Before attending Ryan and Masha’s wedding in California, HB and I arrived a couple days earlier to visit Yosemite. It was our first time in this national park! We had an incredible time there as we got to spend exploring it with Ethan and Sarah. We made the most of our three short days there with the following hikes and activities:
- Day 1
- Day 2
- Day 3
- Where to Stay
View of El Capitan on the way to Glacier Point
We drove to Yosemite from SF so by the time we arrived it was already late afternoon. Originally, we had planned to do two short hikes, but after talking to the park ranger, we squeezed in one more viewpoint because visibility was good that day.
Lower Yosemite Falls
This hike was short and sweet: 1.2 mi, 28 min long. Since it was the summer, there wasn’t a lot of water coming down the waterfall. But at least it wasn’t bone-dry unlike another falls that we saw…
Over all, it was a quick and easy trek to a viewpoint to see the lower falls. And it was shaded! But because it was a short trail near the visitor’s center, there were a number of people on it as well.
View of Half Dome from Cook’s Meadow
Cook’s Meadow is right across the street from Lower Yosemite Falls. There are no signs/trailhead for this, as it is just a beautiful meadow that sits in the heart of the valley. People used to bring their cows to graze here!
Since it’s a meadow, there is little to no shade. Lucky for us, we arrived so late in the afternoon that the mountains gave us cover. The meadow wasn’t very big, so we finished walking around it in under an hour.
It was quite the drive up to Glacier Point; it took maybe 1.5 hrs to get there from the meadow. Once there, we enjoyed the sunset views, as did many others who also had the same idea. We barely made it in time during golden hour, so it was a mad rush to get up there to find a good viewing spot!
The view of Half Dome is unparalleled here!
Glacier Point was really cool. We didn’t know just how lucky we were that day, because the skies were hazy with smoke in the next couple of days. I wish we could’ve had more time up there, but we were very tired and hungry by then. It was time to go back to the lodge to make some tasty turkey burgers!
To get to the trailhead, park in Curry Village or one of the nearby lots then walk ~10 min to the trailhead. Little did I know, this trail is also the beginning hikes up to Half Dome. I can’t imagine hiking for 10 miles then climbing the mountain! But I guess that’s what HB and I did on the Inca Trail…
The hike to the falls was a bit more challenging than the one to Lower Yosemite Falls. It was 4 mi and took 2+ hrs to complete. There was also a lot more climbing involved!
But once there, it was a sight to behold. Sometimes there were not one, but two rainbows in the mist.
You can even climb to the very top of the falls! The hike continues on from there, but we turned back. There was more of Yosemite to see!
Tenaya Lake was a ways from Yosemite Valley, about a 1.5 hour drive. Our original plan was to check out Mirror Lake, but we learned that at this time of the year, the lake was all dried up. The park ranger recommended that we see Tenaya Lake, which turned out to be more beautiful than I had expected. It was one of my favorite places in Yosemite.
Mountains and water, what more could you ask for?
The waters were a gorgeous shade of blue. It was also noticeably cooler by the lake! We gained elevation to get up there, and we could definitely feel the difference. There goes my plan to swim in the lake!
There was a two-mile trail alongside the lake that was flat and scenic. We could’ve gone the entire loop around the lake, but half of the lake was along a road, so it was better to just turn back and walk the scenic route again.
Upper Yosemite Falls
Not going to lie, the Upper Falls was a disappointment to see. There was barely a trickle this time of the year! And it took a good amount of time and energy to get there. We hiked to a viewpoint past Columbia Rock then turned around, which took about 2.5 hrs.
Unfortunately this day was also very hazy from forest fire smoke, otherwise we might’ve seen some good views on the way. I had a good time anyway. We played the hiking word game “Pinky Pinky” pretty much the entire time!
Finally, we had to see some giant sequoias before we left! There was some sort of fire damage in Mariposa Grove, the park’s more famous sequoia grove, so we went to Tuolumne Grove instead. It’s not as big (only 9 sequoias), but also not as crowded. The grove itself is a small, short loop. To get to it we had to walk about a mile down a sloped road.
I thought this timeline model of a sequoia trunk was exaggeratedly large. After seeing my first sequoia “Big Red,” I fully acknowledge that I was wrong! It would’ve been alive since the Roman Empire!
Behind HB is the aforementioned “Big Red”
This wasn’t even Big Red, but it gives you a sense of scale of just how large these tree were!
We came across this insanely large fallen tree that was partially hollowed out. It was a fun one to explore!
One of our friend’s goal on this trip was to walk through a tree. That was finally achieved here with the Tunnel Tree, which has been a tourist attraction since the 1800’s… People used to get down here in wagons!
Our trip to Yosemite was very satisfying. We even saw a bunch of wildlife including 3 bears (!), deer, hawks, chipmunks, and (too many) squirrels. I definitely did not expect to see so much wildlife; it was such a treat.
Where to Stay
We had an excellent experience staying in Yosemite Valley Lodge in El Portal, only 30 min away from Yosemite Valley. The room had a small kitchenette where we cooked all of our meals, so we didn’t need to eat out. It also had both an indoor and outdoor swimming pool!
Evenings spent playing some competitive rounds of Dominion
Keep in mind that Yosemite requires reservations to get into the park now. Its shuttle system is also not running. You will need a car to get from place to place (the park is HUGE), but parking was not as big of an issue as I expected because of the limited entry.
Have you been to Yosemite National Park? What would you recommend seeing/doing around here?