California Dreaming: Yosemite National Park

This is the second post in a series about our recent vacation/adventure to California. Click here to read the first post about Calaveras Big Trees State Park.

Paul and I have the lofty goal of going to every single National Park in America (according to this site, there are 58 parks). Since setting this goal back in 2011 (after visiting Acadia NP in Maine) we’ve been to 9 parks, including THREE in this recent trip: Yosemite, Sequoia & King’s Canyon National Parks.  Yosemite has been at the top of our list for years – so that’s where we headed first.

Despite the fact that we didn’t start planning this trip until late March, we were very fortunate to book 3 nights IN Yosemite Valley! Granted, it wasn’t the Awahnee (you need to book that many months in advance…and have some deep pockets), rather it was an unheated tent cabin (with shared restrooms) in Curry Village. Nevertheless, staying IN the park is a HUGE advantage. You don’t have to make the time to drive the meandering 45 minutes IN and OUT of the park. You’re there, even soaking it in while you sleep :)

Camp Curry

We arrived at Curry Village around 8:30 PM. The parking lot was pretty full, and it almost seemed more like an amusement park than a campground.  While waiting on a lengthy line to check in (normal for a Sunday night), we had to watch a looped video on how bears will destroy your car if you have ANY food (or even scented toiletries) in it. We had rented a soft top convertible…so with every loop, I was getting more & more nervous. To avoid being one of the car’s featured in next year’s video, all bear bait had to be placed in a bear-proof bin which was outside of your not-bear-proof tent cabin.

The tent cabins in Curry Village

Paul, sitting on the bear bin, in front of our tent cabin: #478 :)

After watching the bear video about 53 times, we finally got access to our tent cabin and realized it was in a really good spot: a short walk to the common areas (food, store, lounge with wifi & electrical outlets) and even closer to the bathrooms & showers (but not too close). Plus – we had booked 2 twin beds (the only option left), but they had changed it to 1 fullsize bed – lucky us for the 40ish degree nights!

Once our bear contraband was safely stowed away, we beat the crowds at Pizza Patio for some dinner, made some loose plans for the next day & then called it a night.

When we woke up the next morning, we could really appreciate where we were. When you came out from the tree-covered tent area & looked up, you realized you were surrounded by magnificent walls of granite (and bright blue skies beyond that) – it was incredible!

The granite walls of Yosemite Valley

Our accommodations included a meal voucher for a buffet breakfast at the pavilion. They had a good variety of options, so we fueled up for a day full of hiking. I also wrote out postcards to our parents and my brother & sister-in-law as well as to ourselves. Pro-tip: Sending yourself a postcard is a good way to get a souvenir and also remind yourself of some trip details. ;)

After breakfast, we went to the information desk to ask about the Panorama Trail, which was recommended to us by a nice family at the winery the day before. It sounded perfect – an 8ish mile hike from Glacier Point (directly above us at the top of the valley) down to Yosemite Valley (where we were staying). Unfortunately, the bus that you take up to Glacier Point was booked for the next 3 days! Whaaat? Therefore, Paul and I have resolved that we will go back to Yosemite to do the Panorama Trail.

Instead we chose to do the Mist Trail, the valley’s most popular hike. That meant it was a little crowded, but less so the further (and higher) you go.  We took the free shuttle about a mile to Happy Isles, where the Mist trailhead was. The trail started after we crossed the Merced River, which we then paralleled for a while until we started an uphill climb. We took our time as the grade was pretty steep and it was only our second day at elevation (over 4000 feet).  Eventually, we came to a bridge and crossed the Merced River again.  This is where we got our first glimpse of Vernal Falls:

Our first glimpse of Vernal Falls

We were headed to the TOP of Vernal Falls, 1,000 feet higher than the trailhead.  After the bridge, the trail went into the woods, and was back to paralleling the Merced River.  Eventually we emerged from the woods and it was time to start climbing:

The climb up to Vernal Falls

As we climbed, we soon understood how the Mist Trail got it’s name.  We got SOAKED:

The Mist Trail's namesake

Oh, and I’m happy to report that despite it being late Spring and California’s (unfortunate) drought, the falls were definitely flowing!

Vernal Falls, Yosemite Park

I worried about the camera getting wet, so I kept covering it with the flannel shirt I had been wearing that morning. But, of course, I kept uncovering it to take pictures – it just kept getting more magnificent with every step! Plus, there was a rainbow in the mist! A rainbow! Too cool.

The rainbow within Vernal Fall's spray

We hiked approximately 70 billion (or so ;)) wet granite steps to the top of Vernal Falls:

The view from the top of Vernal Falls

If you look suuuuper closely, you can see itsy-bitsy people on the path (in the green) in the lower left. Hopefully this helps you appreciate the scale of this photo!

This was a popular lunch spot, but we chose to just quickly snack on some trailmix as there was “more to see” (this became the motto of our trip). To escape the crowds (and the overzealous squirrels) we hiked further (and higher) to see Nevada Falls: also flowing!

Nevada Falls

We had planned on going to the top, but I wasn’t too convinced that was necessary. Waterfalls always look best from the bottom anyway. Instead, we back tracked a little and took the John Muir Trail to Clark Point. On our way we came to an incredible overlook where you could look down at the top of Vernal Falls – look how tiny the people look:

Top of Vernal Falls

Eventually we made it to Clark Point, where we could see Nevada Falls in the distance, with Liberty Cap directly to the left.  This is where we finally decided to eat lunch.The view from Clark Point

Then we continued on the John Muir Trail, which eventually lead us back to the Mist Trail.  The rest of the hike was a series of switchbacks, through the woods.  And best of all, it was all downhill!

Hiking down the John Muir Trail

I like this candid shot Paul snapped :)

Tree love

A filtered pic that I had posted on Instagram

We made it back to Happy Isles around 7:00 (after about 9 hours of hiking [and picture taking]) but decided we had just enough time and energy to try and catch the sunset.  We took the shuttle over to Mirror Lake and hiked about a mile in to what was supposed to be Mirror Lake.  Unfortunately, Mirror Lake was pretty dry.  That was a let down.  Plus – there was no good view of the sunset.  Double let down.  We did see some deer though…a small consolation…


Pretty sure this is where Mirror Lake is supposed to be…

After hiking back to the road, we took the shuttle to Curry Village and rewarded ourselves with plates full of carbs at the Pavillion.  Afterwards, I grabbed a hot tea to go since it got pretty cool once the sun had set. Then, after showering in the suprisingly-not-terrible common showers, we headed over to the lounge to play some cards, drink some beer and charge our camera batteries for the next day.  And that’s what I’ll be sharing in my next post: day 2 in Yosemite!


3 thoughts on “California Dreaming: Yosemite National Park

  1. Amy, you have convinced me that vacationing in the US has its perks! I’m used to going to Europe for the skiing (its infinitely better) but now I see that non-winter trips should be spent in the US! There ARE amazing spots to see! Like the waterfallssssss!!! Oh man. So incredible.

    Do you think the area was busy because of the time of year or is it always busy?

    What’s your plan for fitting in all of the National Parks? Did you guys set a “deadline”?

    Can’t wait to hear more! and more and more!

    • Wahoo!! I’m happy to hear I convinced you! The National Park System is one of America’s best assets.

      I didn’t think it was overwhelmingly busy. I mean, there were crowds and people, but there were plenty of times when it was just Paul and I on a trail, with the occasional passerby. I do think it would be more busy right now, when more schools are out.

      We don’t have a real plan for getting to every park – I know, that probably gives you the shakes :P But that’s a good point – we probably should get a little more analytical about it to make sure it happens.

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying these posts! It’s tempting me to go back and share pics from our 3 previous National Park intensive trips!

  2. Pingback: California Dreaming: Saying Goodbye to Yosemite | Amy's Sandblog

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