Raise your hand if when I say “California,” words like “beach” and “city” come to mind. Probably most of us, but when my family and I took a trip up to Yosemite for 4th of July weekend, I was quickly reminded how big & diverse this state is.
The farther from Los Angeles we drove, the more the landscape began to change. From 6 lane freeways down to 2; from hills to flat farmlands. And as we continued our drive, trees began to pop up and become thicker and taller until we were parked at the entrance of Yosemite National Park. Since we were all first timers, we wanted to hit as many of the major attractions & viewpoints as possible.
We arrived at the park around 10:30am and headed straight to Mariposa Grove (aka where all the HUGE sequoia trees are). I’m still in awe at the size of these trees. Having experienced Muir Woods in San Francisco (where Zack & I also visited recently), I sort of expected the same from Mariposa Grove. Not quite. Fun Fact: The redwoods in Muir Woods are taller, but the sequoias in Mariposa Grove are bigger around (& still very, very tall). Either way, you will feel tiny. Unfortunately, Mariposa Grove closed the day after we were there and won’t reopen until 2017 (talk about good timing on our part!), so while there are still plenty of other sequoia trees throughout Yosemite, you won’t be able to see some the “famous” and “largest” ones for a while.
After Mariposa Grove, we hopped in our car & began making our way to the valley floor. First stop: Tunnel View. Not only is this an amazing photo op, it gives you a view of almost all the major attractions including El Capitan, Half Dome, Sentinel Dome, Yosemite Falls, & Bridalveil Falls. From there we continued along the valley floors and made frequent stops (TIP: drive slow!) to wander around & even hike up to the base of both Bridalveil & Lower Yosemite Falls. (TIP: Early spring is the best time to plan a visit if you want to see waterfalls at their peak flow – some of the waterfalls in the park stop flowing completely during the summer & fall, BUT when they are at their lightest flow you can climb up the rocks and get extra close to the base of the falls.)
Our schedule for our second day was left open for anything we couldn’t fit in on day 1 along with more exploring (just on less of an organized schedule). We started our day out by heading to Glacier Point. (TIP: During peak season/weekends, hit up Glacier Point & Mariposa Grove in the morning before the crowds and when parking won’t be a problem.) The view from Glacier point was just as amazing as Tunnel View, in my opinion. It gives you a birds eye view of the valley floor and a closer look at Half Dome.
After leaving Glacier Point, we pulled of the road at the trailhead for Sentinel Dome and decided to hike it. The altitude made the hike a little tough, but it was so worth it after reaching the peak of Sentinel Dome. Talk about feeling like you’re on top of the world.
Our final hike of the day was to Vernal Falls and was by far the toughest hike of our visit. It was a steep and continuous incline, but the view of the waterfall was beautiful and worth the trek.
At 4.5 hours, it’s actually a fairly easy & fast drive from LA – perfect for a quick weekend getaway if you’re trying to escape the hustle & bustle of city life. (But also a great place for a longer trip if you really wanted to explore more of the enormous park.) The park is pretty easy to navigate as well (even without cell service and google maps to help you out). At the entrance, the park rangers will give you a map, and there are plenty of signs along the roads to give you directions, but I would recommend that any first time visitors have a little bit of a plan mapped out ahead of time (it’s a big park so you don’t want to waste time driving back & forth if you can help it). I researched where all the major viewpoints were, so we hit most of those day 1; then day 2 we had more time to just wing it and go on a couple unplanned hikes. I already can’t wait to make another trip up to Yosemite, and would love to rent a (heated) cabin in the park during early spring when all the waterfalls are in full force. Another adventure for the books.
XO – Courtney