Having been to Yosemite National Park once before, from the Nevada side of the Sierra, I have long wanted to be able to spend a bit more time seeing the remarkable landscape and beauty offered by this gem of the US National Park system. A weekend trip to Northern California afforded us with the opportunity to plan for a full day in the park.
We arrived at around 8:45am, prepared for the opportunity to take in as much as possible before nightfall. Since our trip was in mid August, we knew that many of the most known areas of the park would provide minimal viewing since the streams and waterfalls would be at their lowest levels. With that being said, we did drive into the park, stopping at many of the scenic vista viewing areas for the mandatory photo ops. The mountains and sheer cliff formations create incredible viewing and spectacular photos. In one area of the park, there was a climbing club scaling the straight, vertical granite rock.
The best place to start or base your visit is at the Valley Visitors Center. There you can park your car at that neighboring day use lot and take the park shuttle bus system to all of the best known hiking and picnic areas. At the Valley Visitors Center, there is a bookstore and a theatre. Be sure to allow yourself the 30 minutes to take in the new film “Spirit of Yosemite” which tells of John Muir’s founding of the sequoia forest and subsequent protection by US soldiers.
While in the valley area you can also take the two-hour 26 mile tour via the tractor pulled open air passenger cars. The “Valley Floor Tour” includes a park ranger narration adding to the education and experience. Prices are $22 for adults, $18 for seniors and $11.50 for children ages five and up. The tour starts and ends at the Yosemite Lodge at the Falls throughout the day.
During our visit, we anticipated that the park would be crowded with visitors. We were pleasantly surprises, however, that we were able to navigate and drive throughout the park with relatively little in the way of traffic congestion. Because of the high altitude and my asthma, we were limited on many of the activities that folks come to Yosemite to enjoy. We did enjoy driving and seeing as much as we could from the roads and scenic viewing turnouts. El Capitan is probably the most known landmark that is visible in the park without hiking or venturing too far from the parking areas.
There is no shortage of things to see and do while in Yosemite. When you arrive, be sure to take time to read through the park publication “Yosemite: Your Complete Guide to the Park” which is nearly 100 pages of information on activities, dining, lodging, and maps. You will also want to read “Yosemite Today” which is a newspaper type publication that gives you daily schedules of all park activities offered by the US Park Service and authorized vendors. Both are given to you when you arrive and pay your park admission fee ($20 per car – good for seven days).
If you are planning a full day in the park, we’d suggest you plan on packing a lunch or snack items, especially in the summer. There are limited restaurant facilities and from what we could see, they were all very crowded and had lengthy waits. We stopped at one of the general stores for snacks and bottled water which got us through the day without needing to eat lunch.