Yosemite National Park, crown jewel of the Sierra!

Lower Yosemite Falls is just a short hike from the Valley floor

Bicyclists are dwarfed by Yosemite Falls; the Yosemite Valley has miles of cycling and hiking trails!
Half Dome and Vernal Falls, viewed from Glacier Point
Half Dome viewed from Glacier Point almost makes your heart stop!

Bridalveil Falls with Half Dome in the background

The mighty Sierra, popularly called the “range of light” for its vast peaks bathed in sunshine, has as its crowning jewel Yosemite National Park.  Set aside earlier by the State of California after naturalist John Muir visited and raved about its wonders, Yosemite became America’s second national park in 1864 (after Yellowstone).

Yosemite offers four distinct geographic areas: the Yosemite Valley (visited by almost all park visitors), its Sequoia groves, the granite cliffs and their waterfalls and the High Sierra.

In Yosemite Valley, “everything is flowing”, John Muir wrote, “going somewhere, animals and the so-called lifeless rocks as well as water.”  The valley inspired the idea of a national park; its compact footprint offers some of the most stunning scenery in the world.  Carved by glaciers and shaped by water and wind since, it is a land of constantly changing beauty and personality.

The park’s Sequoia groves stand as testimony to a time thousands of years earlier.  Many of these trees are up to 2,000 years old and reach to 250 feet in height with trunks up to 25 feet thick.  President Lincoln in 1864 signed the bill that protected the park’s Mariposa Grove and the Valley.

One cannot traverse the roads into the park or tour the valley without the ever-present granite cliffs and rock formations that have made this park so famous the world-over.  The monster cliffs of Yosemite and its twin, Hetch Hetchy Valley, almost defy the imagination.  Half Dome, El Capitan and scores of other sublime rock formations are thought of as some of the greatest climbing challenges in the world; climbers come from every part of the globe to test their talents.

The High Sierra is the last of the four distinct areas.  Rocky Sierra peaks, granite domes, fast-flowing mountain streams, hundreds of miles of hiking trails and snow that can last until July make this park one that stays forever in the imagination!

First-timers should start at the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center for a good grounding in how the park came to be, what to see and what to avoid.  Not to be missed beyond the Valley floor: both Inspiration Point and the road to Glacier Point (the Point offers views that you can never forget with a vantage point overlooking most of the Yosemite Valley and its surrounding grandeur).

In the valley, take the time to hike the short Lower Yosemite Falls Trail; if you are hardier, take the longer trail to the Upper Falls.  Stop and walk along a stretch of the Merced River as it flows placidly through this stunning scenery.  Take Hwy 41 to the south side of the park and walk through the majestic Mariposa Grove, with Sequoias that will stun you and your family.

Take a breakfast, lunch or dinner break in the iconic Ahwahnee Hotel (which offers a reasonable children’s menu) with its impressive views of Glacier Point and Half Dome.  Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village also offer dining options.

When to go: Now to Memorial Day, for best viewing of waterfalls as result of this dry winter.  Try to avoid visiting between Memorial Day and Labor Day – particularly on weekends – when the park can be jammed.  When you do get there, plan to park your car and use the park’s free shuttle service (or, take your bikes – the Valley has wonderful biking trails, almost all gentle and flat).

What to take: Camera and binoculars, of course, good walking shoes or boots and water bottles or a canteen if you plan to hike the park’s spectacular trails.

What’s nearby: Groveland, on Hwy 120 into Yosemite, has a number of quaint restaurants and shops.  El Portal, the town on Hwy 140 out of the park, has similar visitor and guest amenities, as well as motels and bed and breakfasts.  And, if on an extended vacation, note that Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks are just a few hours south of Yosemite!

Where to stay: In the park, the Ahwahnee at the high end, Curry Village and the Wawona Hotel all are options, in addition to hostelries in nearby towns.  Campers may want to choose campgrounds along Tioga Road, rather than in the crowded valley.

How to get there: From Stockton to Yosemite, it’s about 137 miles and 3.5 hours.  Take Hwy 99 south to Manteca, then go east on Hwy  120, which takes you to the park entrance.

For more information: Go to: www.nps.gov/yose.  The park headquarters is at PO Box 577, Yosemite National Park, CA 95389-0577; phone: 209.372.0200.  Camping can be booked through www.recreation.gov, or by calling 877.444.6777.

For other inspirational destinations in CA, see my travel blog: blogs.esanjoaquin.com/valleytravel!  Coming up In the next few weeks, we will offer you a tour of most of California’s nine marvelous national parks!  Can you name them all? (Note: national monuments and sea shores don’t count).

This entry was posted in Central California, Northern California, Sierra Nevada and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Post a comment

Post a Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment.

We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Rules. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or fill out this form.
  • Categories

  • Archives