Yosemite National Park is one of the most beautiful places on earth. From the moment the winding mountain roads lead you into the park, you know you are a world away from the ordinary. The soaring ponderosa pines tower above you, the peaks of granite surround you, and the panoramic views inspire you. I have never seen anything like the Yosemite. If you want to experience the raw beauty of wilderness, this is the place.
Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods, wash your spirit clean.John Muir
When I began planning this trip, I intended to go on a women’s backpacking trip in the high country with my sister. Well, 2020 being what it is, that ended up getting cancelled. Travel was already arranged, backpacking gear purchased, and we just didn’t want to miss Yosemite! So, we decided to plan the trip ourselves. I rented a cabin in Foresta for the week, (one of the few residential neighborhoods in Yosemite) and managed to snag a wilderness permit for one night at North Dome. It was a bit intimidating to backpack for the first time on our own, when we had been planning on a guided trip, but we did our homework and it was a really cool experience! Definitely challenging, sometimes terrifying and totally empowering! I’ll post more on the North Dome trip very soon.
The rest of the time we day tripped; hiking, exploring, and swimming in the Merced river and Tenaya lake. There were a few days that were really hazy and smoky, especially in the valley, from the many fires burning in California right now. We had some clearer days as well, and didn’t really affect our visit. I think we got a really good first taste of the park. Since it was in August, many of the waterfalls had very low water, so we saved those hikes for next time. When we visit in early summer the falls and the Merced river will be roaring.
One of the benefits of visiting this year, is the fact that you need a reservation to enter the park. This severely limits the amount of people that can visit on a given day. I had heard how congested the traffic can be. This year there is no traffic! I mean none. I hope the parks keep this system in place in the future. On the first day of the month, passes are released for the following month at recreation.gov. So for October, passes are released for purchase starting September 1st. It takes some planning, but highly worth it in my opinion.
Here are a few must visit places that I discovered on my first visit to Yosemite. I used Alltrails to plan my hiking routes and found that to be very helpful. There are so many amazing trails and waterfalls, look out points and granite domes, you could spend a lifetime exploring the park and probably not see it all. Even if you did there would always be a different season that would change the experience. That’s part of the wonder I think, and what keeps people coming back year after year. I hope you will plan a visit to experience Yosemite for yourself. May be cliche, but pictures just can’t do it justice!
Taft Point and the Fissures, Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point
Taft Point and the Fissures
Our first hike was to the Taft point overlook. The trailhead to Taft point is on Glacier point road, a short distance before you get to Glacier point itself. There is parking available. You can choose to go towards the Taft point overlook, or to Sentinel Dome and do each separately. Or you can do what we did, and take the loop that connects to the two, and is a little over 5 miles. We started off heading towards Taft point. What a beautiful trail! The tall pines immediately surround you, its shaded and peaceful; magical! As you near the overlook, you pass the fissures; gashes in the granite that drop straight into the abyss, so watch your step.
From the trailhead its only 1.1 miles to the overlook. And what a view it is. It gives you a bit of vertigo. The drop off is staggering! You can see the valley far below and all around you are panoramic views of the Sierra’s. Breathtaking! Definitely a must do hike in Yosemite.
From there we backtracked on the Taft point trail to the loop trail that takes you to Sentinel Dome. We passed several hikers heading in the opposite direction, and quickly realized why. It seems that it would be easier to start out heading towards Sentinel Dome first, and then head to Taft point, as the trail would be mostly downhill. We were going in the more challenging direction with the trail being mostly uphill. We were pretty exhausted by the time we reached the Sentinel Dome. It was so worth the climb though! You have panoramic views of Yosemite spread out before you and truly feel on top of the world.
Now Glacier point is one of those famous places that you know you have to visit. The views are stunning! Even with the haze from the California fires it was beautiful. There were a lot of people there though, and I’m sure on a usual year it is even more crowded. There is a gift shop, where you can grab an ice cream or snack and walk up to the look out point. There is plenty of parking and bathrooms available. A nice stop but don’t spend too much time here. It’s not as cool as Taft point and Sentinel Dome in my opinion.
Mariposa Grove of Giant Sequoia’s and Wawona Point at Yosemite
Mariposa Grove Trail
A trip to Yosemite would not be complete without seeing the ancient Sequoia grove in Mariposa. I was in awe as I strolled among these giants! We could all use a little more awe in our lives don’t you think? Its difficult to capture the enormity of the trees in a photograph, definitely make time to see them for yourself.
The grove is located in Wawona, near the South entrance to Yosemite and about an hour from the valley. There is a short, paved trail-the big trees loop- if you just want a taste of the grove or if you have small children that can’t handle a longer hike. It’s beautiful but I am so glad we decided to do the longer Mariposa Grove trail, and a portion of the Guardians loop trail. The Mariposa grove trail is a 7 mile hike that is labeled as strenuous. The trail winds up the mountainside. I have to say it felt mystical walking through these magnificent trees in the early morning light. Unforgettable experience.
If you follow the road all the way up you will arrive at Wawona point. It’s a lookout area with stunning panoramic views and is an important heritage site to the Native American tribes indigenous to the Yosemite area. We had the place to ourselves for a good 30 minutes. I took some time to enjoy the peace, and beautiful views, and to rest up for the hike back down. I think few people make it all the way up there, and its well worth it. Bring lunch, and plenty of water, and enjoy the solitude.
Its important to mention, that you should plan to arrive before 7:30 AM during 2020 when visiting the grove. There is no shuttle from the parking lot due to covid, and the gate to the parking near the trailheads closes every day at 7:30. If you arrive after this plan to add a 2 mile hike from your parking spot to the trailhead. It’s all uphill and did not look like my idea of fun. So plan to arrive early. For more information on the Mariposa grove click here.
Tenaya Lake, Olmstead Point and Tuolomne Meadow at Yosemite
We spent a day exploring off the Tioga road and it was a perfect low-key day after several days of intense hiking. We stopped briefly at Olmstead point to enjoy the view, followed by lunch and a swim at Tenaya lake. Then we carried on a little ways down the road to Tuolomne meadows. So pretty! I will definitely want to explore that area more in the future. There is a campground there and would be a nice base for exploring the high country.
Tenaya lake is located right off Tioga road in the high Sierra’s. If you are looking for a relaxing way to pass an afternoon, this is the place. Brilliant blue water framed by granite peaks, just stunning! We took a swim (yes it’s freezing!) and relaxed in the sun. You can definitely take some amazing photo’s here. There are places to park, picnic areas, and bathrooms.
Olmstead Point is another lookout point off Tioga road at 8300 feet elevation. I recommend a stop to take in the views. There is a short trail to explore with enormous boulders to wind around, or climb. Definitely stop here with the kids.
Tuolomne meadows is a high elevation meadow located off the Tioga road at about 8600 feet. We stopped and just walked around enjoying the views. It’s a really large area to explore. It’s so pretty with the river running right through the meadow and the mountains towering all around. Pack a lunch and enjoy the quiet beauty here!
Yosemite was at the top of my list and I was not disappointed. I look forward to visiting many other parks, but I know I will come back to Yosemite again, and again. There is just no where else like it and still so much more to see and do. (Sigh) I miss it already!
Check out my post on Backpacking to North Dome- Yosemite NP