California is one of those fortunate states that is full of spectacular natural wonders spreading from North to South. From lush overgrowths of the Redwood Forest to the silently desolate lands of Death Valley, there are tons of spots that’ll leave you in awe.
Amongst the best of them is undoubtedly Yosemite National Park. There’s something magical about this place that will leave you not only in awe, but breathlessly alive – because you’ll be hiking and climbing the entire time of course!
As the country’s third oldest national park, Yosemite is known for having more than just a pretty view. Millions of years in the making, Yosemite Valley is actually carved out by ice during the last Ice Age. Leaving us with an enormous valley of high granite walls and low valley floors, perfect for chasing waterfalls. And there’s over 20 of them!
Ideally, Yosemite should be experienced in more than one day, but sometimes that just doesn’t happen. Lodging and accommodations is also pretty sparse and hard to come by. Unless you book well in advance or get really lucky, that might not even be a choice.
But don’t be discouraged, a day in Yosemite National Park is still well worth it. Here’s how to make the most it:
Get on the road and start early. The park is open 24 hours and by early afternoon, it’s buzzing and alive. Aim to be at Glacial Point before 9am, even try for day break if that’s possible. It’s one of the few spots in the park that offers a worth sunrise, given the park is predominately in a valley and all!
Just remember to give yourself plenty of time just to drive into the park from the entrance. Depending on where you enter from, it can be another hour before reaching your destination. Also, heavy traffic and jams are pretty much expected in most of the park.
Glacier Point offers an incredible panoramic view across the Sierra Nevada high country, with a spotlight directed at the curved Half Dome. Here, you’ll also find Panorama Trail, one of the most highly regarded trails in the park. But at over 13 km one way, it’s best saved for another visit.
Done marveling at the expansive views in front of you, hop back in the car. Head back down Glacial Point Rd and into the Valley itself.
Before entering the Valley, you’ll be surprisingly welcomed by one of the most spectacular and iconic views of the entire park. Giving visitors a preshow of what to expect, Tunnel View is as postcard-perfect as it gets. Impeccably framed with a floor of pine trees and a wide-open sky above. Bridalveil Fall instantly takes center stage as it plunges off a giant cliff. Beside it is the iconic granite formation of El Capitan, with the Half Dome pulling the scene together and completing the picture in the background.
After you’ve picked your jaw back up from the ground, continue your way into Yosemite Valley.
There’s no need to rush into the Valley, as its most likely brimming by now. Instead, take your time and soak it all in.
On the way in, you’ll pass several more waterfalls and get the chance to see El Capitan up close and personal. There’s limited parking along the side of the road, but if you find one, snag it. It’s a wonderful feeling to be so close to these natural phenomenons.
Once in the Valley, you won’t need your car much anymore. Yosemite has a great bus system that regularly circulates the top spots in the park. It’s a great way to reduce traffic and our carbon footprint.
By this time, you’re probably aching to stretch out your legs and get even more involved with the park – perfect time for a hike!
There are several short hikes to choose from, but one of the most rewarding is the Mist Trail. Aside from being relatively low intensity, the trail also brings hikers right to the mouth of two waterfalls. Vernal Fall and Nevada Fall, about 5 and 11km respectively are exhilarating and powerful.
The journey itself is actually just as exciting as seeing the falls, progressively welcoming hikers to experience the cascades. First by the sounds of rushing water down the stream, followed by the smell of heavy spray in the air and the commanding mist that will surely soak you all the way through. This hike stimulates all your senses and by the time you loop back to the Valley, your adrenaline is sure to be pumping.
Finish your day with a visit to Yosemite Falls, which is easily accessible from Yosemite Village. Separated into two sections, the Lower half is an effortless stroll from the roadside. The Upper Falls, however, is over 12km, so it might be on the list for next visit!
With the Lower Falls so close to the road, be prepared for it to be crowded. But this is one of those spots that summarizes Yosemite. After seeing the park from above at Glacial Point, afar from Tunnel View, now it’s the time to see it up close.
Charm Tip: Though Yosemite National Park is open 24 hours, be wary of when you start your hikes in the evenings. Evenings can get pretty remote and receiving assistance might not come easily. Oh and there’s plenty of wild animals around too!