in the car.
The Park Service is serious about using bear boxes. It’s a $5,000 fine and expulsion from your campsite or soft-side tent cabin if you’re caught not using one. And, it’s not just about food. You have to put all of your toiletries in the bear box each night and cannot leave anything in your car.
While the bear boxes are bear and raccoon-proof (as long as they’re closed), they aren’t bug proof. We packed our clothes in plastic tubs so we emptied one out and used it to put all of our food and toiletries in and then put that in the bear box. Ziplocs are also good for corralling all of the small stuff like lip balm and suntan lotion that you want to get back in the backpack each day.
Plan your trip far in advance. We were extremely lucky to get reservations for three consecutive days only a week before our visit. Most guidebooks recommend making reservations 6 months to a year in advance. I think we must have searched for the reservations immediately after someone else cancelled. We talked to people who were moving from one site to another just to get the number of days they wanted in the park. That’s a hassle.
The season is important too. I was surprised to read that Yosemite Falls is often dry by August. It seems impossible given the volume of water we saw the last days of June. On the other hand, Mirror Lake was almost dry when we did that hike – which leads me to another tip – invest in bug spray or wristbands. And take them with you – believe me. Voice of experience.