Aug 5, 2011

Yosemite National Park ( Valley )

“But no temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its wall seems to glow with life.” John Muir.
Yosemite valley in Spring as seen from "Tunnel View"

Yosemite National Park. It is about a 4 hour drive from San Jose. Yosemite can be reached either via 1.) CA 120E, 2.) CA 99S and 140E or 3.) 152E and 140E from Santa Clara, CA. We have visited in spring and summer, however it a completely different experience visiting in fall and winter.

Our usual route is via 120E, comfortable driving with a total time of around 3 hrs 47 mins. This route passes near the Mocassin Reservoir  from where the winding route uphill starts. For the first time visitor this may be a little overwhelming. There are two roads from here, the Old Priestgrade and the new priest grade. The Old priest grade is a very very steep grade and trailers, buses and trucks are prohibited. I recommend the new priest grade - a little long but fairly easy to travel with a couple of switchbacks. The route from here is very scenic however a little winding till the village.

Switchbacks along New & Old PriestGrade
 We have just returned from a camping trip last weekend and as always it was fun, exciting and beautiful. There were a couple of things I noted on this trip.
  • Being summer, have a lot of patience as the traffic crawls along south drive. There are a lot of stop crossroads. The 2 lane south drive has been divided .. one lane only for private cars, the other lane for the shuttle buses only. The shuttle bus is the most convenient way to travel around the park. I assume this is done to ease traffic in summer,  as I never experienced it on our earlier visits in Spring.
  • If you are not camping, park your car at any day use area and ride the shuttle. The Curry village parking lot has parking space available. There are restrooms, showers @ $5 per head, stores to purchase food and gifts and specialty clothing. 
  • The buses ply from early morning to late evening every 10-15 mins. The map given at the entrance will be of great help. There are timings/ bus route maps at every shuttle stop.
  • Check the weather before going. Rain and Thunderstorms can dampen your spirits. Do carry an umbrella. You may not know when you require it. 
  • Bears, deer  and other wildlife are seen even in the afternoon in the meadows around, so be cautious and safe. 

Here are the list of places that we have visited in the last few years. You may need 2 days to cover the entire park if you are staying overnight and if you are interested in viewing all the viewpoints and day hike locations. 

1.) Yosemite Falls
It comprises of the Lower and Upper Yosemite Fall. We love the view of both falls from opposite the Yosemite Lodge. It is an easy 1 mile hike that is stroller and wheelchair accessible. When using the bus, stop at Lower Yosemite Fall Shuttle Stop # 6.
  • For a day hike, you could do the Upper Yosemite Fall Trail to Columbia Rock. The starting point is near Camp 4 near Shuttle stop # 7. It is a 2 miles round trip. Allow 2-3 hours. The hike is strenuous and there is a 1000 foot gain.
  • Top of Yosemite Falls. Shuttle Stop # 7. It is a 7.2 miles round trip. 6-8 hrs, very strenuous and 2700 foot gain.
Lower  & Upper Yosemite Falls
2.) El Capitan Meadow:
Great place to view El Capitan. Bring a pair of binoculars to find any people climbing up. After sundown you may be able to see lights flickering suggesting that there are people camping at the edge of the mountain! You could stop here on the way out of the park as it is on the Northside Drive. There is parking on either side of the road. Finding a parking spot during peak hours can be difficult specially on weekends. 

Along El Capitan meadow
  2.) Bridalveil Falls:
It gets its name as it looks like a bride's veil when the mist blows away from the falls! You are sure to get wet when standing under. Parking is usually crowded at this point. The trail can be slippery due to the constant spray of water so be cautious. There is a non flushing vault toilet.
Tip:Do carry hand sanitizing lotion as it may not always be available. 
  • Starting Point Bridalveil Falls 
  • 0.5 miles round trip
  • Time needed 20 mins 
  • Easy
Bridal Veil falls
3.) Sentinel Bridge:
You can get clear views of Lower & Upper Yosemite Falls. Take the trail that goes into the meadow. You will get a view of half Dome and El Capitan from here. If you follow the trail straight ahead you will reach the northside drive. If you turn left, this will take you to Sentinel Bridge that overlooks the Merced river and the Yosemite Chapel.
  • Get off at Sentinel Bridge parking lot
  • Easy, wheel chair access to the meadow.
  • Time needed 20 -30 mins
 4.) Mirror Lake:
This is one of my favorite and most scenic hikes in the valley. It is a seasonal lake and is breathtaking. Mostly shaded with a little uphill walk towards the end of the trail. Bikes are prohibited towards the end and have to be parked/ locked to a bike stand. The end loop trail has been closed to the recent rockfall. Moms don't forget the strollers. It will be very very helpful.
  • Starting Point Shuttle # 17. The trail entrance is open to Pedestrians, Bikes, vehicles with wheelchair emblem placards only. 
  • 2 miles round trip, 1 hour.
  • Keep another 30 mins to enjoy the place and take pictures. Total time around 1 1/2 hr. 
  • Easy hike. Paved road with a slight
  • Restrooms available only at the trailhead.
Mirror Lake
5.) Vernal Fall Footbridge:
The trail is nice. It is a gentle uphill walk. Not recommended for strollers. There is potable drinking water at the footbridge.
  • Start at Happy Isles Shuttle Stop # 16.
  • 1.4 miles round trip, 1-2 hours. 
  • The hike is moderate and has a 400 foot gain.
6.) Top of Vernal Fall:
The trail is nice. It is a gentle uphill walk. Not recommended for strollers. There is potable drinking water at the footbridge.
  • Start at Happy Isles Shuttle Stop # 16.
  • 3 miles round trip, 2-4 hours. 
  • The hike is moderate and has a 1000 foot gain.
  • Lots of steps to climb.
  • Partly shaded.
  • Hike is along the vernal falls stream. Some places have a railing to hold on. Very steep climb towards the end. No railing towards the edge.
  • Lots of mist towards the end trail and can be slippery
  • There is a railing from the last few steps of the trail to go above the edge of the falls. Sheer drop below. Railing near edge of the falls.
  • End of the trail has shade great for a picnic spot overlooking a little lake.

Vernal Falls from the trail

The Lake above

 7.) Glacier Point:  

This point is accessible by car only. It is located 30 miles from the Yosemite Valley. Open only late May to Mid November.
  • Take the  Wawona Road ( Highway 41 ) to Chinquapin, turn onto Glacier Point Road. There are beautiful meadows and the drive is picturesque.
  • A wheelchair accessible trail.
  • View of the Yosemite valley with the Vernal Falls and Nevada Falls.
  • Great place to view the night sky.
Vernal/ Nevada Falls from Glacier Point

 8.)  Tunnel View:
This famous viewpoint is located on the same route of Glacier Point and less than 5 mins by car from Bridalveil Falls on Highway 41.
  • Beautiful at sunset and soon after the clearing of a storm.
  • Views of the Yosemite Valley with Half Dome, Bridal Veil Falls, El Capitan Horsetail falls
  • Lots of Parking available
  • Keep kids within reach, can be dangerous if they climb/ tip over the wall.
View from Tunnel View in Summer
 9.) Valley View:
One of the most scenic view points along the Merced river is Valley View. Can be missed if you do not know where it is. Located on the left hand side just before you exit the park. 

Valley View
There are campgrounds available in the park. Please visit to reserve one. The reservations can be made 4 months in advance. They fill up quickly. In case you are not able to find one, do keep trying, people do cancel last minute. Thre is more information on this link

Yosemite has something for everyone. For more details please visit



A very special highlight in Yosemite National Park has been gaining popularity in the last few years as a "MUST SEE" point. Located near El Capitan, this phenomenon takes place around mid to the end of February only. The waterfall is hardly visible as it is very less for it to be noticed. During this time, the setting sun, lights up this waterfall creating an illusion of lava flowing over the mountain. creating a deep orange \ red glow that lights up and gives a beautiful glow to the otherwise forgotten fall.

Best place to see this:

On the South side drive: You will not miss this. The Special Event area is cordoned off and parking is on the left side of the road. You will find photographers ( amateur and professional ) picking the best spots from 3pm. so head there early and grab the best!

From the North side drive: Head over to El Capitan picnic spot. Parking is available and an area is cordoned off for parking.

The best spot for photographs is an individual preference.

Clear skies, sunset and a good snow pack for melting snow is needed. Whilst we were there ( Feb 17th, 2013 ) the waterfall was not visible, however the glow on the rock was there. So if there is a sunset with a  lot of melting snow, you are sure to get some great pictures. Around 1- 1 1\2 an hour before sunset is when you will see the glow starting to form around the waterfall.

For other National Parks in and around California, Oregon, Utah, Wyoming, Nevada :