Home » 2014 Southwest Deserts and Yosemite

Yosemite National Park, CA

Monday, November 24, 2014 - 12:15pm by Lolo
242 miles and 5 hours from our last stop - 7 night stay


Half Dome with Frosty MeadowHalf Dome with Frosty MeadowWe were back for the Gaidus second annual Thanksgiving in Yosemite!! Last year had been so much fun, that we decided to try it again, but this time we would be having our turkey in the elegant Ahwahnee Dining Room rather than the Yosemite Lodge Mountain Room. Don’t get me wrong – the Mountain Room had been great, but there is just nothing like the Ahwahnee.

Being a veteran of Yosemite Thanksgivings, I made sure I nabbed an Upper Pines campsite as soon as the November booking window became available. Upper Pines is the only campground open all year round, so although there are less people visiting the park in November, there are also less campsites. I booked it for the Tuesday before Thanksgiving through Sunday night, which would give me and Herb a little extra time around the boys stay with us.

Rather than wait until Tuesday, however, Herb suggested that we drive out a day earlier – the more time in Yosemite the better. We just assumed that there would be an available campsite in Upper Pines, thinking that people would be coming in for the holiday later in the week, and that at the very least, our campsite would be empty.

Lolo Photographing Meadow MistLolo Photographing Meadow MistWe arrived in Yosemite past the time when anyone is manning the campground booth, so we drove in, saw that our campsite was indeed empty, and settled in. After dinner, we watched a movie and then turned in early.

We were fast asleep when around 10:00 there was a knock on our door. It was two guys saying that we were in their campsite. Deep down, I was kind of afraid this would happen, but when 10:00 came around, I thought for sure that no one would show up anymore. After all, we had the campsite booked for the next day.

El Capitan in Morning LightEl Capitan in Morning LightThey were nice enough about the misunderstanding, and Herb and I quickly got our jackets on and got ready to move the RV and the car. The problem was, we weren’t sure just where we were going to move it to. Fortunately, a ranger that was driving through the campground saw the commotion and stopped to inquire what was going on. When we told him, he went back to the kiosk and returned with a list of campsites that were empty that night. We thanked him profusely and drove around until we found one on the list that we could comfortably fit into.

The next morning we awoke to sunny skies, but very chilly temperatures. Originally, we were planning to bike ride around the valley, but it was so cold that we decided to drive around in the car instead.

El Capitan Picnic AreaEl Capitan Picnic AreaHerb had bought a book entitled “The Photographers’s Guide to Yosemite,” which very specifically details geographical locations, as well as the time of year and time of day, for taking incredible photographs. Many of the locations in the book we already knew about, but there were also several that we did not. We decided to spend the day finding each of the book’s photography hotspots in the Valley, even though we might be hitting them during the wrong season or time of day. At the very least, it would be research for our future trips to Yosemite.

The cold was good for something. I had never seen the Valley so pristinely beautiful, with frost on the meadow grass and steam rising from its floor. It was absolutely breathtaking.

Herb was right. It was nice getting here a day early and just quietly enjoying the beauty of this incredible place, because when the boys arrived, we knew that the pace would pick up significantly.

Tommy flew in from Seattle and arrived in San Francisco around 9:30 Tuesday night. Despite our suggestion that they wait to drive out to Yosemite Wednesday morning, Andrew picked Tommy up at the airport and they just drove, arriving at our campsite around 2:30 in the morning. Vacation is very precious to them now that they are working, so they wanted to make sure that they had a full day Wednesday to climb. Ah…to be young.

Rock Climbing at Swan Slab and Sunnyside Bench and the Ahwahnee Great Lounge

Tom Climbing - LEGTom Climbing - LEGBecause of our trip here last Thanksgiving and then again in August, we were much more familiar with climbing areas in the Valley. However, in August, we were looking for walls that were in the shade because the sun heated up the rock too much, but now we wanted the exact opposite.

We began our first day of climbing in Yosemite at Swan Slab, a popular climbing area on the north side of the Valley, between Camp 4 and Lower Yosemite Falls. It’s one of my favorite spots, because the approach is easy and the base area is great for spectators, of which there are usually many. There is even a bench to sit on. Also, if I get bored watching, I can just set off from there on a Valley run.

Tommy led a 5.9 climb called Grant’s Crack and set up a top rope for Herb and Andrew. They could also do some 5.10 climbs from the same top rope. After coming down from his lead, Tommy insisted on setting a top rope up on something that I could do. I said my usual, “Don’t worry about me, I don’t have to climb,” which I repeat so often that they threatened to have a t-shirt printed for me with that on it. It’s become sort of a family joke, but sometimes I mean it. I can’t climb the routes they do, so I don’t want them to have to go out of their way to find something for me, and also, sometimes I am just plain scared. I love gym climbing, but am still somewhat intimidated on read rock. Anyway, I am glad that they never take my whining seriously and push me to climb, because I have really improved a lot and am no longer just an amusing anecdote. I mean I was occasionally getting a 5.7 or 5.8 outdoors.

Lolo Climbing - AJGLolo Climbing - AJGWhile we were at Swan Slab, there was this guy that was just running up the rock on some difficult routes without any rope – known as soloing in the climbing world. Quite honestly, he was making me a little nervous. We talked with him a bit afterwards. His name was Charlie and he had been climbing so many times in Yosemite that he knew most of the routes inside and out. He said that he had done the one he was soloing up literally over 100 times, so while it looked really scary for us, for him it was just like a walk in the park. He was about Herb and my age and had been part of the Yosemite climbing scene since the late 70s. He personally knew and had climbed with many of the Valley’s climbing legends.

Merced River with North and Half DomesMerced River with North and Half DomesCharlie took a liking to us and volunteered to bring us to another climbing area that we had never been to before – Sunnyside Bench, just a little ways to the right of Lower Yosemite Falls. Tommy led a 5.9 climb called Jamcrack and set up a top rope for Herb and Andrew to follow. From this top rope they were also able to do another 5.10c and 5.10d climb. While this was going on, Charlie was doing it again – scampering up the rock like it was nothing. We finally volunteered to belay him – meaning that he could actually climb with a rope to catch him in case he fell, and he happily accepted. The really funny thing was that he said that being on a rope scared him. I’m not sure I get this guy.

Having Charlie along was like having your own personal Yosemite climbing guide. He knew everything about this place. He asked us if we wanted to meet him to climb the next day, so he could show us some more climbing areas that we hadn’t been to. We would have loved to, but tomorrow was Thanksgiving and we had a big date with the Ahwahnee. We didn’t tell him that we were eating at the Ahwahnee because we didn’t want to sound pretentious.

November Birches with Half DomeNovember Birches with Half DomeI felt kind of bad that he didn’t even realize it was Thanksgiving, but he explained that his wife had to work, so he thought he would get away a few days to do some climbing. Okay, that didn’t sound as bad.

He told us that he would probably just solo Royal Arches tomorrow, which just so happens to be the view outside the Ahwahnee Dining Room windows. Charlie and his soloing make me very nervous, so I kind of hoped we wouldn’t ruin our dinner by falling.

That night, rather than hang out in the somewhat chilly motorhome – Herb was trying to conserve propane since our generator wasn’t working – we drove over to the Ahwahnee with our kindles and a deck of cards and settled into a cozy evening in the Great Lounge. Although the Great Lounge is huge, there are so many nooks and crannies and side rooms that we were able to find our own private cozy spot.

Valley Floor Loop, Thanksgiving Dinner, Ice Skating, and Ahwahnee Great Lounge

Lolo and Boys Enjoying El CapitanLolo and Boys Enjoying El CapitanOur Thanksgiving Dinner reservation was for 2:00, so there was plenty of time for some pre-feast exercise. We had two bikes along, so we decided that we would do part of the Valley Floor loop – Herb and I on bikes, and Andrew and Tommy in running sneakers.

It was a really brisk morning – the kind that really makes you feel alive. Rather than ride along the road, we followed the dirt paths whenever possible, passing through lovely pristine meadows and along the Merced River. It was very invigorating.

Having worked up a hearty appetite for our feast, we headed over to the Ahwahnee Hotel, a little bit early so we could relax in the lounge first. Originally, I had wanted to make our dinner reservation for 4:00, but the only slot I could get was 2:00. In retrospect I’m glad I wasn’t able to change it, because it gets dark by 4:00 in the Valley, and we wouldn’t have had the spectacular views out the dining room windows. How would I have looked for Charlie?

Lolo and Boys before Thanksgiving DinnerLolo and Boys before Thanksgiving DinnerAs I have mentioned in previous posts, the Ahwahnee Dining Room, with its 34-foot-high beamed ceilings, granite pillars, chandeliers, and floor-to-ceiling windows, is the perfect venue for a memorable dining experience.

With a setting like this, the food just had to be good enough to do it justice, but that was incredible too. The first course was pickled vegetables and freshly baked bread, followed by butternut squash soup and then salad. I was already full. We were going to have to pace ourselves. Then came the dinner itself – a huge portion of local organic turkey and the usual accompaniments of stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, and glazed carrots. Tommy, as he often does, ate only half his meal and had the rest wrapped up for later. Andrew, as he often does, went with much gusto for the whole meal at once. I think Tommy was the wiser man, because Andrew looked like he was going to be sick. He could not even think of participating in one of the delicious deserts, but instead had a slice of pumpkin pie wrapped up for later.

Family at Ahwahnee Thanksgiving DinnerFamily at Ahwahnee Thanksgiving DinnerWe walked our dinner off a bit around the lovely grounds afterwards, peering up at Royal Arches to see if by any chance Charlie was up there, but no sighting. Good thing, because it was already getting dark. At this time of year, sunset is so early, but because of the high walls of the Valley, darkness comes even earlier.

To continue our Yosemite Thanksgiving tradition, which is now on its second year, we went back to the motorhome, changed into warm clothing and headed over to the Curry Village ice skating rink. Last year when we had done this, it had been my first time on skates in over 10 years, so I was a lot more confident this time than last.

Herb Skates TooHerb Skates TooThe rink wasn’t that crowded, probably because a lot of people were having their Thanksgiving dinners or napping afterwards. We spent a good hour and a half careening around the rink. I had skated a lot when I was a kid, and if I must say so myself, I was pretty decent. While not quite as agile as then, I was still able to impress the boys by skating backwards while doing crossovers, with the occasional spin mixed in. It was so much fun!

The fun wasn’t over yet though. Not only did Tommy get to eat the rest of his delicious Thanksgiving dinner back in the RV in front of us, but we still had three more fun-filled days ahead of us in the Valley.

Rock Climbing on Manure Buttress Pile and Ahwahnee Great Lounge

Andrew and Tommy on NutcrackerAndrew and Tommy on NutcrackerFor today’s adventure, the boys wanted to take on a multi-pitch climb, which is a bit more involved than top-roping and requires more experience and skill. Unlike top rope climbing, where a climber climbs up and sets the rope through an anchor and then comes down, in a multi pitch climb, the leader climbs up to a belay station (usually a ledge), anchors himself in, and then belays the other climbers up from there. Then the process is repeated up to the next belay station and so one, for the number of pitches in the climb.

Tommy is quite experienced in multi-pitch climbing and Herb is as well, although his experience dates back a few decades. However, both in Yosemite last August and then again a few weeks back in Red Rock Canyon, they had successfully completed several multi-pitch climbs together.

Tommy's Turn to Lead NutcrackerTommy's Turn to Lead NutcrackerMulti-pitch climbs are more exciting, because you climb hundreds of feet up on the wall and get to look down out over the vast expanse below you, which in this case was the unparalleled Yosemite Valley. Also, there is more a spirit of teamwork as opposed to the more individual efforts of a single-pitch climb. It had father-son bonding written all over it.

For a brief moment they considered including me in this family bonding, and actually looked through the guide book for a multi-pitch climb that I might be able to handle, but I was just too intimidated by the thought of it, and worried that I would only turn what would be a nice comfortable climb for them into an epic. I wish Tommy had made me that “Don’t worry about me, I don’t have to climb” t-shirt, because this time I would have worn it for real.

Dad and Boys on Last Pitch of Nutcracker - LEGDad and Boys on Last Pitch of Nutcracker - LEGIt was really sweet of them though to even consider hauling their Mom up a big wall in Yosemite. I think they were worried about me being bored, because this climb would take several hours and I would be left far behind on the ground. I assured them that I could not possibly be bored in the Valley and that I gladly welcomed the opportunity to go on a long run.

The climb they chose was Nutcracker, a 5.8 / 5.9, 5-pitch climb, located on the less-than-appealingly-named Manure Buttress Pile Wall, just east of El Cap. This is one of the classic climbs in the Valley, so we were very fortunate to find no one already on it.

The nice thing for me about this location was that we could park the motorhome at the picnic area just a hundred yards or so from the base of the climb. This way I could use it as a base camp while they were gone. Also, despite its name, it was a very pretty area, with not even a hint of manure to be found. The name is actually a holdover from the early days in the park when horses were the only means of transport through the Valley. Where there are horses, there is manure, and this was the place where the park service used to dump it.

Boys Prepping for Nutcracker Walk OffBoys Prepping for Nutcracker Walk OffI hung around at the base of the climb while they did the first pitch. Tommy took the first lead, and then rather than go up through the 5.8 gully-crack, he did the 5.9 variation up a finger crack instead. He set up a top-rope and then Herb and Andrew followed him up. Herb took the second-pitch lead, and when he was safely through that I decided to go for my run, because it was getting more difficult seeing them as they got higher.

I must confess that I was a little nervous, because there would be several hours when I had no idea what was going on. For some reason, I think that as long as I am watching them, everything will be okay – a bit self-important, I guess. Rationally, I knew that worrying was silly, because they are good and cautious climbers and this was a route that they were very capable of doing. I decided to just relax about it and enjoy my own time in the Valley.

Alpinglow on Half DomeAlpinglow on Half DomeI had a lot of time to kill, so I covered about 12 miles at a nice leisurely pace. I started along the north park road, but found a dirt path to get off onto as soon as I could. Eventually I came to a very narrow, barely visible path through a meadow. It wasn’t marked on the map, which I was clutching because I always get lost. I think it might have just been an animal trail. Feeling adventurous, I decided to follow it and was so glad I did. It was indescribably awesome. Here I was with thousands of other visitors to the Valley, but yet it felt like I had this incredible place all to myself.

That’s something we have discovered over our many trips to Yosemite. No matter how crowded it is, if you are willing to hike more than a mile, or get off the beaten track, you can find total solitude.

Eventually my trail lead me along the river and out to Swinging Bridge and a more established trail. I continued my run on the bike path along the south park road, passing the cute little Yosemite Chapel and then back across to the north side, through the Ahwahnee meadow and Yosemite Village, past Lower Yosemite Falls and Camp 4, and then back to my base camp at Manure Buttress Pile.

Yosemite Birch TreesYosemite Birch TreesI had made several stops along the way to kill a little more time, but I had a feeling I still had a while to wait before Herb and the boys returned. I took a walk along the path to the base of Nutcracker and looked up at the vast wall wondering just where they might be right now. As I gazed up somewhat randomly – I wasn’t sure where their route even led – I spotted a climber, more like a little spec about 400 feet up on the wall, wearing bright neon blue shirt. I knew that shirt!! It was Tommy’s! I can’t believe I spotted them so quickly.

I quickly ran back to the motorhome, ruffled through the drawers to find Herb’s binoculars, grabbed my camera and a Crazy Creek chair, and ran back to the place in the path where I had spotted them. Fortunately, it was a nice sunny spot, because it was really chilly in the shade.

For the next hour, I sat in my Crazy Creek, neck craned back, watching their progress through the binoculars. Although they were too small to see through my camera lens – I wish I had brought a telephoto– I took dozens of photos, hoping that when enlarged, they would be distinguishable. I was so wrapped up in watching them that I didn’t even notice that I was now in the shade and starting to shiver. I didn’t care though. They were close to the top and I wanted to make sure I saw them complete it.

Frosty Leaves on LogFrosty Leaves on LogEventually, they disappeared over the edge of the cliff and out of my sight. From the top, they would have to hike down through a gully back to the base. I ran back to the motorhome to warm up, looked in the climbing guide to see where their trail would come out, and then went back out to meet them. I was so excited to see them. “They said the climb was incredible, and they were so glad they did it. They also added that they were glad I didn’t, because it was somewhat intimidating in parts, even for them. I told them I had a fantastic day as well, so I think we all had made the right decision.

Rock Climbing on Church Bowl, Ice Skating, and Ahwahnee Great Lounge

Tommy Leading Church Bowl LiebackTommy Leading Church Bowl LiebackToday was Saturday, our last full day together. The weather had turned a bit – overcast and damp. No sun to warm us up today.

We decided to get some climbing in before the rain, so we headed over to the nearby Church Bowl Wall, located right behind a picnic area about halfway between Yosemite Village and the Ahwahnee Hotel. This way if it started to rain or I got bored, I could just walk to the Ahwahnee and hang out there.

Tommy led a 5.8 climb called Church Bowl Lieback and set up a top rope so that they could also do an adjacent 5.10a climb called Pole Position. Afterwards, Tommy convinced me to try a 5.7 called Uncle Fanny, somewhat appropriately named as you will see below.

Lolo Crushing Uncle FannyLolo Crushing Uncle FannyUnfortunately for me, many of the easier climbs in the Valley are what are known as chimneys, which basically means I have to squeeze my entire body through very narrow, damp spaces – so narrow that at times I can actually let go with my hands and still not fall because I am so tightly wedged in by – you got it – my “fanny.” Actually, I am not really sure if that is the source of the climb’s name, but if not, it should be.

I had actually done this climb the last time we were here in August, but I had improved a bit since then, so when I got to the part at the top where there was a choice of squeezing through an even tighter area, or venturing out onto the more exposed rock face, I chose the face. Although it was more intimidating and more difficult technically, I did it. They were so proud of me. I guess if I am ever going to get better at this sport and not always be relegated to chimney climbs, I am going to have to work on the mental part and get more confident.

Lolo and Boys before Ice SkatingLolo and Boys before Ice SkatingThe weather really wasn’t very nice, so all of us, with the exception of Andrew who still wanted to climb more, suggested that we do something else for the remainder of the day. I suggested that we go back to Curry Village to ice skate, since that is something that should be done in the cold. The boys liked the idea, but Herb said that this time he would just watch and photograph us.

Family Skating with Half Dome ViewFamily Skating with Half Dome ViewWe had never skated here during the daytime before, so we had no idea that there was such an incredible view of Half Dome from the rink. It was hard to take your eyes off of it, which is not a good thing when you are trying to dodge little kids zipping and falling in front of you. We call them squirrels because of the way they just mindlessly dart out in front of you. The rink was much more crowded than on Thanksgiving, so it was difficult getting into a groove.

About half way through the session, it began to drizzle, so we reluctantly called it quits, and went back to the RV to dry out and make dinner. Because of the broken generator and the fear of running low on propane, Herb had been keeping the temperature in the RV pretty low, to the point where Tommy started referring to it as “the meat locker.” Herb kindly threw on another lump of cold.

After dinner, we left the meat locker and headed over to the Ahwahnee for one more cozy night of Hearts. I sure was going to miss this place.

Mirror Lake and Ahwahnee Brunch

Tommy Building Rock Cairn on LoloTommy Building Rock Cairn on LoloI had never hiked to Mirror Lake before, because unlike most other park visitors that throng to it because of its intriguing name, we knew that in fact there was no lake. At its best in spring time, it is little more than a dried up pool. The park service used to dredge the lake of silt each year, but has since changed its policy to let nature take its course. As the silt accumulates, it is gradually turning into a meadow.

Herb and Andrew had hiked down to Mirror Lake from North Dome last August and said that despite the lack of a lake, it was still a worthy destination. So, we set off from the campground utilizing our most efficient mode of Valley travel – Herb and I on bikes and Andrew and Tommy running. Besides the lovely views of Mt. Watkins and Tenaya Canyon, my favorite thing at Mirror Lake was the cairn garden, where there are literally hundreds of stacked rock statues, ranging anywhere from 6 inches to several feet high.

Herb's Ahwahnee Birthday BrunchHerb's Ahwahnee Birthday BrunchI only found out later that there is some controversy surrounding these cairns. Cairns are only supposed to be used as trail markers, not as a form of art. This particular cairn garden, which seems to be growing spontaneously as new visitors add their own touches to it, violates the park’s Leave No Trace policy and also disrupts the habitats of small animals.

We didn’t build any of our own. Herb just took pictures of them, and Tommy dismantled one and reassembled it on top of my head.

The boys had to head out soon to get back to work on Monday, so we wrapped up our second annual Yosemite Thanksgiving with the final event – Sunday brunch in the Ahwahnee, something every visitor should partake in at least once. As usual, we requested a table in the alcove at the back of the dining room, where it is a bit more intimate and the views through the floor-to-ceiling windows are lovely. Brunch was delicious and ample as always and the service impeccable

It wasn’t too hard parting with the boys this time, because they would be home in less than three weeks for Christmas.

Herb and I stayed another night and then drove back the next day to our home base at the Petaluma KOA, where we would get ready for our flight back to New Jersey.


Lazy Daze and Subaru Ready to Leave YosemiteLazy Daze and Subaru Ready to Leave YosemiteYosemite National Park lies near the eastern border of California in the heart of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Its spectacular waterfalls, soaring granite cliffs, and lush meadows are just a few of the reasons it is considered by many to be nature’s ultimate masterpiece. In the words of John Muir, “it is surely the brightest and the best of all the Lord has built.”

This description will focus on Yosemite Valley, which is the section of the park we visited. Although the Yosemite Valley is just a small portion of Yosemite’s 761,268 acres, it is part receives 95% of its visitors. In fact, an estimated 4.1 million people visit the Valley each year, making it extremely crowded.

Two one-way roads traverse Yosemite Valley: the east-bound Southside Drive and the west-bound Northside Drive, which wind through woodlands and meadows along the base of the 3,000-foot-high granite cliffs. As of today, cars are still allowed to enter and drive through the valley, but visitors are highly encouraged to park their vehicles and use the park’s free shuttle bus, which stops at the major attractions in the valley.

Virtual Tour of Yosemite Valley Highlights

  • As you enter the valley, the first sight you’ll see is the 620-foot Bridalveil Falls flowing down from a hanging valley to the valley floor. From the parking area, a short paved path leads to the base of the falls. This is one of the few falls in Yosemite that does not completely dry up in the summer.
  • Just past the Bridalveil Fall parking area, the Southside Drive begins to trace the Merced River. Soon El Capitan comes fully into view. This 3,000 foot high granite cliff is the largest single piece of exposed granite in the world and one of the most famous landmarks in Yosemite. If you look closely, you might see small dots that are actually rock climbers along its face.
  • Continuing east on the Southside Drive are two riverside picnic areas and beaches: Cathedral Beach and Sentinel Beach.
  • Right after the Sentinel Beach parking area is the trailhead for the 4-Mile trail, which ascends more than 3,200 feet from the valley floor to Glacier Point and one of the most spectacular views of the valley.
  • A short distance further is Swinging Bridge, another picnic and swimming area. This area is also the westernmost point of the 8-mile bicycle loop that goes through the eastern part of the valley. From this point on, the bike path parallels the road.
  • Next stop is the picturesque tiny Yosemite Chapel where many outdoor enthusiasts choose to exchange wedding vows.
  • Now you enter the congested and developed portion of the valley.
  • Right past the chapel, you can either take a left onto Sentinel Bridge towards Yosemite Village and the park exit, or you can continue straight towards Curry Village, the campgrounds, and Happy Isles Nature Center. For now, let’s stop at Sentinel Bridge for what is probably the most spectacular Half Dome viewpoint in the park. It’s a great spot for a photograph of Half Dome with the Merced River in the foreground.
  • Continuing east on the Southside Drive, you pass Housekeeping Camp and Curry Village. Curry Village has lodging, restaurants, bicycle and raft rentals, a grocery store, and other shops. Curry Village is also one of the main parking areas in the valley.
  • From Curry Village you can either take Northside Drive across the Ahwahnee Bridge back to Yosemite Village and the park exit, or continue east to the campgrounds. The Happy Isles Nature Center is also this way, but only shuttle buses are allowed on the road to it.
  • The Happy Isles Nature Center features exhibits on the natural history of the park. It also serves as the trailhead for some of the best hikes in Yosemite. 1.5 mile trail leads to the top of Vernal Falls and then continues another 1.5 miles to the top of Nevada Falls (two waterfalls that flow even in the summer time). From there you can continue even further into the backcountry of Yosemite, including the cable route up the back of Half Dome.
  • From Curry Village, the Northside Drive crosses the Ahwahnee Meadow, a wonderful spot to gaze at Half Dome during sunset, and enters Yosemite Village, the main center of visitor services in the park. Here you’ll find the park’s main Visitor Center, restaurants, lodging, shops, a grocery store, a post office, a medical clinic, the Ansel Adams Gallery, an Indian Cultural Exhibit and more. It’s also a good place to park your car and jump on the shuttle.
  • A short dead end road from Yosemite Village leads to the majestic old Ahwahnee Hotel, which has played host to Queen Elizabeth, President John F. Kennedy, and Clint Eastwood, to name a few. This beautiful six-story rock structure offers tremendous views from every room. Within the hotel is the elegant and quite expensive Ahwahnee Dining Room (jackets required for dinner).
  • Back on the Northside Drive heading west from Yosemite Village, the next stop is the Yosemite Falls parking area. At 2,425 feet, Yosemite Falls is the highest waterfall in North America. It is actually three waterfalls in one, with an upper, middle and lower section. A short walk from the parking lot along a paved walk leads to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls. This is the most visited landmark in the valley. Except in summer when the fall temporarily dries up, you’ll be sure to be covered in spray.
  • A little further west on the Northside Drive is Yosemite Lodge, which marks the end of the developed area of the park going west.
  • Right after Yosemite Lodge is Sunnyside Campground/Camp 4, a place where most rock climbers choose to congregate. From this campground begins the popular and strenuous Yosemite Falls hike, which ascends 2,600 feet from the valley floor to the top of the Upper Falls. The views from the top are incredible.
  • Continuing west, there is nothing but woods and meadows from which to enjoy the views. Along the road there are several pullouts where you can stop and walk down to the Merced River for a swim. Just after the El Capitan Bridge, you’ll come to the El Capitan Meadow where you’re sure to find people looking through binoculars at the miniscule rock climbers clinging to the granite face.
  • Just to the west of El Capitan, Ribbon Falls plunges over 1,600 feet down to the valley floor. It is the seventh highest waterfall in the world. However, it too dries up in the summer time.
  • Finally the road nears the end of the Northside Drive at Valley View where El Capitan, on the left, and Cathedral Rocks, on the right, frame a magnificent valley view.

Herb and Amused Lolo in Ahwahnee FireplaceHerb and Amused Lolo in Ahwahnee FireplaceSeveral guided bus tours are also available. The 2-hour Valley Floor Tour is a great way to get acclimated. Visitors ride through the valley in an open tram while a guide leads a informative discussion of Yosemite’s history and geology. There are many photo stops along the way. In addition, there are bus tours out of the valley to Glacier Point, the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees, and Tuolumne Meadows.

Although much of Yosemite can be enjoyed from the comforts of your car or a shuttle, the best way to truly experience Yosemite is do get out and experience it more directly.

Things to do in Yosemite

  • Hike one of the many trails around the valley, ranging from an easy walk to the base of Lower Yosemite Falls to the strenuous 16-mile round trip hike up the back of Half Dome via cables
  • Take an overnight backpacking trip
  • Bike along the 12 miles of bicycle paths that loop through the Valley. Rentals are available at Curry Village and Yosemite Lodge.
  • Rock climb in one of the premier climbing places in the world
  • Raft down the calm waters of the Merced River through the valley. Rentals are available at Curry Village.
  • Swim or tube in the Merced River. Besides the designated beaches, there are many pullouts along the road from which you can walk down to the river.
  • Join one of the many ranger walks, which are offered daily
  • Take a free art class at the Yosemite Art and Education Center
  • Photograph the amazing scenery of the valley and surrounding granite cliffs
  • Browse the Ansel Adams Gallery and see some of the photographs that first made Yosemite famous
  • Relax in the meadow while gazing up at Half Dome or El Capitan
  • Dine at the 5-star Ahwahnee Hotel, where presidents and royalty have stayed

Although many try to see Yosemite in a day, it is best to devote several days to seeing all the park has to offer. Besides the numerous hotels, lodges, and cabins in the Valley, there are three RV campgrounds: Upper Pines (238 sites), Lower Pines (60 sites), and North Pines (81 sites). That’s less than 400 campsites to accommodate all the people that want to camp here.

Since these campgrounds usually fill-up within the first hour they become available, it is essential to make your reservations as soon as possible. Campground reservations are available in blocks of one month at a time, up to five months in advance, on the 15th of each month at 7 am Pacific time. For example, if your arrival date is July 15 through August 14, the first day you can make reservations is March 15. The National Park Reservation System can be found at www.recreation.gov. Good luck!

Yosemite National Park location map in "high definition"

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