Yosemite National Park | California
My ears woke up this morning before my eyes or my body. Squack! Burrup up up. Squack! Chirp chirp. A chorus of birds seemed to line the outside of our tent. I couldn’t see them of course – it was still dark out – but I could hear them. Beautiful ballads harmonizing with pop sensations, a country bellow consistent in the background.
When I finally did get out of bed, the birds had quieted to a hum and a soft morning light illuminated objects that had taken on different lives during my half sleeping stupor in the dark. What I had confusedly thought was a bearskin rug on the side of the bed was in fact just the wool blanket that had fallen off of the bed. What I had thought was my husband sitting up all night next to me with a turban on his head ended up being his jacket, hung on a corner of the bed post, taking on the silhouette of a head: eyes, nose, mouth, turban.
I layered on a fleece and a down jacket, too cold to be bothered to change out of my pjs completely, and went to the restroom. My bladder bulged with half a night of “holding it”. Going to the bathroom when it means walking outside in the dark to camp potties rarely seems worth the effort to me.
After brushing my teeth and putting on a thin layer of tinted moisturizer, I dropped my toiletries in the bear box and headed to the Coffee Corner in search of an outlet, which proved to be as difficult as finding a bobcat.
A fire welcomed me with its crackling and subtle bonfire scent. A 100 year old lodge would be a great place to spend some time to reflect and recharge before the rest of my group woke up.
We had driven in from San Francisco the day before, stopping in Manteca for some fresh strawberry rhubarb pie among the fruit tree groves. We passed a horribly low reservoir (a very real reminder of the drought we are in) and wound along mountain roads before approaching the park gate. It costs $30 for a 7-Day park pass for an automobile. Keep your receipt for when you leave the Park as the rangers ask to see it again before you leave. Once inside the Park, the road guides all vehicles in a counter clockwise loop through the valley. There is ample opportunity to pull over for pictures, or a quick hike. We stopped first at Yosemite Falls.
THINGS TO DO
If you've come to Yosemite, you enjoy nature and one of the best ways to enjoy nature is with a hike. The trails range from easy to hard, no elevation gain to 4,800 foot elevation gain. The best resource for the hike that best fits your level and interest? The ranger station at the Visitor Center. Here is an overview and map of hiking in the valley provided by the National Park Service.
RAFT DOWN THE MERCED RIVER
Need to cool off? Take a break from hiking? Rent a raft at the Curry Village Recreation Center for $32 per person. The float takes 2-3 hours and offers gorgeous views of some of Yosemite's most famous sites including Half Dome and Yosemite Falls. Think of this as more of a float than a rafting trip though - a break in paddling means a break in movement. If you visit in the summer and need to cool off or are feeling brave, jump into the Merced which is fed by snow melt. Note: Because the Merced River is fed by snowmelt, this option is only available late spring through summer - there isn't enough water by the time October rolls around.
BIKE ALONG THE VALLEY FLOOR
Rent a bike at the Curry Village Recreation Center or Yosemite Lodge to explore more than 12 miles of paved biking trails along the valley floor. This is a great way to get acquainted with the park on arrival and can be enjoyed spring through fall. $12 per hour or $34 per day. We recommend starting at Curry Village, biking to Mirror Lake (there is a short hike involved to the actual lake) and then continuing the loop around the Valley floor before returning to the Curry Village Recreation Center. In total, the ride takes a leisurely 3 hours.
For those of you that are truly adventurous, there is world class climbing in Yosemite. I won't pretend like I know anything about the best routes because Yosemite climbing is far above my abilities. However, for climbers and non-climbers alike, it's fun to spot climbers inching up the wall, little specs on a stone wall.
ENJOY A COCKTAIL AT THE AHWAHNEE HOTEL
After a long day of hiking, biking, climbing, or paddling, treat yourself to a cocktail and a meal at the Ahwahnee Hotel bar. The historic and beautiful Ahwahnee Hotel is worth a visit to stroll it's grounds, browse it's gift shop and image what it would be like to stay there for a night. If you are tempted to upgrade from your unheated tent in Curry Village (see below), it'll cost you an extra $400 or so per night. Instead of dropping that kind of cash, we recommend visiting the bar, where there is no dress code (unlike the Ahwahnee Hotel restaurant), a mean chili dog and an El Capitini, a drink similar to a cosmopolitan complete with commemorative carabiner to take home.
WHERE TO STAY
Curry Village | At the base of Glacier Point.
133 unheated and 138 heated white canvas tents snake through the valley, stilted slightly above the ground, with either a full or two twin mattresses. Sheets, pillows and a wool blanket provided, but we recommend bringing your sleeping bag for extra warmth. Around $140/night. This is not luxury by any sense of the imagination, but it's location as the base of Glacier Point inside the park, combined with being one of the cheapest options available, makes it our pick for where to stay.
Know that if you decide to stay outside of the park, it may be cheaper, but it is going to take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour each way to get in and out of the park.
WHEN TO GO
If you want to see waterfalls, May is the best time to visit. It's before the droves of summer tourists arrive, the waterfalls are at their peak, and the weather is pleasant. October offers nice weather and less tourists, but the majority of the waterfalls will have dried up by then.
WHAT TO WATCH BEFORE YOU GO
I read somewhere that our psyche gets more from the anticipation and memories of a vacation as it does from actually being on vacation, so here is a video to get you pumped up for your trip!
WHAT TO REFERENCE WHEN YOU GO
And remember, don't feed the wildlife!