Yosemite is a spectacular park for adventurers and nature lovers, inspired by the numerous photos and videos I’ve seen – Yosemite was on the top of my list of US parks to visit. This picturesque national park is about 160 miles east of San Francisco. Getting there was relatively easy we used public transport and rented our own car.
From San Francisco we took the BART subway train towards Richmond (end station for the Daly City/Fremont lines). This is the only BART station that connects with the AMTRAK national rail network. The train journey from Richmond to Merced took 2.5 hours. From Merced we rented a car and drove the rest to Yosemite. This was another 70 miles (1.5 hours) through the scenic roads leading to the park.
From the West entrance of Yosemite, the famous granite cliffs of El Capitan welcome you as you enter the valley. Yosemite Valley is the centre of the park, it’s where the majority of the accommodation and facilities are located and gives you the opportunity to hike some amazing trails within reasonable reach. The Valley has a free shuttle bus service whizzing visitors to hiking trail points and between accommodation villages.
We stayed at Housekeeping Camp, a large glamping site with rectangular canvas tents with part concrete walls, beds and seating areas. Although this is a basic setup and the cheapest accommodation on offer (don’t expect luxury!) this was an ok stay and a good base to explore the Valley.
30 miles south of the valley we spent a weekend in Wowana and stayed at the Big Trees Lodge (formerly Wowana Hotel). The drive was amazing along Wowana Road, very scenic with great views of the Valley. Big Trees Lodge, a restored Victorian hotel sits on a quieter side of Yosemite, it was nice break from the more busier Valley.
Further to our stay in Yosemite we explored the northern parts of the park in particular, Tuolumne Meadows. Nestled in the High Sierra mountains, Tuolumne’s scenery and climate is different than the Valley’s; it was much cooler, experienced some hail and we had to build a fire in the evening (even during the summer season). However the cooler climate and less crowds made it ideal for hiking, and there are endless trails leading to fantastic scenery – you almost feel like you are closer to nature here. The incredible drive on Tioga Pass road to reach Tuolumne was spectacular with several sights along the way. We recommend you make a stop to see the giant sequoia trees at Tuolumne Grove (near Crane Flat) it’s a good alternative to the Mariposa Grove (currently closed for the rest of 2016 for a restoration project).
Having the car enabled us to explore further and beyond Yosemite. About 20 miles east of Tuolumne, there is vast salt lake that looks almost like an ocean. We visited the Mono Lake Tufa State Natural Reserve to see the incredible limestone spires created by geological activity and when the water levels were much higher many years ago. Look closely at out the shores of the lake, thousands of flies feed on the salt remains and quickly disperse as you approach them.
- If you intend to visit more than one National Park, get the US National Parks Annual Pass ($80). It covers 2000 sites and it saved us a lot of money on entry fees. The pass can be purchased at the entry points or information centres at each park.
- For AMTRAK rail journeys book tickets beforehand on their website and have the e-ticket downloaded on the AMTRAK mobile app. AMTRAK offers a bus connection from Merced to Yosemite when you book your train tickets, so if you don’t want to drive this is an option.
- One of the most important rules in Yosemite is the storage of food and drinks, toiletries and cosmetics – they must be stored in the steel bear boxes provided at your accommodation. Staying in hotels are fine, but outdoor stays like camping you must use the facilities provided or you might get a visit from a bear in your tent! Keeping those items in your car overnight is also prohibited.
- Yosemite can be visited all year round, but to see all the waterfalls in action come in the spring.
- Book your accommodation and car in advance especially in high season. The accommodation within Yosemite is now fully owned and managed by the Parks Service and can be booked at TravelYosemite.com
- Opt for self catering places and cook to save money. Airbnb? Click here to get £25/$35 off your booking.
- Fill up your car regularly (not when its low) as you enter remote areas, you might not see another petrol station for miles.
- Hiring a car is optional, you can use the park’s free shuttle service to get around and YARTS buses take you out to farther places like Tuolumne and Wowana.
- Yosemitehikes.com is a great resource on the various hiking trails in Yosemite
- For more info on Yosemite, visit the official website