When life hands you lemons, and your mind spins into a tizzy about leaving your beloved home state before you’re ready…. you hop in a car and go on an impromptu adventure.
<insert cheesy John Muir quote here>
Land of towering cliffs, iridescent mountains, fields of Sierras, and sparkling lakes. Birds soar and hum overhead while hikers ascend switchbacks, pausing every so often to catch their breath and take in the view. The infamous landscape transforms throughout the day as the sun & clouds drift, kissing the mountains with their soft rosy hues.
It was an completely spontaneous trip (but aren’t those the best ones?) within 36 hours we went from zero to out the door. And it was a short – a 2.5 day shotgun mission, where it seemed like we managed to do almost everything wrong.
So here are my notes – a brain dump of tips and advice for my future self. And pretty pictures (duh)
Camp 4 – The only no reservations campsite within the valley. Therefore it gets packedddd, prepare to get there super early & wait. You never know how many spots will open up until the ranger shows up at 8 and does a count. We waited both days (5:30am onwards) and had no luck. (mistake #1) Ended up bumming it in the car, which turned out to be a blessing in disguise, given how cold it got each night. They fit you in 6 per campsite, so from what I’ve hear, you make friends pretty quickly & there’s a fun community atmosphere going on.
Glacier Point is the most famous lookout point – you can take a bus up & back, or just up …or just back down. We wanted to work for our view so we opted to climb the 4.6 uphill hike to this point, on 2 hours of sleep. (mistake #2)
Anyways, pack a lunch, hang out up here & marvel at Half Dome, have a beer or two in lieu of water. (mistake #3)
The Panorama Trail takes you slowly back downhill to the valley and is beauuuutiful. It is also long (feels MUCH longer than the quoted 8.3 miles) and isn’t 100% downhill. You see all of Sierra Valley, Vernal Falls, Illilouette Falls, and Nevada Falls along the Mist Trail. Wear good hiking shoes, regular gym shoes barely cut it – the final few miles are a steep downhill on small slippery rocks is not easy on the knees. (mistake #4)
Don’t lag too long at the lookout point, or during the early, easy descent staring at Half Dome & trying to see puppets in the clouds. Make sure you start hustling because once the sun starts to set, it sets FAST, and that slipper waterfall descent is no joke in the pitch darkness. (mistake #5)
Still worth it though. Didn’t get stranded overnight. Didn’t get eaten by bears.
Cathedral Lakes – we did this hike on day #2. It’s pretty far from the valley… about an hour drive since you need to loop around the entire thing, so get an early start (mistake #6). It’s also much much colder up here without the mountains blocking the windchill (mistake #7). You’ll start at Toulume Meadows and hike either 7 or 8 miles (roundtrip) depending on if you want to see both lakes or just the lower one. The lakes were definitely dried up from the drought, but lovely nonetheless.
On your way back down into the valley drive by Tenaya Lake, or swing by Olmstead Point for some gorgeous views.
Grab a hot pizza at Curry Village, or eat at the fancy restaurant in Yosemite Lodge, orrrr eat cold soup out of can in your car. Either way, make sure you head back outside, far away from tent lights, to gaze up at that brilliant blanket of bright stars overhead. We retreated back into the warmth of the valley at night, but I’m guessing the stargazing would have been brighter & less obstructed up by the lakes where the trees are shorter.
On your way in/out of the Valley make sure you stop by the famous Tunnel View lookout point, and try to imagine dinosaurs thundering down the center between El Capitan and Bridal Falls… looking for their homeboy Littlefoot.
There’s SO much more I need to go back to see now that I’ve had a taste of Yosemite. Cloud’s Rest. Mono Lake in the wintertime. Sequoias at Mariposa Park. Star parties at Glacier Point.
Either way, just go. That’s what I did. Even with little planning and no research, you will still have a completely magnificent time, and leave the park mind boggled by damn Mother Nature.