Hiking around Yosemite National Park

The drive from Lake Tahoe to Yosemite National Park ended up taking a lot longer than we’d expected. We left the snowy lake and descended down the valley until everywhere was lush and green. Then we veered onto a local road heading south. It was an extremely wiggly route with plenty of ups and downs and wrong turns as the signage was poor. There were bright green pastures rolling into the distance and big bushy trees that looked like broccoli. Not only did the scenery drastically change but so did the temperature as we descended from 7000ft down to 200ft. It was a sweltering hot day of about 30° in the lowlands but our painful sunburn made it feel about 50°. We drove most of the way with tea towels draped across my legs to prevent the sun cooking me any more.

The final slog up to Yosemite National Park involved a steep road that twisted and turned around forested hills. Craig was exhausted after the rally-course route but the weather was so good that we wanted to make the most of it so we headed to the Hetch Hetchy area of the national park. We didn’t have too long down there as the road closes at sunset which was a shame but it was a really beautiful valley. A huge reservoir filled the centre and steep-sided mountains rose all around. It was like a mini-Yosemite valley without all the crowds and we still had plenty of waterfalls gushing down. We crossed over the mighty dam and did a short walk around the lake but we only had about an hour exploring before we had to head back.

Luckily we managed to find a great spot to camp in national forest that night. It was beside a quiet road and had a little fire pit which really excited Craig. I prepared a salad for dinner while Craig got the fire roaring and in the meantime Mother Nature was busy creating an epic sunset that stained the clouds the most intense orange and pink hues. It was perfect! As soon as the sky started to darken the full moon crept up behind a hill with silhouetted pine trees in front of it. Sadly a few locals clearly didn’t like us free camping even though it was perfectly legal for us to be where we were, but alas they honked really loudly during the night when they drove past. Needless to say we were a little tired when our alarm went off at 6am.

We woke to cotton candy clouds filling the sky as we drove into Yosemite Valley. We took a detour to Tunnel View which has the best vantage point across the valley and the sun was piercing above the dramatic peaks. It was our first proper view of the park and we could easily see what all the hype was about. As we continued our drive into the valley, the legendary sheer wall of El Capitan rose high above us like a high story building of the natural world. Waterfalls seemed to be gushing from every angle and were at their fullest in the spring flow. El Capitan had tiny specks on the straight-as-a-ruler walls which were climbers that will spend days making their way up and sleeping in hanging tents as they go. There was a documentary about a man that climbed the wall without any gear, just his bare hands and no ropes at all. There’s practically nothing to grip your hand onto let alone the minuscule tips of your fingers so it’s pretty fascinating that they do it.

The park was due to be extremely busy as it was perfect weather and Good Friday, so our visit wasn’t best timed but already our jaws were hanging open at the incredible views. We headed to Yosemite Falls first to do a short walk and admire the 2425ft drop. The noise was intense as the falls dramatically hit the ground and sprayed everyone nearby.

You can drive around the park but they also have a shuttle service which they recommend using to avoid struggling for parking spaces. So we did that and regretted it straight away. The bus quickly filled with people to the point that if no one wanted to get off at the next stop the driver wouldn’t even stop to pick people up. This meant people were queuing up for the bus and waiting 30+ minutes, it was a shambles. Some really old folks were visiting the park and they clearly got the bus as a relaxing sightseeing tour but they didn’t even get a view as it was too crowded. They literally had tubes poking up their noses and life support backpacks and they too had to endure the shitty shuttle service.

Anyway, we first checked out Mirror Lake which stood true to its name and reflected all of the mighty granite peaks in its calm water. After my lack of sleep I was rather irritable which meant I couldn’t control myself when a kid kept flicking the water with a stick and destroying the reflections. The mum was fascinated with her child playing with the stick so she was like the paparazzi photographing him while I tried to patiently wait and then before I could stop myself I asked him to stop playing with the stick and ruining the reflections. Oops. He was a little shit anyway, the mum apologised, telling the kid to stop but he refused and successfully put me off having kids once again.

Next we headed to Vernal Falls, joining the 100+ other people that had the same idea. It was a simple uphill trail to a bridge and then it steepened and became a wet path from the waterfall spray in the strong wind. We quickly became drenched from the spray but it was refreshing in the hot weather. The sun pierced down and created a beautiful rainbow at the bottom of the roaring falls.

Everyone congregated at the top where the waterfall slipped over the edge and into the river way below us. On our way back down the queue of people built up as slow people weren’t moving over. Then we got stuck behind an interesting couple that were the picture you would see if you googled hill billy. Lots of people had found sticks to use as walking poles but this couple found ones that were almost too thick to grasp with their hands. They were more like tree trunks than sticks so it was rather humorous watching them struggle on every step to lift up the heavy wood. It was bizarre as it used so much more energy.

We finished the hike and found ourselves in a long queue waiting for the shuttle bus, the one before was full so we ended up waiting about 40 minutes. It was so disorganised and the queue was growing rapidly. My best advice for anyone visiting this park would be to just drive yourself round the park or rent a bicycle. There were still car parking spaces available at the trailheads so we felt so annoyed that we hadn’t just driven.

Once we were back in Ruby we returned to Tunnel View for the sunset. We arrived a couple hours early but it was lovely to just watch the mountains change colour as the golden hour approached. The viewpoint was constantly busy with 50 – 100 people so we stayed in the quieter of the two car parks. Craig even cooked us a really tasty risotto while I admired the view from the front windscreen. As the sun dipped down the mountains began to glow orange and the shadows quickly creeped in as night fell.

Our second day in the park was due to be even busier as it was earth day and the park was celebrating by offering free entry. It’s the most stupid idea they could have thought of. The park was already too busy, I like that everyone gets the chance to enjoy the park for free but they could be wise about it and do a lottery system so everyone comes on different days. It meant we had to wake super early again to grab a parking spot for our hike to the top of Yosemite falls.

The hike was due to take about 6-8 hours and gain 2700ft elevation. We were on the trail by 8:30 and it was already busy. Switchbacks led us uphill to Columbia Rock where we got a great view across the valley and the prominent Half Dome mountain. As I was snapping photos Craig called me over and a bobcat had just walked past him along the trail! It was so strange to see one in the day time and it was in no rush to run away from us, it just casually walked up a different path.

The next part of the hike had a big avalanche area where snow blocked the track. We had to navigate up the icy slope and climb over a fallen tree to get back on track. We soon got our first view of upper Yosemite falls crashing down and dampening the whole path. The roar was even louder than at the lower falls yesterday. Except for the impressive waterfall views I found the hike quite boring and relentless. It was switchback after switchback in the hot sun. I grabbed some snow in my hand and constantly wiped it across my forehead and neck to try and cool down. To the side of us for about an hour was a sheer wall rising so high we really had to crane our necks back to get a view of the top.

When we reached the top it was scattered with sweaty people picnicking. The weather had clouded over so the view didn’t wow me and the top of the falls were hard to get a good view of. But I had a spring in my step once we descended, sitting on my bum and sliding down the avalanche slope and then speed walking down the switchbacks. It went on and on though and certainly wasn’t a top hike in my books.

There was only one more thing for us to see in Yosemite and that was the redwood grove in the south of the park. On our way we couldn’t resist a third visit to Tunnel View and once again the sight was completely different. We had storm clouds dominating the valley and it all looked so moody and menacing compared to the sun piercing behind the peaks. When we reached the redwoods carpark we were told it wasn’t possible to drive down and we had to get the shuttle bus to the trees. That was fine but it was the second to last service of the day and once we got to the bottom we only had 30 minutes before we caught the final bus back. The driver said we were welcome to walk back but it was a few miles and after the long hike to the falls I didn’t have the energy. So instead we speed-walked up trails beside my favourite trees, the mighty redwoods. They weren’t as abundant or as impressive as the redwood national park but it was still lovely to see them again. They have a reddish coloured bark and tall, straight trunks that seem to touch the sky. Some redwoods in California even have tunnels cut through them for cars to enter!

Overall we loved the park, the scenery was so dramatic it almost didn’t look real. It actually reminded us of the fjords in Norway but instead of sea it had a forested green valley. It’s 100% worth a visit but the park really needs to deal with infrastructure better. The shuttle buses were an absolute joke so I hope it gets improved.

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