I’m sure you’ve heard of the name Yosemite, especially if you’re a Mac OG (remember OS version 10.10, this is the national park in California it was named after). It is one of the most sought after destination for hikers, photographers and families alike.
The valley is no less than a shrine to human foresight. It showcases the strength of granite, the power of glaciers, the persistence of life, and the tranquility of the High Sierra. It rejuvenates your soul with it’s beauty and grandeur, has something to offer no matter your age group and the best part it does not end up draining your pocket (budget friendly).
Needless to say it is extremely crowded during summer especially if it’s a long weekend. Honestly, it can be very disheartening (read irritating) to find sold out or very expensive accommodation and flight tickets every time you start your search.
Don’t fret just yet, I may have some ideas up my sleeve to avoid the hassles of planning this great adventure.
- Start Planning early: I am not exaggerating when I say places get booked 6 months in advance for long weekends or during summer also flights can get very pricey very soon. It’s a good idea to start deciding early on whether you want to camp, live in or outside the valley and your trip itinerary.
- Plan the trip on a regular weekend: This option makes sense if you have some spare vacation days or you’re located in the Bay Area. You will definitely miss the heavy long weekend traffic not just on the roads but also less crowded vistas.
- Book accommodation in advance: This will help you find lodging inside the park. There’a wide array of accommodation ranging from elegant hotels with exceptional service to simple canvas tent cabins to choose from. These do sell out very quickly so it’s best to book them in advance especially during summer months.
- Consider staying outside the Valley: If you’re planning the trip last minute you’ll have to be extremely lucky to find accommodation inside the valley. Don’t loose hope just yet, there are a lot of options right outside the park in Yosemite West (30 mins) and Wawona (1 hour drive from yosemite village). You can find cabins or studios for rent on Airbnb and VRBO. This is a great option for large groups.
- Rent a car (if not driving). This goes without saying, if wanna explore more than where the shuttle bus goes you must rent a car. Consider getting an AWD if traveling during winter.
Efficient planning tips: To make the best use of your time.
- Be aware of park conditions: Check the parks website to find any latest updates (closed roads, timings etc.) in advance.
- Plan your day: Grab a map of the valley and mark down the spots you want to visit. Trace the map to plan the best route to cover maximum spots for each day of your stay (considering the time taken to reach the spot, hiking, pictures etc.).
- Download an offline map of the area on your google maps. Cellular data connectivity is hardly available once you’re inside the park. So an offline map can be very useful to navigate if you don’t have a GPS.
- Start early: It’s no secret starting the day early has its own rewards, you not only get the opportunity to view a picturesque sunrise, you can also find parking close to the trailheads(trust me this can be such a pain). The best part though is that you have a longer day so nothing needs to be rushed and you can squeeze in more fun things to do and spots to visit.
- Use free shuttle service inside the park. You can park your car near the Village visitor center and use the park shuttle which goes around eastern Yosemite Valley, including stops at or near all overnight accommodations, stores, and major vistas. This shuttle operates all year from 7 am to 10 pm.
- Plan your meals. You might also want to keep in mind where you want to eat through the day. If you’re not planning to cook there are plenty of dining options to choose from.
- Carry a backpack. Pack lunch, energy bars and water as you start the day. This way you won’t have to worry about coming back for all the way to the village and you’ll end up saving a lot of time. Also, it’s a good idea to carry a first-aid kit and over the counter medication.
- Wear appropriate footwear. You would be doing a lot of walking throughout the day hence comfort and safety should be your top most priority while deciding on the right pair. If you plan on hiking up to any of the waterfalls, wear something that provides better traction. Carrying a 2-in-1 jacket .
- Pack smart. Always be aware of the weather conditions in advance to ensure you have the right set of clothes, sunscreen, shades etc. You don’t wanna be missing the right piece of outerwear and be tempted to end your day early as it starts getting chilly in the evening (early summer or fall). Also, don’t forget to carry meds if you’re prone to motion sickness. Creating a checklist is the way to go.
- Be safe and stick to the plan as much as possible but don’t worry if you miss a spot or two, after all it’s a vacation so the most important part is enjoying every bit of it 🙂
I’ve been to Yosemite several times now and these are some of the must do spots in my opinion.
TUNNEL VIEW: You will be greeted by this panoramic view of the valley as you enter the park on your way to Glacier Point. It is one of the most iconic spots, framed by waterfalls & granite monoliths El Capitan & Half Dome.
GLACIER POINT: I’ve been to Glacier point multiple times and yet it never stops to amaze me with a stunning view each time. I’d say the best time to be here is for sunset and then staying bit longer for star gazing. The one time I did stay late, I was treated with breathtaking views of different galaxies and planets using big telescopes set up by an astronomy club. It was definitely worth the wait. Here’s their schedule for this year(Bonus: It’s free). Even if there are no astronomers scheduled on the day of your visit you’d still be able to witness shooting stars (more than you can imagine).
MIST TRAIL HIKE (VERNAL/NEVADA FALLS): This is one of the most signature hikes that distances 3 miles (4.8 km) round trip to Vernal Fall, 7 miles (11 km) round trip to Nevada Falls. I would rate this hike as easy/moderate if you stop at Vernal Falls. Some hikers go up to half dome (requires special permit) which is a difficult one.
MIRROR LAKE: This is a relatively easy hike of about 2 miles (an hour) roundtrip with a reflection of the half dome on the lake. The lake can be relatively dry during summer so don’t get your hopes up. Also, it’s always a good idea to ask hikers coming back what the view is like. I don’t want to sound discouraging but it’s always good to know what to expect, if there’s another spot I can cover in that hour I’d rather do that. We just got lucky with some picturesque views thanks to the heavy rains this year (also we went in early months of summer).
STONEMAN MEADOW: These meadows are located just 5 mins walking distance from the half dome village so you can stop here anytime.
BRIDALVEIL FALLS: This hike is an easy one (1.2 miles from the parking lot, 15-30 mins) and I highly recommend it if you’re visiting in spring or early summer. It’s a great spot for portrait photography.
UPPER AND LOWER YOSEMITE FALLS: This is a considerably difficult hike (7.6 miles round trip, 4-5 hours). It’s best to not double book on the day you plan on hiking the Empire State Building twice. Yes, that’s how much you climb on this hike! On the bright side the view on top is breathtaking.
So get on it and start packing!!
Sweaters : Banana Republic Cashmere Crew neck sweater, perfect for Balmy days and cool evenings which is very common at Yosemite in early summer.
Denim: American Eagle Outfitters Very comfortable pair for easy hikes.
Compression Leggings: Old Navy
Jacket: Columbia Three in one interchange jacket, to keep you warm and dry.