Visiting Yosemite National Park, USA

I thought we’d go to Yosemite National Park today, because it’s a pretty incredible place. Like many Australians, we didn’t really know where to start in planning our visit to the park, and a lot of information we found online seemed to be more geared towards Americans, so here are some tips that I hope will help others make the most of their first visit to this gorgeous place.

HOW DO I GET THERE?
Drive. Well, fly to the general vicinity, then drive. If you fly into San Francisco, it’ll be about a 4 hour drive, around 5 hours from Los Angeles, or 7 hours from Las Vegas.

 

HOW LONG DO I NEED?
It’ll really depend on how much you want to do – for a bit of a taste, 3 days is a good amount; if you want to do some camping and serious hiking, give yourself a solid week.

WHERE SHOULD I BASE MYSELF?
You’ll need to consider the time and money trade off when you decide where to stay. The closer you are to the park, the more accommodatiom tends to cost. But if you go with something cheaper, it may add on quite a bit of driving time to and from the park each day.

We stayed in the Yosemite Valley at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge – it took us around an hour to get to El Capitan, had a restaurant and laundry on site, and very big, comfortable rooms. If you’d like to camp within the park, head to the National Park Service website for more information.

 

CAN I PARK MY CAR IN THE PARK?
Absolutely – car parking areas are all well signed, and they have a free, eco-friendly shuttle buses to scoot you around between major sights. It’s best to check for road closures and snow chain requirements in winter online before setting off, too.

DO I HAVE TO PAY TO ENTER?
Yes – you can buy a seven day pass from USD $30.00 per car from the entrance gates situated on all the roads into the park. Basically, plug “Yosemite National Park” into your GPS and prepare to hand over $30 when you get close to the park!

 

WHAT FACILITIES ARE AVAILABLE?
If you head to he Visitor Center in the middle of the Yosemite Valley, you’ll find park staff to answer your questions, as well as a pretty impressive general store (souvenirs and food and groceries), bathrooms, a café, camping grounds and shuttle buses. When you’re out and about, taking your long drives through the park, you will be able to find toilets periodically, but fair warning: they’re drop toilets…

WHAT SHOULD I SEE IF I ONLY HAVE A FEW DAYS?
If you have limited time, I’d recommemd the following…

Day 1: Drive to the Yosemite Valley Visitor Center and leave your car at one of the parking lots in the area. Between walking around and using the free shuttke, you’ll be able to see summits like the Half Dome, El Capitan, Eagle Peak and Sentinel Dome, walk along Tenaya Creek and the Merced River, maybe see some deer while you picnic at Mirror Lake, and check out the Yosemite Conservation Heritage Center.

Day 2: Get into your car, stock up on snacks, and drive the Tioga Pass Road all the way up to Tuolumne Meadow and back. Make sure you’re wearing comfortable shoes so you can hike around Olmsted Point, and pack a picnic lunch to eat on the shore of Tenaya Lake.

WHAT SHOULD I BRING?
• Sunscreen. Always. And actually use it!
• Sunglasses. When that sun hits white rock or reflects off the water, your eyes will thank you.
• Layers. Just because the day starts cold, doesn’t mean it won’t heat up. Light layers are your friends.
• Comfortable shoes you can walk all day on uneven terrain in.
• A backpack – you don’t need to be toting a handbag around here.
• A map. If you’re planning on hiking, you don’t want to rely on your phone – batteries die, signals are lost. If you intend on exploring, even a small map is a good idea.
• A water bottle and snacks. You can of course buy it all there, but it’s always much cheaper to BYO. Just remember to take all of your scraps with you, because bears.

UMMM… BEARS??!
Yeah, that’s a thing. All you really need to know is stick to the marked paths as much as possible, if there aren’t many other people around, make plenty of noise as you walk (they don’t like that), and when you’re done with your picnic, pick up any pieces of lettuce and ham that have dropped out of your sandwich, and dispose of all food waste in one of the many bear-proof bins you’ll find in the park.

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6 Stops To Make On The Tioga Pass Road in Yosemite National Park

Yosemite is a beautiful park, and the big drawcard sights are every bit as impressive as you think they’ll be. The Half Dome and El Capitan are imposingly gorgeous, and the little museum and cemetery are well worth the look, too, and I’ll certainly get to those.

But everyone goes to the Yosemite Valley to see those, so after a day there, we thought we’d take the path less travelled and drive the Tioga Pass Road and see what the other side of the park had to offer.

With a bit of help from my beloved Sygic Travel app, I plotted out our path from our accommodation at the Yosemite Westgate Lodge to the Tuolumne Meadows, and saved the spots we liked as we went… here’s the map we ended up with (not quite to scale, but the approximate distances between each stop are marked in there!):

It’s a truly delightful drive, and so easy to do by yourself. We did this drive, with all our stops, in about 5 hours – if you’re a hiker, though, leave more time than that!

 

Stop 1: Buy your pass
This was the entrance closest to our accommodation, so if you’re planning to stay in the same spot, just roll on up, pay your USD$30 for a week’s visit, take your pass, and roll on through! Keep your receipt, because you’ll need to show it again on your way out.

 

Stop 2: The sheer rocks
This really took us by surprise; we pulled over so I could take a photo, and ended up scrambling up the rocks a way, just because we could! Fantastic view, several squirrels, and fun to be crawling around out there! Be careful pulling over because there isn’t a carpark, just a little space on the side of the road.

 

Stop 3: The little lake
I don’t know what it’s called, but this adorable little lake just comes out of nowhere, and there was no one else around so we had it all to ourselves! There’s a little inlet to pull your car in, then take the faint path leading down to the water.

Top left: the sheer rocks
Bottom left: Olmsted Point
Right: the little lake

Stop 4: Olmsted Point
Holy wow this place was incredible! Plenty of space to park your car, and a few trails if you want to hike! Take the path marked about 300m to the viewpoint, and find yourself basically at the top of the world, surrounded by granite and pines.

 

Stop 5: Tenaya Lake
This place is perfection.. the water is so clear you can see straight to the bottom, and the rocks are high and flat enough to picnic on, which we did. There were a few cars about, but still few enough that we could pick a spot on the water to relax on our own.

Top: Tenaya Lake
Bottom: Tuolumne Meadow

Stop 6: Tuolumne Meadow
This was the highest point of our day trip, at an elevation of just over 8500 feet. A big, flat, wide open meadow, with the river running through it. Again, lots of parking available, but such a big area that we didn’t see anyone else around until we were walking back to the car.