The anticipation of going had me elated; somehow I missed the alerts about the Ferguson Fires happening as I was mapping out my hikes on the NPS site…
Planning my 24 hour trip to Yosemite was so much fun (read about it here).
When I finally pulled my head out of my ass and realized that I may not be able to go, my dreams were crushed. I watched every day and night for the reports about the thousands of people that had been working around the clock to contain the massive fires. Little by little the containment was happening but as my travel days got closer, I decided to abandon ship and came up with a back up plan (read National Parks: Sequoia & Kings Canyon).
As I arrived to California, I still wanted to go to Yosemite and couldn’t believe that I was going to drive right past it without going. After my drive through Sequoia & Kings Canyon and having to stay in Fresno, it was a sign. I knew I was not going to drive 2 hours back to Kings Canyon so I planned very last minute that I would instead go to Yosemite for a few hours to see what I could see even though one of the major roads was still closed.
How to explore Yosemite Valley (area) in 4 hours and with minimal crowds
First rule of any trip:
Leave super early!
Driving from Fresno, I left the hotel at 6 AM and began the journey North.
You’ll want to leave before sunrise
If you want to leave earlier than this to catch the sunrise, then I may suggest a 4 AM departure. Depending on the route you take, you may be subjected to smaller country roads that are abundant with wheat fields and maybe a few tiny towns that consist of no more that 20 houses, a gas station and two schools side by side. Either way, the speed limit is less than 45.
Visit El Portal
Enter the park via 140. You will drive through the cutest mountain town called El Portal. some places like breakfast shops will be open by the time you arrive (8 AM). El Portal reminds me very much of a condensed Gatlinburg Tennessee. I wished I stopped for pancakes or something, but I was too excited to get into the park at this point.
Once you’ve entered the park, there’ll be mountains on all sides of you, roll down your windows and take in the sounds of the rivers. In the morning, its so quite and peaceful!
Stop as soon as you can
There will be a few pull outs here and there along the drive in. Stop and take a moment to gather the feel for Yosemite.
I’d stopped about 3 times along the route, the best stop was when I saw Bridalveil Falls on my right hand side. I was so excited to see it that I didn’t even see El Cap on the left until I had pulled off the road. If you’ve been to Yosemite before, than you can probably imagine how awe inspired I was. To be very honest, I felt like I got slapped in the face with beauty!
Since it’s still very early there won’t be too many people to bother you if you drive slow or decide to stop at the last minute. Seeing the sunrise on El Capitan is stunning, the soft glow of light against the blue grey granite wall amongst the floor of tall pines is very majestic.
Take in Yosemite Valley
Yosemite Valley is a main hub here in park and one not to be missed. In the morning, the sun shines brightly on the granite walls just beyond the valley which illuminates the grassy fields. It’s cool and crisp here and is a great way to break in your hiking legs.
Around 8:30 AM is when I arrived to the valley. I wanted to head to the visitor center first thing so I could get my stamp in my parks passport. The valley is so beautiful basically asking you to walk through it! There are boardwalks leading the way across the valley toward the visitor center and lodging. I decided to take some time to enjoy the quiet here and just observe the valley. Because of the fires, there was some haze that made it difficult to see Half Dome through the glare of the sun. Likely it is much more visible on a clear day.
Walk your way across to the General store to pick up a few snacks or gear if you need it. There are plenty of options for breakfast: bananas, apples, yogurt, etc. You could always do breakfast at the Lodge, but they don’t open until 9 AM. Don’t forget to stop by the Ansel Adams Gallery to see some amazing work in there! Even if you don’t buy anything, its worth a look.
Head to Tunnel View
Here is where you’ll find the most “iconic” photo of Yosemite and bus loads of tourists. Get here early enough and you can snag a good spot to park your car, because you’ll want to take a hike at this point.
Go across the street and you’ll find the stairway leading up the side of the mountain taking you to onto the Pohono Trail. Once you get to the cross point, you’ll see the metal signage. Keep going up to Inspiration point. It’s about 1.2 miles further up and you’ll get the best view!
Finding the trail was a bit challenging at first, because I did not take the stairs… Of course I just blew through some trees and found “a trail,” in hopes I was on the right path. Turns out I was and it was a pretty steady climb.
Tip: bring your hiking stick(s)!
There will be some points that are not so bad, if you need to stop then take a break but keep going because the view is so worth it.
I was a bit nervous making this hike alone as I’d seen many signs about bears and well, not many people taking this trail! Luckily, there is still very good cell reception in Yosemite and along this trail. I’d made sure to make some noise and turned on my music to keep me company while taking on this uphill challenge.
The Pohono Trail is one of the longest trails in Yosemite; make sure you look for the correct signage for Inspiration Point, otherwise you’ll be taking a much longer hike than expected! The hike should take no more than 2 hours RT.
By the end of this hike, it was almost 11 AM and I knew I had to leave the park by 12-12:30 PM. I knew there’s least one more stop!
Make time to see a waterfall! Bridalveil runs almost year round, which makes it a great one to visit when everyone else is worried about Yosemite Falls!
The hike to get to view the fall is short, if the fall isn’t too heavy you can climb the rocks to get a closer look and even enjoy the pool at the bottom of the fall. The water is cold and so wonderful to dip your bandana in to cool you off.
Take my advice, when I say to wear good hiking shoes… the rocks here are very smooth and can be a little challenging to navigate to get up to the fall. You may have to climb around others to get there. It’s a giant maze; reminds me so much of Joshua Tree!
When you do reach the pool, take in the fresh cool air and enjoy watching the water cascade down the wall. The water rushing down is rather loud but when you get right up on the fall, you will then see why it is call Bridalveil Falls. Just remember to try and keep your shoes dry because you’ll have to navigate back down the rocks to get back to the trail (Most people were sliding down some of the rocks like kids on a playground).
Admire El Cap
Just before you leave, make it a point to stop and admire El Cap one last time. It’s not only majestic, but you can find people climbing it on any given day. The most fascinating thing about El Cap is that people like Alex Honnold climb this massive hunk of rock without any ropes. Holy Crap man! Just think about that when your looking up at it!
This 4 hour itinerary was fairly mild compared to my “grand” plans, but due to natural disasters and time constraints this is what I could fit in. Surely you could select other hikes or spend time around El Cap or even in the Valley. This is a great way to get your feet wet on your first time to Yosemite or a casual half-day trip to get outdoors and take in nature..
Until next time,