Yosemite Trip Recap
It has been a while since I’ve last written and that’s because life has gotten busy…but good busy! I found out that my job would be taking me to Boston, MA for a new role, which I am very much looking forward to. Going through the selling of my current home and the apartment hunting in Boston has thus prevented me from living my “healthy yuppie” lifestyle to the fullest but that didn’t stop me from taking a trip with 5 of my college friends to Yosemite National Park for Memorial Day Weekend. It was a trip none of us will forget.
We all flew into Sacramento as my friend Noah is getting his PhD at UC Davis. We drove from Davis to Yosemite Valley (~4 hour drive) though San Francisco is also reasonable to drive from but likely has more traffic. When we drove in, it was very foggy and we could barely see anything 15 feet away from us which was indicative of many of the afternoons this weekend. We arrived around 2 PM on Friday and went to the Visitor’s Center to talk hiking options. On Saturday, we had originally planned to hike Half Dome, the most intense and iconic hike of the Yosemite Valley (see below for details). Because it had rained and there was rain in the forecast, we were advised not to attempt Half Dome, as it includes mounting cables up the side of a 45 degree granite “half dome” and someone had fallen to their death earlier that week trying to do Half Dome but slipped. We decided it wasn’t worth it and that is what led us to review our weekend.
We decided to do part of another rigorous hike in the park, Lower and Upper Yosemite Falls, which are two waterfalls, one on top of another, on the north end of the valley. We do a quick hike to Lower Yosemite Falls and then start making our way up to Upper Yosemite Falls. Given that we had a late start (around 3 PM), we didn’t go all the way to the top but likely did 6 miles total and had some great views of the valley.
We then head to our campsite and were pleasantly surprised: it had both a fire pit and a picnic table, the latter of which we were not expecting. We set up camp (3 tents for 6 people), made some dinner, and went to sleep for the long hike the next day.
Though we weren’t going to do the entire Half Dome hike, many of the trails that lead to Half Dome were perfectly safe and were part of another route we were taking. We start by walking to the Mist Trail trailhead and starting on that hike. This portion of the hike took us up along Vernal Falls and then up to the top of Nevada Falls. The Vernal Falls portion is known for being very wet because you are right up along the waterfall and get sprayed by it. It’s not bad (and honestly kind of refreshing), but as you get higher along the waterfall, you witness the most beautiful rainbow that is so close to you that you almost feel a part of it. It was stunning. After making it to the top of Nevada Falls, instead of heading to Half Dome, we take the Panorama all the way to Glacier Point (which is one of the most iconic views in the park, overlooking Half Dome). Unfortunately, by the time we get to Glacier Point, it is so foggy that we can’t see anything so we decide we will come back the next day and drive to the point (which is an option). We then hike down the Four Mile Trail (which is actually 4.6 miles and VERY tough with switchback after switchback). I couldn’t imagine hiking up it. This takes us to the Valley floor where we walk a bit to the shuttle stop which takes us back to our campsite. Over the entire day, we hiked 15 miles, with several thousands of feet in elevation gain which totaled over 45,000 steps. We were pooped after the day so we cooked dinner and went to bed.
We woke up this morning a little bit later given our hike yesterday and had a bit more of a leisurely morning (making oatmeal vs. eating dry granola) which ended up being a mistake. We get on the road to drive to Glacier Point only to find out that it was closed because there were too many people there (that’s Memorial Day weekend for you). Our next plan for the day was to drive to Tenaya Lake, a beautiful lake in Yosemite National Park but 1.5 hours from the Valley. Unfortunately, this required us to go back into the Valley and take a different exit. By the time we were blocked from entering Glacier Point, there was such a backup of cars that it took us over an hour just to get back in the valley. With traffic so backed up, I had the opportunity to get out of the car and take a picture of the Yosemite Valley from Tunnel View, another viewpoint with a beautiful view of the Valley. We drive another 1.5 hours to Tenaya Lake for a beautiful view, eat lunch, and sit on hammocks and chill. This was a perfect contrast to the hard day of hiking yesterday. After several hours at the lake, we drive back to the Valley, get caught in traffic again, and then cook dinner to drive home the next day.
Overall, this was an amazing trip with beautiful scenery and great friends. Though at the time, it was frustrating that we weren’t able to hike Half Dome or to see the valley from Glacier Point on a clear day, this just presents another opportunity to come back and do Yosemite even better the next time now that I know my way around.
Here are some tips I would share on how to book your own Yosemite trip.
Booking Campsites - If you want to book a camping site, I would recommend Upper Pines (where we stayed), Lower Pines, and North Pines given their proximity to the Yosemite Visitor’s Center and Store. They are all in Yosemite Valley. For a given date range, the campsites will become available on the 15th 4 months before the one month range begins. See this link for details. We were going for Memorial Day Weekend which is likely one of the busiest weekends at Yosemite so we all created accounts ahead of time and coordinated different campsites to go for. Of the three of us trying, only one was able to get a campsite (thank goodness).
Half Dome - Half Dome is widely regarded as one of the toughest hikes in the park. In doing it, you will be hiking 16 miles with 5,000 feet in elevation gain. At the peak, you will be mounting the “half dome” up a 45 degree incline using cables stuck into the granite. Half Dome which is likely the most iconic mountain shape in the world, and where The North Face gets its logo. As someone who likes a challenge, I naturally wanted to do this hike. To do half dome, you have to get a permit as they only let 350 people a day mount the cables. In the month of March, you apply through a lottery to get as many permits as you need for any dates you want to hike it. We were fortunate to win them for our group (but were unable to use them, see above). If you don’t win a permit in the March lottery, you can apply for the daily lottery which occurs 24 hours before everyday. More permits become available given that many people cancel their permits over time. This will definitely be something I come back to do.
Camp Food - When it comes to eating while camping, it’s definitely a lot more difficult eating healthfully. If you want fresh meat/veggies, you often need a cooler that can keep things cold for however long you are camping. Since none of us had a Yeti, we went with non-perishable food, or at least food that wouldn’t need to be refrigerated. Some meal/food recommendations that are in the realm of healthy:
Oatmeal/no-sugar added granola
Traffic - A word of caution...this was likely somewhat exacerbated by it being Memorial Day Weekend but expect lots of traffic coming into the park on weekends. Yosemite is a Top 5 most-visited National Park in the US and that comes with many people, both campers and day hikers, clogging up the roads. Just have that expectation coming in, since we were unable to drive up to Glacier Point because it was so busy.
Thanks for reading,