I’ve climbed the Great Wall of China, I’ve seen the Great Barrier Reef, I’m desperate to do Macchu Picchu and Victoria Falls and I’ve flown over the Grand Canyon.
And now I can say I’ve soaked up all that Yosemite National Park had to give me and in my book it is one of the Natural Wonders of the World.
Majestic, spectacular, mind-blowing, stunning, breathtaking phenomenal … it left us speechless and in awe.
I’ve said it a few times now: I never wanted to live in the US, I certainly wanted to travel the US more extensively than I had but it wasn’t far enough up my bucket list to imagine that I’d get to see the amazing things I’m having the opportunity to do. So forgive me if I indulge for a few more minutes as to how lucky I am to get the chance to visit Yosemite and to experience it not only with my family but with our close friends visiting from Australia.
No, this post isn’t about you reading about me gloating at having been to and admired Yosemite but about sharing it with you–more importantly how to conquer Yosemite yourself.
Many of my fabulous new LA friends haven’t been to Yosemite and I hope I can encourage them all to visit as it’s so well worth it.
When to go?
Well the materials say Yosemite is good to enjoy in every season and I’m sure it is. Winter is the quietest month and summer its busiest. For now I can only give you first-hand experience for summer.
Where to stay?
When I did my research the resounding advice was to stay in the Park. The downside apparently was you had to bring everything in because there are no shops in the park. That makes sense from Australian logic but when we got there we found supplies at a couple of the shops inside the park, enough I’m thinking to get you through. Also, there are restaurants in the park so even if you’re camping you can book at the Majestic Yosemite Hotel (formerly known as the Ahawanee) for example for dinner and drinks.
Book early (full stop AND exclamation mark)
If you’re planning to go in summer and want to stay in Yosemite try to book between 6-12 months in advance. There are first-come-first-serve campsites but you’ll have to join the queue early to guarantee yourself a spot.
I tried to book around five months in advance for two families and found no room at the Inn. There was a last-minute cancellation for a very basic cottage but decided against it. Instead we rented an RV (caravan truth be told) that was delivered and set-up at our campsite for us and managed to book a spot at nearby Oakhurst. It’s about an hour/hour and a half drive but it’s a pretty one and we didn’t find it much of a hassle. It also puts you at the main entrance (South Entrance) that’s open all year round.
Here’s a link to help with driving directions. Our entire trip started in LA direct to Yosemite (about a five-hour drive) then a couple of days later continued to Vegas via Mammoth and Death Valley (which was spectacular).
This drive on the way out (through Tioga Road–Highway 120 East entrance) is closed through winter because of its high elevation and snow. We saw the last snow on the ground on our way out that’ll give you an idea of how much snow there must be in winter. It is a spectacular vision and different again from Glacier Point and the Valley floor.
To us, this drive out this far gate made us feel even more in awe of Yosemite and its changing face–the park just keeps on giving. (NOTE: If you’re going to do this drive it gets cold so bring a hoodie/jumper/sweats or whatever it takes in whatever version of English you speak).
Other places to stay
We loved Bass Lake. It’s around a 1.5 hour-drive to Yosemite Valley but it doesn’t feel like it. There are some gorgeous houses and a decent-looking resort there. We had the added bonus of hiring a boat and going donuting and wakeboarding (& champagning of course) which the kids just loved.
Fish Camp is only a few kms from the South Entrance and while small had a number of accommodation options. I wish I’d have known about this when I was booking. I can’t tell you whether we would have secured accommodation here when Yosemite was booked out but I would have at least tried had I known about it.
Likewise Oakhurst (where we ended up) had heaps of accommodation offers and while hysterical ending up where we did I did look at the Best Western green with envy. Again, I didn’t really know to look here for other options–yes, quite ill-informed going in I agree but you live and learn.
A note re booking early. I was really peeved to find out that a couple having a drink at a table next to us at the Ahawanee only booked their room the night before and when we enquired there was one room free. How could this be? Hopefully it was due to last-minute cancellations and a lot of luck on their part. The hotel couldn’t give me an explanation–they naturally danced around that question!
What to see?
What isn’t there to see? We’re not big hikers so doing all the trails and hikes was not for us. That doesn’t mean to say it’s not for you. We spent a whole day driving (and walking & eating) around Yosemite then the second morning driving through the South Entrance to the East Entrance to Mammoth and onto Death Valley. (I can’t recommend this highly enough).
What did we see and did we think it was enough time?
- Glacier’s Peak
- Tunnel view on your way down to Yosemite Valley (takes your breath away). You know you’ve come to it because you literally drive through a long tunnel and when you come out: kapow. Simply stunning it takes your breath away.
- Yosemite Valley covering some waterfalls, Half Dome and El Capitan.
I felt like it was enough (as in I didn’t feel like we missed out on anything not that we were bored). As I said at the start I felt in awe, soaked it all in and the kids even managed time to play in the icy cold (and extremely pure) creeks. I didn’t feel rushed and I felt like I got a sense of the place.
One of the best decisions we made was to valet park at the Ahwanee Hotel and have a drink and lunch there. It was poles apart from our RV at the Trailer Park and the hotel is just gorgeous. I managed to take a peak at the cabins and while lovely they were pretty basic so I’m not sure whether you need to spend the big bucks to stay here.
But then again I have nothing to compare it to (except the RV of course) but will let you know if I go back and try to stay at one of the hotels or lodgings.
Here’s a link to a great article I found on spending a day at Yosemite. (It pretty much gives a little more detail of what I just said.)
It was busy but it didn’t feel like it was over-crowded or compromised with lots of activity. We got parks at each vantage point, managed a table for lunch and wandered around freely.
Others might not agree with me though. When we got out of the car I was so excited and started saying to our group (who, OK, were not in close, close proximity to me), “Oh my god, this is amazing,” or words to that effect. He (apparently) said something like it was until I spoilt his recording of the serenity. Had I have known he said that I would have charged him money for my voiceover (or had him delete me if he didn’t cough up–either that or put him in touch with my agent and lawyer). I didn’t realise we were in a museum or library. Some people take life waaay too seriously.
The only time we felt it was overwhelmingly busy was when we were due to leave–there was a bit of a traffic jam. We parked the car and sat by a creek near Curry Village to let the traffic subside. It didn’t take long and we drove out of the park back to the Trailer Park.
The drive didn’t seem to take long at all and remember we had two cars and five kids so I reckon that’s saying something.
I would go again in a heartbeat. Next time I’ll try to stay at a hotel in the park. I’ve also added a trip to Mammoth on my list and I’d like to check out Lake Tahoe further north.
Do what you can but just do it. Especially if you live in California you have no excuse not to visit Yosemite–a natural wonder right on your door step. And if you don’t–what a great excuse to come to California. But just remember:
xx It Started in LA xx