Yosemite National Park has been described as a temple of Nature. It attracts millions of visitors a year. Some come for the wildlife, some for the world renowned climbing and some for the numerous hiking paths. Depending on the time of year you visit, will determine what you get out of Yosemite. This guide was written after visiting the Yosemite Valley in September, after the school holidays. The waterfalls had mostly dried up and the region has been in drought. The temperature ranged between 25 and 33 degrees Celsius and was sunny for the visit.
Yosemite Valley is located 4-5 hours west of San Francisco. You have a couple of options to get out there. The first one is to take public transport. Amtrak has the best choice in this case. Although Greyhound does offer an option, Amtrak allows you to move around and be comfortable. You will want to book a ticket through to your accommodation in the park. Accommodation in the park can be quite expensive unless you are camping. And by expensive, I mean at least $300 per night. For camping, you are looking at prices from USD$20 per night but you will need all your own equipment. But not to worry, if you don’t have a tent or don’t want to pay for a hotel, there is another way. I stayed at Yosemite Bug Hostel, located about 1 hours’ drive outside the valley. Check out the Yosemite Bug Hostel review here. Each day, I would catch the public bus known as the YART. It was $6 one way.
If you are driving into the park, you will have to purchase a vehicle pass for $30 USD. This will last you for 7 days. There is a Park Ranger gate which you can purchase on arrival. When you go through the park’s entrance have your camera ready. You will drive under the Rock arch entrance. There is limited space to pull over on the side of the road.
El Capitan will greet you with its demanding cliff face. El Capitan is the world’s largest Granite Monolith with a staggering 900m face. Keep your eyes open to see if you can spot rock climbers making their accent to the top. It’s no small feat with each climber taking 3-5 days to complete the climb. After El Capitan, you will drive past Bridal Falls on your right before making your way to the first of the villages, Yosemite Village.
To travel around the valley, you can catch the free shuttle buses which quite frequently between 7.00am and 10.00pm daily. You could also walk the Valley loop or hire a bike for $10 per hour. They are available to rent at the Yosemite Lodge or Half Dome Village. It will take you about 1-2 hours to do a loop of the valley on your bike and you are only allowed to ride on the road or paved pathways. Be warned the bikes only have 1 gear and back pedal as brakes.
The other village in the Valley is Half Dome Village. This services the Western part of the Valley. The largest food store is in Yosemite Valley village. It is reasonably priced for being one of two options available. You can also check out the Visitor Centre nearby to pick up your Hiking Map, park information and explore the free exhibits and Spirit of Yosemite film.
There are numerous hikes along the valley floor which are easy paced and only slight elevation gain. For the more adventurous, here are 3 hikes worth doing.
Nevada Falls and Vernon Falls Trail takes 4-6 hours. The steepest part of the trail is in the first kilometre. The next kilometre flattens out a little bit before hitting the bas of Vernon Falls. For some, this is as far as they want to come. For the rest, they tackle the stairs which hug the cliff face up to the top of Vernon Falls. You are able to see down the river and across to the other mountains. The next waterfall up from here is Nevada Falls. If you have travelled to the top of Vernon, don’t stop there, continue onto Nevada Falls. The trail will come to the intersection, take the left. This gets the toughest part of the hike out of the way. Once you are at the top of the falls, take your time to marvel at your surroundings. Continue along the path and start your decent.
The top hike to do and it is not for the light hearted is the climb to Half Dome peak. The last part is on the steep granite face is done by chains. You read it correctly, chains. Only 300 people a day are allowed to scale this peak and you will need to buy a permit to do so. The trail follows on from the Nevada Falls Trail.
In most photos of Yosemite Valley, you will often see the Upper Yosemite Falls. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in the world. You can hike to the top of the falls and watch the water flow over; however, it can dry up. The hike is still worth doing, you will have a view looking back into the valley from a peak known as Columbia Rock. This section of the trail is about a third of the way to the top and offers great views. The point is a mile in and should take you no longer than 1-2 hours to complete.
The fourth hike I recommend is the hike to Glacier Point. This is a day hike and will have you scaling the valley wall over 1000m. It is a steep hike with switchback after switchback. The round trip for the hike is 15.5 km so take plenty of water. Luckily there is a shop, toilets and water fountain near the look out where you can refresh before the decent. The view from above is breath taking and well worth the sweat and sore legs. Keep an eye on the path though, it can be unstable under foot and often have a steep cliff face to one side. If you don’t fancy the hike up the hill, you can choose to do a 4 hour tour which leaves from Yosemite Lodge. It cost USD$45. They also offer a one way fare up the hill for USD$25 which allows you to walk back down.
Feel free to contact me if you have any questions regarding a visit to Yosemite Valley. Be sure to tag your photos with #itchyfeetescapades and follow us on Facebook.