I remember the night my husband and I were watching Free Solo, an exhilarating documentary film about a death defying climb in Yosemite National Park . The 2018 production profiles rock climber Alex Honnold on his quest to perform a free solo climb of 3000-feet El Capital in June 2017. I couldn’t believe my own eyes and to this day I continue to be in awe of what he achieved. His story later won an Academy Award for best documentary and became very popular (I highly recommend to watch it if you haven’t seen it yet). Around the time we learned about Alex’s almost impossible achievement, we were planning our trip to Hawaii which was pretty intense – 4 islands in a 2 weeks. Being under the spell of the beauty of El Capitan, we immediately decided to squeeze the Yosemite into our itinerary so we could see El Capitan with our own eyes. We had one full day to accomplish it after we arrived in San Francisco on the way back from Hawaii. It was a crazy idea but so worth it. Here is all you need to know if you decide to spend a day in this amazing park.
Note: reservations are no longer required to enter Yosemite National Park through May 20. Reservations are required beginning May 21 to Sept. 30. You can get entry pass at the park gate or simply use your Annual Pass. Although some restrictions are still in place and some services are not available. You can learn more on https://www.nps.gov/yose/planyourvisit/covid19.htm
Reservations can be made at www.recreation.gov beginning at 8 a.m. on April 21. Each day-use reservation is valid for one vehicle for three days. Vehicles that arrive at park entrances after May 21 without reservations will not be admitted. Also, park shuttle buses will not run this summer. Some but not all campgrounds in the park will be open.
How to get there
As I mentioned earlier we stayed in San Francisco and from there we drove along scenic Highway 120 little more than 3 hours to the park (167 mi) early morning. The weather was so so that time but luckily we did not experience any delays.
Where to eat
After sunset on the way back we made a stop for dinner in a beautiful place named Rush Creek Lodge. It’s a 3-star hotel that offers relaxed yet sophisticated experience in a hillside woodland setting at the Highway 120 West entrance to Yosemite National Park. Fabulous place to stay if you want to take more time to explore or simply just have a quick lunch or nice dinner while resting after an exciting day in the park.
Other recommended places are Majestic Hotel dining room, Yosemite Valley Lodge, Half Dome Village, Big Trees Lodge Dining Room.
What to see:
There is so much to see in Yosemite National Park but I am going to highlight what we could accomplish on a day trip. These attractions also happen to be the most popular ones. Hopefully with time I will be able to add some extra spots.
El Capitan is a vertical rock formation in Yosemite National Park. It is located in the northwestern part of Yosemite Valley. The granite formation is approximately 3,000 feet from base to summit which makes it such a popular spot among rock climbers.
The monolith’s name can be attributed to the Mariposa Battalion exploring the area in 1851. The top of El Capitan is reachable by hiking from Yosemite Valley on the trail next to Yosemite Falls. A lot more strenuous option is climbing its granite face along many tested routes with such colorful names like Sea of Dreams and Iron Hawk. If you are not in a mood for a hike or a climb you can admire the magnificence of El Capitan from Tunnel View, Bridalveil Fall area, and El Capitan Meadow.
Merced River is well known for its swift and steep course through the southern Yosemite National Park where it becomes a slow-moving meandering stream. It is 145 mile long and is flowing from the Sierra Nevada into the San Joaquin Valley. The main fork of the river is great for swimming, fishing, rafting, hiking, gold-panning, camping during summer months. The trail, that begins at Railroad Flat Parking Area, is 6 miles long round-trip of a moderate difficulty level.
The Mariposa Grove
Sadly the Mariposa Grove is closed due to extensive damage, mainly downed trees, as a result of Mono wind event that occurred in January 2021. Learn more about current park operations.
Located in the southern part of Yosemite near Wawona, the Mariposa Grove is the largest sequoia grove. There are over 500 mature giant sequoias growing there including two of the largest trees among 30 largest in the world. The most popular attraction is the oldest tree in the grove named Grizzly Giant which is 1900-2400 years old. Its volume is 34,010 cubic feet (963m3) and the length 210 feet (64m). Impressive right?
Other trees that are worth attention on the trip:
The Bachelor and Tree Graces – A group of four giant sequoias where three are growing close to each other and fourth is a bit more distant. Their roots are so intertwined that if one of them fell it would likely cause other to fall along.
Fallen Monarch – A giant sequoia that fell more than 300 years ago. Due to its resistance to decay its remains can linger for a very long time.
Named for its distinct shape Half Dome inspires from every angle. This is one of the West’s most photographed landmarks and most iconic attraction in all of Yosemite Valley. Moreover, it provides a prestigious and extremely strenuous hike of 17 miles. Hikers gain 4,800 feet of elevation before reaching the cables on steep granite dome. Steel cables and wooden planks placed along the hike to the summit are available only during summer months. Of course hiker permits are required as well as great physical condition. Only 300 permits are allowed per day and are provided on a first-come, first-serve basis.
If this does not sound like you then you can admire its sheared-off granite from afar. You can either check out the perspective form Mirror Lake at the base of the Half Dome or drive up to the Washbury Point overlook on Glacier Point Road.
Tip: In our opinion the best view of the Half Dome is from Glacier Point Curve Vista which is 1 minute drive further. It is better to walk from the overlook (15 minute) since there is no parking available. The place is super popular among photographers and I am sure you’ve seen at least once the iconic shot from there.
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