So, back on the topic of planning out your trip to Yosemite before you actually go. We learned some valuable lessons this week: planning everything last minute is not always the best idea. I mean, we are still going to plan everything last minute, but it’s not smart. Don’t be like us.
The national parks are popular during the spring and summer months, especially this year since California is no longer in a drought and there have been stupidly high amounts of water flowing through the parks. So, you have an abundance of waterfalls, lush forests as far as the eye can see, and the super bloom of flowers. That means tourists, traffic, and crowded campgrounds. Our intentions were to camp in the area and maybe spend a week playing around in the forests if we could find a campground with WiFi so Eli could work. But, according to the Great Oracle (Google), finding a place to camp in Yosemite last minute is quite impossible. You need to make reservations at least a month in advance. Camping in the park is not permitted unless you are in a designated campground and sleeping in a vehicle outside of one of those areas results in hefty fines issued by the park rangers.
In our usual fashion, we decided to fly by the seat of our pants and attempt to sneak into a parking lot somewhere outside of the park and sleep there. We had been told that people had gotten away with staying in the back of motels so we figured it was worth a shot but that would also mean it would take us an additional hour to get in to the park itself. It wasn’t the best scenario but we didn’t have another choice.
It took us an hour and a half to get to the Yosemite ticket booths from where we had stayed in Fresno. Entrance fees were a little steep at $35 but we had actually purchased a National Park Pass before leaving on our trip so that we could skip the admission and parking fees in all of the parks around the country. The pass lasts for a year and costs us $80 for one, which works for the two of us and our one vehicle. After only visiting one place for two days, it had pretty much paid for itself. We also got really lucky after deciding to ask the ticket woman where we could camp. She recommended a small area for dispersed camping about a mile back the way that we had come. Totally free, no reservations needed. Needless to say, we were extremely grateful to her.
From the ticket booths, there was another hour long drive into the valley itself. Now, full disclosure, I was scared. If you’re afraid of heights or cliffs or… dying… let someone else drive. The roads were very narrow and at some points we were driving alongside a sheer cliff that dropped down into rocks and trees and all kinds of scary stuff. It was frightening but so incredibly beautiful and so worth the fear and danger. And don’t worry, Grandma, we were driving at 35mph the entire way and let everyone else pass us. With the heavy rainfall that California had seen recently, there were little streams and creeks everywhere.
On our way in, we made the decision to stop where we saw a few other cars had stopped for some photo opportunities. It’s hard to miss while you’re driving in because it’s one of the bigger turnout areas and there are probably already a bunch of other cars parked along the side of the road. So, we stopped and hopped over the small stone wall that separated the road from the wilderness and found what we believe to be the best view in Yosemite. If you walk down a little ways, you end up on the edge of a cliff that overlooks this gorgeous valley, complete with a view of a couple massive waterfalls and Half Dome. It was absolutely surreal. It was also the perfect time of year to see it because the entire place was bright green and blooming out of control. Thinking back, I can’t remember seeing anything as beautiful as that spot and our pictures do not do it justice.
Onward, into Yosemite Valley! We ended up sitting in traffic for an hour just to cover a two mile distance. Apparently, we decided to go hiking and exploring during the busiest time of the year. We eventually found parking but after our drive from Fresno into Yosemite, it was already about 6 o’clock in the evening. With little daytime left, we picked the closest hike to where we had parked and attempted to see as much as possible before the sun went down. We ended up getting to see Lower Yosemite Falls, which wasn’t even really a hike, just a walk through the forest. It was a pretty spectacular sight but being blasted by a cold mist was slightly distracting. After snapping a couple quick photos, we made our way back and ended up goofing around in the area, climbing some huge rocks, getting artsy with our cameras, and appreciating some really awesome dogs.
That night, we found our dispersed camping off the beaten path and hunkered down for sleeps. It was an exciting time for us because it would be the first time ever that we got to use our tiny kitchen! Our first meal wasn’t much of anything exciting since all of the food we had was either canned or dehydrated and it was pretty late so we didn’t want to spend too much time cooking a well balanced meal with our one camping stove. So we had mashed potatoes. Rehydrated mashed potatoes, to be exact. It was such a great feeling though. For the first time, we were really living out of the van surrounded by nature and new experiences and it just made me giddy. I couldn’t have been more happy and excited than I was in that moment. It was a perfect night, even though I had to pee outside.
The following day we made sure to be up early so we could see as much as possible before having to leave. We busted out our tiny kitchen again to make some oatmeal and enjoyed our breakfast outside surrounded by big, beautiful trees. Then, we packed it all up and went back into the park for more outdoorsy activities. This time we opted for taking the bus throughout the area so we wouldn’t have to deal with parking. After asking around for some hiking recommendations, we decided on the Vernal Falls hike, a two mile, all-uphill trek to the top of a waterfall. As it turns out, we are not in shape and could barely go five minutes without stopping to catch our breath. It was sad. I was also called a boy by some lady at some point? Thanks, girl.
Anyway, the hike was great except for the part where we couldn’t breathe. We made it up to the bridge that takes you across Vernal Falls and then did some adventuring off the trail before heading back down. It was just about as beautiful as nature could be. The waterfall was gushing in full force from the surplus of water in Yosemite Valley and there were views of it throughout the entire hike. We reached the bottom and agreed that our legs couldn’t handle more hiking so we settled on spending our final hours wandering around and enjoying the Ansel Adams Gallery.
The drive out of Yosemite towards Merced was just as amazing as the drive in, if not more so. Leaving on the 140 put us next to the Merced river and through valleys of rolling hills that slightly resembled something you would see in Switzerland.
All in all, it was definitely a camping trip that I would recommend to anyone. There are gorgeous places to see everywhere you turn and fun places to camp (if you prepare in advance) and it’s a great place to enjoy the natural wonders of our world without being too far away from civilization and a good cup of coffee.
So, our first national park checked off of our long list of national parks to visit. We planned so poorly but did we learn from our experience? Absolutely not! But hey, everything is fine.