National parks

Yosemite : a beautiful park beyond the Californian clichés

9 October 2015
Yosemite half dome

Should I start this post as the French one ? I was just making fun of French people (and especially myself) and how they prononce the name of the park. Because, as we would read it, we would simply say : yo-sé-mit. But I learned how to pronounce it like the locals (and everyone else I guess), something more like : yo-sé-mi-ti. Not that complicated, right ? It will surely save you some misunderstandings ! What about you : where do you come from and how do you pronounce it ?

Well well, let’s get started on the park tour ! Yosemite National Park was our first stage after landing in Los Angeles and getting our van at Escape. Already almost 500k for this first stage with Karolin and Marijke – and from the start on, we got to admire the richness of the Californian landscapes. We went from a busy city (Los Angeles) to arid areas and ended up in the wooded Yosemite park, coming in by the West entry. Our first arrival was definitely memorable, because it was deep night already (even though it was not that late) and the network was not working (let’s even say that it is not working at all), so we were out of directions on the GPS. But luckily enough, we had booked an RV space at the Lower Pines campground and the road signs were really helpful at every intersection. If you arrive during the day, you will be given a park map by the rangers at the entrance of the park. Exhausted, we quickly put the camper van into night mode – after we were a bit frightened by the “Be bear aware” signs everywhere on the campground (no, I am not kidding).

When we woke up, we were immediately astonished by the surrounding landscape. We were in the middle of a pine forest and could see from afar the Yosemite distinctive stone domes. If you do not have a travel guide, or just by curiosity, start your visit at the Visitor Center, located in the heart of Yosemite Valley. The park rangers are really nice and explain to you what you should do according to how long you are staying in the park, what kind of things you are interested in, your endurance… and leave you with a map with all their notes on it. You will find an effective free shuttle service within the park – allowing you to just leave the car on a parking space and go around with the bus. The shuttles are coming and going regularly and you can just go on and off as you wish. We only stayed one day in the park, so we simply followed the ranger’s recommandations and visited : the Yosemite Upper and Lower Falls, the impressive Vernal FallGlacier Point and part of the Mariposa Grove.

Yosemite

» Yosemite Falls

We started with the closest trail to the visitor center (and also the easiest one) to warm up. In fact, the trail is well defined and there is no elevation gain whatsoever. This trail is accessible to anyone, and you will have a really nice view over the park : over the mountains from the valley and over the first Yosemite waterfalls. As it is stated in the name, the 2 waterfalls are located one on top of the other. I would say that is not a mandatory stop if you have limited time within the park, but it is still a pleasant trail. Be careful with the crowd gathering there during the day, you should go to those falls in the early morning to avoid it.

INFO : 2k loop trail approximatively (starting from the Visitor Center), and about 30 minutes including picture stops

» Vernal Fall, with a view over Nevada Fall

The second trail we took within the park led us directly (well, almost) to Vernal Fall. The hike to reach the fall is relatively easy at first, even though the elevation gain is strong at the start already – and becomes steeper half-way through. It is then looking like natural stairs with over 600 steps ! Remember filling your water bottles up beforehand, and feel free to make some stops along the way because the view over the falls and Yosemite Valley is definitely worth taking some pictures. Even though the hike is long and quite strenuous, the arrival on top is spectacular and makes the trip to Yosemite worth it ! It is really hard to choose between looking at the fall (very powerful in the Spring with the snow melting) and discovering the park from above. We could have stayed a long time on top of the Vernal Fall (especially since we had to recover from the hike) but we eventually went back, without going to Nevada Fall because we unfortunately had no time left and the sky was turning grey (but we saw the waterfall from the trail). It was probably my favorite spot in the park.

INFO : going up following the Mist Trail till Vernal Fall, and going down with the John Muir Trail, approximatively 5k for… 3H walking

Yosemite 2

» Glacier Point

After 2 showers (a cold one coming back from Vernal Fall under the rain and a warm one in Curry Village), we went to Glacier Point driving with the van through Tunnel View. Even though the vista point is close to Yosemite Village, you will have to go on a detour to get there with your car because the number of roads is limited in the park. Anyway, the view from Glacier Point is amazing… Or at least, we saw the potential of it ! Even though the fog made the place look special somehow, we got there probably too late during the day and the view was not clear, as the pictures are showing it. There are some trails leaving from the top, but we have not hiked at Glacier Point – just enjoyed the view… and the snow ! Yes, we were in Yosemite mid-April, and we saw some snow ! (Bring sweaters and scarves)

INFO : top accessible by car through Tunnel View and Chinquapin (see map), road closed during the winter

» Mariposa Grove

Arrg, one day, it is way too short  ! But we really wanted to go to Mariposa Grove to see the giant Yosemite sequoias. It was getting dark, we could not hike to whole trail, but I advise you to take the time to do it. We walked to the Grizzly Giant, estimated to be over 1800 years and which is one if the biggest tree of the park. At the very beginning of the trail, you will also see the Fallen Monarch. You will be able to observe the ramification of its roots and the impressive size of those trees. If you are there, you have to go see the California Tunnel Tree : this sequoia was built in 1895 to let stage-coaches through – amazing ! We went back when it was getting too dark by the South entrance of the parc.

INFO : Mariposa Grove accessible by car, parking at the beginning of the trail (if it is full, park at Wawona Hotel and take the shuttle to Mariposa Grove), around 2k till the Grizzly Giant and back for 20 minutes walking

» Wrapping it up…

All of that in just one day, we were really exhausted – and we still had to spend some time on the road. The landscapes in the park are really beautiful, and it was one of my favorite stage of the road trip (spoiler : we will go back to Yosemite later during the trip). I recommend this park without a doubt if you are traveling in the area ! In one day, we only got to see only a small part of the park, but that is one of the road trip rules… If we could, we would just have stayed 1 week in every place (or we would probably still be stuck in Yosemite right now) ! Note to yourself : as I was mentioning it earlier, there is no proper network within the park – so you will not be able to send Snapchats, post you pictures on Instagram or call your friends and family during your trip (landlines are available in public places : hotels, visitor center…).

I will be back soon !

Yosemite map

PS : Quick hiking guide (and information regarding the park) here !

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