2017 has been and will be the year of traveling, and I’m not mad about it. We’ve been out of town the past few weekends and will have some time to recover these next couple of days before we hop on a plane again next week (can’t wait to share the destination!). I’m grateful for all of it, but that means I’ve had less time to actually go through my travel content to share with you guys. So I’m excited to now share our trip to Yosemite National Park.
Each year, we make our annual Easter camping trip, and this past holiday we finally visited Yosemite. The national park is such a busy destination that you generally have to book your camp site months and months in advance. We weren’t on top of our game and had to settle for a site in Hodgdon Meadow, which is about a 45 minute drive from the main part of Yosemite Valley. But living in LA, a 45 minute drive ain’t no thing.
I was so looking forward to getting out of the city and sleeping under the trees. In fact, we hadn’t been camping since our Tomales Bay trip last summer, so it was much needed. But then, disaster hit.
A week before our trip, we got an email from the National Parks division telling us that Yosemite Valley access from our campsite was completely closed due to the roadways falling away (so much rain and thus snow this year). That meant that our campsite would be AT LEAST a 3 hour drive from the main part of Yosemite. Were we insane enough to drive 3 hours back and forth each morning and evening? No.
All other camp sites were booked. There was no close lodging due to all of the road closures, and ideally, the point of this trip was to camp, not to sleep in a hotel. But since we didn’t know when we’d make it to Yosemite again (it had already been four years living in California without a visit), here was
our my plan: leave at 5 AM Friday morning, make it into Yosemite around 11 AM, drive around to all the scenic spots (no hiking), and drive the 3 hours back to our campsite that evening. We’d then spend Saturday checking out the Sequoias and hike near our campsite. It put a damper on our plans, but at least we had a Plan B.
So, Friday we drove into Yosemite and decided to stop at one of the reservation offices at the bottom of the mountain to inquire about any possibility of an empty site. They told us that there were a few campsites available at Upper Pines (we had looked online, but they were not taking phone or online reservations). So we had to jet the 45 minutes up the mountain in hopes they’d have something available by the time we arrived. We got stuck behind the slowest car imaginable, so I called reservations when we were still 20 minutes away, and all the guy said to me was, “Get here as fast as you can – without going over the speed limit.” By the time we got to the office, I literally ran through the door. There were two couples in front of us – one already had a reservation, and the other was reserving two campsites. I kid you not – we got the very last campsite in all of Yosemite. I couldn’t believe our luck.
So after the disappointment and the resulting worry and stress, we made it into Yosemite, had a nice big (though partially flooded) campsite in the park, and could finally relax. Well, relax for 20 minutes while we decided our next course of action with our newfound freedom of having two full days in Yosemite (here’s the trail map).
Our campsite neighbors were the actual nicest people, so on their suggestion we decided to spend Friday hiking the Vernal Fall Trail.
One thing I have to preface about Yosemite: yes, it is beautiful – I had never seen anything like it. The drive in alone is breathtaking. But when I say it’s busy, I mean BUSY. If I’m being honest, it felt like an amusement park. My hopes of getting away from the city (and people – again, being honest), were not going to be fulfilled on this trip. There were just so many people. We even went early in the season (I hear summer is insane) when nights were cold and not every site and trail was open. If you visit Yosemite Valley (the most popular part of the park), I suggest that you venture out early in the morning and take the trails less traveled (usually the longer ones). There are also back country camping opportunities, but those work on a permit and lottery system, so you’ll have to do a bit of research.
But, the beauty of it can’t be denied. This particular trail to Vernal Fall was really pretty cool. I would, however, be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. Trail runners are not sufficient for this hike; it’s wet and slippery and steep. Wear shoes with some good grip, and bring a rain jacket. You’re getting up right near this waterfall (below), so you won’t stay dry.
Can we talk about the perpetual rainbow it forms though?!
In full disclosure, right out of frame are a bunch of people. A bunch. We were starving, so we ate much earlier on in the hike, but this was a good rest stop.
You can continue up the Nevada Fall Trail, but we opted to head back. Thankfully (and there was a sign telling us so), there was another way down from the waterfall than the way we came up (climbing down those steep, slippery stairs? Uh, no thanks). This trail down was much more secluded, and we hiked through some fun terrain. So much more peaceful than the hike up.
We took our time the next morning – it had been a long day prior – and finally headed out to do the Mirror Lake Trail. Our campsite was in such close proximity to both of our hikes that we thankfully didn’t have to drive or shuttle.
The terrain on this trail was so varied and cool, as you’ll see in these photos. Because of the rain it got a bit muddy, but the beautiful moss, babbling brooks, and small ponds to cross made the hike so much fun.
This is Mirror Lake. I think you can guess why it got its name.
A lot of hikers/tourists stop at the lake, but if you continue on it gets even prettier (and again, more secluded).
See what I mean about different terrain?
We crossed a small bridge and came across these views, where we decided to climb down towards those rocks on the bottom right (photo above) for a picnic lunch.
After looping back around to the other side of Mirror Lake, we enjoyed a relatively private hike back. Most people don’t take this route, which was really nice.
We were super excited to finally try out our Kammok Roo Hammock that my husband got for Christmas! Super lightweight and easy to hang up. Plus, if you know anything about me (do I say this a lot?), basically my only goal in life is to spend as much time as humanly possible sleeping in a hammock. Not an exaggeration.
We could both fit in it together but not without some cuddle action.
I can’t say one of my first priorities on this trip wasn’t to find this meadow and walkway. I mean, isn’t it SO BEAUTIFUL?! These were taken Sunday morning – around 8 AM – before hoards of people emerged. I’m telling you, get out early!
After our early morning wake up call on Sunday, we drove around to several of the “famous” spots to get some unobstructed views before driving home: North Dome above, Bridalveil Fall, Sentinel Meadow, Yosemite Chapel, and Tunnel View (as I’m writing this I realized we missed the Valley View – dang it.). I’m sure that’s another reason this place is so popular – you don’t have to actually DO anything (hike, camp in remote spots) to experience the beauty. The plus side – that’s what makes it so accessible to everyone.
The famous Tunnel View. Do this on your way out – it’ll be easier to park and leave (and you won’t hold up traffic coming in).
Well, there you have it. I’m working on our Yosemite video if you’d like to come back and get a better feel for the trip. But I’m so glad we finally made it up here (though we did make it to Sequoia our first summer in California). Next trip, we’ll explore different areas of the park outside of Yosemite Valley (Yosemite is HUGE, and this is such a tiny portion of it) and maybe hike some of the longer trails.
Also, if you’re new to camping or don’t know what to pack food wise, these actually taste really good, are lightweight, don’t need to be refrigerated, and just take some boiled water to cook. For snacks throughout the day, we always pack Clif Bars, fruit snacks, trail mix, and beef jerky. My easy go-to lunch (introduced by my friend Hank) is prepared tuna packages thrown in pita bread with some avocado (and cheese if you have it).
What are your favorite National Parks to visit? One of these days we’re hoping to finally make it to Zion!
P.S. Didn’t have the big camera on this trip. All photos taken with an iPhone 7 and edited with Photoshop.