2 Days in the Valley, Yosemite Valley
Yosemite National Park is the second most visited national park in the United States. The park is filled with iconic natural monuments such as El Capitan, Half Dome, Yosemite Falls, Bridalveil Falls and so many more. It would take a week to thoroughly experience the park. Last week, I had a four day weekend to see the park and I used the summer tradition of the American road trip to get there. The drive would be a total of 7 hours, including a lunch break, with the most debilitating portion in the Los Angeles area. If you’re from the area or have ever driven in Southern California, you know the intensity of the traffic here. Fortunately the rest of the drive is fairly smooth and easy to the park. I left Thursday morning and the return drive was Sunday morning so that left Friday and Saturday for my expedition into the park. With my limited time, I didn’t plan on hiking any of the signature long hikes that the park is known for. I wanted to see as much as possible as this was my first visit to this highly touted national park. Friday would be my first time I would catch my first glimpse of the park.
As I drove in and made my way to Yosemite Village. I saw El Capitan to my left but I didn’t want to stop. I knew it was important to get parking. I kept going but just within minutes, there was another clearing and you could see Yosemite Falls. I couldn’t resist and parked along the road to catch my first glimpse of the amazing wonder. I only stayed for a few minutes and made my way to the Yosemite Lodge parking lot. I picked this spot since it was a central location in Yosemite Valley and I could access multiple trails from this spot. The lodge also has several restaurants and even a food court so I wouldn’t have to search for a place to eat. I highly recommend parking your car for the day and using the free park shuttle to get around the park. Parking is at capacity by the late morning hours and if you go from one location and try to find parking at another location, you’ll spend most of your time driving around looking for a parking spot.
I began my day by hiking the very short, half mile, Lower Yosemite Falls trail. The early morning start paid off as there were fewer people on this trail which allowed me to get some amazing shots with out the crowds. You can get a great view of both the upper and lower falls at the start of the trail. Half way along the trail, you’ll be at the bottom of the lower falls for a close up photo. And, you’ll most likely get soaked from the mist sprayed by the falls. And just like that, this short route was over and it ends near the trailhead of another trail.
Just across the road is the Cook’s Meadow Trail that will take you from one side of the valley to the other. The path will take you to the center of the valley and you can get a great central point of view of the surrounding landscape.
With the valley covered, it was time to feel the burn. From Cook’s Meadow, I made my way to shuttle stop 11. From here, I took the shuttle to stop 16 and to the trailhead for the John Muir Trail.
This is actually the start of multiple trails including the Vernal and Nevada Falls trail. I didn’t want one hike to take up most of my day so I planned on making my way to Vernal Falls. This would only be a mile hike to the falls but it would all be inclined.
Plan on getting wet as you make your way up the rock steps and you get closer to the falls. The trail is definitely a must see and next time I visit I’ll definitely complete the trek to Nevada Falls. This is the most popular trail because of the waterfalls and for the fact it links to so many other trails so I recommend getting an early start.
After burning thousands of calories, it was time for lunch. I caught the shuttle back to the lodge where I had lunch at the food court. With my legs still burning from Vernal Falls, I wanted to stay in the valley where the trails were flat. I made my way to the Swinging Bridge Trail. A park ranger had told me that part of the trail had experienced flooding from above average rain that California had experienced this year. It had also rained for the past five days prior to my visit and the Merced River had jumped its banks. The waterfalls were roaring and bursting across the valley. The trail was flooded but it had receded to about 6 inches in depth at a certain section of the trail. I took my shoes and socks off and made it to the bridge. I’m not really sure why it’s called the Swinging Bridge since it’s a fixed structure, maybe it was once a rope bridge? It was now late afternoon and time for me to make my way back to my hotel just outside the park gates.
I had one stop left as I made my way down Northside Drive. I planned on stopping at the Valley View turnout. I stopped at what I thought was a turnout before Valley View and I would just walk to that often crowded stop. I had accidentally found the trail to El Capitan so I made my way down the trail to the base of the monolith. This was one of those moments where being lost actually paid-off. I made my way back to the car and continued my drive out of the park. I eventually found Valley View down the road but the lot was full so I would have to try again tomorrow.
Saturday had arrived and I made my way to the park, early, as I did the prior day. I got to the gate and there was a line of cars in front of me and it was only 8:30 a.m. Parking would be at a premium today. Before driving to the village, I drove up to the tunnel view before the crowds had arrived. It’s an amazing view of El Capitan on the left, Bridalveil Falls to the right, and Half Dome in the distance. It’s a stunning view but unfortunately the view was marred by the early rising sun.
I quickly made my way back to the Yosemite Lodge where I parked once again. I took the shuttle to Mirror Lake, stop 17. The shuttle was full with people standing in the aisle. This would be an omen of the what was to come in regards to the number of visitors. My morning trail would be the Mirror Lake trail, a 5.6 mile loop along a creek and around the lake. It’s a flat trail but beautiful as it makes its way to the lake. It’s really not a lake but a large pool in the Tenaya Creek. “Mirror” is an appropriate name for this body of water as it beautifully reflects the terrain around it. But, be warned, the mosquitos here are the size of drones. After getting my fill of photos, I continued my way down the trail. It would take me below Half Dome for an ants view of the rock. After two miles, the loop was broken. The creek had swallowed up the trail as it flooded its banks. I had to go back the way I came.
I got back on the shuttle making my way back to the lodge. It was noon and the full extent of the overcrowding was now apparent. the valley roads had now become stalled in grid lock, like the 405 freeway in Los Angeles at rush hour. Using the shuttle is definitely the best choice.
After eating lunch, I walked to the trailhead for the Upper Yosemite Falls Trail. This trail is a full day trail with an elevation of 2700 feet. With a midday start, I wasn’t looking to do the whole trail. I wanted to get past Columbia Rock and stop at the view of the upper falls. This is a grueling trail with small switch backs that slowly makes its way up a cliff. The higher you go, the more spectacular the views get. Once you reach Columbia Rock, you’ll be rewarded with an amazing view of Half Dome and the valley below. I pressed on with the falls in mind. It was another 20 minutes before I got the view point. It was a closeup view of the iconic waterfall. I stopped, I stared, and I rested before I made my long way down. I estimate the elevation to be 1200 to 1300 feet in elevation to this point. The round trip took just under three hours.
It was now late afternoon and time to make my exit. Again, I searched for the Valley View turnout but I had a better idea of where it was, now. I found it and there was available parking. True to its name, you get a great view of the valley from here. I made my way along a tree that had fallen into the river and it provided a clearer view of the valley. Seemingly, in the middle of the Merced River, I could see El Capitan to the left and the beautiful Bridalveil falls to the right. I just sat here for about 20 minutes, resting and enjoying the moment as I sat on this giant sequoia. This was a fabulous ending to a wonderful visit.
I definitely squeezed as many experiences as I could in two days but there are so many more to be had. I will definitely return to this valley which is one of the world’s natural wonders.